Close-up Culture’s James Prestridge spoke to Nefta Football Club director Yves Piat about his real-life inspiration for the film, donkeys wearing headphones, name-dropping Adele and Riyad Mahrez, and much more.
Q: What was your starting point or inspiration for ‘Netfa Football Club’? Was it the visual of a donkey wearing headphones, the pure innocence of our young lead character, or something else?
A: Many things have inspired the movie.
First, a personal experience coming from my childhood. I was 14. At this time, I often sneaked out to forbidden places, with torchlights, with my best friend. One day, we found a twisted spoon, a camping stove and thousands of little plastic bags full of white powder. With my friend, we thought it could be drug material. We decided to take all this ‘loot’ on our motorcycle. Finally, as we didn’t know what to do with it, we dumped it in the river without really thinking about what we were doing. Our decision may have cost somebody’s life, or something else important. It’s a story I kept for more than 30 years now. This is how everything started.
Also, I wanted the movie to take place at the border between Morocco and Algeria because I was amazed by the impressive landscapes I saw there. I started imagining a film where the desert would play a great part in the story. Border zones are often dangerous, no man’s land, going from a state to another.
Regarding the story about the donkey and the walkman, it’s a true story, even if smuggler’s records whistle sounds and not music – as presented in the movie. I found it funny to bring this misunderstanding with the music. And for the football field, the idea came to me after seeing all these kids playing football all along my trip, from North to South Morocco. All these little stories stayed somewhere in my mind to finally merged in one, The Nefta Football Club one.
Q: The film includes two wonderful performances from two young actors. What did they bring to this project?
A: The youngest of the two boys embodyies the game idea and the two adults embody the serious issues you can meet in your life…
The two young actors were like two brothers on set despite the fact they barely knew each other. As soon as I discovered them, I knew immediately that they would perfectly assume their respective roles.
Q: You worked in the mountainous desert with children and with a donkey. How was the shooting with all these elements and challenges? I’m sure you have lots of stories.
A: Yes, there would be dozens of stories. Too bad that there is no way to show all of theses stories to the audience.
For example, during the preparation of the film, it was planned to shoot in Morocco, but shooting there in the desert was too expensive. My producers from Les Valseurs decided, a month and a half before the shooting, to move it in Tunisia. It was the only way to make this shoot possible.
First, I was very worried because I had spent a lot of time scouting for locations in Morocco, but in the end we were pretty lucky, because while we were shooting in the Tunisian desert, the Moroccan desert was filled with snow. In addition, I learned that we would only have six days of shooting, otherwise it wouldn’t not possible to make the film within our limited budget. I had to rewrite some scenes in order to shoot, at the end or beginning of the day. This way we were able to maximize the periods of shooting each day, it adds a lot to the atmosphere of the film.
Also, one day the technicians had to install a crane in the mountain at three in the morning without light… a real challenge, but a large part of the scene had been cut during the editing. I have so many anecdotes to tell. The shooting was an adventure itself.
Q: My favourite shot in the film is when we see the boy’s giant shadows on the desert floor. What was your approach to the cinematography for ‘Netfa Football Club’?
A: This plan was in the storyboard like almost every shot of the movie. I like to draw and redraw my plans during the preparation, then have more freedom to shoot and easily share my ideas with the whole team.
On this point, Valentin Vignet, my cinematographer, worked remarkably and perfectly transcribed what I wanted. He is a warrior of light. I wanted a light without artifice and actors without makeup. I chose the cinemascope format to capture the large spaces of the landscapes we shot.
These landscapes play a key role in the film. Both the drug trafficker and the two children are lost in the middle of nowhere under a blazing sun and delivered to themselves (we never see the children’s parents). When suddenly this mule arrives as a gift of God in the divine light and this gift could change their poor lives. It’s an example of how the lighting of the film participates to tell the story.
Q: It was fun for me to watch a film that name drops both Adele and Riyad Mahrez. Where do you get your sense of humour from?
A: (Laughs) I don’t know how or where it comes from but I like the absurd side of situations. I like to push the absurdity to the limit of reality but sometimes the reality itself goes beyond fiction. I really like the English or Nordic ads of the 90s… My sense of humour may come from this inspiration.
Q: The film has already received awards at Clermont-Ferrand and Aspen Shortsfest. Why do you feel this film is connecting so well with international audiences?
A: I assume the film brings an original story, with original characters and sets, a certain sense of humour and social aspects in the background.
Everything is mixed, and we were lucky enough to make this mix work as a film. I’m still surprised by the incredible audience responses to the film. I feel very happy about this.
Q: I was told you were a decorator and studio manager before you discovered cinema. How did you get to make the step into filmmaking?
A: Actually, I used to work in an animation studio. I have been drawing since my childhood – when I was sixteen. I started to make fake ads, including an anti-smoking ad in 1998 that eventually got rejected by the audit office.
Then I made a short film with the French actor, Maurice Garrel. It took me five years to make it. I didn’t have a production team. That’s why I waited so long to get back on track.
Q: What is next for you? Any ambitions or plans to share with us?
A: I am currently working on a feature film taking place in Jerusalem. An Israeli diplomat suffocates to death while eating sheep, a few days before a peace agreement could be signed. The forensics discover an Israelian bullet in the diplomat’s aorta and the police investigation reveals that the sheep is coming from Palestinian territories. The American emissary in charge of the success of this peace agreement has to handle the situation with extreme caution.