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Mohammed Soudani: we're always South of someone

A scene from Mohammed Soudani's film, Waalo Fendo, a story about African immigration


Born in 1949 at El-Asnam, in Algeria, Mohammed Soudani emigrated to Ticino 30 years ago and is now one of Switzerland's most respected and creative cinema and television directors.

Soudani is highly sensitive to the situation in Africa and to Africa's relations with Europe. In 1998 he was awarded the prize for the best Swiss film, the full-length feature Waalo Fendo, at the Solothurn film festival:

"At ten o'clock in the evening on December 1971, a train pulls into the station at Locarno. The doors open and a few passengers alight. I button my jacket over the red tie which I am wearing for the first time and get down from the train.

A friend of mine from Algeria, who has already been in Locarno for six months, is there waiting for me. We greet each other warmly; my friend gives me a welcoming hug.

The first shock: I do not realise how cold it is until I cross the threshold of the old apartment where he lives. I am met by a wave of heat. I am introduced to his wife, then sit down at table and tell them about my journey, before wolfing down my soup and cheese. That first night, I cannot sleep at all.

I was pleased to be there, but sad to be so far away from my mother and family. I did not understand this new place and what I was experiencing.

Everything seemed beautiful, rich and perfect. For the first few days, I was under the impression that no one worked: all the bars were crowded with people. A few months later, I realised that I was mistaken and that people worked very hard - some of them too hard.

My first job was as a footballer in a second division club. Then I got a job in a photographic laboratory, while still continuing to play football. After six months, I met a girl with green eyes. I fell for her in a big way, never imagining that one day she would be my wife.

I began to get to know Ticino, learning its dialect and the official language - Italian. A few years later, I discovered that I was living in a region in the south of Switzerland. I came from the south and I had emigrated to another southern region. I then realised that one is always south of someone else.

Not without difficulty, I learned to live, to work, to co-habit with a people many of whom were there as a result of immigration. I realised that nearly everyone who said they were natives of a town or village were in fact descendants of Italian families. Since time immemorial, they had lived in harmony with other families who themselves had come as immigrants from other regions.

Community life barely exists. Everyone is concerned with his or her own business. It is clear to me that the real world is one's own family.

Society, on the other hand, is a club of which you become a member. The privileges you enjoy depend on how much you paid by way of subscription: everyone gets back what they pay in.

I, too, have become a member of this club. I have been married for over 27 years and my wife is a film producer, director of a television production company, with a special interest in young Swiss film-makers. Our two daughters live far away - to the north. The elder is a biologist in an American firm located in Geneva; the younger is studying law at the University of Lausanne."

Mohammed Soudani


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