Berlin: Director of Competition Title 'Felicite' Blasts Visa Delays for African Actors Attending Fest

Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

"This paranoia is ridiculous," Alain Gomis told a Berlinale press conference regarding the debate about Europe's position amid the refugee crisis.

A delay in granting three African actors visas to attend the Berlin Film Festival to promote their competition movie Felicitie on Saturday led the film's writer/director to lash out at Europe's debate about its position amid the refugee crisis.

"They were held up for three days to attend one of the greatest film festivals in the world," French helmer Alain Gomis said of Congolese actors Vero Tshanda Beya, Gaetan Claudia and Papi Mpaka. They were then allowed to board a plane to reach Berlin in time for their film's world premiere on Saturday night.

"Refugees have been in Europe for years and years. This paranoia is ridiculous," Gomis added. The visa-processing delays were prompted in part by the actors flying from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, where the film was partly shot and is set, to Berlin.

The DRC was once a central African colony of Belgium, which today is part of the EU's Schengen agreement, complicating the politics around the visa applications. "The resolution only came at the last minute," Oumar Sall, a co-producer on Felicite, told The Hollywood Reporter.

The visa application process was also slowed by the performers, all non-professionals, not being registered as artists/actors in the DRC, and the names on their passports not corresponding with the names they use in daily life or as represented on the movie's cast list. 

France, representing French-Sengalese director Gomis, ultimately had to intervene to ensure Tshanda Beya, Claudia and Mpaka got through to Berlin. "It's absolutely necessary that these actors can travel, because the films travel," Sall said.

Felicite is a France-Senegal-Belgium-Germany-Lebanon co-production making its world premiere in Berlin. The film follows a single mother named Felicite (Tshanda Baye), who is also a singer in Kinshasa with a 16-year-old son at risk of losing his leg after an accident because she cannot pay for the operation.

"This is the way we live," Tshanda Baye said of her character's bitter survival struggle in Kinshasa. "I liked this role because I see this thing happening, mothers and children dying in hospitals, every day. That's life in the DRC. So I could put my heart into this role," she said during the film's press conference.


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