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.


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26 January 2011

Showcasing Marie Ka at Cannes 2009

Senegalese filmmaker Marie Ka studied film criticism at the Sorbonne before passing to the other side of the camera. After saving money for a year, she left for the United States in the direction of Hollywood, California and worked as an unpaid intern for two and a half years. Returning to Dakar, Marie freelanced for a year making several commissioned films and then headed back to the United States, this time to Atlanta, Georgia where she lived and worked for three years. Settled back in Dakar, she created her own production company, Picture Box. Based on the text in French by Laure Constantinesco, 

Invited by the Cinémas du Monde Pavillon/Pavilion of World Cinemas, Marie Ka is showcased by TV5 on the Croisette at the 2009 Cannes Festival. In five short episodes, she talks about her film, which is being screened at the Film Market, and her hopes of finding a producer.

The Cinémas du Monde Pavillon, a unique forum for discovery and dialogue, plays host to an artistic delegation of young directors and producers from twelve different countries. The Cinémas du Monde Pavillon, in the heart of the Cannes Film Festival's international village, has a triple aim: to raise the profile of film-making in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific, Asia, Latin America, the Near and Middle East, and Central and Eastern Europe; to provide an opportunity for cinema professionals to meet up and network; to support the development and distribution of films promoted by the artistic delegation.
The five TV5 episodes with French dialogue, are featured here with a transcription of the French to English translation by Beti Ellerson. The short vignettes offer a glimpse of the events in their context at the Cannes Festival.

Episode 1 Le Feuilleton Marie Ka Cannes 2009

Episode 1 - Marie Ka arrives at Cannes. She is looking for a generous producer to finance her first film. Traveling from the airport in Nice to her hotel room in Cannes, she talks about her expectations and her first impressions:

”Picture Box has three pilots for a children’s series that I would like to produce, the short film that I am trying to sell in the Short Film Corner, and a project for a feature film for which I would like to find a co-producer.”

Question: What do you hope to achieve here at Cannes?

”The first thing is to meet as many people as possible, to network, network, network. I noticed while on the plane that there are people from everywhere and that I find very exciting.  Second, if I can get a deal, that would be great. Yes I am looking for funding for a feature film, that is my first objective. I am open for whatever comes my way. I am optimistic and hope for the best.”

Question: What does it feel like to come to Cannes?

”I see behind the scenes that there are a lot of people like myself. What I like about cinema is there are all sorts of people, not just the stars and superstars, but those who dream like me to make films.”

Question: Is coming to Cannes part of that dream?

”Yes, something that seemed so inaccessible, and then things fall into place and here I am at Cannes.”

Episode 2 Le Feuilleton Marie Ka Cannes 2009

Episode 2 Marie Ka participates in a workshop on project financing: a good way to make contacts, and to better understand how to acquire funding for her next film.

“I am going to attend the Producer’s Network Breakfast. I see there are quite a few people in line, so it would be wise for me to also go there quickly to get my badge."

"It is structured around a table of participants and a moderator and different themes. I would like to attend Theme 14 regarding funding for the South.”

Question: Is this the right way to the Producer’s Network?

“Yes, I found the right place.”

Serge Hayat: Here we will talk about funding for projects from the Southern hemisphere.

“So we will be able to decide during a roundtable breakfast about funding?”

Serge Hayat: No, decisions will not be made, but rather, networking and making contacts.

“In fact it was much clearer than I had thought from reading the website, and it has been very useful information. To be able to speak directly to the representative has clarified many things, and to have had the opportunity to ask questions. It was a very good working session. I was able to meet many people from different countries.”

Question: Have you chosen other themes that interest you?

“No not yet, I must look at the program again.”

Question: Did you get many business cards?

“I have business cards from everyone, except those who did not have one, I have probably around eight.”

Question: A good collection of information?

“Yes, very productive.”

Episode 3 Le Feuilleton Marie Ka Cannes 2009

Episode 3Marie Ka sees the glamorous side of Cannes: it is the inauguration of the Pavillon Les cinémas du monde and she goes up the stairs in an evening gown!

“Here we are at the inauguration of the Pavillon Les cinémas du monde. We will spend the day with Abderrahmane Sissako, Juliette Binoche, and meet Gilles Jacob, this is the grand day.”

Juliette Binoche: Welcome, I am happy to have you here. That you make films that awaken, transform, touch…Salif Traoré from Mali…
Abderrahmane Sissako: Marie Ka from Senegal…
Juliette Binoche: Marat Sarulu from Kyrgyzstan

Marie-Christine Saragosse: There are a lot of people who are interested in your series, so let them know because they will be able to follow it on the website…

Marie Ka introduces herself to Gilles Jacob, President of the Cannes Festival.

“I will get dressed first, and put on make-up afterwards."

"This is a robe by Senegalese designer Ndiaga Diaw, the brand name is called Fitt, which in Wolof means courage, and also arrow, direction. I hope it will give me a boost later.”

Question: Is this “the” moment for you?

“I would not say that this is “the” moment, that would be when I will ascend the stairs for my film. This is nice to have the glamorous side, since it does not happen very often.”

The names of the filmmakers of the Pavillon Les cinémas du monde are announced as they advance to ascend the stairs.

Episode 4 Le Feuilleton Marie Ka Cannes 2009

Episode 4Marie Ka attends a workshop on how to pitch one's product. One must know how to summarize the script in a few catchy phrases to successfully sell a film project to a potential producer.

“Today I will attend a workshop on how to pitch your product, working individually with a coach. I will learn how to pitch my script in a short period of time."

"What I got from this was how to connect with the person quickly in order to tell my story, and to do it in a sincere way. There are different approaches, but what is important is to be yourself and to present your product using this attribute. More than anything else, it is a one-on-one conversation.”

Question: Are there any magic words?

“No, unfortunately!”

Question: Do you now feel more self-assured to sell your film?

“The short film, yes, because I had a real problem with explaining it. The feature film, well, I would say that now, I would use fewer words.”

Coach: She convinced me from the moment she talked about what touched her, with a genuine energy.

Question: So if I asked you to “pitch” your feature film?

“It depends on whether you will actually produce it?”

Episode 5 Le Feuilleton Marie Ka Cannes 2009

Episode 5Marie Ka discovers the Film Market, or the "business" side of Cannes. This is where cinema professionals—directors, producers, distributors—from around the world meet. Marie has two objectives: to sell her short film which is being screened at the Short Film Corner, the short film section of the Film Market, and to find a co-producer to finance her feature film project.

“The Short Film Corner is in the Film Market section.”

Question: Did you find where the Film Market is?

“Yes it is here in the catalog.”

Dialogue in the film Didi and Gigi: Gigi, what happened?

“We are on our way to the Film Market, I would like to meet representatives from Belgium and Canada.”

“I would like to get information about co-productions between Canada and Africa, please”

Representative: Of course, here you have access to all information about the co-productions that exist in Canada.  

“I am a filmmaker from Senegal and I am interested in information about co-productions between Quebec and Senegal.”

“It is a feature film about a little girl who wants to go to school in an environment where it is not viewed as important for a girl to go to school.”

“It may not seem like a big thing, to talk with someone and explain what you are looking for, to receive the catalogues, and sometimes the person may highlight certain things, that’s very good to have. There are so many people, so much information, that sometimes you may not be able to have the direct contact with a person right away or to be able to go into detail. There are so many possibilities as well."

"Compared to Senegal it is so much better, because there, it is very little or nothing at all. But things have advanced, after a long period of stagnation. You have to hang in there.”

Question: We’ll see you next year at Cannes?

“Next year? I am not sure, but in two years, yes, with a feature film!”

25 January 2011

Nadia el Fani, Ouled Lenine, and a time of revolution

At this moment of revolution in Tunisia, one may reflect on Nadia el Fani’s Ouled Lenine (the children of Lenin).

OULED LENINE: The story of a commitment 

I was ten years old and it was the most beautiful moment of my life...In the independent Tunisia of Bourguiba, nonetheless, at the eve of the era of disappointments, we were those who shared a secret of membership, as we were the sons and daughters of communists…Hush!!!

At 20 years old, they fought for the independence of Tunisia and all hopes were allowed.  Did they wait too long for the country to mature? Or did time move too quickly for their dreams? Ouled Lenine (2007) paints a portrait of the progressive activists in post-independence Tunisia, and poses the question of their legacy.

Nadia El Fani probes the mysteries of modernity as it flourished for a time in Tunisia from the 1950s to the 1980s. The film focuses on her father, who was a leading member of the Tunisian Communist Party.

The powerful emotion of this tête-à-tête between father-daughter in the streets of Sousse or in the house of Sidi Bou Said; the questioning that weaves the threads of the discussion, leads us to ask: What happened? What have you done with your twenty years?

And yet, everything had begun so well: independence, the emancipation of women, development… “It was a time when Muslims, Jews, Christians, atheists, men and women equally, lived together, fought together for a better world made of tolerance, equality, passion…”

A Z’YEUX NOIRS MOVIES Production © 2008

Text and images from Nadia El Fani Blog

French text adapted to English by Beti Ellerson 

20 January 2011

Taghreed Elsanhouri's Sudan

Taghreed Elsanhouri
I was struck by the love and tenderness in Taghreed Elsanhouri’s voice when speaking of her son Abdelsamih and the emotional journey of meeting him while making her film The Orphans of Mygoma (2008). From this encounter she evolved from dispassionate filmmaker to ultimately, an engaging mother. Commissioned by Aljazeera, Taghreed set out to Sudan to make a film about the children brought to the Mygoma Orphanage in Karthoum after being abandoned by their unwed mothers.

The Orphans of Mygoma was Taghreed’s second film about Sudan, which she had left as a child. Working in television in England, she always wanted to talk about Sudan but it was only during the Darfur crisis in 2005 that she found her voice and purpose. Her first independent film, All About Darfur came from her desire to understand what was happening in Sudan and to tell the story from the dual perspective of a northerner of Sudan, part of a dominant group, and a black woman in Britain living with racism.

In her third film, Mother Unknown (2009), Taghreed returned to the orphanage around which she bases the stories of two young unmarried mothers and one unmarried father who want to keep their babies.

We continue as she talks about her future projects and answers my many questions about her experiences as a filmmaker. Stirred by the passionate story at Mygoma, I return to our original conversation. Profoundly touched by the experience that transformed her life, and his, Taghreed reflects on her son Abdelsamih. Though blind, having lost his eyes to cancer as a baby, she is nonetheless optimistic by his strength and curiosity, his amazing courage and ability to love and live fully. In her eyes I see that he has a bright future. (Report by Beti Ellerson)

Witness Orphans of Mygoma (Part 1) Taghreed Elsanhouri

Witness Orphans of Mygoma (Part 2) by Taghreed Elsanhouri

Extract of : 'Mother Unknown' - Adam from Scott Radnor on Vimeo
Mother Unknown by Taghreed Elsanhouri
Extract of: 'Mother Unknown' - The Story of Mary from Scott Radnor on Vimeo
Mother Unknown by Taghreed Elsanhouri


Engagement des femmes cinéastes (Round Table Cannes Film Festival 2008)

14 January 2011

Shirikiana Aina: Through the Door of No Return

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon introduced the declaration of the UN International Year for People of African Descent with these stirring remarks:

...I welcome this effort to pay tribute to the vast contributions made by people of African descent to the advancement of the political, economic, social and cultural development of all of our societies.
At the same time, we must remember that people of African descent are among those most affected by racism.
Too often, they face denial of basic rights such as access to quality health services and education.

Such fundamental wrongs have a long and terrible history.
The international community has affirmed that the transatlantic Slave trade was an appalling tragedy not only because of its barbarism but also because of its magnitude, organized nature and negation of the essential humanity of the victims.
Even today, Africans and people of African descent continue to suffer the consequences of these acts.

As we commemorate 2011, the United Nations International Year for People of African Descent, I return to an interview with Shirikiana Aina in 1997, she talked to me about her film Through the Door of No Return. A journey in her father's footsteps, as well as the journey of her ancestors and of present African diasporans.  She talks about her feelings as she tells a story through film, keeping a certain vision, a certain perspective, and at the same time as she undergoes a very deep, emotional journey. Through the Door of No Return was inspired by her experience with Sankofa, the acclaimed film directed by her husband, Haile Gerima, and of which she is the co-producer.

African Women in Cinema Collection
In this film, I go on a personal journey…I use my father's experience as sort of a bridge to get me there, as a child of Africa in the Diaspora looking for her roots or a re-connect. My father traveled to Africa when I was about seventeen and apparently was trying to move to Ghana.  Unfortunately, he contracted malaria.  It was fatal, and when he came back, he died. I was a budding adult, but we never had a chance to synthesize or pass on some of the things he gained by himself going on that journey. He was the child of a sharecropper.  He moved to the North and was involved in whatever industry was available to him.  And for him to make that leap to Africa in his lifetime was quite significant.  So, I used that as an opportunity for me to re-link to the continent.
…I wanted to go back at night the same way that we came.  I wanted to go back across the water the same way that we came.  I wanted to go back through that same door that you see in our other film, Sankofa. If you've seen that film, you've seen the dungeons and the slave forts on the coast of Ghana. In the so-called Elmina Castle, there is a very small door, so small that only one person could fit through it at a time.  You almost have to go sideways to get through this door and that is how we were exited out of that dungeon at night because the slave-traders figured that it would be the best way to sneak us out.  The surrounding residents know something is going on, they know about slavery of course, but just to keep it low key we were sent out at night.  We were sent down in these little boats and these boats would take us to the bigger ships.  By that time we had waited in these dungeons for months and months, we had watched many of our family members and other people die right next to us.  Food was almost non-existent, of course; the conditions were horrible: we were packed, no blankets.  We lived in these hellholes.  We were stored, actually, and the purpose of that storage was to wait until our numbers got high enough while waiting for the ships to come.  The ships would come once a year or however often and then they were filled up with two or three hundred of us packed even tighter.  So for me it was very significant to go back through that door because for me that was the point of departure, and it had to be the point of return, because it was the reason, it was the threshold…Those people who have not been paid tribute to, the bones of these millions and millions of people that carpet the bottom of the ocean are calling us back…
…Through the door, camera in hand, I followed the journey of my own father who went this similar process, and that helped me to make this link in finding other people's footprints, and symbolically I found his.  So that helped me to make a particular link and that was enough for me…When I was investigating all these connections it felt really interesting and symbolically important for me, his child, having taken up the profession of filmmaking, now to go back with my own camera to really pick up where he left off.  What I try to do in the film is to multiply his image with all the people I find going to Ghana who are basically doing the same thing, trying to reconnect, trying to sew back this terrible tear that history has caused between Africans in the Diaspora and Africans on the continent. The film goes on from this point to see to what extent we remember, because, as infantile as it really might be to think, "Do they remember us?" this is the horrible fact of history: it lasted four hundred years and there are concrete questions of economics, of rewriting history, that are confronting us now.  So how can we say, "Do they remember us?"  It feels like such an infantile question, but it really is at the root of a lot of our psyches, I think.
…The presence of pan-African work, the presence of people of the Diaspora in Ghana during the time of Kwame Nkrumah, for example, is what really just catapulted this whole project and I couldn't talk about W.E.B. Du Bois' influence in Ghana and the subsequent influence of independence on the continent, without talking about slavery. I just found that it was impossible. So the challenge that I faced with this camera and crew was to break down, sort of travel through this understanding. Du Bois asked to be buried at the foot of the castle, facing the ocean, the foot of a slave fort. He died in 1963, he was beyond his time; and that symbolism for the whole world is striking.  But I had to sort of do what he did.  He was at the foot of the castle, through the slave fort dungeons facing back, so he was making this human. And I had to do something similar—to look at how somebody like Kwame Nkrumah, a country boy who went to Europe to study, hooked up with George Padmore, studied Du Bois, studied Marcus Garvey, and then this group of people having the nerve to come back to Africa to liberate the whole damn place. To look at that I had to see how these men and women had the capacity to see themselves on equal planes.  Hadn't history divided them?  Hadn't history thrown them asunder?  Hadn't history said that now they were totally different kinds of human beings?  They were apparently able to cross that divide and I had to cross that divide myself. It was very important for me to do the same thing.

Through the Door of No Return (1997) by Shirikiana Aina

The above text was excerpted from an interview by Beti Ellerson published in Ecrans d’Afrique/African Screen (3rd Quarter, 1997 Nos. 21-22) under the title, “Do They Remember Us?”

12 January 2011

Fatou Kandé Senghor: My Work, My Passion | Mon Travail, Ma Passion

© Fatou Kandé Senghor
Mon Travail, Ma Passion, translated from French by Beti Ellerson.

Texte en français ci-dessous

What I enjoy doing…

As a documentarist, I like to observe the changes in society. For us Africans, this transformation occurs in social, cultural, religious and economic contexts that are not very receptive to change but nonetheless, cannot prevent the evolution of humanity. Some of my documentaries have struck me by their sense of continuity, for instance the recent film, Rafet Car. In 2000, accompanied by contemporary poets from around the world, I made a road movie of sorts. We traveled 2500 km from the island of Gorée to the city of Timbuktu, making a stopover at the mythical cities of the ancient empire of Mali. We traveled for three weeks by train, bus, and pirogue on a path once taken by the ancient caravaners in search of traces of poetry, stories and legends recorded in the oral tradition. The film Tara, chemins de la parole transported me into the past, into grand spaces, into the lives of the "others", revealing how people at the crossroads combined the practices of traditional and modern life.

Then there was Diola Tigi

The film Diola Tigi is a look within based on the question: "What is a Diola?" even before entering the landscape. Set in the village of Baïla, where the initiation ceremony Bukut takes place every thirty years, this journey inside the Diola society leads us into the sacred grove, a cultural and religious rampart that allows the Diola to resist the excesses of modernization. A feast which include charms, euphoric beverages, libations, alongside the practices of bullying and competitions of invulnerability using knives and machetes. An opportunity for me to converse with the Diola sages, the gatekeepers of tradition who are concerned about a changing generation that is no longer familiar with the great moments of initiation and is not sufficiently rooted to receive the secrets of the sacred; a real dilemma in Africa today.

Then I encounter the giant of Senegalese painting. Gripped by alcoholism, married to a popular Senegalese actress, he is split between moments of total sobriety and passion for his family and those interludes with Bacchus, turning into an imp, abandoning the trait that made him the great painter Jacob Yacouba, before the eternal. The film, The Return of the Elephant is the portrait of this man of the arts through which a chapter of our art history is revealed. A great era lived in splendor and creativity, and especially encouraged by President-poet Senghor. Great artists came from Europe to Senegal to exhibit at the National Gallery, notably Picasso, Fernand Leger; a sign that African artists have finally entered the world arena. It is within this context that the painter Jacob Yacouba recounts to us a love story, a story of painting, the story of a somewhat spoiled generation; a rather racy, personal and ultimately sad story.

In True School I watch the Senegalese youth as they come and go to Université Cheikh Anta Diop, I feel the pulse of our fledgling intellectuals soon to be called upon to lead our country. Local rap is part of their everyday experience. Then I immerse myself in their lives, their neighborhoods, leading me to the outskirts of Dakar in the underprivileged quarters, where their neighbors, whose music they consume, live and who without a doubt, can directly relate to the subject of their songs. In this same neighborhood, there is a concert that evening. Hip hop concerts are like evening political rallies. And often these “underground” concerts end up with stones thrown at the police by fans who also break out in fights as the rappers try to calm the public in order to continue the entertainment, and the peace—even though the lyrics of their songs denounce the politics that inflame the masses. It is not every day that we have the privilege to share with these same young people who are perceived as objectionable, who have no recourse, and who, nonetheless, in 2000 contributed to the change of power in the government. And yet, they have since been disappointed, even disillusioned, by those they elected. A film that may be used to assess the 10 years of hip hop music in Senegal that has been very critical of the social, political and economic situation.

Doomireew, "sons of the country" is probably my favorite film because it is the story of our mentors, of those who gave us our personality, this same personality that allowed us to tell stories through films. Doomireew is the story of three men: One was called Abdoulaye Douta Seck, the other Ousmane Sembene and the third Aimé Cesaire. They lived the radiance of their passion, one on the stage, in front of the camera, the other, pen in hand, an eye behind the camera, and the latter by his intelligence, creativity and faith in his people. They experienced the glory of their hard work and though leaving the scene with faltering health, had enough years of life to see Africa, Africans and the world from every angle. How lucky! Their teachings were nestled in their work, their personalities—meticulous and intense, their splendid gestures, their genius, their distinction, the resoluteness in their choices and their conviction—never revoking their beliefs—and their eloquence, their sincerity.

Again immersing myself in unique places—probably the main motivation of all documentarists—to observe while at the same time being accepted by others. This is my constant quest. For the film All Roads Lead to Rufisque, I penetrate the world of Senegalese women prisoners. I make my way into the Rufisque prison—in these cramped, barely lit spaces, where I meet women from the countryside, abandoned by their families to live among themselves, struggling to adapt to the changes of modern life. In order to better understand the functioning of a social system, I investigate why these Senegalese women land in prison. The bars, rusty, chained grills, and the faces of young women, like characters in a novel. What could they have done to be here, all of these women? What were their crimes, their dramas, their heartrending experiences? A woman’s obedience to men and elders constitute the core principle of our education, even determining a woman’s fate. How are their crimes possible in a society based on the subjugation of women, irrespective of ethnic group? As early as female puberty, her laughter, her manner of walking and her innocence are captured, confined, shaped, and framed to be married. The education of a girl is so meticulous and rigorous in this micro-power called family, that I wondered how a Senegalese woman could transgress the law and end up in jail. Then suddenly I meet a very particular prisoner. A Lebanese woman with her older sister—imprisoned for 10 years. The eldest sister, an almost ordinary prisoner besides her milky skin, adapted herself to the environment to better pass away the time and survive, I suppose; while the other, very intriguing, constantly writes; nobody dares touch her belongings or come near her. It was through my encounter with the famous Senegalese writer Boubacar Boris Diop that I was able to grasp the reality of women prisoners and to meet them. He taught philosophy at Rufisque for seven years and was the advisor to this intriguing young woman. Through their strolls and chats together we traversed the labyrinth of prison life. I mention her "because it will be a film bigger than me." I follow wherever she leads me; I will call her Marie Madeleine. She will make the connection between all the other main characters under the assumed names of: Khoudia, Awa, Aminta and Sira, all incarcerated respectively, for infanticide, illegal prostitution, drug trafficking, and assault and battery. Their stories are poignant, reflecting the uneasiness of those who fled their villages to live in the capital, torn between tradition and modernity. And this extraordinary encounter with this young woman is almost a miracle as we young Senegalese have attempted to unravel the mysteries of the Lebanese community that blends so well into our own and at the same time who, we know very well, despise us.

So, Rafet Car. Why a film on feminism in Africa?

How could one live in the Dakarois capital everyday without noticing at five o'clock in the morning the faces of its women, walking the streets, engulfed in all sorts of public transportation—public utility cars and sanitary trucks—these women who work hard to provide for their offspring, with loads on their head, baby on their back, while their own domestic and marital duties await their return home. And how could one ignore all the invasive tabloid headlines recounting rapes, kidnappings, sequestrations, violence done to girls, women, mothers? The humorous treatment of cartoonists on the condition of women is of bad taste or rather of a total ignorance of their real condition. How can I ignore the textbooks of my daughters where there are no female role models to which we may refer, and women holding only secondary roles, leaving the responses for the boys and men. So the question is, what is being done about this situation here in my country, Senegal, which is known to have ratified all the laws, all the conventions protecting human rights? What are the demands of these women? Who are the protesters? Where is the fight, if it exists? When probing into our women’s stories, I was not surprised at their lack of knowledge about their rights, due to illiteracy, fundamentalism, and tradition. And thus, inevitably feminism is still very much alive as the demands are even more vivid today despite the impression that laws have resolved many of the problems of Senegalese women and men. I, Fatou Kandé Senghor am a feminist. Admittedly, I am not part of any association, but I live it with each breath that I take, in my everyday existence. It has always been a part of me. Since very young I battled with my parents—to live and do interesting things, to study, to not be like the women in my house, but to take all that life could offer me.

I am familiar with the feminisms of the world. I have observed very well European feminists, American feminists, who have their own specificities. Often they have misunderstood us because our upbringing, our reactions are not quite in agreement with their beliefs and ideas, which proclaim: "neither whores nor doormats". But fortunately on the African continent where we have chosen to return, we can read in the actions of many of the prominent women of our society, our beliefs and values. This film is necessary to initiate a discussion in Senegal, an honest discussion about what feminism is among us, a feminism that has its detractors but also its issues within the movement.

24 décembre 2009 

En tant que documentariste, j’aime observer les mutations de la société. Chez nous les africains, ces mutations s’opèrent dans des contextes sociaux, culturels, religieux et économiques qui sont peu ou pas réceptifs aux changements et qui néanmoins ne peuvent pas empêcher les êtres humains de traverser le temps. Quelques uns de mes documentaires m’ont marqués par une sorte de continuité et ce film RAFET CAR le dernier en date vient s’inscrire sur la liste de ceux dont je vais vous parler. En 2000 j’ai réalisé un film qui était un voyage par la route, en compagnie de poètes contemporains venus des quatre coins du monde. Nous avons parcourus 2500 km en partant de l’île de Gorée jusqu’à la ville de Tombouctou et en faisant escale dans les villes mythiques de l’ancien empire du Mali. Nous avons voyagé pendant trois semaines en train, en bus, en pinasse sur ce chemin jadis emprunté par les caravaniers pour retrouver les traces de poésie, de contes et de légendes consignées par la tradition orale. Ce film intitulé « TARA, les chemins de la parole » m’avais transposée dans le passé, les grands espaces, la vie des « autres » et révélé comment les peuples croisés en chemin alliaient les pratiques de la vie traditionnelle et celles de la vie moderne. 

Puis il y a eu DIOLA TIGI
Le film Diola tigi est un regard intérieur qui s’appuie sur un questionnement : « Qu’est ce qu’un Diola ? » avant même que de pénétrer dans le terroir. Ce voyage à l’intérieur de la société diola a pour cadre le village de Baïla où se déroule tous les trente ans, la cérémonie d’initiation : le Bukut, une immersion dans le bois sacré, un rempart culturel et cultuel qui permet au diola de résister à un excès de modernisation. Une fête à laquelle sont conviés gris-gris, boissons euphorisantes, libations, brimades, compétition d’invulnérabilité avec des couteaux et des machettes. Une opportunité pour moi de parler avec les sages diolas, gardien de la tradition qui sont soucieux de cette jeunesse qui change et qui ne connait plus les grands moments initiatiques et qui n’est pas assez ancré pour recevoir les secrets du sacré.Tout le dilemme de l’Afrique. 

Puis je rencontre ce monstre sacré de la peinture en proie à son alcoolisme, marié à une actrice populaire sénégalaise sous le feu des rampes et qui vit un déchirement total entre ses moments de sobriété et de passion pour sa famille et ses moments avec bacchus, quand il se transforme en diablotin abandonné par le trait qui a fait de lui jacob yacouba grand peintre devant l’eternel. Le film s’intitule LE RETOUR DE L’ELEPHANTet c’est à travers le portrait de cet homme d’art qu’un pan de notre histoire de l’art se dévoile. Une grande époque vécue dans le faste et la créativité et surtout encouragée par le président poète Senghor. Les grands artistes de l’Europe viennent au Sénégal exposer à la galerie Nationale, PICASSO, Fernand LEGER, signe que les artistes africains sont enfin entrés dans l’arène mondiale. C’est dans ce contexte que le peintre Jacob yacouba nous raconte une histoire d’amour, une histoire de peinture, l’histoire d’une génération un peu gâtée et une histoire personnelle piquante et triste finalement. 

Dans « TRUE SCHOOL » : J’ai observé la jeunesse sénégalaise dans son va et viens vers l’université Cheikh Anta Diop, j’ai taté son pouls à travers nos graines d’intellectuels appelés à diriger notre pays. Et dans leur vie de tous les jours, il y a le RAP local. Puis j’ai immerge avec eux dans leurs quartiers. Cela m’a conduit dans la banlieue populaire Dakaroise où les auteurs de la musique qu’ils consomment sont leurs voisins et forcément touchent à tous leurs problèmes dans leurs paroles. Et dans leurs quartiers, le soir, il y a concert. Les concerts de hip hop sont comme des rassemblements politiques nocturnes. Et souvent ces concerts « underground » se terminent par des jets de pierres contre les forces de l’ordre, où des bagarres éclatent parmi les fans, alors que les rappeurs tentent de calmer le public pour continuer la fête et la paix, même si ce sont les paroles de leurs chansons dénonçant la vie politique qui embrasent les foules. Ce n’est pas tous les jours que l’on a le privilège de partager cela avec une jeunesse que l’on a dit malsaine et qui n’a plus d’issues de secours et qui a tout de même contribué à changer le pouvoir en place en 2000 et qui a déchanté depuis lors déçue par ceux qu’elle a élu. Un autre film casse-tête qui attend 2010 pour évaluer 10 ans de musique hip hop sénégalaise très critique de la situation sociale, politique et économique. 

« DOOMIREEW, fils du pays » est probablement le film que je préfère parce que c’est l’histoire de nos mentors, de ceux qui nous ont donné une personnalité, celle là même qui nous a fait choisir de raconter des histoires à travers les films. Doomireew, c’est l’histoire de trois hommes : L’un se nommait ABDOULAYE DOUTA SECK, l’autre OUSMANE SEMBENE et le troisième AIME CESAIRE. Ils avaient vécu le rayonnement de leur passion, l’un sur les planches et devant l’objectif des caméras, l’autre la plume à la main et l’œil derrière la caméra et le dernier par son intelligence, sa créativité et sa foi en son peuple. Ils ont vécu la gloire de leur dur labeur et une sortie de scène avec une santé vacillante mais avec assez d’année de vie pour voir l’Afrique, les Africains et le monde sous toutes leurs coutures. Quelle chance. Leurs enseignements étaient tapis dans leurs œuvres, leurs personnalités rigoureuses et limite exécrables, leurs gestes fastes, leurs génies, leurs discernements, leur fermeté dans leurs choix et dans leurs convictions, leurs vestes jamais retournées, leur éloquence, leurs vérités. 

Et à nouveau, l’immersion dans des lieux uniques, c’est probablement cela la motivation principale de tout documentariste. Observer tout en étant accepté par les autres. C’est cela ma quête constante. Pour le film TOUS LES CHEMINS MENENT A RUFISQUE, J’entreprends donc l’immersion dans un lieu unique : L’univers carcéral de femmes sénégalaises. Je me suis immergée, dans la prison de Rufisque, dans ces lieux exigus, à peine éclairés, où j’ai rencontré des femmes originaires de la campagne, abandonnées à elles mêmes par leur famille et qui vivent encore difficilement les mutations de la vie moderne. Pour mieux comprendre le fonctionnement d’un système social, je cherche à savoir pourquoi les femmes sénégalaises atterrissent en prison. Les barreaux, les grilles rouillées enchaînées et les visages des jeunes femmes telles des personnages de roman. Que pouvaient-elles bien faire là toutes ces femmes ? Quels étaient leurs crimes, leurs drames, leurs déchirements ? Les vertus de l’obéissance aux hommes et aux aînés constituant les principes essentiels de notre éducation, déterminant même le devenir d’une femme. Comment le crime était-il possible au sein d’une société qui repose sur la soumission des femmes, toutes ethnies confondues ? En effet dès la puberté des filles, ses rires, ses promenades et son innocence sont capturés, limités, modelés, encadrés puis mariés. L’éducation d’une fille est tellement méticuleuse et rigoureuse dans ce micro pouvoir qu’est la famille que je me suis demandé comment la femme sénégalaise pouvait transgresser la loi et se retrouver en prison.Puis tout à coup je rencontre une détenue bien particulière. Une libanaise avec sa sœur aînée, incarcérée pour 10 ans. La sœur aînée est une prisonnière presque ordinaire au-delà de sa peau laiteuse, elle a adopté le milieu pour mieux voir le temps passer et survivre, je suppose, tandis que l’autre qui écrit tout le temps et dont personne ne touche les affaires ou ne l’approche, est très intrigante. Pour saisir la réalité des femmes détenues et les rencontrer, ce sera finalement un célèbre auteur sénégalais BOUBACAR BORIS DIOP qui a enseigné la philosophie à Rufisque pendant 7 ans qui sera le conseiller à la vie de cette jeune femme intrigante et ce sera à travers leurs promenades et leurs échanges que nous serons menés dans les labyrinthes de la vie carcérale. Je la cite « parce que ce sera un film plus grand que moi ». Je la suis aveuglément et la nomme MARIE MADELEINE. C’est elle qui fera le lien entre toutes les autres personnages principales dont les noms d’emprunts sont : Khoudia, Awa, Aminta et sira toutes incarcérées respectivement pour infanticide, prostitution illégale, trafic de drogue et coups et blessures volontaires. Leurs histoires sont poignantes et reflètent le malaise de celles qui ont fui leurs villages pour vivre à la capitale, déchirées entre deux modes de vie : traditionnelle et moderne. Et puis, cette rencontre exceptionnelle avec cette jeune femme reste presque un miracle tant nous jeunes sénégalais avons tenté de percer les mystères de cette communauté libanaise qui se fond si bien dans la notre et qui en même temps sait si bien nous maîpriser. 

Comment pourrait t’on vivre dans la capitale dakaroise sans remarquer au quotidien ses visages de femmes dès cinq heures du matin qui arpentent les rues, s’engouffrent dans toutes sorte de transport en commun, de services publics et sanitaires, ces femmes qui travaillent d’arrache pied pour subvenir aux besoins de leurs progénitures charges sur la tête, bébé au dos tandis que les tâches ménagères et conjugales attendent leurs retour au domicile. Et comment ignorer tous les tabloids envahissants dont les grands titres relatent viols, sequestrations, coups, enlèvements, violences faites à des fillettes, des femmes, des mères. Le traitement humouristique des caricaturistes de la condition de la femme est d’un mauvais goût ou plutôt d’une ignorance totale de leur condition réèlle. Comment puis je fermer les yeux sur les manuels scolaires de mes filles dans lesquels il n’y a aucuns modèles féminins, sur lesquels on peut se référer, et les femmes y occupent uniquement des rôles secondaires donnant la réplique à des petits garçons, et à des hommes. Alors la question revient , qu’est ce qui est fait pour cette situation là, dans mon pays le Sénégal qui est connu pour ratifier toutes les lois, toutes les conventions qui protègent les droits des humains. Quelles sont les revendications de ces femmes et qui en sont les porteurs et où en est ce combat s’il existe. En plongeant le nez dans les histoires de nos femmes, quelle ne fut pas ma surprise sur la méconnaissance des droits des uns et des autres à cause de l’analphabétisme, à cause du fondamentalisme religieux, à cause de la tradition, alors forcément le féminisme existe encore bel et bien, car les revendications sont encore plus vives aujourd’hui alors que l’on a l’impression que la loi a réglé tellement de choses pour les sénégalais et sénégalaises que nous sommes. Et puis un constat majeur dans ma vie, Je suis une féministe, moi Fatou Kandé Senghor. Je ne milite dans aucune association, certes, mais je le vis a chaque bouffée d’air inhalée tout naturellement et dans ma vie, et ce depuis toujours. La bataille dans le domicile parentale si jeune pour vivre et faire des choses interressantes, pour aller étudier , pour ne pas ressembler aux femmes de ma maison et pour prendre tout ce que la vie aurait à m’offrir. Le féminisme dans le monde, je le connais, je l’ai bien observé, les féministes européennes, américaines ont leur trajectoire particulier et souvent elles nous ont montré beaucoup de mépris parce que nos éducations nos reflexes était pas tout à fait en accord avec les préceptes de leur concept de l’époque « ni putes, ni soumises ». Mais heureusement sur le continent africain où nous avions choisi de rentrer nous pouvions lire les signes de nos convictions chez beaucoup de femmes au devant de la scène. Ce film il est nécessaire, pour amorcer une discussion dans ce Sénégal, une discussion honnête sur ce féminisme de chez nous qui a ses détracteurs mais qui a aussi des problèmes internes au mouvement. 

Published by permission from Facebook Page.

07 January 2011

Wanjiru Kinyanjui: A Portrait

Wanjiru Kinyanjui (Photo credit)
Wanjiru Kinyanjui has been fascinated with storytelling since she was a young girl, her imagination visualizing the stories that she read. It is not surprising that her passion brought her to the doorstep of the Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie, the German film school where she could "plunge into a world full of characters and their stories." She had this to say about her experiences there:
The film school was definitely a great opportunity for me because we had no theoretical exams.  Our papers were actual films and we could, therefore, experiment on each film we made after every seminar or workshop.  Some cinemas in Berlin provided us with free tickets and it was possible for us to watch as many different films as we had time for.  I could choose my own subjects, my own format, and the people I would work with.  In a way, it was a freeing experience. 
Back in Kenya, though having to adjust to a very different environment with fewer technical and professional structures, in the long run she finds it to be much more pleasant and open and the people friendlier and easier to get along with. Above all, she is contributing to the development of a Kenyan film culture.

Wanjiru is actively involved in the fledgling Riverwood--the Kenyan version of the Nollywood phenomenon. Within it she can participate in filmmaking experiences with which people can identify, reflecting the life of everyday Kenyans at the same time providing entertainment. When asked about her reflections on African cinema she stated:

I like films which connect more to us today or at least depict how things have changed and why... films which embrace the whole character of Africans...films which can make us laugh, which appeal to our emotions and which show us who we are...African Cinema should also produce films which not only portray life as it is, but have characters whose world is accessible to us today. Villages are nice romantic places, but there are cities in Africa too.  There are the high and mighty who can be subjects of satirical critique. There are career women and brilliant children. There are normal issues of life. 

Wanjiru sees in Riverwood the potential to make Kenyan experiences accessible to Kenyan audiences. Moreover, her work as a film instructor also contributes to the film culture of Kenya. She finds teaching at Kenyatta University to be both a challenge and a blessing. It is a challenge because there are limited resources: lack of films to teach, technical books, a film library. In addition, there is the widely-held view that filmmakers are technicians rather than artists. The blessing is the pleasure of working with students, to work towards the demystification of film. Several of her students participated as volunteers at the Kenya International Film Festival and the Future Filmmakers Workshop which she also participated as co-ordinator.

Her reflections on African women and cinema:

Strong images would give her more confidence to stop believing that she needs to be like this or like that, depending on societal beliefs and notions.  I like her image when she is shown to be of an independent mind, when she is not a passive being who is too busy following false tracks laid down for her by others who are more interested in "keeping her in her place."  One should give her the opportunity to define where her place is! And cinema, because it allows us to travel in a projected world of the possible, not necessarily the present reality, is a great opportunity!

*Quotes from interview with Wanjiru Kinyanjui by Beti Ellerson (Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film Video and Television).

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