Director Mati Diop Discusses Her Artisan Vision for ‘Atlantics’

French actress-filmmaker Mati Diop spent over three and a half years working on her feature directing debut “Atlantics.” The idea of telling a story about immigration was always something she had wanted to do.

In her short film, “Atlantiques,” Diop, whose family is from Senegal, looked at the immigration story, of men who make the journey from Senegal in search of a better life. Enlarging the canvas into the feature-length “Atlantics” allowed Diop to explore the immigration idea further and look at the lives of those left behind by immigration.

But it took a vision and collaboration of people she had worked with and complete strangers to bring it together.

With the exception of pro soccer player-actor Ibrahima Mbaye, her cast was a group of unknowns with no acting experience, plucked from the streets of Dakar. Diop wanted to work with people who had experienced the reality of the issues she was addressing in her film. “It was important to me that the people that brought these characters to live had lived through the experience and could connect to the social reality of the characters.”

Diop recruited Mbaye to help workshop with the actors, walking them through dialogue and to help them develop a bond while discussing the basics of acting and explaining her vision.

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Dusty construction sites, fleeting night shots in a city that Diop describes as “creative and beautiful” and the elements features in the cinematography.  When it came to the visual identity of the film, Diop says that it was firmly rooted and built in her previous films. Claire Mathon served as the film’s cinematographer. “I spoke to her about Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s work because I liked the mood of his films. He’s really into stories rooted in naturalism,” says Diop. She addsthat she discussed ideas about lighting the inside of the club and recommended Michael Mann. “His night filmmaking in films like ‘Collateral’ and ‘Miami Vice’ were inspirations.”

Although Diop had written the script, she didn’t want to just show up on set and shoot what was on the page. “I wanted to disrupt things a little. I needed to question things,” Diop says. Through that, she says needed to connect “The actors, the music and the rhythm.”

Fatima Al Qaridi came on as the film’s composer and Diop brought her in early to help since music played such a key role in the film. Al Qaridi was based in Europe, while Diop was shooting in Senegal. “She would send me music or play it over the phone, and I’d use that to help build this architecture.”

Editor Aël Dallier Vega had to orchestrate adding in the VFX of the film, its score and the French subtitles. “I had to figure out when to add music in and when to take it out,” Diop says. “It was such an ambitious collaboration,” admits Diop of their partnership as they worked to establish the film’s rhythm and ensure that all the themes and elements perfectly glued together to tell the story of “Atlantics.”

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