Filmmaker Marie-Louise Sarr, who manages the Master 2 Réalisation Documentaire de Création (RDC) at Gaston Berger University (UGB) in Saint Louis, Senegal, talks about how she came to cinema, and the specificities of the programme.
Marie-Louise, a short background on your evolution into cinema…
It was precisely in October 2007 that my path crossed that of cinema. I had just finished writing my master’s thesis in geography and I heard that a new programme for documentary filmmaking at Gaston Berger University was about to begin.
I had always wanted to use the image as a means of consciousness-raising and did not want to miss the occasion to do so. Hence, I submitted my application and was accepted, and began my cinema studies with colleagues coming from other African countries. It was difficult at first because I was the only one in my class who had not made a film, written a script nor studied filmmaking. Initially I struggled to keep up with the others, but bit-by-bit I got into the rhythm of it and at the end I received my diploma and made my graduation film, “Chaîne alimentaire’ (Food Chain), which has been very successful at festivals.
Since then my passion for cinema has continued to grow. In October 2010, I was recruited by UGB and Africadoc to manage, develop and supervise the Master 2 Réalisation Documentaire de Création. Since then, I meet with the students and instructors on a daily basis, which allows me to immerse myself more in documentary filmmaking and to also take other courses. It was in this context that I got the idea in 2011 to establish an audiovisual structure in Saint Louis specialising in commissioned films and coverage of major events in the city under the banner “remembering the old city.”
I am actually preparing the shooting of my first feature film, “Returning to Joal” which is scheduled to begin the 10th of September 2012.
The Master 2 RDC at Gaston Berger University exists since 2007, what are the objectives of the programme and what have been the results in the past five years?
The Master 2 Réalisation Documentaire de Création (Master in documentary filmmaking) was established at Gaston Berger University in Senegal in October 2007 thanks to the collaboration between the University, and in France, the University of Stendhal in Grenoble and the Association Ardèches Images (Africadoc). Each year eight students from francophone African countries are received, and for the first time, for the 2012-2013 academic year a French candidate was admitted.
The Master 2 has the following objectives:
• To give the students access to the requisite artistic skills of documentary culture that also meet the demands of the industry.
Since the past five years of its existence, some thirty films have been made about Saint Louis and its surroundings, which constitute an important visual heritage. Also with periodic organised screenings in the neighbourhoods and weekly film club meetings at the university, a cinema culture is in the process of developing in the old city, as well as a framework for exchange between cineastes, film enthusiasts, students and the cultured public. Added to this is the promotion of African culture by the presence of diverse nationalities, each of which leaves its mark on the different films that are made each year.
Talk a bit about your experience managing the Master 2 RDC?
It is somewhat difficult to talk about my experience, as I do not yet have a lot. But yes, I have already supervised two classes, though I need more time to acquire experience.
I can say that I learn a lot being in contact with students and instructors of different nationalities. Indeed it is not easy to supervise adults coming from different backgrounds and having a different culture and education. But by dint of trying to communicate and understand others, we are able to establish the necessary dialogue for training and teamwork.
In terms of the administrative aspect for which I only had a basic notion at the start, I can say in all modesty that I have managed pretty well, especially in terms of planning and programming the instruction.
There are several activities connected to the Master 2 RDC—a festival, a day-long programme for study and reflection—what are the outcomes as it relates to the Senegalese public in particular and the cinema culture there in general.
The “Saint Louis en Images” festival, which is in its first phase, is an initiative implemented during the fifth year. The first edition was a barometer to measure the turnout among St. Louisians and their interest in cinema. This year we focused more on schools, but for the next editions we expect to broaden our scope in order to touch the maximum amount of people.
As it relates to the daylong programme for study and reflection organised every year by GRECIREA (Groupe d'Etude Cinéma du Réel Africain), it produces a multidisciplinary study on the emergence of a new documentary cinema in Africa since the 2000s. The organisers could give you more details on its outcome as it relates to the Senegalese public.
I see a strong presence of women in the Master 2 RDC, do you think that this tendency is due to recruitment or is it the result of a raised consciousness among women regarding this field?
The strong presence of women initially comes through recruitment. Since the first class, the Master 2 RDC has encouraged women to apply. Hence, the first year comprised of 4 women and 4 men, the second year, 5 men and 3 women, the third, 4 men and 4 women and so on…But I think that it is a more general trend that is not limited to cinema. We live in an era where “equality” is the law and it has raised awareness among women who are positioned to take part in all spheres of activity. There are no longer activities that are reserved strictly for men and vice versa. In my opinion, the 7th art has not been excluded from this wave, hence, the influx of women candidates.
Interview with Marie-Louise Sarr and translation from French to English by Beti Ellerson, September 2012.