Khady Sylla a daughter of the water by Baba Diop. Image and text source: sudonline, 11 October 2013. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson.
Filmmaker-writer Khady Sylla, author of several short stories, novels and docu-fictions passed away Tuesday, 8 October 2013. She had completed the editing of Simple parole, a long documentary about her grand-mother, co-directed with her sister Mariama Sylla, and shot in the village of Barele Ndiaye, 15 kilometers (9.32 miles) from Louga.
Like Djibril Diop Mambety, filmmaker-writer Khady Sylla will not see her last film on the screen, co-directed with her sister Mariama Sylla, entitled Simple Parole. A return to the village to capture the words of one of the last guardians of the family genealogy, grandmother Penda Diogo Sarr. In the silences of this film there is a sense of a farewell. The film was carefully edited, drawing from an immersion into their grandmother’s land. Khady Sylla added her voice not realising that she would be putting her last footprint on the asphalt of Senegalese cinema, leaving to her sister the task of fine-tuning the details.
Solitude, withdrawal into oneself, the incommunicability that gnaws at you, the stranglehold must be released, freeing the voice to speak, and speak again about what hurts. In summary, this is essential to the work of the writer and cineaste Khady Sylla. It would not be inaccurate to assert that very early she fell into the cinema pool. Her mother worked at the secretariat of the Actualités Sénégalaises under the direction of Paulin Sumanou Vieyra, which was the breeding ground and site for the development of the young Senegalese cinema of the period. Nicknamed “Katanga”, it was the venue of hot debates about cinema and other cinematic trends (realism versus Soviet, Italian neorealism, New Wave, Brazil Novo Cinema...).
Each trend had its followers. The trail of these interminable discussions eventually found its way to Khady's family. Consequence: the two sisters became filmmakers. Khady Sylla’s choice for the image would be reinforced by her meeting with the French ethnographer-filmmaker Jean Rouch who was her teacher. She relates this encounter in the book by Françoise Pfaff, À l’écoute du cinéma sénégalais, (Edition L’Harmattan 2010): “ I was in Paris and I sent him my book Le Jeu de la mer. Rouch read it and he called me and said that my story reminded him of the myth of the daughters of the water. For a year we met every Sunday morning in a café to write a script inspired by my book. The film was never made but I kept the script.” But it was not just Jean Rouch, she also cites the German filmmaker Wim Wender; “I knew that Wim Wenders studied filmmaking in Paris. He stayed for three months inside the Cinèmatheque and when he came out he started making films. I wanted to do a bit like him, I began to visit the little cinema houses in the Latin Quarter.”
Her first plunge into directing dates from 1997 with Les bijoux, a fiction short, which she says that she placed in a rigid, straitjacketed realist style. This first attempt left the auteur with a half-hearted feeling. Not entirely satisfied, not completely unhappy. The lesson she learned was to let the camera move with greater autonomy. Having benefitted from this experience, she made Colobane Express, her second film. Considered a docu-fiction, it is a laboratory of Senegalese social reality. A reality composed of actors who play their own role.
Khady Sylla’s aesthetic sense becomes more precise: to do with the image, what the Argentinian writer Borges does with words. She explains: “with his double-side words one may turn things from one side to another and see two meanings which come together.” The mystery of Jorges Luis Borges is that he uses words as if the meaning was inexhaustible or as if it renewed itself with each reading. The images of Khady Sylla are full of undertones. Nothing is explicit in what she shows. Khady Sylla also brushed against the wings of the Japanese Romantic School through the work of Yokio Mishima to which she makes reference. The Japanese author’s La mer de la fertilité recalls Khady Sylla’s Le jeu de la mer, except the former is a cycle of four novels which ends with L’ange en decomposition and the lover who slowly drifts into madness.
The film Une fenêtre ouverte which speaks of madness, of her madness, has received several awards. At the Apt Festival, the year of its release, the co-director and cameraman Charlie Van Dam stated: “These are the simplest and strongest images that I have every shot”, and Khady Sylla adds, “I thought a long time about this film. I was sick for ten years, hospitalised several times. At one moment I was delusional, lost my memory. Aminta stopped by to see me. I wanted to do the film with her. During the shooting, I was too immersed in it to give directions. I lived the film while fully charged. The film helped me a great deal. As if I was somewhat looking at myself. It is a self-portrait in a broken mirror.”
The monologue de la muette, her next to last film, poses the gaze on domestic servants and their harsh conditions. Back to square one, Khady Sylla who came to writing incidentally through her grandmother, deceased, and here her last one Simple parole leaves for a meeting with another grandmother. Images, excerpts from the site www.guissguisscom.com, the film sounds like a swansong in the music of Wasis Diop, the brother of Mambety.