Philippe Lacôte’s career in film began at the end, rather than the beginning, of the cinematic life cycle: as a projectionist in a small regional theater in Toulouse, France, where the Ivory Coast-born director had moved to study linguistics. Those studies had led to work as a fledgling radio reporter, but it was the audiovisual medium that kept beckoning him.
Forgoing film school, but instilled with a deep love of Tarkovsky and Fassbinder, he moved from his projectionist gig to jobs in distribution, post-production and production — finally landing at Atria, a French-based production company dedicated to African film. “I didn’t want to spend another four or five years in school,” he says. “My goal was to learn filmmaking through experience in all the different stages of cinema. Before I made my first short film, I decided: I will go to see how it all works.”
That all-round self-education is evident in the immersive sensory layering of Lacôte’s two narrative features thus far, for which he returned to his African homeland. After cutting his teeth on shorts and mid-length documentaries, he made a strong impression at Cannes in 2014 with his politically infused coming-of-age study “Run.”
But it was his Venice-premiered follow-up, “Night of the Kings,” that turned Hollywood heads last year: A visceral prison drama steeped in local folklore, it was acquired by Neon and shortlisted as Ivory Coast’s international Oscar submission.
Now represented by CAA, Lacôte is eager to spread his wings. “There’s not a lot of cinema where I came from, and it’s a fight to become a director, so in that way, being an African filmmaker is important to me. But I don’t want to be in one part of the map of international cinema.” His next project, he says, could as easily be based in the U.S. or Europe. “I don’t know, I’m a storyteller. But in my work, I would like to always testify something about African culture.”