Filmmakers Leconte: ′Charlie Hebdo is the opposite of racist′ | Film | DW | 06.01.2016
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Filmmakers Leconte: 'Charlie Hebdo is the opposite of racist'

The documentary "Je suis Charlie" by Daniel and Emmanuel Leconte captures the atmosphere in France after the attacks on the magazine. In this DW interview, they discuss the debates surrounding the paper's ideals.

Deutsche Welle: Your documentary is not only a tribute to those who were murdered: It is a declaration of love and shows great respect to the magazine's ideas and creators. Why did you feel so connected to "Charlie Hebdo"?

Daniel Leconte: I had worked on a previous film about "Charlie Hebdo" in 2007. "Charlie Hebdo" had been taken to court by Muslim organizations in France, because they had published the Muhammad cartoons in solidarity with the Danish newspaper "Jylland Posten." The case led to a very important debate, and finally "Charlie Hebdo" was acquitted by the court. After this, we thought that it was the end of the story. But it wasn't.

After this judgment, Islamist attacks on "Charlie Hebdo" started. The offices were firebombed in 2011. And Charb, who was the director of the newspaper, became a target of Al-Qaeda.

"Charlie Hebdo" felt quite alone in this situation, not only because of terrorists - some intellectuals and journalists accused them of provoking the Muslim world.

By the end of December 2014, they were only selling 30,000 copies a week. They barely managed to finance their paper. That was the situation by January 2015.

Emmanuel Leconte: Actually, there was a terrible misunderstanding. "Charlie Hebdo" was probably one of the only newspapers that tried to clarify how some people were instrumentalizing religion for the sake of terrorism. The journalists of "Charlie Hebdo" were portrayed as racists, accused of spreading Islamophobia - although they were trying to achieve the complete opposite. "Charlie Hebdo" progressively became caged in this sort of fantasy, this false idea that it was a racist newspaper.

Daniel Leconte: As I had followed them throughout the trial, I knew the values of "Charlie Hebdo" very well. For me, "Charlie Hebdo" is the most representative of the Republican values we fought for in the sixties - such as freedom of speech and artistic freedom. That's why I supported them when everybody was accusing them of being too offensive.

Of course, you have the right to be offended. You can express your difference of opinion through the press, the justice system - but not by killing people.

Demonstration on January 11, 2015 after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, Copyright: Reuters/S. Mahe

Millions expressed solidarity with the magazine after the attacks

EL: We were not the only ones to make this declaration of love. There were four million people who took the streets on January 11 in France and way more worldwide. Many of these people were saying: It's not that we particularly love what you draw, or we believe everything you say. But we "love you" in the sense that we can't accept that someone would decide to get rid of you. We have a certain set of values that bind us together and we are compelled to support those who are threatened because their criticism and their art.

One year later, how does the spirit of the January 11 mobilization of the population live on?

EL: Seen from abroad people might think: "There was a huge mobilization on January 11, and now there is a huge mobilization for the National Front - are those the same people?" Of course not!

The mobilization of the whole country last January is something we still have a hard time explaining. People were expressing a set of values that are very hard to define in a concrete way: It is about liberty, it is about the French revolution, it is about Enlightenment, it is about the right to criticize.

Four million people took the streets: That's something that never happened in our history, it's meaningful. It shouldn't be confused with the results of the last elections. The National Front is using the bad energy of terrorism. It's using the fuel of hatred and terrorism to arouse fear and crazy ideas. We've had a very sad year in France - it's a sad consequence of what happened in January.

The documentary "Je suis Charlie," directed by Daniel and his son Emmanuel Leconte premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in summer 2015 and is released in Germany on January 7.

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