Checks and Balances (Contre-Pouvoirs)

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Director: Malek Bensmaïl | Countries of production: Algeria | Year: 2015 | Length: 97 min
Language: French with English subtitles | Age: 12+ years

Screened as part of TOAFF16

What drives those who risk so much to hold power to account?

The 2014 Algerian presidential election is in full swing when documentary filmmaker Malek Bensmaïl embeds himself in the newsrooms of the French-language daily El Watan. Among the country’s most outspoken critics of the incumbent regime – in power for 17 years and seeking a fourth term – the newspaper’s staff have been targets of attacks from both the government and Islamist insurgents, yet they continue to fight for a free, independent press.

With remarkable access, Bensmaïl captures their daily reality, in which arguments over word choice, religion, political ideology and punctuation abound, yet what transpires most strongly is the journalists’ dedication, camaraderie, and dark humour.

Against the worrying backdrop of a tough crackdown on investigative reporting, Checks and Balances offers inspiring proof, if it were needed, that democratic debate is thriving on Algerian soil, if not in its corridors of power.

This film was supported by the IDFA Bertha Fund.

“Hilarious…profound… a vigorous record of the press at work.”
The Hollywood Reporter

IDFA, Official selection
Locarno, Official selection

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