Ask his shadow

Algerian filmmaker makes his debut with his enigmatic documentary, “Demande à ton ombre.”

Simon Benarroch

What: Demande à ton ombre (Ask Your Shadow)

Where: St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 Main St. SE

When: 4:30 p.m., Wednesday

Cost: $5-9, tickets available through the Minneapolis St. Paul Film Society


Last January, Lamine Ammar-Khodja returned to Algeria after spending eight years in France to find his homeland’s capital caught in waves of protest inspired by the Arab Spring.

The 29-year-old budding filmmaker’s first feature film, “Demande à ton ombre” (“Ask Your Shadow”), is a personal account of someone who returns to find a home that’s been seized by social unrest.

On Wednesday, the St. Anthony Main Theatre will give local audiences a chance to both view the film and participate in a post-screening Q-&-A with filmmaker Ammar-Khodja and University of Minnesota history professor Patricia Lorcin.

Lorcin specializes in the cultural fallout of French Imperialism.

“It’s a very unusual film,” Lorcin said. “There’s a lot of symbolism and metaphor. It’s a documentary, but it’s also very personal.”

The narrative thread of the film has been compared to the French 20th century author Aimé Césaire’s who wrote “Return to my Native Land,” only Ammar-Khodja’s account opts for irony and derision in discussing subject matter that’s typically presented soberly.

Despite his best efforts, Ammar-Khodja said he couldn’t come up with a substantial budget for the film, so it was paid for entirely out-of-pocket. He also did much of the post-production work on his own.

In the editing phase, he went through his footage showing violent protests, rioting and desperation and realized his documentary was likely to depress viewers.

“There are many things you don’t control,” he said. Among those were steep cost-of-living increases and scattered self-immolations, which hung over the months of his return.

“When I was editing, I saw it was sad, very depressing,” he said. “So I tried to make it funny.”

He decided to gather the eclectic data documenting his return and create a central character, played by him, who would link the sporadic footage together and add humorous commentary.

“Ask Your Shadow” is an essay film — still a documentary, but the chronology and pacing are subject to Ammar-Khodja’s own experience. This is not an educational film in the conventional sense, nor is it overtly political.

“I cannot talk about anything that’s happening in Algeria right now,” he said, “I’ve not been living there.”

However, as a person who spent the first 20 years of his life in Algeria, he has insight and familiarity that informs his commentary.

He said he wasn’t steeped in political discourse, but that he came away with the feeling that the Arab Spring had failed to take hold in Algeria.

“There was no Arab Spring there,” he said. “The people just got tired.”