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Bahia Bencheikh El-Fegoun

September 18 → October 18, 2022

Bahia Bencheikh El-Fegoun

  • Cinema
  • New York

“I try to make films that resemble us–intimate, political, poetic–and can be shared like a tragic poem.”

I live in a country, Algeria, whose history, past and future, makes citizens of us. Cinema gave me a means of tackling the human dimension of this frustrated society, in which desires that go against the norms can make you crazy for freedom. In which dreams of justice condemn you to a resistance so deep-rooted that, despite its lassitude and vulnerability to threats, it keeps up a secret vibration within people’s bodies. The bodies of women and men in constant revolution express all the beauty and fragility of my people. I try to make films that resemble us–intimate, political, poetic–and can be shared like a tragic poem. 


My first documentary, Us Outside, shows women and female bodies in a public space occupied by men and imbued with a belief system. It touches on issues of awareness, recognition, and silence. In my Dream Fragments, minorities are the only revolutionaries. They sacrifice their lives resisting the present, with no prospect of a future. My latest film, in which I have honed my film-making skills by aiming for a raw poetry aesthetic, tells a story of women, and its outlook and expression are infused with their vibrant emotions. The crew, the director, the producer, the cast–we are all women. 


Witch will open up a space for growth by taking the huge step from one continent to another–a step so huge that it might seem impossible. But a Berber song brought different paths together in a shared creativity, through the inventive doings and imaginings of active female forces. Like that song, this film sets out to meet those forces. 


A geologist by training, Bahia Bencheikh El-Fegoun (b. 1976 in Algeria) has been a film director since 2003. In 2007, she started out in editing and filmmaking (Ateliers Varan) before moving on to production (DOCmed). Her debut short film, “C’est à Constantine”, was shown at many festivals and received a special mention of the jury at Ciné Sud. In 2014, she co-produced and co-directed the documentary “Us Outside”, which was also screened at various festivals. In 2017, she produced and directed “Dream Fragments”, a creative documentary. Her latest film is in production, with an all-female crew: director, producer, crew, cast, etc. 

“In 1968, on Halloween, in New York City, a movement called W.I.T.C.H. (Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell) was born. Dressed in black cloaks and holding hands, its members paraded down Wall Street and danced the saraband in front of the New York Stock Exchange. With closed eyes and lowered heads, the women incanted the Berber Yell (sacred to Algerian witches) and proclaimed the coming demise of various stocks.”  


When I came across that paragraph in Mona Chollet’s In Defence of Witches: Why Women Are Still on Trial, I was filled with questions: how did a Berber song travel from the mountains of Kabylia to New York City? What song did the women chant? Who was the Algerian woman who inspired them? Who were those women? What became of them? Who are the heiresses to the W.I.T.C.H. movement, today’s witches? A few leads are emerging and connections are coming to light. Cultural appropriation, feminism, patriarchy, femicide, fundamental rights–there are many issues to explore, and the unifying thread at the heart of this exploration is a strong woman with an unusual personal journey, an atypical female figure who shakes the foundations of the patriarchy and challenges the dominant male. A witch 2.0. 


This investigation will lead me down historical paths and introduce me to contemporary voices–those of a female and feminist political movement. The resulting thoughts and ideas will determine the cinematic form of my film. Its movement, temporality, and writing will have to uphold an aesthetic allowing for the coexistence of documentary and phantasmagoria, absorbing and being sensitive to the imagery of occult rituals, magic and witchcraft, omnipresent in such artistic fields as pop culture, painting, and photography. A dream film, like an act of artistic creation. 

New York City will be the starting point for this fascinating investigation. I intend to follow the threads of history and individual experience, to visit the places–universities, museums, galleries–and seek out past and present protagonists. This investigation already has the feel of a quest: to paint a portrait of a certain feminism and its impact, of a multitude of women and their descendants in a legendary city at a time when Algiers, the “Mecca of revolutionaries,” was a key port of call for anyone hoping to overturn an oppressive system.  


I want to create a portrait of an emblematic figure, the witch, in the city where she can express herself most freely, New York, in the hope of drawing her out of her hiding place in my own territory. I will also visit Salem, whose name is forever linked to witch trials and imbued with that history, enriched by an ambiguous combination of folklore, tourism, and tragic history.  


I intend to find and assemble the rich and complex resources that can be reused in a new creative space. And I will seek out today’s successors: artists, photographers, and writers who self-define as witches, and scholars. The field of possibilities is wide open.

In partnership with

Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.


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