A writer and director, Alice Diop trained in documentary at the Fémis after studying humanities. She won the César for Best Short Film for Vers la tendresse in 2017. The same year, her feature documentary La Permanence won the top award in the French Competition section at the Cinéma du réel festival. Her latest film We won awards for Best Documentary Film and Best Film in the Encounters strand at the Berlinale in 2021. She then launched into fiction with Saint-Omer, a feature film soon to be released, and directed an episode of the Arte series 24H, about violence against women.
As part of the Unifrance Critic's Lab 2022
A portrait of Alice Diop by Aramide Tinubu, American journalist.
"Cinema is both an exploration and a presentation. In the beginning, there were only documentaries or "actualities." At the birth of cinema in the late 19th century, filmmakers like the Lumiere Brothers and Alice Guy-Blaché used the moving picture to showcase "actual events" to audiences. The narrative film would come sometime later, as would the documentary in the form we recognize today. French-Senegalese filmmaker Alice Diop has spent her career turning her lens toward those just outside what is celebrated in French cinema. She has focused on the voices of the underrepresented, cementing their places in cinema history and forcing society to pay attention to those they may have long forgotten, even when she's had to break the fourth wall to do so. After all, no matter what we tell ourselves, filmmaking can never truly be objective, even when it comes to non-fiction.
Diop's professional debut was 2005's La Tour du Monde. The docuseries showcased her return to her childhood home, a housing project outside Paris. Diop told Reverse Shot the purpose of the project was to "make visible the people who I have been conditioned to reject, and that I have been made to believe we're not worthy of being represented in film."
From that project forward, the César Award winner's work has been both a time capsule of ordinary lives lived and an engagement between herself as the filmmaker and her subjects. Following La Tour du Monde, Diop debuted, The Death of Danton ( La mort de Danton) in 2011, which centered on a 25-year-old Black man from the Paris suburbs who looks toward the theater to escape his violent environment.
In 2015, the filmmaker debuted Towards Tenderness (Vers la Tendresse). The film chronicled the lives of four young Black men living in Paris. The poignant film shows them all grappling with hypermasculinity, sexuality, toxic masculinity, and misogynoir pressure, which can lead to exhaustion, and pain. 2016's On Call (La Permanence) showcased the lives of a doctor and a psychiatrist working in a medical clinic outside of Paris whose patients were primarily refugees.
Diop's latest work, We (Nous), is a tapestry of several people from the Black and immigrant Parisian suburbs. These lives zip zag across from one another on the RER B commuter train, which connects Paris from the north to the south.
Just like Diop's prior works, We has a vulnerability and a presence that only occurs when a filmmaker is deeply trusted by their subjects and they, as Diop does here, are willing to reveal themselves to the world within and beyond the camera's frame. We chronicles the experiences of a mechanic grappling with the cruelties of his employers and longing for chats with his mother. There's writer Pierre Bergounioux, whose life has focused on injustices and inequalities. Diop centers on her sister, a home health aide working with the elderly. There is also an array of young people who will define a new generation of Parisians.
If the documentary's goal is to showcase reality, Diop pushed the boundaries as a documentarian while making the lives of the forgotten or cast aside ever more legitimate and vital."