UPDATED with video: Director Philippe Lacôte is back as the representative from Ivory Coast for the International Feature Film Oscar with Night of the Kings, a story about storytelling. It’s set in the notorious La Maca prison in Abidjan where prisoners rule the roost.
As a red moon rises, a new inmate, designated Roman, is ordered by the prison’s self-appointed boss to tell a story. Ultimately, Roman crafts a tale that lyrically enthralls his fellow prisoners.
Lacôte previously worked in documentaries and Night of the Kings brings through elements of that background mixed with a sort of magical realism and a link to the story of Sherezade. During the film’s panel at Deadline’s Contenders International awards-season event, he says that the real La Maca has a place in his own history as his mother spent time in the prison for political reasons, and he later had a friend who was there and told him of the practice of obliging a prisoner to tell stories.
“I try to make fiction with real and true stories,” he says. “It’s important when I speak about one world to have the reality in it.” Among the cast, 25% of extras are former prisoners and it was “important to have this authenticity.”
But that is “not in contradiction with poetry. In my culture, in my country, the border between the visible world and invisible world, the border between magic and the realistic is very fine.”
This is only the third time Ivory Coast has submitted a movie to the Oscar race, and two of the films have been Lacôte’s. He also tells us about the emerging industry in West Africa.
Neon is releasing Night of the Kings which has also played the Venice, New York and Toronto film festivals and is going to Sundance this month in the Spotlight section.