31 December 2009
13 December 2009
|Monique Mbeka Phoba: during the shooting | pendant le tournage|
Articles from the African Women in Cinema Blog:
That Sister There! by Michèle Solle, a review of the film "Sister Oyo" by Monique Mbeka Phoba | Cette soeur-là ! par Michèle Solle, une critique du film “Soeur Oyo” de Monique Mbeka Phoba
Monique Mbeka Phoba: "Sister Oyo", the importance of social media, and the Kisskissbankbank crowdfunding campaign
A Conversation with Monique Mbeka Phoba | Entretien avec Monique Mbeka Phoba
Version francaise ci-après
Belgo-Congolese Monique Mbeka Phoba, filmmaker, poet, novelist, journalist, film critic and project manager
A lot of things have evolved in terms of technology since our conversation in 1997…
There has been much evolution in terms of technology and this has had quite an influence on how we work. For example, during my last film project that I co-produced with a team of young theatre students in Kinshasa, I must say that we greatly benefited from the virtual environment that is so much part of our world today. I met these youth who wanted to make films, and yet a film school does not exist in DRC. I offered to be part of the production of a film whose subject was proposed by one of them. Thus at the same time that they learned how to make a film they dealt with all the aspects of the production. Guy Kabeya Muya, who did the training, co-produced the film with me. We worked with small digital cameras, and communicated via Internet and SMS, so that I could follow the day-by-day production and give my input as needed.
This kind of virtual interactivity led to a film about the first Black African soccer team in the 1974 World Cup. Guy Kabeya and I put a preview trailer on the Internet and received responses from all sorts of people interested in such a film, especially at the eve of the World Cup to be hosted in South Africa. This demonstrates the important role that the Internet may play in the production and promotion of films, which was not the case some years ago. It was the result of showing the trailer through video sharing that people were aware of the existence of the film—a very effective promotional tool.
Could you talk about African women and the moving image? In your conversations with other African women in cinema, do you perceive an African woman’s “imaginaire”, an experience through African women’s eyes?
Women are increasingly visible in cinema and I think we are intent on supporting each other and keeping each other abreast of any difficulties. For example, I initiated the first meeting between Angèle Brenner Diabang and Osvalde Lewat-Hallade, facilitating their invitation by INPUT in Taiwan, which for them was a powerful experience. And these are the two names most prominent among the new generation of women in African cinema. Osvalde contributed to the soccer film project when I had big financial problems, as this project had not been funded. In terms of the representation of women on screen, three emblematic films were made in the last ten years: Al'leessi an African Actress (2005) by Rahmatou Keita of Niger, my film, Anna l’Enchantée (2000) and Yandé Codou Sène, la griotte de Senghor (2009) by Angele Brenner of Senegal.
To these three movies, I may add one by a man, because I believe that the film Mère-Bi – Mother by William Mbaye, shows a feminine sensibility of a man who from his early childhood lived side by side with the exceptional personality of his mother, Annette Mbaye d'Erneville, the first radio journalist of West Africa—a film that he carried with him for years. There are films by women about women, such as L’Art d'une prêtresse about Werewere Liking by Sandra Boukhani, but also women in political contexts, such as Jihan El Tarhi: L'Afrique en morceaux, about the conflicts in the Great Lakes region , Cuba, une odyssée africaine, about Che in Congo, Behind the Rainbow (Le Pouvoir détruit-il le rêve ?), about the historic rivalry between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma at the center of the ANC; Osvalde Lewat: Un amour pendant la guerre and Une affaire de nègres; Anne-Laure Folly Reimann: Les Oubliees, Femmes aux yeux ouverts and Femmes de Niger; Nadia el Fani: Ouled Lenine, which means “the children of Lenin”, a film that evokes the political engagement of her father who was a communist. Or my own films with political subject matter: Revue en vrac, about the new freedom of expression in Congo after the end of the one-party system in ex-Zaire at the beginning of the 1990s. And my film, Deux petits tours et puis s'en vont…, which addresses the 1996 presidential election in Benin where the former dictator Kerekou, who had been expelled in 1991, democratically returns to power. These films show that women have invested considerably in the political sphere and they are well respected. But we must recognize this specifically female gaze on political issues. Perspectives that traverse the family, the intimacy of suffering, and show self-reflection. Do African women filmmakers talk to each other? In my opinion, not enough. This movement must recover from years of being in a vegetative state, and in this domain, women are no exception. However, I have noticed that between women, it is easier to critique our respective films.
Some reflections on African cinema in terms of language and communication...
There are two realities that force us to be more receptive to having to speak English; the rise of the powerful Nollywood of Nigeria and the audiovisual industry in South Africa. Many Congolese enter filmmaking via South Africa, where there is a large Congolese community. There are already two directors who have settled in South Africa Makela Pululu and Sandra Boukhany. And while they are Francophone, English is their everyday language. Claude Haffner, of Congolese origin, works as assistant in film productions. Another Congolese Petna Ndaliko lives in eastern Congo and is in constant relationship with Uganda. As cinema and audiovisual industries in Africa professionalize, the use of English is becoming increasingly necessary.
Your evolution into cinema from you debut to the present...
I have made nine documentaries, four in Benin, four in Congo and one in France. I have dealt especially with political and social subjects. I think the films for which I am known best are: Anna l’Echantée, about a young singer living in a polygamous family. Sorcière la vie !, on the mixture of beliefs in Congo-Kinshasa, and the latest film, Entre la coupe et l’élection, about the first black African team to be in the World Cup, in 1974. Most recently, I returned to school, where I completed a Master’s in Scriptwriting and am in the midst of writing two fiction projects—for short and feature film. Besides these projects, I published a book of poems called “Yémadja” and I am preparing a collection of short stories. I'm sure I'll write more and more over time—why not novels and essays as well? And, I would love to become a professor of cinema.
I thoroughly enjoyed your film Anna from Benin, could you talk about the conceptualization of the film and its production.
I met Anna in a jazz club in Cotonou and I was very impressed by her voice. Shortly after, I was contacted by a French producer who was looking for a director in Benin for a series called "Girls Around the World" whose objective was to focus on seventeen-year-old girls from the four corners of the world, and each film would be directed in the respective country. One of the criteria was that the directors have experience in international co-production. Since I lived in Benin, I was chosen. I was asked to think about a seventeen-year-old girl who could symbolize the psychological and emotional context of an African girl on the eve of the year 2000. I recalled the young singer Anna, quite pleased to have the means to make a film about her. But, I shifted my scenario. If I had not been part of the "Girls Around the World” series, I would have made a film specifically about her as a singer.
But the specificities of the project were to show the environment in which she lived. I was completely unaware that Anna lived in a polygamous family. This film gave me the opportunity to enter rather intimately into this family, both traditional and modern, and a very good representative of all the contradictions of contemporary Africa. I knew immediately that the father had to be an ally. This gentleman felt respected by me. I am also from a polygamous family, though all the wives did not live together. We are thirteen children from four wives and all of my life I have had to manage these aspects of our family. I have tried to love my brothers and support them no matter who is their mother. I think my father has made sure that it has gone well between us. It must have helped that I felt really comfortable in this family and they felt comfortable with me.
French to English translation by Beti Ellerson
Source: Conversation with Monique Mbeka Phoba, 1997 in Sisters of the Screen
Beaucoup de choses ont évolué au niveau technologique depuis notre entretien en 1997…
Beaucoup de choses ont évolué au niveau technologique et cela influence bien évidemment la pratique de nos métiers. Par exemple, pour mon dernier projet de film que j’ai co-produit avec une équipe de jeunes étudiants en théâtre de Kinshasa, je peux dire que nous nous sommes servi à fond de cet environnement virtualisé qui est le nôtre aujourd’hui. J’avais rencontré ce groupe de jeunes qui souhaitaient faire des films, alors qu’il n’existe pas d’école de cinéma en RDC. Je leur ai proposé d’être mêlé au tournage d’un film, dont le sujet avait été proposé par l’un d’entre eux et, ce faisant, d’apprendre à faire des films, en s’occupant de cette production. La personne qui les a encadrés, Guy Kabeya Muya, a été le co-réalisateur du film avec moi. Ils se sont servis de petites caméras numériques, nous communiquions par Internet et SMS, de sorte que je suivais au jour le jour le tournage et pouvais l’influencer dans un sens ou dans un autre.
Ce suivi virtuel a débouché sur un film co-réalisé par moi-même et Guy Kabeya, sur la première équipe de foot-ball d’Afrique Noire à avoir été à une Coupe du Monde de football en 1974. Nous avons placé une bande-annonce sur Internet et j’ai eu plusieurs manifestations d’intérêt, par toutes sortes de personnes intéressées par un tel film, à la veille de la Coupe du Monde en Afrique du Sud. C’est dire si s’appuyer sur Internet est important aujourd’hui au niveau de la réalisation, de la production et de la promotion. Cela n’était pas le cas, il y a quelques années. Et c’est par le « video-sharing » de cette bande-annonce que les gens sont avertis de l’existence du film, un autre outil de promotion très intéressant.
En tant qu'africaine dans le cinéma quelles sont tes expériences avec d'autres femmes dans le domaine? Une sensibilité féminine existe-t-il? Une spécificité de la femme en termes de critique de film?
Les femmes sont de plus en plus présentes dans le cinéma et je pense que nous avons à coeur de nous épauler l’une l’autre, de nous tenir au courant de nos difficultés. J’ai par exemple été à l’origine de la première rencontre entre Angèle Brenner Diabang et Osvalde Lewat-Hallade, en facilitant leur invitation par INPUT à Taïwan, ce qui a été pour elles une expérience marquante. Et ce sont les deux noms les plus en vue actuellement dans le cinéma féminin africain de la nouvelle génération. Osvalde a cotisé pour le projet de film sur le foot-ball, au moment où j’avais de grosses difficultés financières, ce projet n’ayant pas eu de subvention. Au niveau de la représentation des femmes à l’écran, 3 films emblématiques ont été réalisés les 10 dernières années : « Al’leessi, une actrice africaine », de Rahmatou Keita, « Anna l’enchantée », de Monique Mbeka Phoba et « Yandé Codou Sène, la griotte de Senghor », d’ Angèle Brenner Diabang.
À ces 3 films, j’ajoute le film d’un homme, car je considère que le film « Mère-Bi – La mère », de William Mbaye, témoigne une sensibilité féminine d’un homme, confronté depuis sa tendre enfance à une personnalité d’exception, sa mère, Annette Mbaye d’Erneville, première journaliste radiophonique d’Afrique de l’Ouest, un film qu’il a porté en lui des années durant. Il y a les films des femmes sur les femmes, comme celui de Sandra Boukhani, l'auteur d'un documentaire sur Were-Were Liking, appelé «L'Art d'une prêtresse», mais aussi des femmes sur des contextes politiques, comme ceux de Jihan El Tarhi « L'Afrique en morceaux » sur les conflits dans la région dans les Grands Lacs, « Cuba, une odyssée africaine » sur Che au Congo, « Behind the Rainbow » (Le Pouvoir détruit-il le rêve ?), sur la rivalité historique entre Thabo Mbeki et Jacob Zuma au sein de l'ANC ; d’Osvalde Lewat « Un amour pendant la guerre » et « Une affaire de nègres » ; Anne-Laure Folly-Reimann avec « Les Oubliées » et « Femmes aux yeux ouverts » ou « Femmes du Niger » ; de Nadia El Fani « Ouled Lenine », qui veut dire" les enfants de Lénine". Nadia El Fani évoque l'engagement politique de son père qui était communiste. Ou mes propres films sur des sujets politiques : « Revue en vrac » sur la nouvelle liberté d'expression au Congo, après la fin du parti unique, dans l'ex-Zaïre, début des années 90. Et mon film « Deux petits tours et puis s'en vont... » qui aborde une élection présidentielle an Bénin, en 1996, où on voit l'ancien dictateur Kerekou, qui avait été chassé en 1991, revenir démocratiquement au pouvoir.
C’est-à-dire que la sphère politique est maintenant largement investie par les femmes et qu’elles y sont parfaitement crédibles. Mais, qu’on reconnaît ce regard spécifique des femmes sur des sujets politiques. Des regards qui passent par la famille, l’intimité de la souffrance et du regard sur soi. Est-ce que les femmes cinéastes africaines se parlent ? Selon moi, pas assez. Le mouvement associatif en est encore à se relever d’années végétatives et, dans ce domaine, les femmes n’ont pas fait exception. Cependant, j’ai remarqué qu’entre femmes, il était plus facile de se faire des critiques sur nos films respectifs.
Quelques réflexions sur le cinéma africain en termes de langue et de communication…
Il y a deux réalités concrètes qui nous forcent à être plus réceptifs au fait d’avoir à parler anglais. Les puissantes montantes audiovisuelles que constituent le Nigeria avec Nollywood et l’Afrique du Sud. Beaucoup de Congolais entrent dans ces métiers du cinéma par l’Afrique du Sud, où il y a une grande communauté congolaise. Il y a déjà deux réalisateurs installés en Afrique du Sud, Makela Pululu et Sandra Boukhany, qui sont des anglophones, mais ils parlent couramment français toujours. Mais, l’anglais est leur « everyday » langue. Claude Haffner, d'origine congolaise, travaille plutôt dans l'assistanat de production. Un autre congolais Petna Ndaliko vit dans l’est du Congo et est constamment en relation avec l’Ouganda. À partir du moment où le cinéma et l’audiovisuel se professionnalisent en Afrique, l’anglais sera de plus en plus le passage obligé.
Ton évolution dans le cinéma depuis le début jusqu'à aujourd'hui...
J’ai fait neuf documentaires, quatre au Bénin, quatre au Congo et un en France. J’ai traité de sujets surtout politiques et sociaux. Je pense que les films qui m’ont fait le plus connaître sont : « Anna l’enchantée », sur une jeune chanteuse vivant dans un milieu polygamique, « Sorcière la vie ! » sur la mixture de croyances au Congo Kinshasa, et le dernier « Entre la coupe et l’élection », sur la première équipe d’Afrique Noire à avoir été en coupe du monde en 1974. Actuellement, j’ai repris des études, en faisant une année de maîtrise en scénario et je suis en pleine écriture de deux projets de fiction, un court et un long-métrage. En dehors de ces projets, j’ai édité un recueil de poésies du nom de Yémadja et je prépare un recueil de nouvelles. Je suis certaine que j’écrirai de plus en plus au fil du temps. Pourquoi pas des romans et des essais. J’aimerais beaucoup devenir professeur de cinéma.
J’ai beaucoup aimé ton film « Anna l’enchantée », est-ce que tu peux parler de la conceptualisation du film et sa production ?
J’avais rencontré Anna dans un club de jazz à Cotonou et j’avais été très impressionnée par sa voix. Peu de temps après, j’ai été contactée par une productrice française qui cherchait une réalisatrice béninoise pour une série qui s’appelait : « Girls Around the World » et qui visait à faire le portrait de jeunes filles de 17 ans, venant des quatre coins du monde et qui serait filmées par une réalisatrice de leur pays. Il fallait que cette réalisatrice ait déjà eu une expérience de co-production internationale. Finalement, vivant au Bénin, j’ai été choisie. Et on m’a demandé de penser à une jeune fille de 17 ans, qui pourrait symboliser la situation psychologique et émotionnelle, d’une africaine à la veille de l’an 2000. J’ai repensé alors à cette chanteuse Anna, toute contente d’avoir les moyens de faire un film sur elle. Mais, j’ai réorienté mon scénario. Si je n’avais pas été intégré à la série « Girls Around the World », j’aurai surtout fait un film sur elle, en tant que chanteuse.
Mais, ma commande était de montrer son environnement et son style de vie. Quand j’ai pensé à Anna, j’ignorais complètement qu’elle vivait dans une famille polygamique : cela a été la grande chance du film, de rentrer de façon presque intimiste dans cette famille, à la fois traditionnelle et moderne, qui représentait bien toutes les contradictions de notre contemporanéité africaine. J’ai su tout de suite que je devais me faire du père un allié. Ce monsieur s’est senti respecté par moi. Et, moi, je viens aussi d’une famille polygamique, même si toutes les femmes ne vivaient pas ensemble : nous sommes 13 enfants issus de 4 femmes et j’ai dû toute ma vie gérer ces aspects de notre vie familiale. Et essayé d’aimer mes frères et de les soutenir quelle que soit leur mère. Je pense que mon père a fait en sorte que cela se passe bien entre nous. Cela a dû aider à ce que je me sente vraiment à l’aise dans cette famille et qu’eux se sentent à l’aise avec moi.
Entretien avec Monique Mbeka Phoba de 1997
30 November 2009
The observance of an “International Day” theme was first made in 1950, “International Week” since 1978, “International Year” since 1959 and the first “International Decade” in 1961. Perhaps one of the most memorable decade observances was “The United Nations Decade for Woman," 1976 to 1985. The Decade ushered in an unprecedented visibility on women around the globe, and notably, African women, when in 1985 during the closing year, the conference was held in Nairobi, Kenya.
As early as the late 1970s, even while there were few African women filmmakers, their focus coincided with United Nations themes, and in many cases their films were commissioned and funded by international organizations. Kenyan Jane Murago-Munene's first production, The Tender One, was produced during the first United Nation’s International Year of the Child in 1979. It was this UN project that made her realize her interest in documentaries as they “give you a chance to tell things as they are and a chance to go deeper into issues than you would otherwise do”. Pioneer Safi Faye of Senegal directed Les ames au soleil (Souls Under the Sun). Produced by the United Nations in 1980, the film focuses on health and education. Selbe et tant d'autres (One and So Many Others) made in 1982, centers on the daily village experiences of Selbe, which are shared by many of her neighbors, as she is left to care for the household as her husband works in the city. The film was produced by UNICEF under the series title: "As Women See It". It is no coincidence that a surge of African women filmmakers is visible during this decade, many of the films focusing on issues relating to women.
This visibility continued into the 1990s. As with the three conferences on women held during the Women’s Decade, the high-profile Beijing +10, the 1995 UN Fourth World Conference on Women and the parallel NGO forum attracted a large global gathering of women. Burkinabé filmmakers Martine Condé Ilboudo’s and Valérie Kaboré produced films focusing on the conference, Messages de femmes, messages pour Beijing and Voix unique...Pour Beijing, respectively.
In addition, one may note the impressive body of work by Burkinabé women highlighting diverse issues relating to women, children and current themes such as AIDS. Franceline Oubda was the 1992-1993 laureate of the Boerma Award for her television series, Women and Development, which called attention to the economic, social and cultural development problems from the perspective of rural women of Burkina Faso. The award was presented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Likewise, her film, Femmes de Yatanga explores the initiatives of the Association Six 'S' ("L'Association Six 'S'"), based in Burkina Faso. The Association Six 'S' in French illustrates the first letter of the words, all beginning with 's', which describes the objective of the group--savoir se servir de la saison sèche en savane au Sahel (to know how to make use of the dry season in the savanna of the Sahel). She had this to say about the film:
Burkinabe Valérie Kaboré received the Millennium Development Goal MDG3 Champion Torch in 2008 for her commitment to achieving gender equity. MDG3 is the acronym for the third Millennium Development Goal. The MDG3 Champion Torch initiative is an important part of Denmark’s Call to Action towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal as it relates to promoting gender equality and empowering women. Exemplary representatives of governments, the private sector, civil society, the media, individuals from North and South, and international organizations are recognized for their efforts toward the MDG3 and for their commitment to “doing something extra” in support of gender equality and women’s empowerment.
Kaboré received the MDG3 Champion Torch for her successful television series “Ina” and her commitment to girls’ education. Similarly, during our 1997 interview, Valérie Kaboré talked about her series "Nâitre fille en Afrique" (To Be Born a Girl in Africa, 1993), which also focuses on girls and the importance of their education. Her comments highlight her ongoing commitment to girls' rights. She had this to say:
The observance day, “Street Children Day” on 26 November 2009, initiated by UNESCO, addresses the plight of the world’s street children, abandoned as orphans, victims of war or by poverty-stricken parents. The day marks the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a theme which has been explored in numerous African films. Tanzanian Flora M’mbugu-Schelling’s 1993 docu-drama Shida and Matatizo, commissioned by UNICEF, makes a harsh indictment on the Tanzanian government for not responding to the physical and sexual abuse of street children. Zara Mahamat Yacoub also focuses on the plight of children in her films, Les Enfants de la rue (Street Children, 1995), Les Enfants de la guerre (Children of War, 1996) and l'Enfance confisquée (Childhood Destroyed, 1999). During our interview in 1998, I asked her: "In the context of the theme of the 1997 edition of FESPACO, "Cinema, Childhood, and Youth," there are many films that are being shown that treat the subject of children in diverse situations. Your film, Les enfants de la rue, focused on the theme of children, as well as your most recent film Les enfants de la guerre. Why did you choose this subject?" She replied:
What moved me to address this problem in my film is the need to record this phenomenon. Because today when there is a war in a particular part of the world, all eyes are riveted on the country where it takes place. The whole world precipitates to this location; the press, the humanitarian organizations. The world is focused on this country, on the children and women who die. As soon as the war is over, there is not a word spoken about this place and the aftermath of the war. No one even attempts to find out what happened to the survivors.In a war, it's true there are the dead, but afterwards there are certainly those who escaped, who survived. But no one searches to know how those who remain are continuing to live. In my film, I bring out the trauma suffered by the children who were left on their own, who are still there living with family members, in orphanages or in the streets.
They continue to be haunted by images of the war. However, there is no one who stays behind in an attempt to care in some way or another for these children. These children, whether we admit it or not, are sick. They are sick from all that they have lived through during and after the war. Thus, the reason for my film, Les enfants de la guerre.
On 1 December, the United Nations observes World AIDS Day. It is worth noting filmmakers such as Burkinabé Fanta Nacro who has been at the forefront in using cinema to address the AIDS crisis in Africa, which include the documentary films, En parler ça aide (2002); Vivre positivement (2003) and Never Alone, A Call to Action, No Time to Drop Your Guard, From the Young People Against AIDS: Scenarios from Africa (2003-2004). Le Truc de Konate (Konate's Thing, 1998), a humorous short fiction film by Nacro was very popular with the audiences in Burkina Faso. The film blends traditional skepticism of new ideas, masculine virility and honor, and emerging female consciousness. On a more somber note Tsitsi Dangaremba's feature film Everyone's Child (1995) deals with the daunting consequences for the children who are left to fend for themselves when their parents die from the devastating affects of AIDS. Kenyan Wajuhi Kamau, who works in the Film Production Department of the Educational Media Service of the Minister of Education, emphasizes the effectiveness of video as a means of educating people about issues from AIDS to family planning. Using both the documentary and drama presentations, the objective of the Educational Media Service is to take the results to the people who then see themselves reflected in the images, "when you see yourself, you see your situation, then it is easy to remember and change attitudes and behavior." Zimbabwean Prudence Uriri focuses on issues related to AIDS and health in general. In her role as filmmaker, she sees the importance of opening a dialogue about the problems that people face so that they may be better informed of the situation.
Parts of this text have been extracted from "Visualizing Herstories: An Introduction to African Women Cinema Studies". Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema
05 November 2009
Since the International Women’s Media Foundation (USA) launched the “Courage Award” in 1990 more than 100 journalists from 56 countries have joined the list of fearless laureates, working in the diverse media of television, radio, print, and film.
Laureates from Africa include: Mwape Kumwenda (Zambia) 2015, Lusiku Nsimire (Congo-DRC) 2014, Reeyot Aleum (Ethiopia) 2012, Vicky Ntetema (Tanzania) 2010, Agnes Taile (Cameroon) 2009, Serkalem Fasil (Ethiopia) 2007, South African-born Gwen Lister (Namibia) and Salima Tlemcani (Algeria) 2004, Sandra Nyaira (Zimbabwe) 2002, Amal Abbas (Sudan) 2001, Agnes Nidorera (Burundi) 2000, Lucy Sichone (Zambia) and Saida Ramadan (Sudan) 1996, Horria Saihi (Algeria) and Chris Anyanwu (Nigeria) 1995, Catherine Gicheru (Kenya) 1992.
As we applaud their courage and fortitude, the award also reminds us of the perilous work of media professionals.
I had the pleasure of meeting Algerian Horria Saihi, one of the 1995 "Courage Award" laureates, at the 1997 FESPACO (Panafrican Film Festival of Ouagadougou) during which she presented her film Algérie en femmes. In the interview, she recounted her daunting experiences in the contemporary crisis of the fundamentalist war on culture. She had this to say about winning the "Courage Award":
"In 1995, I was invited by the International Women’s Media Foundation to received the Courage Award. It was heartwarming, really, to find myself in the middle of New York, it was a dream. I actually had tears in my eyes, it was very powerful. I received the prize in the name of the Algerian people. I dedicated the award to all the women. It was an eagle with widespread wings which represented force, but also fragility, because it was made of crystal.
I dedicated the award to two women, the women who have marked my life. One was a very good friend, a colleague and journalist, Rachida Hammadi who was assassinated by terrorist fundamentalists. She was of such fragility. She was not tall, only four feet nine inches, and frail, but of a courageous and implacable will. She was always busy and constantly in the field. You could always hear her saying "I was told that such and such a thing has just happened, we must go there." She never said that she was tired. This woman symbolized this courage for me. It is not me who was awarded this prize, it was Algeria, it was these women who continued to remain standing, who carried Algeria in their two arms.
I dedicated it to another woman who I met in a region that has suffered tremendously, Jijel, which is 500 kilometers from Algiers. It is a zone that has a reputation for being the stronghold of fundamentalists terrorists. There I met a marvelous woman. I say marvelous because, having come from a big city, we only meet intellectual women who are well-read, articulate, who are able to say what they think. But these women, we do not meet outside in the streets. Moreover, the press, the television, the cinema are interested in women who are very present before the camera, who are mediatized by the national and international press. However, this woman was in the countryside, she cultivated the land, she participated in the national liberation war in the capacity of a fighter. During the last nine months of the war she was pregnant. Thus, she was at the same time fighter and mother. And this woman brought into the world, the day of independence 5 July 1962, a child who she called Abdullah. Abdullah means the child of God, the creation of God. She could have died with the child in her womb, and yet she carried him right up until independence and brought him into the world. This child's mother, who was not literate, wanted to give him a good education--a sort of payback for her--so that he could be intelligent and go to the best schools and universities. And her son was assassinated by the terrorists. This woman took up arms again, not to avenge her son in a feudal manner, but to avenge him by continuing the fight, so that there will never be blood in our country again."
Report by Beti Ellerson. Updated April 2018.
Link: Courage Award - https://www.iwmf.org/awards/courage-in-journalism-awards/
13 October 2009
En Français ci-après
I have the sad news of the passing of Chantal Bagilishya, Paris-based Rwandan producer, in the early morning of 28 September. Let us give tribute to her, her work and her contribution to cinema. She will be dearly missed.
Chantal, could you talk about how you came into the world of cinema? What were your experiences as a young girl? Did the idea develop as early as your childhood?
No one in my family has worked in this milieu. It was a dream like all other dreams. One never actually knows whether it will become a reality. As it turns out, my dream has become a reality and I am quite satisfied. I remember exactly when I became aware that I was attracted to the world of cinema. It was the first time I saw the cinematic image, I was just about ten years old. I was completely fascinated by this image...I was watching the TV for the first time. I thought to myself, "How is it possible? How can people actually be behind the television image?" Afterwards, I don't know how it happened exactly. I did not consciously decide to work in the area of cinema. I know that I was very fascinated with the people and later, thirty years later, here I am inside of this world.
You entered having already met people in cinema?
No, not at all. Since it was an area in which I was quite interested, when I went to university I studied communication with a specialization in the audiovisual. In the audiovisual area, I already began to focus on production. While I definitely wanted to work in cinema, I preferred to stay behind the scenes, thus in production.
You have never been interested in actually being a filmmaker?
No, I have never been interested in being a filmmaker or doing any of the artistic aspects. I have always been interested in the area of financing, organization, and the structure around the production. I like the idea of being at the head of the production line.
Did you study cinema production management as part of your course work?
No I did not; actually, there were no formal courses in which one could specialize directly. It took personal motivation and then, of course, the interest in wanting to focus on this aspect. For instance, during my studies, each time that I could pursue a subject or theme individually, I would work on the financial aspects of production, while my colleagues would focus on a certain filmmaker, and so on. The majority of the colleagues in my class became journalists. Out of thirty students, only two of us went in the direction of cinema. I went in the direction of film production, and another colleague is a camera operator for FR3 [a French television station].
After your studies, how did you evolve into cinema in general and cinema production in particular?
I went to the theater five or so times a week. I had many subscriptions to film journals and I read everything concerning cinema. Gradually, I met people who in turn introduced me to others. Eventually I found myself on the inside.
As a producer, could you talk about your profession, and what you do?
The work of a producer consists of going from a project, an idea, and finding the means to materialize it. To materialize an idea, unfortunately, costs a great deal of money. That is, in summary, what I do.
Do you produce mostly African films?
Actually no, for a long time I worked in a French production company where we made documentaries. I have a passion for documentary films, and I am interested in this genre in general. For a long time, I have wanted to work in African cinema, on African film projects. I have lived a great deal of time outside of Africa and, since I do not live on the continent, I feel that to work on a project about Africa provides me with a connection with Africa. The most direct way to have this connection is to work on a film project that takes place in Africa, which gives me the impression of living with Africa.
Have you had the opportunity to be the producer for an African film yet?
Yes, for the first time I had the opportunity to be chosen as executive producer of an African film by Cheick Oumar Sissoko of Mali. I was doubly proud. First, because I would be working on an African film and, secondly, in my opinion Cheick Oumar Sissoko is the best. We have completed the shooting of Genesis and are beginning post-production. It has gone well so far because Sissoko is very good; he is a real artist, and so we speak the same language.
Could you talk a bit about Genesis and the post-production process?
I am now organizing the people and materials needed, which include a technician, editor, mixer, and others who will participate, as well as finding editing and mixing facilities. In addition, I must negotiate prices. Because the costs are very high and it is rare that payments can be made entirely up front, there is always the role of negotiating installment payments.
How did you and Cheick Oumar Sissoko come together in a director/producer relationship?
I was looking for work, he was looking for someone to organize his production, and I was available. Since we all know each other or about each other in this area—we knew each other as colleagues, we knew who was who—we both agreed. I, of course, read the script, and then we discussed how the production would be organized and what was necessary to bring it to fruition.
You are located in Paris and Sissoko is in Mali—is the distance an impediment to the process?
We communicate a great deal by telephone and fax, but also he passes through Europe quite often. Of course, it would be much easier if we were in the same place.
Do you have your own company?
Actually no, I am executive producer and I work independently, in a free-lance context. Companies call me to work on a particular project and when it is over I go to the next one.
In terms of the production of African films, do you think that African filmmakers find it especially difficult to find a producer? Is there a lack of producers who are interested in African films?
No, there is not a lack; in fact, I think that a good idea always finds a producer. Of course, I am exaggerating somewhat. There are many great ideas that, unfortunately, never see the light of day. However, it is as difficult for an African filmmaker debuting in cinema to find a producer as it is for any other artist in the world. Because a producer is someone who, above all, believes in your idea. It is not just any idea, but one that is of interest to the producer. It is also the filmmaker as a human being that interests the producer. To be able to combine both is not always easy. A producer is not a machine; an artist is not a machine. It must be understood that to make a film takes a minimum of two years; it can take five years. Therefore, for two years, five years, we will be together. We work together in difficult conditions. We do not know if the film is going to be made, there is no money. We really have to be motivated and supportive of each other.
If there is a certain compassion and sympathy in the relationship, the work will be easy. You can have one of the most magnificent projects in the world, that is also well-financed, but if I find that on the human level we do not have the same values I will never work with you.
Someone who comes with an idea wants me to find five million, ten million francs to produce it. There is a great deal of ambition on the part of the artist and a great deal of megalomania on the part of the producer to imagine that from an idea she or he will find five million francs; and this is a minimum. Of course, if you are talking about an American film we are talking about millions and millions. On the one hand, there is a certain "absurdness" that goes with this work, and this excitement or extravagance must be managed efficiently. There is a great deal of money that is at stake and everyone is expecting to get something out of it. It takes a special kind of profession to imagine that "your vision" of the world is worth all these millions!
What role do you play once the film has been produced? Do you have any connections with the distribution and exhibition of the film that you produce?
First of all, there is a difference between the production of the fiction film and the documentary. When I worked on documentaries in France, it was handled in a certain way. For instance, either you were an "heir to Ford"—where you could finance your own film—or you had to go through several stages. For example, there must be a television company that is connected to your project and interested in financing it, after which you may get funding from other state institutions, such as the Centre National du Cinéma. Of course, I am simplifying the process. Your film is then contracted to be broadcast by the television company. It is the television company that finances the funding of the film production. In this case, distribution becomes less of a problem. Of course, it is up to the producer to find other companies around the world if you want to reach a larger audience.
On the other hand, the fiction film is more difficult. Financing through a television company only is not sufficient because the cost is often much higher, and the television company cannot assume the cost alone. Then you will still need to find a movie distributor, and that is also difficult.
There are many films that are financed but are never screened in the cinema houses. For example, in France there are some two hundred films that are made each year with a lot of state funding, and there are perhaps only eighty percent of them that are actually shown. Imagine all the people involved in making the film: the producer, the filmmaker, and others who have participated for some time. The family has suffered, and then no one sees it! It is dramatic, but, in fact, it happens often.
Would you say that it occurs twice as much with African films?
Yes, I would say twice as much, but not because they are African films. I do not think that African films are censored. If one can define African films, I would say that they are viewed as art films. Moreover, art films throughout the world have difficulty finding producers. Because quite simply, they do not bring in much money. And this is the case, whether it is a French filmmaker who does not enter in commercial cinema, as we know it, or any other filmmaker across the globe. Even within independent cinema in the United States, filmmakers are in the same situation, although it is America with all the film networks. I think it is a false problem to say that African films are treated differently because they are African films. All films that are different have a limited audience.
What do you see as the future of African cinema?
A cinema cannot exist without the support of the state. So much is determined by it; financial support, for example, and there is a whole legislative structure that must be established. It is not the filmmaker or even FEPACI (Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers) that can do it. It must be the state that takes the lead. And for the moment, African states have no interest at all in this area, or in culture in general. I can even say that there is no interest in anything that has nothing to do with weapons or defense. As long as African governments do not take culture as a right, as a basic element that is essential, as important as any other domain, our cinema will always be nonexistent.
Every cinema in the world—except the United States, which exports its cinema and is doing quite well—the cinema in all the European countries, apart from France, is almost dead. France has been able to preserve a cinema because the state is involved on a daily basis, on all levels. It supports a national cinema; it is an example. Our countries do not do this because, first, culture is not a priority for our governments and, secondly, even if they were financially motivated, they do not understand that cinema is also a source of revenue. For Americans, for instance, U.S. cinema exports rank second in foreign revenues. Support of African cinema does not exist in Africa. Therefore we are obliged to look to the outside for funding. The majority of the funding of African films comes from Europe, from foundations such as the Ministry of Cooperation. While it comes from outside of Africa, it is very generous on their part, because otherwise African films would not exist.
It is rather troubling to realize that without outside support our cinema would be zero, it would not exist. Not because there are no artists—there are many—but because we do not provide the means. There are a few countries in Africa—I know the francophone countries better—that attempt to do something, notably Burkina Faso. We must pay homage to them, we are very thankful. Burkina Faso is a country that is not financially wealthy, but it has given culture the importance it deserves in everyday life. It has done a great deal for cinema and for African cinema in general. There have been many inter-African co-productions initiated by Burkina Faso. Each time that assistance is asked of the state of Burkina Faso, support is given.
Translation from French by Beti Ellerson
En guise d'hommage à Chantal Bagilishya, décédée le 28 septembre 2009, cet entretien réalisé en 1997 et 1998 par Beti Ellerson.
je rigole bien sûr ! (rire).
C’est toujours pareil, c’est une question de langue, c’est l’héritage de la colonisation. Les rapports entre nous ne sont pas très étroits parce qu’on n’arrive pas à communiquer, d’abord de par la langue et deuxièmement parce que le voyage interafricain est plus compliqué et plus cher qu’en passant par l’Europe. Il y a beaucoup de choses qui rendent la communication difficile. Si on veut communiquer, il faut qu’on réfléchisse à d’autres façons de communiquer. La communication est très difficile, non pas parce qu’on a des visions différentes mais parce qu’on a des langues différentes. Dans la cellule de réflexion que les femmes sont en train de faire, il y a des femmes du Kenya, du Ghana et aussi des femmes francophones : moi, des Burkinabés et d’autres. Nous avons toute la bonne volonté du monde pour essayer de communiquer mais c’est difficile, et ça fait mal.
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