The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.

08 July 2014

Angèle Diabang adapts "So Long a Letter" to film - Interview by Agnès Chitou -

Angèle Diabang adapts "So Long a Letter" to film
Source et Photo: 19 June 2014 / by Agnès Chitou. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson

Filmmaker Angèle Diabang tackles for her first step in fiction So Long a Letter*, a classic of the African literary tradition. Her project is one of ten selected by La Fabrique des cinémas du monde at the French Institute, and presented in May 2014 during the Cannes Film Festival. 

Senegalese filmmaker Angèle Diabang trained in her country, as well as in Germany and France, notably at the Femis. She directed her first short documentary, Mon beau sourire (My beautiful smile) in 2005. Having learned her lesson from her difficulties with a producer, for her next projects she decided to create her own production company Karoninka. "There is a certain tenuousness, as a filmmaker. I feel safer in production," she explains. Next she directs two documentaries: Senegalese and Islam in 2007 and Yandé Codou, the griotte of Senghor in 2008. Her company has produced a dozen projects. So Long a Letter, adapted from the novel of her celebrated compatriot Mariama Bâ, will be her first fiction. It is one of ten projects selected this year at La Fabrique des cinémas du monde, a program designed by the French Institute and the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF), the Cannes Film Festival and the Film Market. Through the program, the filmmakers, who are working on a first or second feature, are invited on the Croisette (Cannes) with their producers. "So Long a Letter" (1979) by the Senegalese writer Mariama Bâ is a classic of African literature. Why the desire to adapt it to screen?

Angèle Diabang: The debate, which is at the heart of the book, is still relevant. Mariama Bâ wrote the novel over 30 years ago during a time when the issue of the struggle for women's liberation was already happening and our country became independent two decades before then. In Senegal, there had never been a woman writer before then. Women began to distinguish themselves. It was therefore important that this novel existed during the 80s. We are now in 2014. We have evolved quite a bit. The world is more modern, we are in the full stage of globalization, but I think the debate on the place of women in society and within the family is still current. I revisited the book that I studied at school and I decided to make a film because we are also in the era of the image. In Senegal, for example, our young people do not read. Bringing to the screen a novel that has marked our literature is another way to speak to the younger generation, to guide them indirectly through the image to reading. How did you work on this adaptation, the scenario of your future film?

Angèle Diabang: I propose a contemporary adaptation. The film will be set in in a Senegal of the last ten years. I am on the third draft of the script. My producer Eric Neve has really encouraged me; he is very involved in the writing process of the films. He is not just about finding the money. He really helps with the startup and development of a project. He secured the writing residency at Moulin d'Ande (a cultural center in Normandy, France). This is where I am currently developing the film project and it is wonderful to be able to be secluded in this paradisiacal place to focus on my thoughts and writing. We will later decide whether to procure the services of a second author to finalise the text, or at least a screenwriter to make the dialogue more dynamic, or to get another perspective. It is sometimes easier to work with another person. It is a well-known novel in West Africa and beyond and therefore a challenge to adapt. What do you see as the essential elements that will best render the ambiance of the novel to the screen adaptation? 

Angèle Diabang: For me, So Long a Letter is not limited only to a story of polygamy. When talking about the novel, one often thinks of nothing else. What concerns me is the strength of women, all women. What stands out is this great story of friendship between Rama and Ada, but also between Rama and her husband Modou. Although he took a second wife, Buchi, the friendship between the two partners is maintained. Although Rama was disappointed in love, stabbed in the back, and held a deadly grudge against Modou, the strength of their friendship remains and it is the singularity of their relationship. Modou may well come home and Rama may continue to discuss certain issues with him. I would like to highlight the strength of all these women in my film and that there is the realisation that polygamy has consequences for everyone involved. Modou, who has a family that everyone dreams of having, suddenly overnight cannot see his children, spends twice as much, and is therefore obliged to borrow in order to meet his financial commitments.

Afrik. com: Polygamy is still a current practice in Senegal. Though the Senegalese are very modern, they remain very attached to this aspect of their tradition, including the younger generation. How do you explain this?

Angèle Diabang: I do not know how to explain why polygamy still exists. But at the same time, I would like to say that all men are polygamous. If they do not take a second or third wife officially, they all have a second or third “office” (one mistress or more). Including Westerners who criticize the practice and express indignation at polygamy among Africans. They, too, are polygamous since they also have mistresses. Their situation is tantamount to maintaining two relationships simultaneously and to having their two women believe that they are the only one. This is what the polygamist does. Yet he has the guts to take responsibility for what he practices, contrary to he who has a mistress. Hence the importance of knowing what to keep in the story. That is why I said that the question is still a valid one. How to be both as modern as we are today and to be in touch with our traditions, our cultural heritage, which sometimes is not always easy to carry, although we are proud? Me, I'm very proud! The strength of my films comes from the fact that I am Senegalese, open to the world, and I know how to enjoy what it has to offer me. Women, it seems, is one of your preferred subjects. In one of your documentaries, you raised the issue of the veil, which has become increasingly common with the rise of radical Islam. The film Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako (in competition at the last Cannes Film Festival) also refers to the theme. In African capitals, in fact, we see more and more women wearing the full veil...

Angèle Diabang: This was not seen in Senegal when I was growing up. This is contradictory to living in a more modern and liberated world, to see so many women in full veil: all in black, eyes hidden and gloved hands. For me, this is something else! I have friends in Senegal who wear the veil, but they are more coquettish than me. They are adorned with colorful outfits. I do not see them at all as being confined. If someone wears the veil voluntarily, that is her choice. But when it's something that imprisons and that is imposed, that is different. I don’t accept this! 

* As its title suggests, the novel by Mariama Bâ is a long letter from Ramatoulaye, the heroine of the novel, addressed to her friend Ada who moved to the United States. The woman has just lost her husband Modou, an event that takes her back to her marriage, devastated by polygamy.

ALSO SEE: "I am not interested in denouncing polygamy: My film goes beyond that". Interview with Angela Diabang by Olivier Barlet about So Long a Letter:

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