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“Tilo Koto”, his poignant documentary on the journey of migrants

For Yancouba Badji, the dream of Europe came to an abrupt end in southern Tunisia, after four attempts to cross the Mediterranean from the Libyan coast. Originally from Casamance in the south of Senegal, he lived in The Gambia where he had a refrigeration installation workshop. Threatened by the dictatorship of the then leader Yahya Jammeh, he took the road to exile from Tambacounda, Senegal. Then begins for him a year and a half of adventures on the underground roads.

He and his companions stayed three days at sea, crowded and standing, without eating or drinking.

“He reached Bamako in Mali by bus, then crossed Burkina Faso to Agadez in Niger. On the way, he does not escape multiple rackets and torture. From Agadez, he crossed the desert. Abandoned by his smuggler, he ended up reaching Libya, where he lived for nine months of horror, ”recounts Combritoise Valérie Malek. “He attempted to cross the Mediterranean three times. The fourth time, on May 27, 2017, his inflatable boat loaded with 127 passengers was recovered by the Tunisian National Navy. He and his companions stayed three days at sea, crowded and standing, without eating or drinking, ”adds the latter.

All migrants tell the same story

Sophie Bachelier and Valérie Malek, co-directors of the documentary, will meet her at the Medenine Migrants Center in Tunisia. This is also where their film project begins. In July 2017, at the request of Doctor Mongi Slim, pharmacist, head of the Tunisian Red Crescent, they came to collect the testimonies of those who had passed through Libya. They all tell the same story. The men are reduced to slavery, the women condemned to prostitution.

Yancouba and Dou, a young Gambian, in front of the painting “Lapa Lapa, crossing in a rubber dinghy” (Photo taken from the film “Tilo Koto”)

He realizes that he will not return to Libya to attempt a new crossing, but in his native country, Senegal

The directors decide to go there overnight. They met shortly before at the Gabès International Film Festival in Tunisia. Valérie Malek came to present his documentary on Palestinian refugees in Jordan, “Another world in your eyes”, Sophie Bachelier hers on a refugee camp in southern Tunisia, “Choucha”. “We had the same sensitivity on the ground. These are not easy shoots and we wanted to work together, to share this professional and human experience, ”says Valérie Malek.

Informing African youth with his paintings

Throughout the interviews with the migrants, Yancouba, by his charisma, stands out as the protagonist of the film. During a return trip between Tunisia and France, they bring back, at his request, brushes and oil paints. “He then begins to recount his career in painting. Little by little, he realizes that he will not return to Libya to attempt a new crossing, but to his native country, Senegal, to inform African youth with his paintings of rackets and the trafficking of human beings on illegal routes. of exile, ”says Valérie.

“Tilo Koto”, his poignant documentary on the journey of migrants
“Floating bodies on the seabed”, oil on canvas by Yancouba Badji (Sophie Bachelier)

Artistic creation and resilience

She then saw the emergence of an artistic creation and a process of resilience taking place. Back in Paris, Sophie Bachelier and Valérie Malek meet the Franco-Algerian director and producer Rachid Bouchareb (“Indigènes”). Touched by the subject of the film, he decides to produce it, thus giving them the opportunity to film Yancouba’s return to Goudomp, his village of Casamance. With the money paid by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) during his repatriation, he undertook the construction of a cultural center which he called Tilo Koto, Diamoral (Under the sun, peace) and received the support of the French Foundation La Ferthé.

Awarded in international festivals

In October 2019, he obtained a one-year “Talent Passport” visa to stay in France. He continues to work on his painting and to accompany the film. Several of his works will be exhibited during the next edition ofAfrica at the Passerelle Contemporary Art Center, in Brest, from June to September 2021.

“Tilo Koto”, his poignant documentary on the journey of migrants
Yancouba, back home, paints the Casamance river (Photo from the film “Tilo Koto”)

The film “Tilo Koto” has been selected in many international festivals. Last March, he won the Grand Prix at the Curieux Voyageurs festival in Saint-Étienne and received a Special Mention at the 10th Luxor International African Film Festival, in Cairo (Egypt), in early April. The director is looking for partners to bring this beautiful 67 ‘documentary to life, which brings together cinema and the visual arts.

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