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“The slave who became king”, an immoral account of a struggling feature film

Viviane Candas-Mathieu is a movie maker. She is the scriptwriter, author and director, among other things, of a film about her father, the historical FLN lawyer Yves Mathieu. A “slave who became king” script she co-wrote with the great novelist Jean-Claude Carrière. She later met the producer Khalid Djilali. Their collaboration gave way to the project of co-producing the movie. The FDATIC accepted to bankroll the future feature film. And then nothing. No stage direction. No film. In the end, a standoff.

Viviane Candas and Adila Bendimerad during the reading of "The slave who became king".

A summer evening at the residence of an African diplomat in Algiers. 

A sovereign bearing the fruits of the recent triumph of “La dernière reine” (The Last Queen), which she directed with her husband Damien Ounouri, a feature film bearing the promise of a born-again Algerian cinema, actress Adila Bendimerad is sitting under a tree, holding a typescript. 

Next to her is Viviane Candas, a movie maker, actress, author and scriptwriter whose work is partly about Algeria, the country of her father. 

The two artists cue each other while reading the script “The princess of the dark island”. 

More than reading, they are playing! 

Just like in theater or on the big screen, they bring to life into scenes this allegorical text about a “princess and a black slave” about power abuse, its liberating opposite, the struggles to evade the domination of despots. 

Inspired by one of the tales of the Arabian Nights, Viviane Candas adapted starting 2012 with Jean-Claude Carrière during a “long collaboration” to reveal with him, in cinematographic language, the apparent and hidden meanings of the famous collection of tales. 

Refreshing was her performance with Adila Bendimerad, showing how the Arabian Nights remain to this day a source of illumination and robust motivation for modern writings, including visual ones. 

An extraordinary spectacle from the two artists, to unveil in these universally troubled times and threats of a clash of civilizations that these “Nights” remain a way of dialogue still. 

A representation, also, of a new aesthetic awakening to the conditions lived by the oppressed, women and men, of modern times. But also a discovery of what Viviane Candas went looking for in what Jean-Claude Carrière, in the letter of collaboration agreement he sent to her in January 2009, described as “the vast territory of the endless nights”. The power of memory and transmission!

The same that she used to direct two of her documentary films. “Algérie du possible”, in 2016, on her father Yves Mathieu, an anti colonialist activist and lawyer among others of the historical FLN, born in Algeria where he died in 1966. Then, in 2022, “MarseilleS”, on Algerian immigration in this French city, from colonial times to postcolonial ones, facing murderous racism in the early 1970s and the anchoring of the extreme right. 

A mirror of a tarnished creative adventure

A moment to also discover another story, that of “The slave who became king”. It’s the story of a struggling feature film for more than four years now, whose fate depends on the outcome of a judicial and administrative standoff, opposing since 2019 Viviane Candas-Mathieu and Khalid Djilali. The former as a co-author, owner through her production company “Les films de l’Atlantide” of the script rights (reconducted by the heirs of Jean-Claude Carrière following his death in February 2021), and the director who is supposed to make the movie. The latter is a co-producer, representing the Algerian company Djinn. 

The two associates were on the path of a beautiful creative adventure after the fund of cinema aid, the FDATIC, agreed and accepted in December 2018 to bankroll an important part of “The slave who became king” film project, for a total amount of 60 million dinars. That is while it is understood that in case of needing more money, they would collect it from other partners, including in France, the country where “Les Films de l’Atlantide” is based. Their initial agreement, unfortunately, did not hold. 

In May 2019, Khalid Djilali, representing Djinn, signed with the Algerian center for cinema development (CADC), a “delegate producer with majority shares” contract. In the following June, he received as a first installment of financing from the FDATIC the sum of 17,4 million dinars, while agreeing to begin producing the first shots in December 2019. A section of shooting was supposed to take place in Timimoune where Viviane Candas went previously for location research, and another section was planned in Algiers in other places, including the Bardo museum. 

What happened later, between the two associates, sounds like a series of disputes during which the administration of the ministry of Culture and Arts seems to have been at fault for lingering on the arbitration of their dispute. 

Refusing to finance the preparation of the movie, the delays of beginning to film having been passed, Khalid Djilali asked, not without pressure, to renegotiate the new contracts on script rights. 

Under the promise made by the CADC to start filming in March 2020, Viviane Candas agreed to renegotiate and signed a new convention in December 2019. But seeing in January 2020 that no filming preparation was being made, she talked to Youcef Sehairi, then state secretary in charge of the cinema industry. 

The latter’s intervention led to the announcement, in March 2020, by the director of CADC that Djinn would soon resign and that a report on spending from the first installment (17,4 million DZD) would be handed in. But the resignation never came. 

That’s the end of an episode, but here is a kicker: the former state secretary left the job. Meanwhile, Khaled Djilali sent a letter to the FDATIC in which he asked to change the director because “Viviane Candas did not succeed in finding additional financing in France”. 

On March 30, 2021, Kjalid Djilali, representing Djinn, succeeded also in getting a shooting authorization for a script titled “Zumurrud” – the name of the heroine of “The slave who became king”-, with another director, Khaled Bounab, known for “Cocotta”, a short film that won an award at the Bechar festival in 2019. This authorization allowed Djinn to receive the second installment of the FDATIC financing for “The slave who became king”. 

Bureaucratic mazes and ambiguous practices

Informer of these dealings, but only in September 2021, Viviane Candas contacted Ahmed Rachedi, audiovisual adviser at the Presidency, who intervened and suspended the approach of Khalid Djilali. In January 2022, a report on the case of “The slave who became king” was commissioned from the CADC, which contacted a production director who said they were ready to make the film. At the request of the director of promotion of arts (DDPA), Viviane Candas, following procedure, introduced a request at FDATIC to change producers. She waited many months before the commission met, on September 23, 2022.

On February 7, 2023, following a letter from Viviane Candas to the minister of Culture and Arts, Soraya Mouloudji, the CADC sent a formal notice to the representative of Djinn, which retorted declaring his intention to withdraw in favor of the CADC and to report his spendings from the first installment. In doing so, it was not Khalid Djilali, who “went to France” and could not be contacted since, but a parent who went to the CADC administration on his behalf. 

At the same time, in order to obtain a foreign financing to compensate the 17,4 million dinars that Djinn took, Viviane Candas asked the ministry of Culture in early March 2023 to provide a legal document stating that Djinn was no longer her producer. In late April 2023, she sent through a lawyer a formal notice to the CADC, before receiving from the legal service of the ministry of Culture that she “does not have any contract” linking her to the Center. But, “as long as the CADC contract with Djinn has not been terminated, Viviane Candas remains tied to the CADC through Djinn as a grantor of the rights on the scripts”, she explained. The Djinn company, however, no longer has an address in Algiers and bailiff mail can no longer be delivered to it. 

For Viviane Candas, “the sad bureaucratic maze” in which she has been “plunged” translates on behalf of the services of the ministry of Culture a “real but not assumed will” that she does not make the film. “After four years of battles, those who let things linger and want to gain time to kill in me my legitimate claim to film “The slave who became king” are committing a crime against my movie, and thus against me as an artist”, she maintained. 

“If Khalid Djilali does not immediately send his withdrawal letter from his delegate producer role for the CADC, I will file a complaint to the Republic’s prosecutor in France, where the script for “The slave who became king” is protected by the “société d’auteurs” of which I am a member, and so are Jean-Claude Carrière and his successors. We are talking about a scriptwriter who is globally known, who won an Oscar and two palmes d’or. What Djinn did in 2021 after his death is indescribably obscene”, she concluded.