Film tribute to French photographer killed in CAR

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Picture taken in Damara, 70km north from Bangui, shows French journalist Camille Lepage. She was killed while on a reporting assignment in Central African Republic. (Fred Dufour, AFP)
Picture taken in Damara, 70km north from Bangui, shows French journalist Camille Lepage. She was killed while on a reporting assignment in Central African Republic. (Fred Dufour, AFP)

A gang of men rampage through a burning village in Central African Republic, rifles and machetes swinging, the bodies of their victims slain on the ground.

But then a voice shouts "cut, cut!" and the fighters lower their weapons and the corpses get up.

It is a scene from upcoming film "Camille", based on the life of French photojournalist Camille Lepage who was killed aged 26 working in CAR in 2014.

"The casting director was looking for someone who looked like her," says Nina Meurisse, who plays Camille.

With her long brown hair tied back, sunglasses perched on her head and a camera slung over her shoulder, Meurisse certainly resembles photographs of Lepage working in the country.

"When I saw the picture I thought, look, it's funny, we do have something in common," Meurisse says.

Lepage was killed during a firefight between rival militia in the restive country, where she had been covering sectarian bloodletting and its impact on civilians.

According to a source close to the case at the time, she died on May 12, 2014 after being shot in the head near Bouar in the west of the country.

"We had to live up to what Camille experienced, her courage," says producer Bruno Nahon, explaining the film team felt they had to shoot on location in CAR.

"We know that reality is more powerful... than fiction."

The French-CAR crew have set up in the capital Bangui and surrounding areas to make the film, which is supported by Alliance Francaise, Canal-Plus, Pyramide and the National Centre for French Cinema (CNC).

"I always thought, and people thought it was crazy, that it would be easier (to shoot) in Central Africa" than anywhere else, smiles director Boris Lojkine.

Attacks on media 

Lojkine has focused on recreating the details of Lepage's life on screen, cutting in archive shots from the time with the film's footage.

The emphasis on realism has seen former militia members cast in some roles and a photographer, Michael Zumstein, who was in Bangui at the same time as Lepage, will also play himself.

As well as focusing on Lepage's life and career, the film reflects on the violence that has ravaged CAR in recent years.

Militias have been battling in CAR since the 2013 overthrow of long-time leader Francois Bozize, a Christian, by a majority-Muslim coalition of militias called the Seleka.

Thousands of people have died, 700 000 have been internally displaced and another 570 000 have fled abroad. The other main militia is the Christian-dominated Antibalaka.

More than four years after Lepage's death, being a journalist in CAR remains risky.

"Attacks against the media are continuing and the safety of journalists caught between the various warring factions is far from secure," according to the NGO Reporters Without Borders.

Lojkine says CAR authorities helped ensure the crew's safety during filming.

He also insisted the film would handle Lepage's last moments with dignity and sensitivity.

"The scene where Camille is killed will not be shown," says Lojkine.

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