Sarah Derris ‘21: false chronology

Summer 2020

About the Project

My grandmother, whose memory is declining rapidly by the day, remains in my father’s childhood home — an eight-floor walkup in a colonial apartment building in the Algerian capital, Algiers. Her memory may be going, but it is important to me to preserve memory of her, and her memory of the place she calls home. I seek to develop “false chronology,” an extension of my film by the same name, at the source of my many questions: Algeria.

Many of my films grapple with identity — being Algerian, American, Muslim, not-so-Muslim. I have had to reconcile Algeria’s colonial past and to understand that what it means to be Algerian is inextricably intertwined with French colonial history — within our language, cuisine, architecture—woven into the very material of our national identity.

To extend “false chronology” would mean to expand it into the remaining three parts (i.e. the French and Arabic title cards). First, that would mean exploring the lingering French colonial consciousness in Algeria: the customs, ways of life, and landmarks that will outlast firsthand memory of French colonial rule. Much of the Algiers my parents and grandparents knew is fading: The Catholic school my father attended, a remnant of French colonial rule, has been converted into a mosque. My grandfather’s neighborhood, The Casbah, once a central hub and trading center dating back to the Byzantine empire, has been slowly crumbling since the French-Algerian war due to a lack of infrastructural funding.

Both of my parents are Amazigh, a Berber tribal group indigenous to North Africa. Before Islam had become prominent within the Berber tribes, it was customary for women to tattoo their faces with Amazigh symbols. The last generation of Berber women with facial tattoos was born in the 1930s and 1940s, and the number of those women left is rapidly declining. I have had a long-lasting fascination with Berber facial tattoos and the many Berber traditions that are fading from practice and memory. These women and the fading traditions of the Amazigh people will be the focal point of the documentary and my memory preservation efforts.