Upon returning to his hometown after several years, Ivorian filmmaker and photographer Christian Goue felt an uncertain sense of belonging which would be familiar to most African expatriates returning ‘home’. Being an expatriate can be an amazing experience or the hardest one and returning home is usually going from being immersed in one culture to being in another. We rely on our memories to be our guide in what now seems to be a very ‘small’ place. Christian beautifully captures his complex nostalgia in his short film, BETWEEN LANDS. AFRICA IS NOW spoke to Christian regarding his upbringing, childhood memories and his new film.
Tell us a bit about growing up, at what age did you move to Canada?
The first thing that comes to mind when I reflect on my upbringing is the number of times my parents and I had to move from house to house for different reasons. The priority for them was to find the best environment for the intellectual development of my brothers and me.
‘One thing for sure is that the cultural gap between the two places impacted my ability to connect with people.’
When you moved to Montreal, how was the transition and was it easy or hard adjusting to your new home?
I can’t say it was an easy or hard transition. One thing for sure is that the cultural gap between the two places impacted my ability to connect with people. I think I was a bit socially anxious at the beginning and my life was limited to campus and home.
After a while, I started spending my days discovering the city (Montreal) which pushed me to capture every beautiful area. This helped me develop a passion for photography. Becoming a street photographer was the turning point. I think I excelled at it and things became way smoother and people started reaching out to me, as by this time I was being featured on different media platforms. I have connected with so many great people since.
That experience led me to collaborate with WordPress Photo and The Montreal House of Photography. They invited me to give a photography workshop to a group of young refugees from Syria. The idea was to share my immigration experience which I did and I related to them through their daily struggles in trying to integrate smoothly in a new country. Following those workshops, the group of young Syriaque had the chance to exhibit a series of photographs accomplished over six (6) months. They were able to show and tell their relationship with their new country Canada.
‘I don’t want to nourish the idea of immigrating to Canada as a symbol of success.’
How was the reunion with childhood friends and family?
It was weird. People gave me so much attention and respect at the point where I felt so different. You know, like a stranger. Until now, I don’t think I’ve been able to reconnect with childhood friends. The subject that constantly pops up is my experience being in Canada, which I don’t like to talk about. I don’t want to nourish the idea of immigrating to Canada as a symbol of success.
Everything was great with my family, I just felt like I missed so much and that feeling inspired me to write this film.
Have you ever at any point worried that you might forget Ivory Coast and therefore forget a part of who you are?
Forget Ivory Coast? Not really. I still have all my memories intact like it was yesterday. But that’s the problem, things have changed since, but I still have that old memory of home. I missed so many things that sometimes I feel like this was not home anymore or at least not the one I had in mind coming back. Also, people at home don’t consider you as a local. At this point, you have no choice but to question yourself about which place you belong to. Questioning yourself about this is really a struggle.
Something I know for sure is that making art helps me create a space for myself based on these two cultural influences. Every piece I’m writing is a part of who I am and defines the values I stand for.
What did you enjoy most about the making of this film?
Traveling across the Ivorian Coasts with my long-time friend and collaborator Julian Thomas was the most exciting thing in doing this film. Julian is my go-to cinematographer and he is behind most of the great visuals of the film. Then I had the chance to explore Sassandra, the small city where we shot the last part of the film. Sassandra is where my grandparents and my dad use to live.