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After two years on the festival circuit with his film The Way of Tea, French writer-director Marc Fouchard may soon be able to celebrate on the industry’s biggest night: the Oscars.

The short drama (also known as Les frémissements du thé), which reunites Fouchard with producer Matthew Devillers, is one of the Academy’s finalists in the Best Live Action Short category. The Grand Prize winner for Best Narrative Short at the Heartland Film Festival, The Way of Tea chronicles the conflict that ensues after a troublemaking young skinhead, Alex (Léon Garel), enters the grocery store of an Arab man named Malik (Hassam Ghancy). Inspired by recent events in Europe, Fouchard delivers a layered and perceptive study of one of the most prevalent conflicts in today’s world. Never pointing the finger at any side, it will leave audiences with a feeling that we need now more than ever: hope.

Ahead of January’s nominations announcement, I had chance to speak to Fouchard about his unique introduction into filmmaking, how his upbringing influenced The Way of Tea, and how his work in directing commercials prepared him for short films. You can check out the interview below.

ScreenPicks: Can you talk about your background in film?

Fouchard: Firstly, I was always passionate about graphics. As a child, I loved drawing and later on, I was very much into graffiti. I started my career as a freelance graphic designer, then I specialized into special effects. As a director, I made a lot of advertising films, but I was always interested in directing fiction, short and long features. That has always been my goal.

Secondly, my passion for writing derives from my interest in mastering the role-playing game, in which the master of game is the writer of each episode and “directs” the players. I played a lot of games like that, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Star Wars, Bitume MK5, Warhammer, etc…

ScreenPicks: What films or filmmakers influenced you?

Fouchard: It’s not very original, but Stanley Kubrick, Coppola, Scorcese. In terms of French filmmakers, I was inspired by Jacques Tati and Jacques Audiard. But the film that changed my life was La Haine by Matthieu Kassovitz. I was young, living in a suburb of Paris, and it was the French film that spoke about suburbs and hip-hop culture. But most of all, I saw true cinematography in it, it made me discover that a movie could be a true piece of art, not just entertainment.

ScreenPicks: I know that The Way of Tea was inspired by specific events that occurred in England and France three years ago, but it would be spoiling the ending of the film if we were to discuss that. I will say that the film deals with the issues of racism and Islamophobia within Europe. How has your own experiences in France influenced the film?

Fouchard: Like I said before, I’m from the suburb of Paris… I was born in the late seventies. When I was a kid, the hip-hop culture broke through in France… I always hung out with friends of all religions and origins. I lived in a diverse environment and it was perfect. But Al Quaida and 9/11 happened and the world changed, and France and my world with it. We saw islamophobia and racism rising. What the media were showing didn’t have anything to do with what my Muslim friends and I were living. My film is about showing a different perspective from the media.

My intention was to bring balance. The media makes a lot of noise about isolated events, which don’t represent the true society we live in. That divides people. Extreme right wing feeds off it and tops it with fake news and approximations.

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ScreenPicks: Speaking of Malik, Hassam Ghancy, also coincidentally stars in Selim Azzazi’s Enemies Within, another shortlisted film. What is it about Hassam that inspires you as a filmmaker?

Fouchard: It all started when I watched Hassam Ghancy play in a TV series project. I found him very charismatic and a great actor. We soon became friends. I wanted to make a movie with Hassam, called Malik, but it turned out to be too expensive to produce… a lot of actors, staff…

So when I heard about this event in York, England, where Muslims went out of their mosque to meet the extreme right-wing protesters, I knew I could turn that idea into a movie far easier to produce, with only two main actors and one set. Hassam supported the project from the very beginning, played a huge part in the casting process… So, I can say that he was more than just an actor for this film.

ScreenPicks: You have a background in directing advertisements for big names like Nike, Chanel, Prada and Dior. Has you experience in making commercials helped you in making a fictional narrative?

Fouchard: Yes, definitely. There is a lot of preparation and client validation before shooting a commercial; I used that experience for The Way Of Tea. I made a detailed photographic storyboard, I extensively exchanged with the staff and the actors. I meticulously prepared all the technical details and I did so because I wanted to dedicate as much time as possible to the actors once we were on the set.

ScreenPicks: Unfortunately, we hear about these incidents of violence from extremist groups so often in the news nowadays. But this film really reminds us that there’s hope in humanity. What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing this film?

Fouchard: Hope. I’m a very optimistic guy… Since the attacks, we feel like we live under constant threat, here in France and especially in the Parisian area. Many of us know people who were touched by the acts of terrorism. But we need to stay positive and optimistic. And above all we need to be open to one another. It’s the only way to win.
And I think we are already winning since every day I witness more love than hate. I have two sons. That is what I teach them every day. The terrorists wanted to divide us. I’m telling my kids that on the contrary we need to be more united!

ScreenPicks: Along with surpassing over 100 eligible short films, The Way of Tea is one of only two films from France that have made the Academy Awards’ shortlist. What does this achievement mean to you?

Fouchard: It’s completely crazy. When I started this project, I never dared imagine it would go so far. I put a lot of work into it. It was important to me to send this message of peace, and I’m happy and honored to receive such a recognition with this movie. It’s a huge achievement for myself and for everybody who participated in this project. And I could never thank them enough for being part of it.

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All ten live action short finalists are listed below.

Bon Voyage, Marc Wilkins, director, and Joël Jent, producer (Dschoint Ventschr Filmproduction)

Ennemis Intérieurs, Sélim Azzazi, director (Qualia Films)

Graffiti, Lluís Quílez, director (Participant Media, Euphoria Productions and Ainur Films)

La Femme et le TGV, Timo von Gunten, director (arbel gmbh)

Nocturne in Black, Jimmy Keyrouz, director (Columbia University)

The Rifle, the Jackal, the Wolf and the Boy, Oualid Mouaness, director (Tricycle Logic)

Silent Nights, Aske Bang, director, and Kim Magnusson, producer (M & M Productions)

Sing (Mindenki), Kristof Deák, director (Meteor Filmstudio)

Timecode, Juanjo Giménez, director (Nadir Films)

The Way of Tea (Les Frémissements du Thé), Marc Fouchard, director, and Matthieu Devillers, producer (Existenz, BlackBox and P904)

The nominees for the 89th Academy Awards will be announced on Tuesday, January 14, 2017.

(All photos are courtesy of Thomas Collard.)

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