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How ‘Ennemis Intérieurs’ tackles anti-foreigner sentiment through a tense interrogation

The official movie poster of Oscar nominated live action short
The official movie poster of Oscar nominated live action short "Ennemis Interieurs."
Movie poster for "Ennemis Interieurs"

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All this week, we're looking at the Oscar nominees for best short live action film. It's a real challenge to build out a story and tell it, on screen, in less than 40 minutes.

On Monday, we explored "La Femme et la TGV" or "The Railroad Lady" starring Jane Birkin. Director Timo von Gunten spoke to A Martinez and shed some insight in the overall themes of loneliness and human connection.

Then on Tuesday, we spoke to Hungarian director, Kristoff Deak about his short "Sing." In this short, we follow a shy young girl who joins her new school's award winning choir. What happens next leads to everyone finding out the real reasons for the choir's success.

For Wednesday, we have a film set in 1990's France that seems very relevant in present America. An Algerian seeks French citizenship and is questioned by a French interrogator of Arab decent.

Questions start innocently enough until the conversation moves to religion and who the Algerian associates with. A bid for citizenship devolves into a series of accusations, and almost he is asked to name names in exchange for being made a Frenchman.

Selim Azzazi wrote and directed "Ennemis Interieurs"  and was also  the film's composer.

He gave A Martinez some insight into French Algerian history:

"Algeria was conquered by France in beginning of the 19th Century and it was French for 130 years before its independence. So, many Algerians were actually born French. Anyone who's Algerian now who was born before 1962 was born French. It was the case of my father...If in in '62, people of Algerian origin would choose French citizenship, they would basically say to all their Algerian friends, 'I'm rooting for France. I'm not pro independence,' that's why they all chose Algerian citizenship even though they have mixed feelings.

After a few decades, that's what happened to my dad, he just realized my son's a French, I've been here all my life and it gets complicated with the passports, papers, traveling so after awhile he asked for French citizenship. At this time with the search for terrorists and information and intelligence the police would actually through this process you would have go to a police station to talk to an officer...whatever nationality you come from and they do a little investigation. They ask you who your friends are, where do you work, who do you see and if they want more they will ask you more and this is what happened to many Algerians at that time who were asking for French citizenship."

With filmmaking today, so much of it is making a statement...I thought your film was very balanced. How did you manage to make the narrative work that way?

"I discovered the fact that the ambiguity could work when I was writing the film. I wrote it on my father's side on the first draft. When I was trying to find funding for the film and the national center of cinematography, they give you notes. When I got the notes I understood that all viewers cared about was, was he a terrorist or not? Which was not really my point, my quest was for identity an the terrorist thing was just in the background."

You had me kind of going all different kinds of directions on this one.

"My hope was that if you are rooting for the interrogator because you think his questions are legitimate, let's say you're a little bit on the right side of the political chess board in hope was that this audience would get in the film with the police man and after awhile because they last over a half an hour... I was hoping that they would understand on a human level how humiliating the experience was and maybe change the way they see things and the way they look at those foreigners...that was one of the points I wanted to make with the film."

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. 

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above.