Lina Soualem’s ‘Their Algeria’ Wins First Docs-in-Progress Award

Christopher Vourlias

CANNES–Lina Soualem’s “Their Algeria” won the inaugural Docs-in-Progress Award, a €10,000 ($11,300) cash prize given out by the Cannes Film Market’s Doc Corner with the support of the Intl. Film Talent Association (IEFTA), which was presented Tuesday at a ceremony at the Plage des Palmes.

Soualem’s directorial debut was chosen out of the 24 works-in-progress that were presented this week at the Doc Corner, with four documentary projects apiece from six countries. “We watched some amazingly strong and necessary stories from across the world, at different stages of production. They were all very inspiring, often deeply personal, surprising, brave, cinematic and ambitious films,” said jury head Ragnhild Ek said.

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The six national showcases included projects from Canada, which were presented by Telefilm Canada, in partnership with Hot Docs and RIDM (the Montreal Intl. Documentary Festival); Argentina, presented by FIDBA (the Intl. Documentary Film Festival of Buenos Aires); South Africa, presented by the National Film and Video Foundation; Palestine, presented by the Palestine Film Institute; Norway, presented by the Norwegian Film Institute; and Chile, presented by Chiledoc.

“Their Algeria” tells the story of Soualem’s grandparents, Algerian immigrants who divorced after more than six decades of marriage and now live in separate apartment buildings facing each other. The half-Algerian, half-Palestinian Soualem used their story as the launching pad for a deeply personal exploration of the Algerian experience in France.

“On my Palestinian side, the transmission of our story has always been very central, because we survive through words, but on my Algerian family, silence was preferred,” said Soualem.

“No one told the story of the immigration of my Algerian grandparents who arrived in France in the ‘50s. They recently separated after 62 years of marriage, and I realized that, first of all, I didn’t understand their separation, I didn’t know if they loved each other or not.

He added: “Secondly, I had no idea how they lived through this life of exile: How they came to France, why they never went back to Algeria. So that’s when I decided to make this film, to explore the story of this family.”

She continued: “I come from a generation that grew up in the silence of the Algerian War, so it’s also something that is very common to my generation, especially in France. Many immigrants came to France thinking that it was short-term, that they would work and go back, and they eventually never went back. They never really told their children why, because themselves, they didn’t really understand why. Because of the link between Algeria and France, and the war, and the colonization, there was a lot of taboo and silence, because of the trauma.”

“Their Algeria” is produced by Marie Balducchi, of AGAT Films & Cie. The film is currently in post-production, with Soualem noting that she hopes to finish it by the end of the year. “It’s a story that I thought was very personal, and I wasn’t sure that it would touch so many people, and it was amazing to see that it does,” she said.

Commenting on the prize-winning selection, Ek noted: “The intimate style of storytelling brings us very close to the main characters, allowing us to share the tears and laughter, often punctuated by the stubborn silence of the grandfather. His silence echoes the distance between the couple, and the distance that has grown between them and their original homeland: a silence that the filmmaker aspires to break with this film.”

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