by Luke Rajczuk
El Watan is an independent French-speaking newspaper based in Algeria, formed in the 90s by Omar Belhouchet and other defectors from government-owned paper El Moudjahid. The publication is popular for its anti-censorship/corruption, pro democratic stand and a voice to the Algerian opposition.
‘Checks and Balances’ (Contre Pouvoirs) is a documentary, which shows the insights into the newspaper’s work during the Bloody Decade in Algeria and the time of political elections with Moroccan-born President Bouteflika readying for his 4th term. It’s a simple yet interesting concept of having a cameraman embedded in the paper’s offices, running around and in ‘reality-TV-style’ recording journalists’ conversations, comedic spats, editorial meetings, reactions and comments. It might seem uninviting in the warm-up, however, the medley of journalistic editorial technicalities and a wide spectrum of observations from the newsroom make the doc quite a thought-provoking view of how tough and at the same time helpful the art of journalism can be on a political scene, if used accurately and persistently.
In the world of trending online news and diminishing print publications the picture almost romanticizes the old school, shabby and scruffy newsroom, giving it the still remaining power of a written message and eye-opening hope to the Algerian society. Power in terms of a writhing but still existing concept of ‘the freedom of speech’.
It is a work of journalism for journalism and although certain spontaneity in director Malek Bensmail’s approach is noticeable the overall message is perhaps not concluded but certainly achieved. The film also makes a great virtual tour for aspiring young publishers, taking them through editorial mechanisms, deadlines and sense of responsibility the trade involves.
I wanted this film to serve as a memorial to the women and men, young and less young, who battle daily to safeguard the freedom of information in a politically and socially fossilized country. • Malek Bensmail
‘Checks and Balances’ was screened as part of Take One Action Film Festival at Edinburgh Filmhouse Cinema
Video courtesy of: TOAFilmFestivals