Passed by Cannes then by many festivals, Aïssa Maïga’s documentary “Marcher sur l’eau” takes us to the north of Niger, where global warming keeps parents and children away and directly threatens a way of life.
Walk on water
Directed by Aïssa Maïga – In theaters this week
Walking on Water was filmed in northern Niger between 2018 and 2020 and tells the story of the village of Tatiste, a victim of global warming, which is struggling to have access to water through the construction of a borehole. Every day, fourteen-year-old Houlaye, like other young girls, walks for miles to fetch water, essential to village life. This daily task prevents them, among other things, from being diligent at school. The lack of water also pushes adults to leave their families each year to seek beyond the borders the resources necessary for their survival. However, this region covers in its basement an aquifer lake of several thousand square kilometers. Under the impetus of the inhabitants and by the action of the NGO Amman Imman, a borehole would bring the much coveted water to the center of the village and would offer everyone a better life.
Documentaries linked to the environment often evoke nature, climatic impacts or the disappearance of species, with a “macro” vision. Your film, on the contrary, wishes to show the consequences of global warming on a village, with a “micro” and humanist vision.
Aïssa Maïga (director): Absolutely. I didn’t see myself making an expert film, with an explanatory voice-over and scientific or philosophical considerations. With Walk on water, I wanted to make a film with the people who are primarily concerned, namely the inhabitants of certain parts of the world, notably in West Africa.
West Africa is both the place where I was born, Senegal, and also the place where I went on vacation a lot to Mali with my father’s family. It is a region to which I am very attached, which for me is completely linked to the family question and the question of lack.
When I had the opportunity to make the film, I became interested in Azawak, this extremely arid area in this landlocked country that is Niger. What struck me was to discover that the Wodaabe Peuls who were originally nomads, and who were for the most part completely nomadic until 25 years ago, were today jostled in their daily life and in their way of life by the lack of water due to global warming, which is at least 95% due to greenhouse gas emissions from industrialized countries.
There is therefore this extremely poignant fact, which is that children find themselves isolated in the villages. The men, the husbands, leave with their cattle herds and with what remains of their herds further and further away, in increasingly dangerous areas to find pasture. Mothers and women go to the capitals of neighboring countries. And the children then find themselves isolated and precarious. This is due in large part to climate change.
It was something that overwhelmed me and I wanted to make a film at the level of being human. A film which shows how this young girl, Houlaye, who is 14 years old, who goes to school and who would like to be able to be diligent, finds herself at the head of her family. I wanted to show the condition of fathers, the condition of mothers, so that the spectator can identify with it. And I also wanted to talk about school: the way in which this teacher we see in the film has a passion for his profession and at the same time the way in which children are prevented from attending school because of water chores which are too numerous.
You talk about a film at the height of a human being, and that goes particularly through the form with the absence of voice-over to let the protagonists speak, or shots as close as possible to the children …
Yes, the form is really something I wondered about a lot at the start. I wanted to make a real film, a film for the big screen, a cinema film with a rather sophisticated aesthetic, but not for free. It is not just for the sake of beauty.
For me, the Sahel is first and foremost a place in the world that moves me. The landscapes move me. The lights touch me. And the faces, the postures, the relationships, the children: these are beings who are for me vehicles of emotions. Because that’s how I look at it, that’s how I experience it and that’s how I wanted to restore it to the image.
And then, apart from my personal point of view, for me it is also a question of restoring dignity because we are talking about people …