In the second of our One in a Million series, we meet Wissame Cherfi, a filmmaker who has called Dublin home since 2009.
Wissame Cherfi is a 27 year old French-Algerian filmmaker and storyteller. He arrived in Dublin in October 2009 intending to stay for only a few months, and six years later, is still here! He played football for more than 10 years, and always loved spending time with older people and listening to people in general. In some mysterious way, he tells us, he managed to make a living out of it. Living the dream, indeed!
What attracted you to Dublin in the first place?
Before Dublin, I lived in Spain for almost a year while studying on the Erasmus programme; I was on my way to do a Masters in Economics and I knew that I needed to improve my English first. As my sister lived here, I decided to give Dublin a try. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about the city before coming here. I just knew it from the stories that my sister used to tell me when she would return home for holidays. She was describing the place, the kind of life she had in Dublin. It was interesting, but I was not sure that it was the city I wanted to live in or anything like that. But I knew I had to experience it for myself.
What does Dublin mean to you?
I know it is going to sound cliché, but Dublin in a way gave me a chance that I probably would not have had elsewhere. I was predestined to work in business, using my marketing and communication skills, but I decided to take a completely different turn.
When I was 17, I started to do drama courses in high school. I was a very introverted young person, but I really enjoyed it, because I could express a bubbling creativity that I had for years. I was always a very creative kid, you know the one that draws in his notebook at the back of the classroom. We did a play in front of 200 people, and I remember standing there, waiting for my turn to go on stage. I was petrified. The curtains opened, I sat down, the two other girls started the dialogue and then it was my turn to deliver my lines. It was a funny line and I heard the people starting to laugh. I just remember the feeling, amazing! I didn’t know it at the time, but this precise moment would influence me a couple of years later. I remember checking the fees of the acting schools in Paris at the time and I realised that my family couldn’t afford them.
After that, I did three years in college and when I graduated, I felt like something was missing; I was about to enter a whole business career without knowing if this was what I really wanted to do. I moved to Dublin to learn the language, I started to work and I applied to do the Masters in the South of France. I was accepted and in some sort of a last minute call, I decided not to go. I knew that it was not what I really wanted to do with my life.
A friend of mine, Chawki Barnat, bought a camera and we started to work on projects, with me acting. Just for fun. But again, I think I knew I didn’t want to be in front of the camera, but I wanted to use the camera to tell stories. All of a sudden, it clicked. I could put my active listening skills to good use and be creative by stitching beautiful visuals together. Boom. Dublin is a very special city to me, for this specific reason.
Do you think of yourself as a Dubliner?
Interesting question. What’s a Dubliner? Can we consider a tourist a Dubliner or should we only consider ‘Dubliners’ the people who live here and pay taxes? Hard to answer. Recently, I heard the term ‘New Dubliners’. I am not really sure what that means. When do you then consider yourself a Dubliner? After 5 years? After 10 years? I think this terminology marginalises a part of the population and doesn’t help us to integrate in to society.
To answer your question, I do consider myself a Dubliner. I love being here. Where else would I go?!
Tell us about your involvement with the Dublin2020 bid for City of Culture
Back in May 2015, I was contacted by the Dublin2020 office. The guys in there are working hard to ensure that Dublin will be successful in its bid for Capital of Culture in 2020.
They had watched ‘We Are Dublin’ (my first short documentary) and wanted to talk and see if we could work on a project together.
They started to explain the whole campaign to me and I could feel that they were really interested in the people of Dublin that make up the city. We then talked about the possibility of doing a shorter version of ‘We Are Dublin’, each episode would focus on one person and her/his story.
It went very well, it was pretty challenging to produce a video per week and it turned out to be very successful, people loved it. I also directed and edited a short film, ‘Re-cycle’ that tells the story of a refurbished bike, saved from the dump and made roadworthy again. Again it was a very interesting project, we involved the local bike community in it, and now there is a beautiful bike at 15, Bachelor’s Walk, ready to be ridden by Dubliners, and it can be done for free! I encourage you all to give it a try!
Has the Dublin2020 bid given you any new insights into the city and its people?
It did. You learn so much from people’s memories, jokes, stories.
I can probably give you one example. We filmed Niamh O’Donoghue for one of our episodes, and we ended up in the Cobblestone in Smithfield. It was the first time I had ever been there. Niamh is a fiddle player, and we filmed in there for an hour and a half. I really enjoyed the experience; a gathering of musicians, speaking the same language through song and music, no matter what their social class or age. It was just beautiful, and to think that it only took me six years to experience my first Irish music session! So yes, it has given me new insights! Definitely!
What other projects are you working on at the moment (or have planned for the near future)?
I am a lover of documentaries, but I feel like I want to produce fictional stories. Short movies. I am writing a short film with two actors on a subversive subject that is important to me. I can’t wait to be able to show it to people. There are also a couple of documentary projects in the pipeline, but I can’t talk about them at the minute, as they are still in the pre-production or production phase.
Your perfect Dublin day?
Wake up between 8am and 9am. Shower. Breakfast. Emails. To Do List. Work on the to do list. Editing. Filming in Dublin. No rain. Reconnect with people you haven’t seen in a while. Have a laugh. Cycling. Listen to people’s conversations while sitting at a coffee shop. Draw. Write. Smile. Eat. Eat. Drink a hot chocolate. Coming back home. Cooking. Eating. Sleeping.
What one thing would you change about Dublin?
A library open 24/7. An alternative for the people who work Monday to Friday and can’t find the time to enjoy reading a good old book. Knowledge is power.
Many thanks to Wissame for taking the time to answer our questions. Be sure to check out his website, and keep an eye out for a guy with a video camera around town — you never know, you might just feature in his next video!
Stay tuned for more in the One in a Million series, featuring some of the finest creative minds and talent this city has to offer.