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 her career.
Your films testify to your love for American cinema and musical comedy. 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 literature. The cinemas of Africa, already largely underexposed in the 1980s, and which should have presented themselves to me in a natural way, arrived later in my path of cinema, when I began to study 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 university, I observed that African cinemas […] would, so to speak, never be mentioned.”
What importance did it have in your training and in your desire to become a filmmaker?
At university, I realized that African cinemas would not be taught to us, that they would hardly ever be mentioned. I would do my apprenticeship in these cinematographies alone and elsewhere, running to the rare places and events that brought to light all these possibilities of cinema of which I had until then been deprived. 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 the Vidéothèque de Paris (which was to become the Forum des Images, co-producer of Tigritudes), where I found, in their fund 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 “cinema city”, to find more freedom. I also think that a desire to be an actress in these African cinemas has imposed itself, as a remedy for this missing image of my cinephilia still under construction. I fully discovered the cinemas of Africa when I started making films, traveling to festivals, meeting filmmakers from the continent and their works.
“Tigritudes offers an ample, accessible and eclectic program in order to share with as wide an audience as possible the diversity, inventiveness and vitality of a cinema suffering from chronic under-diffusion.”
How to explain the invisibilization of African cinema?
Africa is rich in multiple, powerful and singular 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, films from the African continent remain confined to distribution in festivals and we are struck by a general ignorance of these cinemas. Tigritudes offers an ample, accessible and eclectic program in order to share with as wide an audience as possible the diversity, inventiveness and vitality of a cinema suffering from chronic under-diffusion. Through films spanning sixty-five years of production across the continent, we want to compare works that have continued to unfold with an unprecedented stylistic, thematic and linguistic plurality. After the rise of Asian and Latin American cinemas, African films are just waiting to be widely exhibited in turn, to finally express their own words to the world: aesthetics, ethics and politics.
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 session per year), backed by African independence movements which (apart from Egypt, including cinematographic development is largely prior to decolonization) opened in 1956 with Sudan. We were also inspired by the audiovisual work/installation Seismography of struggles, collective research — multilingual, decentralized and engaged — conducted at the National Institute of Art History since 2015, under the direction of writer and art historian Zahia Rahmani. This presents an inventory of non-European journals, or journals 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 was 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.
On what key ideas is your programming based?
It is important to emphasize that Tigritudes is first and foremost a subjective anthology and not a retrospective of pan-African cinema. It was born from our shared views with Valérie Osouf and from our common or complementary cinephilia. The program will open up a vast field of reflection, crossing whole sections of history and stories, questioning reality and its representations, deconstructing, among other things, the imaginaries about it. In order to extend the proposals and the correspondences, twelve screenings of films from 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, of the Cuban Sara Gómez, or even 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 cross-disciplinary meetings, where we invite artists from other disciplinary fields and intellectuals from different horizons 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, at least it has not been conceptualized as such on the continent. We can observe collective cinematographic movements in its diaspora, such as 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 production of an independent black cinema and an alternative to Hollywood cinema and its representations. Among its active members: the Ethiopian Haile Gerima, Charles Burnett or even 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 of the program! Kaka yo, by Sébastien Kamba (Congo, 1966, short film, fiction), January 14 at 8:30 p.m. A vibrant amorous walk in the Brazzaville of the 60s, freedom and poetry in music. I only discovered it last year and it blew me away! story 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 production base. The flamboyant film by an immense filmmaker who recently passed away, on the possibility of communication despite all the barriers. 11 Drawings for Projection, by William Kentridge (South Africa, series of short films from 1989 to 2020), 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.