Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

Alice Diop shares her views on the future of cinema on a grand tour of Switzerland

Alice Diop in a debate at the Monte Verità Literary Festival, in March.
Alice Diop taking part in a debate at the Monte Verità Literary Festival, in March 2024. ©Eventi letterari Monte Verità

Award-winning French filmmaker Alice Diop is touring Switzerland as a guest of honour at several events. This week she will be at the Visions du Réel documentary film festival, after stints at a literary festival in Ascona and the Locarno Film Festival’s spring event. She spoke to SWI about the future of cinema.

Every August, the small town of Locarno hosts Switzerland’s most internationally renowned film festival. Yet the festival’s activities are not confined to the ten summer days encompassing the main event. In recent years, Locarno has increasingly branded itself as a year-round hub for exploring “the future of cinema” – a focus also featured heavily at the festival’s annual spring event, L’immagine e la parola (“the image and the word”), which took place in mid-March.

Daniela Persico, who co-organises L’immagine e la parola with Giona A. Nazzaro, Locarno’s artistic director, is adamant that the future of cinema is something to be optimistic about – even amid the challenges of at-home streaming services, video-based social media, the pandemic, the popularisation of AI tools, and the resulting changes in audience behaviour and expectations.

“Cinema is evolving at the moment,” says Persico. “I think it’s true that it’s a difficult moment for cinema as a popular art. It’s true that it reaches fewer people than before. But that also means a director has to ask more questions than before. They have to discover new forms of cinema.”

Indeed, it was one such visionary director who was the focus of the 2024 edition of L’immagine e la parola – award-winning French documentarian-turned-fiction-filmmaker Alice Diop.

Alice Diop poses with the Lion of the Future – “Luigi De Laurentiis” Venice Award for a Debut Film for Saint Omer during the award winners photocall
Alice Diop poses with the Lion of the Future Venice Award for a debut film for “Saint Omer”, September 2022 Alamy Stock Photo/Credit: Live Media Publishing Group / Alamy Stock Photo

The unquenchable quest for cinema

Born to Senegalese parents in the northern Parisian suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois in 1979, Diop made her directing debut in 2005 with La Tour du Monde, a portrait of the people living in the building where she grew up. She has since gone on to become one of French cinema’s most incisive voices, especially on the topic of multicultural and multi-ethnic belonging.

When asked about her thoughts about the future of cinema – given her presence at a Locarno-organised event – it becomes clear that this topic is very much on her mind as well. “I don’t know what cinema is – but I don’t need to know because I’m always looking for it,” she says.

“To me, [the future of cinema] is about renewing representations. It’s about thinking about questions that haven’t yet been thought about. It’s about bringing to life stories and bodies that haven’t been sufficiently filmed. I think it’s part of a global movement to stress the need to decentralise the gaze – in terms of decolonial issues, for instance.”

As an example, she cites the work of Mati Diop (no relation), a fellow French filmmaker of Senegalese origin, whose film Dahomey – an imaginatively dramatised documentary about the restitution of colonial loot from France to the Republic of Benin – won the top prize at this year’s Berlinale festival.

In recent years, Alice Diop’s work has also increasingly gained the attention of various awards bodies and festival juries. Her 2016 short documentary Towards Tenderness (Vers la tendresse), which explores the emotional life of a handful of young men from a Parisian suburb, won the French César award for Best Short Film.

In 2021, Nous (We), her sprawling Métro-based portrait of Paris, was crowned the winner of the Berlinale’s Encounters section. In 2022, her fiction debut Saint Omer, a fictionalised account of the trial of Fabienne Kabou, a Senegalese-born French woman who left her infant child to die on a beach, earned a Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

External Content

The decolonial quandary

“The future of cinema,” Diop continues, “lies in using this form to ask questions that cinema hasn’t yet been able to address. It’s the decolonial question, the question of the voices of the Global South”.

In her vision, the cinema of tomorrow should explore unknown spaces and surprise the audience with a new mindset on topics such as how women are represented and portrayed.

“There are a lot of filmmakers we haven’t seen yet who are doing their own thing,” she says.

This also means changing how film is curated – a message which Locarno, whose vision for its own future has come under some scrutiny recently, might do well to heed. Referencing her work with France’s Centre Pompidou and the Ateliers Médicis to set up La Cinémathèque idéale des banlieues du monde (“the ideal cinematheque for the world’s suburbs”), Diop advocates for a cinema industry which “welcomes, protects, and works on films that come from all the peripheries of the world.”

This involves, on the one hand, overlooked filmmakers from the past – artists who “weren’t sufficiently seen and studied, because people at festivals, the people who think about cinema, the people who make it, the people who finance it, the people who comment on it, all come from a similar cultural background. This can cause a blindness towards anything that doesn’t fit into the established point of view.”

Alice Diop shooting "Nous"
Alice Diop on the set of “Nous” (“We”). Totem Films

Nurture the young

On the other hand, taking this ethos seriously means protecting and nurturing emerging talents. “I’m thinking of a programme we’ve just done with a young filmmaker called Valentin Noujaïm, who’s barely 30 and who works at the intersection between fiction cinema and contemporary art, and who had a very, very bad experience at La Fémis [one of France’s premier film schools],” Diop says.

“That’s an experience many young racialised filmmakers have. I’m also thinking of a woman who won a prize at the Cinéfondation in Cannes: her name is Fatima Kaci, and we discovered her by chance through the Cinémathèque idéale. She also went through La Fémis and had a very bad experience with racial discrimination.”

“It’s about being attentive to these young filmmakers – which also means allowing them to take the time and the space to create a work of art, to welcome them, to watch over them. It’s about protecting their careers.”

To Diop, this means leading by example, as evidenced by her current string of festival masterclasses and her recent appointment as a visiting professor at Harvard University’s Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies. “I’m very attentive to young people, to people who are 25 or 30 years old. I want to open the door for them, to do for them what I would have liked someone to do for me.”

Only when these new voices and perspectives are heard can the future of cinema take its course. “I don’t want to be the token Black woman,” says Diop – that is, the kind of filmmaker to whom people come to simply ask questions about what it’s like to be a Black woman.

It’s a discrete but powerful stance against the impulse to oversimplify current debates about identity and representation in the arts. “I don’t want to be confined to the status of spokesperson or symbol. I want people to talk about my films,” says Diop. “And for that, we need to be numerous. When there are many of us, the more we’ll finally be recognised for the singularity of the films we make, and not for the abstract concepts we represent.”

External Content

Edited by Eduardo Simantob & Virginie Mangin/dos

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here . Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR