Doc ′Je suis Charlie′ pays tribute to freedom of expression | Film | DW | 15.12.2015
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Doc 'Je suis Charlie' pays tribute to freedom of expression

Nearly a year ago, key contributors of the French satire magazine "Charlie Hebdo" were killed by terrorists. Now a documentary explores the strong reactions that followed while celebrating those journalists' vision.

It featured a tearful Mohammed holding a sign saying "All is forgiven." The first issue of "Charlie Hebdo," published just a week after the January 7 attacks, is world-famous, having sold seven million copies worldwide.

First issue of Charlie Hebdo after attacks, January 2015, Copyright: EPA/CHARLIE HEBDO

Bold and touching: The survivors published an issue a week after the attacks

The production of the magazine by the survivors amidst the worldwide reactions immediately following the attacks was documented by Emmanuel and Daniel Leconte. Their film "Je suis Charlie" (original title in French: "L'humour à mort," which literally translates as "Humor to Death") is released in French cinemas on December 16.

The documentary closely follows the social upheaval in the wake of the attacks and interviews the survivors, who saw their friends being killed by two gunmen. It also includes comments by writers, philosophers and politicians.

Most powerfully, it also transmits the vision of the magazine through earlier interviews with the main contributors who were murdered, among them editor Charb and cartoonist Cabu.

First doc covered Mohammed cartoon court case

The father-and-son team of directors had already established ties with the satire magazine; Daniel Leconte had filmed a 2008 documentary on "Charlie Hebdo" titled "Tough Being Loved By Jerks" (French title: "C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons").

Daniel and Emmanuel Leconte, film directors, Copyright: Getty Images/AFP/J. Saget

Film directors Emmanuel (left) and his father Daniel Leconte

That film project started when the magazine was brought to court by a Muslim organization after publishing the Danish Mohammed cartoons. When the court ruled that the magazine was allowed to publish the cartoons, everyone thought the debate was over.

'Charlie Hebdo' under fire

Radical Islamists took off from there. In the following years, a fatwa was declared on Charb, the editor of the weekly, and terrorists fired a bomb on the magazine's office building in 2011.

At the other end of the spectrum, some people accused the satirical paper of racism and Islamophobia. "That's the complete opposite of what 'Charlie Hebdo' was trying to do. It was saddening to realize that 'Charlie Hebdo' was caged in this false interpretation," Emmanuel Leconte told DW in an interview for the program Arts.21. For this reason, the weekly experienced a difficult phase towards the end of 2014. "They were stuck between these two fires," adds the younger co-director.

Despite the criticism, Daniel Leconte remained a proponent of the magazine's vision throughout the years. For him "Charlie Hebdo was the clearest representative of the free world we were fighting for in the 60s."

Millions say 'Je suis Charlie'

Even though discussion on the value of the content published by "Charlie Hebdo" continued after the January 2015 killings, most people agreed that killing journalists was simply inacceptable. Four million people took to the streets in France in protest. Many more identified with the newspaper, bearing the message "Je suis Charlie."

Solidarity for Charlie Hebdo in Paris, January 2015, Copyright: REUTERS/Charles Platiau

Four million people took to the streets - an unprecedented movement of solidarity in France

As Emmanuel Leconte recalls, many people testified along these lines: "It's not that we particularly love what you draw or agree with everything you say, but we love you in the sense that we do not accept it if someone decides to get rid of you. We have a certain set of values that bind us together and compel us to support someone who is threatened because he creates, because he criticizes."

While back in January, some critics argued Charlie Hebdo was too provocative, after the most recent attacks in Paris, only few did.

Islamist terrorism is fueling another type of huge mobilization in the country - for the far-right Front National party. The filmmakers hope the French population will manage to find its answers by searching beyond the simplifications proposed by populist politicians: "The Front National are using the bad energy of terrorism to arouse fear and crazy ideas. It is a sad consequence," said Emmanuel Leconte.

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