Interview with director of photography Laurent Brunet, AFC, about the film "A Screaming Man" by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

Official Selection, 2010 Cannes Film Festival

par Laurent Brunet

[ English ] [ français ]

Laurent Brunet, who has photographed all of Raphael Nadjari’s films (including Tehilim, selected at Cannes in 2007), has a lot of experience filming abroad. But he didn’t know Africa, which he discovered while collaborating for the first time with Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, the only African to compete at Cannes 2010, with his fourth feature film, A Screaming Man. The original title was A Screaming Man is not a Dancing Bear a quote from The Notebook, Returning Home by the poet Aimé Césaire.

Haroun’s film Abouna was noticed at the Directors Fortnight in 2002 and Daratt was given an award in Venice in 2006. The hero of A Screaming Man is in his sixties, a former champion swimmer who loses his job to his only son. The story of betrayal and remorse takes place in N’Djamena, during a civil war. Haroun shot the film in Chad, his native country, which had never been represented in the Official Selection at Cannes.

Protection contre la poussière - Laurent Brunet et Emilie Monier, assistante caméra
Protection contre la poussière
Laurent Brunet et Emilie Monier, assistante caméra

This film was slated to be shot digitally with another cinematographer, you chose another medium. Why ?

Laurent Brunet : I had not seen the films of Haroun and we got to know each other during filming. After reading the script, which I liked a lot, I didn’t feel that this was a digital feature, and I suggested to the director to shoot on film. I felt that for this story, we had to find something a little organic.

And even if I didn’t know Africa, I had shot a lot in Middle East countries, where there are huge contrasts. With an electronic image, I would have been fighting all the time against these contrasts. It was not easy financially, but Fuji really helped us to make the film production possible in 35mm.

The Red camera that was slated in the beginning is a false promise of lightness, it is not ergonomic and has little latitude, while film can handle a lot more. Knowing the fragility of the budget, I opted to go light, with a 3-Perf Aaton, a set of Zeiss T2.1 and classic photochemical color timing.

Le soleil, notre allié...
Le soleil, notre allié...

Were you forced to compensate for differences in contrast with lighting ?

LB : I brought some lighting, some Kinos, industrial strips, and 400 and 800 K5600 Joker Bugs. Mainly, I lit from the outside, by sending the sun in with reflectors and I never relit interiors. All of the hotel footage is shot only with Kinos, and we also swapped existing tubes with less green ones. There are huge electricity problems in N’Djamena, we were constantly shifting over to generators.

I became aware of this electrical problem during scouting, and that is another reason for not bothering with big sources. It was a constraint, but also because I didn’t want the lighting to be too sophisticated. Haroun spoke to me a lot about the lighting on his previous movies, often bringing up the issue of over-lighting and he wanted a change. It is true that black skins are usually lit. I therefore did not change my usual working method.

"Un homme qui crie"
"Un homme qui crie"

This choice to not necessarily see the faces, the eyes, was it also to serve the mise en scène ?

LB : Yes, absolutely. Haroun wanted us to imagine more than to see. To feel perhaps a little more what is happening in the character’s head. I played a lot with under-exposure at night. To shoot a night with white walls and black skins, now that is a real textbook problem ! For the first time I filtered so as not to end up with too contrasty an image, the goal being to leave me a margin later for the blow-up and the internegative.

Maha Saleh Haroun is the only Chadian filmmaker we know of, does his mise en scène reflects something in particular ?

LB : A Screaming Man is a film with few cuts. The staging is very simple. We shot very few angles, often in a static shot, with very few takes (25,000 feet of film). The script evolved a lot during production.

At the beginning of production, Haroun was searching for the film, we did shots without being convinced that they would make the cut. The edit has radicalized the writing of the film. The spine remains, but there are characters who have disappeared, others who have taken more room. His way of working is not fixed, he revisits things, reinvents… During shooting, he is searching, he is more into feeling than constructing.

A word about your team...

LB : Since there is no cinema in Chad, there are no technicians, and no infrastructure. This was a film funded by France, with an obligation to take French actors and technicians. The grips and electricians came from Burkina Faso. I was delighted because they were an outstanding crew, very professional, and funny too !

(Interview by Brigitte Barbier for the AFC)

Dana, chef opérateur du son, et Emilie Monier, assistante caméra
Dana, chef opérateur du son, et Emilie Monier, assistante caméra

(Translated from French by Benjamin B)