“Night of the Kings” director Philippe Lacôte reflected on the creative flexibility required to make his film and the birth of a new cinematic industry in the Ivory Coast.
Lacôte spoke at Variety Sundance Studio, presented by AT&T TV, on his experiences putting together the cast. “Night of the Kings” is a drama fantasy pic that follows a young man who is sent to La Maca, a prison in the Ivory Coast in the middle of the forest that is ruled by its prisoners. With the red moon rising, he is designated by the Boss to be the new “Roman” and must tell a story to the other prisoners in order to save his life.
The film, which is a coproduction of companies from France, Ivory Coast, Canada and Senegal, was selected as the Ivorian entry for the Academy Awards.
Lacôte said he has an intimate connection with the prison, being a visitor as a child going to see his mother, who was being held for political reasons. La Maca, located in the city of Abidjan, is one of the largest and most overpopulated prisons in West Africa. While Lacôte could only shoot the exterior of the prison, his team constructed a replica of the prison in the neighboring city of Grand-Bassam.
“La Maca was like a kingdom for me, with queens, with kings, with lackeys,” Lacôte said. “And when I decided to make this film about Roman, about a storyteller in La Maca, I kept this strong image from my childhood.”
Lacôte said he also wanted to pay homage to West African culture with the film, by depicting a griot, a West African historian, through the character of Roman. He was also inspired by the concept of killing a narrator from “Arabian Nights.”
With the burgeoning cinema scene in the Ivory Coast, Lacôte and his casting director spent two years recruiting actors, some of whom were martial arts fighters, dancers, singers or up-and-coming actors. Additionally, a fourth of the movie’s extras were ex-prisoners from La Maca.
“Always, I wanted to tell the story of young people who struggle, who fight with the history of society,” Lacôte said.