Winner Threshold Award Autonomous Practices 2020
On December 9th 2020, Younes Laaguidi won the annual Threshold Award for the Autonomous Practices with his graduation project Grapefruit for Breakfast. In this interview, we look back at Younes’ time at WdKA and look forward to his evolving career.
What have you been up to since graduation?
After graduating I gave up my room in Rotterdam and moved back to Germany, where I am originally from. That was nice because I still had all of my friends and family there. I did want to continue in Rotterdam and maybe even start working at the Academy as a part-time teaching support. But unfortunately, everything shifted after Corona evolved. So, in the end, I decided to resettle here in Dortmund and I got myself a flat. At the moment, I’m working as a freelance cameraman, I have some jobs coming in here and there. This is mostly what I do to make a living. But it can also be rough sometimes, not knowing when the next job comes in. So now I’m trying to fix myself a part-time job to have some security.
Can you tell us a bit more about your graduation work and how it came about?
The film is about this one character in Morocco, Samir. I got to know him because of my mother, who was traveling through Morocco at the time. My mother is Christian and that’s how she learned about Samir. Among Christian communities in Morocco, he kind of stands out, since not many Moroccans have good contacts with Germany. He is almost like a German manifestation in Morocco, and he knows so much about the country. So, my mother urged me to check out this guy. And I did. I went to Morocco and invited him, and he was very happy to be in contact with German people. I immediately noticed that Samir has little contact with Germans, yet he has such a fixed image of the country, all based on his fantasy.
At that point, we decided to do some quick interviews. That was in 2018. When graduation came along, he was still somewhere in the back of my mind. I stumbled upon the short interview I made with him, and although I had other plans at first, I decided to make a film about Samir’s story.
I think it is very important for this problem to be seen, because not many people know how hard it is, especially for young Moroccans, to come to Europe.
Which urgency are you addressing in your work?
I think mainly the struggle between nations and people’s desire to move from one place to the other, which is actually not as easy for everyone. For me, to book a flight to Morocco takes an hour. No one will even ask for my passport. But for Samir, it took twenty-seven years and he still didn't manage to even visit Germany. I think it is very important for this problem to be seen, because not many people know how hard it is, especially for young Moroccans, to come to Europe. Yet a lot of people are not happy there and they keep dreaming of a wealthier life with better chances.
And what effect do you hope your work has?
I think one of the main goals is to loosen up the idea of stereotypes and assumptions about people. Meeting Samir for the first time, you may have a clear image in your head of someone who lives in Morocco, but then he suddenly starts talking German. Yet, he has never been to Germany, but he loves it so much and knows exactly where he would like to live. I think that as a person, Samir is challenging the fixed ideas, stereotypes and assumptions we may have about him. And I think that exercise is really important for us.
How did you experience graduating in corona times?
You don't experience school that much in these days. There has been really little contact with people. Usually, me and my classmates were always side by side. I now miss these long evenings at school, editing until security kicks you out because the building is closing. When nearing deadlines, you would usually see half of our class working at school until nine or ten 'o clock. All of that was gone. The saddest thing is that we still didn't have the change to come together or to organise a viewing and actually see each other’s works.
On the other hand, I am quite lucky that we could still go to Morocco to shoot the film, despite Corona. The first time we went was in October 2019, we did one week of preparation with Samir. When we went back in March 2020, Corona was just lifting off. We were there for two weeks and in the meantime, things became quite serious. We were receiving calls and emails from Germany and even from teachers telling us to stay safe. The government even shut down all air traffic at some point, but thankfully we were evacuated together with thousands of German tourists that got stranded in Morocco. My cameraman was really dedicated to finishing the film with me. Even if we would have had to stay there for a few months, we would finish it no matter what. I’m glad everything worked out fine.
I think one of the nicest things of this project was to realise that all it took was a character living a life that I felt was interesting to look at, and two people to capture his story.
How has your graduation work influenced your perspective on your current or future practice?
I think one of the nicest things of this project was to realise that all it took was a character living a life that I felt was interesting to look at, and two people to capture his story. We had two backpacks that fit everything we needed to make this film. Regarding my future career, I doubt that I will end up working at some stationery studio or production house. I think I will rather be travelling around, having the essential equipment with me—my camera, microphone, laptop, etc. And that will enable me to be more flexible and independent.
Where do you hope to be in a year?
I hope I am back on the move by then. Taking my equipment with me, traveling across countries. On one hand that’s a personal interest I have, but also as a filmmaker I always keep my eyes open for fascinating stories. I usually find people with a seemingly insignificant story to tell, nothing that stands out on first glance. But once you sit down with them and start talking, you realise that even the smallest stories can tell you a lot about really large, complex themes of today. And in the end, that's what triggers me most—to capture those stories. That's what I would really like to do.
What will you be working on in the near future? What are your next steps?
My plan is to continue with Grapefruit for Breakfast. With continue I mean to remake it into a feature length documentary. If you've seen the film, you’ll notice it actually stops in Morocco. You never find out if Samir actually gets to Germany in the end. In the meantime, he did manage to get his final language certificates, and he’s starting the next round of applying for a visa. Samir’s trip, and for him to finally—after so long—visit Germany for the first time, really needs to be captured. And the money of the Threshold Award is the perfect kick-off for that. What I could also do is to use the twenty-minute film I have now to apply for more funding, and to get a producer on board. It's been a really personal project until now, only I, an editor and one cameraman have been working on it. Maybe a producer could push me a bit more into the right direction.
How would you introduce yourself as a practitioner today? What would be your ideal job title, if you could choose any?
Independent cameraman, director and film teacher—I think these are three most interesting tasks for me at the moment. I would like to dive deeper into camerawork and directing photography. And as a maker, of course, I will always be directing my own films, if I find someone I want to make a film about. And the third thing is to pass on knowledge and work with students. That is something I really enjoy as well, which started during my time at WdKA.
What role did WdKA, and your practice, play in the process of becoming the professional you are today?
As I said before, WdKA gave me a few chances to start teaching, start interacting with students and passing on knowledge. Next to being a professional delivering a service as a cameraman or director, it’s really nice to teach students bit by bit and see their fascination about things that you've yourself learned years ago. I really enjoy seeing students discover the magic of film, editing, color grading, lighting and everything involved.
And another way in which WdKA helped me pave my path, is that it's not a strict and traditional film school. I feel like, in that sense, WdKA is kind of unique. At many film schools, everyone has to stay in his role, and you have to choose between directing camera, sound, etc. straight away. Because WdKA is not that strict, there is more interrelation between disciplines and more exchange between departments. And that is something that I found really shaped me into a more multidisciplinary filmmaker, quite different from colleagues who studied at traditional film schools.
What is the future of your work field, in your opinion?
A good development is, in my opinion, that cameras and other equipment you need to make movies is getting much more affordable. Nowadays you can get going with just an iPhone, a good idea, some knowledge about lighting and an internet connection—and you can make great things. So as opposed to back in the days, when you needed five to ten people and a few thousand euros to make any moving image. I think it’s nice that now, more people are working with film and there's more skill being exchanged, and more things are being tried out. However, at the same time, I think that stock footage is going to become more dominant. Soon clients might tend to pick the majority of footage from a list of already filmed material instead of hiring camerapeople. But for my own field, documentary and music film, I will—luckily—stay dependent on the outter world and new inspirations. I have faith in our future.