“My name is Alima Coura Mariko. I never imagined I would become a railway woman. Traditionally, a woman cannot go in the locomotives. The men say that after school, women become secretaries.” This is how the 28-minute documentary — La Fille Du Rail (The Railway Girl) by Eva Sehet begins. The film documents the journey of Mariko, the only woman railway driver in Mali in West Africa. The film opened the 3rd Students’ Film Festival of India, currently under way at FTII.
“At college, when I was asked to make my graduation project, my first idea was to shoot in a gold mine but I didn’t get the permission from the authorities concerned. Then I decided to make a film that will trace the difference between big cities and the countryside. I approached the railway officials,” recalls Sehet, adding that the officials informed her that there were 70 male train drivers and just one woman driver, and it was up to Sehet to decide which driver would she like to choose as a subject. “I was surprised to hear that there was just one woman driver,” says Sehet, adding that it was during her work on the project she learnt that around six years ago, the government there had introduced a rule under which women could apply for the post of train driver.
Convincing Mariko for the project, says Sehet, wasn’t difficult. “Mariko is a strong woman, who is proud of her job. Her family and friends are quite supportive. She said initially, it was a little difficult as she was the only woman. However, over a period of time, she became friends with her colleagues and now shares a good rapport with everyone,” says Sehet, who is in Pune to attend the festival. The film was shot over three weeks in December 2014. While Sehet handled direction and cinematography, her co-directer Maxime Caperon did sound for the film.
The film has travelled to several film festivals including Zimbabwé International Film Festival and Trust, Festival des Nouveaux Cinémas Documentaires of France and Festival Traces de Vies.
Sehet says the documentary is a “feel-good movie” that does not focus on the “negative sides” of Mali. “Also, the protagonist is always smiling and full of life. When she speaks to the camera, there are a lot of emotions that pass between the audience and her,” she says.
Sehet says she grew up watching popular cinema. “When I was in school, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do in life. As films interested me, I appeared for an exam related to films and cleared it,” recalls Sehet, who studied filmmaking from La Femis, Paris, with specialisation in cinematography.