The famed director and lead actor Achouackh Abakar Souleymane talk about the challenges of making a female-led movie in Chad, and being overwhelmed by audience responses

As a young boy in Chad, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun grew up surrounded by women – mother, aunties, four sisters, one formidable grandmother. The day after he was beaten by a teacher at Koranic school, his grandmother marched up to give the man a piece of her mind: “My grandson will never come back to your school.” Haroun mimics her angry finger jabbing and smiles warmly. “She had a very strong personality. Normally, a woman would never do this. The shame!”

Haroun’s boyhood instilled in him, he says, a respect for women. But in his career as Chad’s only prominent film-maker – and one of Africa’s best known cinematic exports – he has told stories about men and boys. His gorgeous film Abouna is about two young brothers searching for their father. A Screaming Man told the tale of a hotel pool attendant who packs his son off to war; after it won the jury prize at Cannes in 2010, the government in Chad rebuilt the country’s only cinema (it has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic).

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