Remembering Safi Faye (1943-2023)
Safi Faye was born in Senegal in the Gueule Tapée neighborhood of Dakar in 1943. Raised in a large family that valued education, she received her teaching certificate and taught in the Dakar public schools. As a hostess at the First World Festival of Black Arts hosted by Senegal in 1966, she was introduced to the cultures of the world, and more importantly, realized the contributions of African and African diasporan civilizations on the world stage. She would meet anthropologist/filmmaker Jean Rouch who invited her to participate in his film. She would travel to Europe and other parts of Africa. In 1970 she enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris where she learned to use the camera as a research tool. She then studied film at the Louis Lumière Film School also in Paris; there she made her first film La Passante. Other films followed, fourteen in total, notably the award winning Kaddu Beykat (1975) and Fad’jal (1979) and Mossane (1996). Using cinema as a tool for teaching and learning, Safi Faye aimed to teach future generations of Africans about their origins. The passion that she had for her continent and its people has been evident throughout her career as teacher, anthropologist, filmmaker. In 1972, she dared to make a film. She often talked fondly about the daughter she cherished, Zeïba, who was born in 1976; she was also a grandmother. In 2023 she joins the ancestors, where she lays to rest in her paternal native village of Fadial. But rather than a library burning down—a famous citation of Amadou Hampâté Bâ that she quotes in her legendary film Fad’jal, her story will remain alive, passed on to the next generation, as we continue in the oral tradition, to say her name—and show her work. Safi Faye, may the earth rest lightly upon you.
A description/synopsis of Safi Faye’s body of work:
La Passante. 1972. 10 min.
Safi Faye describes the making of La Passante: “It is the story of a beautiful African woman who arrives in Paris. Dreamlike, she notices that everyone watches her, admires her. Among her admirers she chooses a White man and allows him to dream, then a Black man who dreams as well. They watch her walk down the street. In fact, they are dreaming. That is not at all my reality; Baudelaire inspired me. I love poetry. It is precisely the poem of Baudelaire [À une passante] that exemplifies this". Excerpts from an interview with Cissé and Fall, in the Sud Week-End, 12, October 1996. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson
Revanche (Revenge). 1973. 15 min.
A collective film project with other students at the Louis Lumière film school, about a madman on the Pont Neuf bridge.
Kaddu Beykat. 1975. 95 min.
The story unfolds through the backdrop of an ongoing drought in the village, causing economic upheaval as groundnuts are its sole crop. In the film, Safi Faye depicts the ills and problems of a Senegalese peasantry bent under the yoke of an agricultural system dominated by groundnut cultivation. A culture that is imposed on them to the detriment of the food crops that allowed them to live. She challenges the authorities, but also proposes a reflection on the future through reforestation and the protection of nature. The film draws from her doctoral research.
Fad'jal (Come and Work). 1979. 108 min.
Safi Faye: "Fad signifies “Arrive” and Jal means “Work”. “Work” because when you arrive at this farming village called Fadial, you must work. When you work, you’re happy, and if you don’t work, people will mock you". At the foot of a tree, the ancestor and a griot recount to the children in Wolof, the history of the village—its customs, its tradition, its creation; in contrast to the French education that they learn in school. In the film Safi Faye uses the famous quote by Amadou Hampâté Bâ, "in Africa, whenever an elder dies, it is as though a library has burnt down.”
Goob na ñu (The Harvest is in). 1979. 30 min.
Like her films Kaddu Beykat and Fad’jal, Safi Faye focuses her camera on themes regarding the land and the peasantry. The film also deals with issues around crop cultivation during the harvest season. Similarly, the film draws from her doctoral research.
Man Sa Yay (I, Your Mother). 1980. 60 min.
Filmed while she was a guest professor at the Freie Universität in Berlin and co-produced with ZDF, Safi Faye explores the experiences of expatriate students. During an exchange of letters with his mother who hopes for his return, Moussa, a young Senegalese student in West Berlin feels the emotions of her words: “It’s me, your mother.”
Les ames au soleil (Souls in the Sun). 1981. 27 min.
Souls in the Sun, part of the United Nations, Women and Children in Africa program, draws on African women’s voices, as they relate the challenges of feeding their children and raising them in a healthy environment when confronted with the tasks of finding the information and necessary means to do so.
Selbé et tant d'autres (Selbé and Many Others). 1981. 30 min.
Selbe’s husband has left the village to earn money, leaving her to take care of their large family, do the household chores and work in the field during the dry season. Throughout the film, she and the cohort of women discuss their condition. Commissioned by UNICEF (The United Nations Children's Fund), in a conversation between mother and daughter, the film details the dilemma of girls in the rural sector in attaining an education: "Mother, why don't you send me to school? I can't, everyday I gather salt, I do the cooking, I gather brushwood, I fetch the water. Because your father isn't there and you have to look after the goats. I can't send you to school. I sell cigarettes, I sell matches, I don't stop from dawn to dusk."
At the beginning of the film, the eponymous Selbé tells us that her mother made a song for her: "the song I sing is like our life, there is no rest for the poor." The song is repeated in the same way as the repetition of the cycle of daily activities: breastfeeding the child, grinding millet, fetching wood, preparing food. Similarly, there is the recurring discussion about the men who leave the village in search of work in Dakar but return with nothing. The song ends the film with a hopeful wish for the future: "Mother, mother of us all, do not give up, do not give up. Work in the fields until you drop. God why is this our fate? God find a better future for our children."
Trois ans cinq mois. 1979-1983. 30 min.
Trois ans cinq mois was filmed when Safi Faye was guest professor at the Freie Universität in Berlin. The documentary, produced by the German cultural association, Deutsche Akademische Austansch Dienst, relates the experiences of her own daughter as a young child, effortlessly adapting to the newfound culture.
Ambassades nourricières (Culinary Embassies). 1984. 58 min.
Through the diverse cuisines of the international emigrants who have settled in Paris: Russians, Armenians, Lebanese, Iranians, Spaniards, Indians, Japanese, other Asian communities, and Africans throughout the continent, they reveal the cultural expressions that show the spiritedness of the art of cooking, and in so doing share their individual histories of immigration and assimilation. From the series Regards sur la France, produced by INA and FR3.
Racines noires (Black Roots). 1985. 11 min.
Safi Faye’s camera navigates the first edition of the Racines Noires, the “Black Roots” cultural event which took place in 1985 in Paris. At the event writers, artists, filmmakers, playwrights and actors come together to share their Black cultural heritage.
Elsie Haas, femme peintre et cinéaste d'Haiti (Elsie Haas, Woman Painter and Filmmaker from Haiti). 1985. 8 min.
Elsie Haas the Paris-based Haitian creative is at the same time plastic artist, painter and cineaste. She shares with Safi Faye the polyvalent nature of her work.
Tesito. 1989. 27 min.
Tesito, which means “the force of my arm”, navigates the Casamance region, relating the daily experiences of the fisherwomen, whose strategy is to organize collectively to better survive. Their contribution to the national economy, largely ignored by official statistics, is re-evaluated in the film.
Mossane. 1996. 105 min.
Safi Faye: “This film is a song to women. The things that I find so beautiful, the things that I have lived, and that I have experienced or that I have been told.”
Mossane catapults a girl's voice and agency to the forefront. The film addresses the right of women to have power over their own bodies and desires, and the choice to marry who they choose, by framing the analysis of women's, indeed girls' rights, in the context of the broader discourse on the peasantry, education, custom and modernity. The prevailing themes that foreground girls'/women’s experiences within the rural sector and countryside, socio-economic matters, education, issues at the intersection of tradition and modernity, highlight the universality of Mossane.
Since its inception the African Women in Cinema Blog has featured the work of Safi Faye. Following are links to articles: