The Franco-Senegalese director, co-programmer of the “Tigritudes” cycle at the Forum des Images, devoted to pan-African cinema from 1956 to 2021, talks about the discovery of this continent often overlooked by film buffs and the importance it had in its career.
Your films are a testament to your love for American cinema and the musical. When and how did you discover African cinema?
My attraction to American cinema partly reflects my late encounter with African cinemas. As a teenager at the end of the 1980s, I had to find points of identification, of representation, which were totally absent from French culture. So I first turned to African-American cinema (Spike Lee, Charles Burnett, among others) and more broadly to black American culture, through its music and its literature. African cinemas, already vastly underexposed in the 1980s, and which should have presented themselves to me naturally, came later in my cinema path, when I started studying it. A first window opened on the Senegalese, with the flamboyant Djibril Diop Mambety who was a close friend of my parents. I discovered with him Ben Diogaye Bèye, Samba Félix N’Diaye, William Ousmane MBaye, and of course Ousmane Sembène…
“At the University, I observed that African cinemas […] would hardly ever be mentioned. ”
How important was it in your training and in your desire to become a filmmaker?
At the University, I observed that African cinemas would not be taught to us, that they would hardly ever be mentioned. I would learn these cinematographies alone and elsewhere, going through the rare places and events that shed light on all the possibilities of cinema that I had until then been deprived of. Then I discovered the Cinémathèque Afrique (created in 1961 by the Ministry of Cooperation and today under the aegis of the French Institute), where I regularly went to watch films, or even the Video library of Paris (which was to become the Forum des Images, co-producer of Tigritudes), where I found, in their collection of films shot in Paris, those of filmmakers from the African continent, some of whom had come to study there (Désiré Écaré, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, etc.).
I could have registered my work as a filmmaker in Paris… But my imagination turned to Senegal from my first short film, and my films have never ceased to be linked to this family territory. I thought it was about disinhibition. I had to move away from Paris “city cinema”, to find more freedom. I also think that there was a desire to be an actress in these African cinemas, as a repair to this missing image of my cinephilia, which is still under construction. I fully discovered African cinemas when I started making films, visiting festivals, meeting filmmakers from the continent and their works.
“Tigritudes offers ample, accessible and eclectic programming in order to share with as large an audience as possible the diversity, inventiveness and vitality of a cinema suffering from chronic under-distribution.”
How to explain the invisibilization of African cinema?
Africa is rich in a multiple, powerful and unique cinematography, despite the heavy consequences of colonialism on the structuring of its cultural industry and the great difficulties encountered by artists in producing cinema on the continent. With rare exceptions, the films of the African continent remain confined to a screening in festivals and we remain struck by a general ignorance of these cinemas. Tigritudes offers a wide, accessible and eclectic program in order to share with as large an audience as possible the diversity, inventiveness and vitality of a cinema suffering from chronic under-distribution. Through films spanning sixty-five years of production across the continent, we wish to compare works that have continued to unfold with an incredible stylistic, thematic and linguistic plurality. After the rise of Asian and Latin American cinemas, African films are just waiting to be widely exhibited in their turn, to finally express their own words to the world: aesthetic, ethical and political.
Why start the Tigritudes cycle in 1956, the date of Sudan’s independence?
Valérie Osouf, filmmaker, long-time friend and co-programmer of this cycle, and I have chosen a chronological program (one screening per year), backing ourselves to the African independence movements which (excluding Egypt, including cinematographic development largely predates decolonization) opened in 1956 with the Sudan. We were also inspired by the audiovisual work / installation Sismography of struggles, collective research – multilingual, decentralized and committed – carried out at the National Institute of Art History since 2015, under the direction of the writer and historian of Zahia Rahmani art. This presents a census of non-European journals, or produced in a diasporic situation, following the revolutionary currents of the end of the 18th century.e century until the decolonization movements that followed. To come back to Tigritudes, it is from this precise moment that it seemed interesting to us to observe the circulation of forms, struggles and ideas that would irrigate the continent and its diaspora.
What key ideas is your programming based on?
It is important to stress that Tigritudes is first and foremost a subjective anthology and not a retrospective of pan-African cinema. It was born from our eyes crossed with Valérie Osouf and our common or complementary cinephilia. The program will open up a vast field of reflection, crossing entire sections of history and narratives, questioning reality and its representations, deconstructing, among other things, the imaginations about it. In order to extend the proposals and correspondence, twelve film sessions of the Afro-descendant diaspora will also be presented, from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom, from the United States to Cuba, with films such as Pressure, by London-based Trinidadian filmmaker Horace Ové, In a certain way, by Cuban Sara Gómez, or Four Women, experimental short film by African-American filmmaker Julie Dash. Anxious to include the continent in the song of the world, Tigritudes will also offer two master classes, six cinema courses and transversal meetings, where we invite artists from other disciplinary fields and intellectuals from different backgrounds to dialogue around the works, in order to cross perspectives, aesthetics, generations to make cinema stories resonate.
Is there a cinematographic current equivalent to negritude in literature?
No, not to my knowledge, in any case it was not conceptualized as such on the continent. We can observe collective cinematographic movements in its diaspora, like that of the LA Rebellion (between the end of 1960 and the end of 1980), created by young African or African-American students from UCLA University in California, gathered around the making of ‘an independent black cinema and an alternative to Hollywood cinema and its representations. Among its active members: Ethiopian Haile Gerima, Charles Burnett and Billy Woodberry, guest of Tigritudes, who will give a master class on February 25.
Three essential films to recommend in the program?
Very difficult choice among the 125 films in the program! Kaka yo, by Sébastien Kamba (Congo, 1966, short film, fiction), January 14 at 8:30 p.m. A vibrant amorous stroll in the Brazzaville of the 1960s, freedom and poetry in music. I only discovered it last year and it blew me away! History of a meeting, by Brahim Tsaki (Algeria, 1981, feature film, fiction), January 23 at 5.30 p.m. Two young deaf-mutes, an American daddy’s girl and an Algerian farmer, meet near an oil base. The flamboyant film by an immense filmmaker who recently passed away, on possible communication despite all barriers. 11 Drawings for Projection, by William Kentridge (South Africa, short film series from 1989 to 2020), on February 11 at 8:30 p.m. Rare opportunity to discover in the cinema this “portrait” of post-Apartheid South Africa, which spans more than thirty years.
“Tigritudes”, pan-African cinema cycle, from January 12 to February 27, Forum des Images, Westfield Forum des Halles, 2 rue du cinema, Paris 1er, programs and reservations, € 4-7 per screening.