About the Film
With excruciating care, Swiss-Algerian director Karim Sayad documents the daily life of the inhabitants of Bab El Oued in the bustling capital of Algiers, where life is more of a raging, relentless battle. As the streets crawl with chaos and daily troubles, other disputes are unveiled to us, ones where sheep spar, and young men bet and fight and
scramble to fill the heavy emptiness that is their lives with thoughts of migrating to Europe. Viable solutions like studying for a degree or finding a stable job do not even occur to them.
It is a tough, masculinist world. Opportunity is scarce, and the only way out is to “steal” a bit of luck, brokering deals that guarantee a quick if meagre profit. This is how we meet 16-year-old Habib, who dreams of becoming a vet, but is unable to join an academic institute. Instead, he buys a ram and trains him to be a fighting champion. As for 42-year-old Samir, he leads a simple life, selling sheep to make ends meet.
Sayad follows these two separate characters in parallel, conveying them without judgment or contrived conclusions. The burdens of their harsh lives are not portrayed as a tragic fate, but rather a cautionary tale against actual political perils, as we hear politicians address the economic crisis on the radio, and mock what is referred to as the “Arab Spring.” In Sayad’s film, political stagnation manifests in an impotent and unproductive collective masculinity, one that is beyond redemption. This is why when Habib loses his bet on his “cowardly” ram, the metaphor is shockingly clear.
Karim Sayad was born in Lausanne in 1984 to an Algerian father and a Swiss mother. After completing an MA in International Relations from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, he decided to become a documentary filmmaker.
His first short, Babor Casanova, premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in 2016 and was screened in more than twenty festivals worldwide. It went on to win awards at DocLisboa, Festival Dei Popoli and the Clermont-Ferrand Short Film Festival, among others. Of Sheep and Men is his first feature documentary.