Born Michel Dahmani in Algiers on September 10, 1948, Tony Gatlif left Algeria at the turn of the 1960s. He first discovered film at school, care of a 16mm projector: “We saw Jean Vigo’s films, John Ford’s, Chaplin’s…The film library made its way to my wasteland. That’s how I learnt about films.”
Arriving in France empty-handed, Gatlif experienced delinquency and moved between juvenile correction homes. His first break came when he stole into his favourite actor’s dressing room in a Paris theatre, requesting he refer the young Gatlif to his agent, which he did.
Gatlif’s first script was based on his experiences of delinquency—La Rage au Poing (Raging Fists). In 1975, he directed his first feature, La Tête en Ruine. Three years later La Terre au Ventre dealt with the story of a French Algerian settler and his four daughters set against the Algerian War of Independence.
In 1981, Tony directed Corre Gitano, his first gypsy film, focussing on Granada and Seville. His next feature, Les Princes (1983) was his first critically-acclaimed, and again about gypsies, who had decided to settle in the Parisian suburbs.
Continuing his obsession with Romany and gypsy culture, Tony Gatlif began production on Latcho Drom in 1992, a true tribute to gypsy music. With only a limited crew, he walked the path of the gypsies on a musical journey from Rajasthan to Romania, Hungary and the Mediterranean. Latxcho Drom won the “Un Certain Regard” prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1992.
In 1997, Gatlif made the acclaimed Gadjo Dilo about a young foreigner arriving in a gypsy village in Romania looking for a missing singer. Spanish flamenco became the subject of his next feature, VENGO, in a story of two competing Andalusian families. It was a tribute to flamenco music and Andalusia: “I meant it as a song of praise of the Mediterranean”.
One year later, Swing returned to the subject of gypsies in western Europe and their exuberant music.
With Exils, Tony Gatlif’s fourteenth feature film, he again returns to the autobiographical themes that run throughout his œurve—to placeless cultures bound together by music and dance, and to his own roots in North Africa.