Set in the desert regions in the south of Tunisia, Yves Piat’s “Nefta Football Club” is a tale of two pairs of buddies connected by a mysterious discovery. When young siblings Mohamed and Abdallah find a donkey with headphones and a bag of white powder, they aren’t quite sure what to do with it. As it turns out, it belongs to two drug smugglers who are desperate to recover it. From this potentially ominous premise, Piat crafts an amusing comedy of errors about the innocence of youth. In honor of its selection to the Oscar shortlist for Best Live Action Short Film, I spoke with Piat to discuss the inspiration behind this winning film. Below is the edited version of our conversation.
Shane Slater: Where did the ideas for this story come from?
Yves Piat: Many things inspired the movie. One of them was a personal experience. When I was 14, I often snuck out to forbidden places with a friend of mine and a flashlight. One day, we found several little bags of white powder. We felt it could be drug material. So we took all of this and dumped it in the river. It’s a weird story and I kept it secret for more than 30 years. And the story of the donkey and the headphones is a real story too. I learned this story during my travels in The Maghreb, with smugglers I met. The smugglers usually use whistle sounds to have the donkeys cross the borders. In this story, we preferred to imagine something funnier, with real music.
SS: With the story’s basis on real and personal events, was the film always envisioned as a comedy?
YP: It began as a drama and it became a comedy because as I worked on the script and scenarios, I found it transforming from a drama to a comedy. The first script already had comedy elements.
SS: How did you approach the casting for the two pairs of buddies?
YP: The casting process was completely different between them. The two smugglers are professional actors. I chose them because I knew them. With the two young boys, I first cast children who had acting experience. But their acting did not fit what I was expecting for this film. So I decided to do casting from the streets and I found 100 children from the streets. And I chose Eltayef Dhaoui, the older brother, because he was professional and he has a sense of reason. But he never acted in a movie before. He understood quickly what I asked of him.
For the younger brother, it’s a completely different story. I met him two days before shooting, while I was working in Tunis with my translator. We ended up in a dance class where there was this little boy. A very good dancer and free from inhibition. I was amazed by his presence. And I asked his father if he wanted his son to appear in a movie in the desert. He said yes immediately.
SS: Nefta Football Club has just been shortlisted for the Oscars. How has that experience been for you?
YP: It’s huge! I don’t know what to say because it’s incredible. But I’m already glad that the film has been by audiences worldwide and won a lot of audience awards.
SS: What’s next for you?
YP: I’ve been traveling a lot with the film. It took a lot of my time. Nothing is precise yet. Perhaps a feature film of “Nefta Football Club.”