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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Director/Directrice, Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema | Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma


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29 June 2011

Nadia El Fani, Laureate of the International Secular Award 2011

The film Laïcité Inch'allah (Secularism Inch'allah) initially titled Ni Allah, Ni Maître (Neither Allah nor Master) won the Prix International de la Laïcité (The International Secular Award). "A just reward for a work that defends and promotes secularism", the filmmaker said to AFP by telephone [Wednesday, 29 June 2011].

"I am delighted to have received this honorary award and I hope that it will help to spread the word about the film," the Tunisian filmmaker Nadia El Fani stated by telephone in Tunis.

The award is presented annually by the Comité Laïcité République (Secular Republic Committee).

Sunday, a group of about a hundred Salafists forced their way into the Africart theatre in the center of Tunis, shattering the glass doors and accosting several people in an attempt to prevent the film from being screened. Six of them were arrested. Tuesday, the police used tear gas to disperse a rally in front of the courthouse in Tunis by fundamentalists who came to demand their release, arresting 21 demonstrators.

Nadia El Fani (Tixup)
"It is a film that calls for tolerance, contrary to what they say," insists the filmmaker, who remains optimistic. "Perhaps with the secret ballot Tunisians will vote for secularism," she added.

Since 1993, Comité Laïcité République has awarded a national and an international prize. Among the laureates are Isabelle Adjani for her role in La Journée de la jupe (Skirt Day) and Iranian Marjane Satrapi for her film Persepolis.

The film Laïcité Inch'allah will be released in France on 21 September 2011.

Republished from Comme au cinéma 29 June 2011.

Following the controversy created by the film Ni Allah, Ni Maître, Nadia el Fani, has decided to change the title, due to its misinterpretation. Ni Allah, Ni Maître has been renamed Laïcité Inch'allah. Nadia el Fani denies having attacked or wanting to offend Muslims by using the title Ni Allah, Ni Maître. In an attempt to bring an end to the controversy and the accusations based solely on the title, that she is attacking Islam, the new title Laïcité Inch'allah is an attempt to find a solution to the misunderstanding created by the initial title.

Republished from Tixup, 29 June 2011.

All texts translated from French to English by Beti Ellerson

18 June 2011

Women's Panorama 2011 at the Zanzibar International Film Festival

The Women’s Panorama at the Zanzibar International Film Festival is a program of cinema designed especially for the women of Zanzibar.

ZIFF, which runs from 18-26 June 2011, is now in its 14th year and is the largest of its kind in East Africa. It is renowned the world over for putting African film, music, art and design at the forefront of the international scene.

Films included in the Women's Panorama are followed by facilitated discussions and debates around the themes of the films.

The activities in the program are selected to establish the visibility of women in cinema, media and the arts in a positive light, as well as a means of education and self-expression.

As part of this Women’s Panorama Educational Program, a docu-drama called Positive and Pregnant, will be premiered in Africa at ZIFF. This is part of an outreach project through the Dhow region, to educate people living in rural areas about the dangers of unprotected sex and increase awareness for the Prevention of Mother/Parent to Child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

There are a number of films lined up by female directors including Traces of the Trade where first-time documentary-maker, Katrina Brown uncovers the dark past of her ancestors as the largest slave-trading family in American history.

The Women’s Panorama activities, which will take place on the islands of Unguja and Pemba, are supported throughout the year with monthly forums and events. The empowerment of women in rural and urban Zanzibar is a key social concern.

The ZIFF Panorama and Forums will raise a number of important women's rights issue - including legal matters, social practices, gender-based violence and policy questions.

09 June 2011

Perspectives from Italy: María Coletti talks about her research on the representation of women in African cinema

Italian film critic María Coletti discusses the reception of African cinema in Italy and her research on female representation in African films.

María, how did you choose the topic on representation of women in African cinema for your doctoral thesis?

The idea came to me at the very same moment that I first discovered African cinema. By the end of my university cinema studies I was tired of mainstream western cinema models and very touched by underground and independent filmmakers such as Jean Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet.

When I discovered African films, they seemed to me to be a wonderful synthesis of experimental and popular cinema. At the same time they appeared to offer a very different model of construction of the female character, in which the woman was not seen simply as an object, even if there were still very few women directors. I wanted to learn more about this and also to see women and cinema through the eyes of a different cultural context.

Could you talk a bit about your research and the approach of your study?

The central aim of the study was to analyze the construction of the female characters from a gendered perspective informed by feminist film theory and discourses on race, gender and difference, within a more classical narratological and sociopolitical analysis. The study of the construction of female characters in African films offers a great range of themes and levels of interpretation, especially when compared to African oral tradition and literature, on the one hand, and to African postcolonial history, on the other. Since its birth, African cinema has given particular importance to women as a symbol of the struggle of the entire continent in search for its freedom from colonialism and the re-appropriation of a lost or damaged identity.

In order to approach this subject effectively, I chose to work within a well-defined and homogeneous area of study. I thus concentrated my research on Sub-Saharan Francophone countries, where Black African cinema took its first steps, also considering the well-known French assimilationist cultural politics.

I focused in particular on a corpus of sixty films that consider female characters as their symbolic center, creating a sort of “petite histoire” of Sub-Saharan Francophone cinema, both diachronically and synchronically.  From an historical point of view these films mark diverse periods and trends, while from a narrative standpoint they reveal different ways of dealing with female characters, through recurrent themes and symbols. Contextualizing these texts in light of historical and social processes and of oral and literary heritage, has helped me to reveal the adherence to, or on the contrary, the opposition to traditional female archetypes. 

The first chapter gives a panorama of female typologies both in the oral and literary tradition, with a particular emphasis on the “revolution” of women’s literature, in order to explore the different ways in which social and cultural imagery is reflected in the filmed image. In the second chapter, I examine the films looking through the three focal lenses of Voice, Body and Image. The third chapter focuses on the textual analysis of nine films, divided into three temporal groups from 1966 to 1999: Golden Years of Cooperation (1966-1975); Daring to Invent the Future (1976-1987); In the Tempest of Small Festivals (1988-1999).

The dissertation was published soon after in 2001...

The book, Di diaspro e di corallo. L'immagine della donna nel cinema dell'Africa nera francofona (Of Jasper and Coral: Images of Women in Black African Cinema is the published edition of my Ph.D. research at Roma Tre University, Rome, from 1998 to 2000. It includes an index and a list of the films that were analyzed.

You also co-authored the book Souleymane Cissé: Con Los Ojos De La Eternidad / Souleymane Cissé: With The Eyes Of Eternity with your husband, Leonardo De Franceschi, and devoted a chapter to the images of women in Cissé’s films entitled “Agua: Mujeres que se miran al espejo/Water: Women looking in the mirror.” I have always been interested in the representation of women in the films of Souleymane Cissé, so your work is of particular interest to me. Could you give some reflections on the chapter?

The central role of women in Cissé’s cinema can be attributed to an interest in the female character as shown by many other African directors who from the start of African cinema dealt with the female condition as part of the struggle between tradition and modernity and as a metaphor for neo-colonial power and reappropriation of cultural roots and dignity in the face of all kinds of oppression. But what makes Cissé’s cinema so significant regarding the image of woman is the continuity with which the director tackles the female character, who traverses all his films as a red thread, or, more appropriately, as a stream: a subterranean river which flows throughout his cinema, sometimes on the surface and at other times deep below, stretching between history and myth.

It is not by chance that the female characters in Cissé’s films are associated with the natural elements, as it mostly happens in oral tradition and in literature. Admiration for the female body is connected with the relationship perceived between woman and the forces of nature, her fertility with that of the earth. While natural landscape and trees often have an important role to play—as a refuge for the female character or as a direct link to the ancestral realm and to the supernatural—water is without doubt the most prevalent element when presenting female figures in his films.

Water is the element which refers to the female essence par excellence, associated in the collective imagery with the very idea of the source of life: amniotic fluid, blood (menstrual, too), mother’s milk. Another symbolic object which is often associated with water or milk is the calabash, a domestic utensil seen as a female and fertility symbol across the whole African continent, on three levels: cosmic (as an image of the world/earth), human (as a metaphoric surrogate of uterus and female sexuality) and cultural (cooking and nurturing).

In Dogon cosmogony Amma brings forth creation through Nommos, emanations of the godhead, conceived as a vital force which is both water and word and which is at the origin of all living beings. A similar figure is present in other cosmogonies to be found in Mali. In the Bambara oral tradition we find Faro, an androgynous divinity, master of water and word and creator of universe together with Pemba. In the Bambara conceptual universe, Pemba and Faro also represent the sky and the earth, two great spirits whose interaction brings forth both conservation and change. Pemba and Faro are therefore a dialectical couple who can symbolize being and becoming. Besides, Faro expresses the principle of duality and complementarity, central to the Bambara philosophy: as an androgynous being it embodies both the male and the female and thus allows the intimate association of differences.

It is once again not by chance that the paths followed by female characters in Cissé’s films can be read in the light of this original duality, as a quest for a positive complementarity with the male element. Tenin, the main character in Den muso, does not manage to find any balance with the male figures of her life: all her relationships end up being prejudiced by conflict, violence and separation. The two wives in Baara, even though they are different in character, social class and educational background, both show a complete detachment towards their husbands, expressed by the use of camera angles, with frequent high or low angle shots to underline power relationship. It is in Finye that the male and female characters discover their vital duality, their positive complementarity, through the eyes of Ba and Batrou, the young and rebel couple at the heart of the film. A mythical and timeless atmosphere fully unfolds in Yeelen, along the path followed by the main character, the male hero Nianankoro who nevertheless relies on the female element to carry out his own task of revolution and regeneration, thanks to his mother and then to his wife. Cissé immerses himself again in history with Waati, but within a spiral circularity which like a whirlpool constantly blends space and time, creating a more complex female character who turns duality into the very essence of her being. Nandi, the female heroine of the film, is a dual figure par excellence, in the sense that she expresses her quest for balance among opposing forces not only in her relationship with the male element but in all the most significant relationships which punctuate the path she is on: the symbiotic relationship with her grandmother, the shared life with her partner, the transfer of identity to her adoptive daughter, but also the different branches of knowledge represented by her university studies and the Rastafarian philosophy.

The central role of the female character in Cissé’s films can therefore be read as a journey of liberation and growth, from Den muso to Waati, via Finye, through the eyes of three heroines who differ in their force of transformation: Tenin, Batrou and Nandi. While the use of close-ups is present in all of his films, it is certainly mostly significant in the long sequence depicting the discussion of Nandi’s university graduation thesis: while she tackles the subject of the aesthetical value of the mask in African civilization, Cissé portrays her face, by shrouding her in an evocative chiaroscuro, as if she were a living mask.

In this respect, Cissé not only has placed the role of women and the importance of gender relationships at the very centre of his films, but he has also formulated a powerful equation between the female element, the African continent and cinema. Women in his films are able to look at themselves with courage in the mirror of life, of history. From Tenin’s petrified gaze at the end of Den muso to Nandi’s powerful gaze in Waati, which can turn anyone to stone: the female character has evolved from simply observing the world to transforming it. And the same can be said about the female voice: from the deadly silence shown by Tenin in Den muso to the vital power of the word spoken first by Batrou in Finye and then by Nandi in Waati.

Awareness—by Cissé, by his heroines—becomes the gift of synthesis and creation. 

What has been the reception of your research in Italy?

I really don’t know, I cannot say there has been a real reception. There are very few academic works on African cinema and women studies, and even fewer networks of researchers on that theme as far as I know. I am no longer in the academy, it is very difficult in Italy, so I am a little out... "I walk alone". I do know that my work has been used in some courses on Third Cinema Films and Theories at the University of Rome-La Sapienza with Professor Giulia Fanara and in some courses on Postcolonial Film Studies at the University Roma Tre with my husband who is professor there, and who also directs the Panafricana Film Festival []. 

Interview by Beti Ellerson, May 2011.

04 June 2011

Léandre-Alain Baker talks about his film Ramata interpreted by Katoucha

The eponymous protagonist of the film Ramata by Leandre-Alain Baker faces an irrepressible desire suddenly triggered by an unlikely lover. She becomes smitten with a thug and plunges into a universe in which her happiness no longer upholds the reserve required by the Senegalese upper class. Inevitably she accepts her own obsessions. Desperate and heartbroken she collapses into madness.
Interview with Léandre-Alain Baker (and translation from French to English) by Beti Ellerson, May 2011

With the film Ramata, there were many elements already in place, the film adaptation from the eponymous novel by Abasse Ndione, and producer Moctar Diouga Bâ was in search for a director for the film. How did you make the film your own?

It was important to imbue the film with my own sensibility, my artistic vision, my narrative voice. The same novel adapted by someone else, even the same film made by another director would have had another tonality, another rhythm. Of course you know there are dozens of filmic versions of Carmen, adapted from the novel by Prospère Mérimée. There is even the Senegalese version, Karmen Geï. And none of these films resemble each other, though they all are drawn from the same story. The character is the only point in common, and in some cases even that is not evident. As it relates to Ramata, I drew from the adaptation by Miguel Machalsky bringing to it my experience from the theater and as a writer, and my passion for poetry and painting. And then it also seems to me that film, in the same way as poetry, is an art made of ellipses, metaphors, sound, rhythm, ruptures of tone, etc. And finally, it is a poetic and theatrical film. It was a narrative choice. When taking a closer look at the film, one notices that it is influenced by various film genres: the detective, the western, adventure film, the social drama, the romantic comedy etc...yet maintaining the storyline of the drama that builds between the protagonists. For me it was a way to break free from certain archetypes of African cinema, the anthropological side that is seen all too often in its films. I wanted to work more on the eye language, the unspoken, the thoughtful gestures in everyday life, sympathy, compassion, the love for another, thus inscribing the narrative into a hushed and nocturnal environment rather than under the grueling and piercing sun or under the palaver tree.

Right after the shooting of the film, Katoucha, who interpreted the principal character Ramata stated in an interview by Fatou Kiné Sene and Thierno Ibrahima Dia (see entire interview below): I only had the script that the director, Léandre gave me. They did not want me to read the novel, especially since the story was so similar to my own life.” How and why did you choose Katoucha for the role of Ramata?

It was precisely because of this similarity that she invokes. Initially, I was a bit reluctant about the idea of having her interpret the character Ramata because of this nefarious reputation that was attributed to her—even if this reputation was often exaggerated. And also because she was not an actor. But I quickly went along with the producer’s advice, and having considered all the other possibilities I finally returned to her as my choice. Katoucha was a very remarkable woman, charismatic and of an unusual beauty which was closely akin to the character described in the novel.

Ramata, the wife of the Minister of Justice, lives a wealthy bourgeois life, which is seemingly happy and fulfilling. However, her encounter with Ngor takes her to another side of the social spectrum of society and awakens a deep longing and desire, unsatisfied and intangible, which smolders within her, and that ultimately Ngor is not willing nor able to satisfy. An emotionally irrational need for Ngor plunges Ramata into an emotional abyss that unravels into self-destruction. And yet, this illusive lover, Ngor, has no discernible role in this story!

Ramata is a deeply wounded woman, a wound that dates back to her childhood and thus is constitutive of who she is. This encounter with Ngor Ndong, her young lover, will awaken in her the grief that had been dormant. Essentially, it is the story of the metamorphosis of a woman, her relationship with the world, and the universe around her. The affair with her young lover, Ngor Ndong, takes a dramatic turn when the hidden chapter of her past comes back to haunt her. It is true that their relationship is irrational, and so is the desire for another, for love. It is this irrational aspect that reveals to us the things that are the most concrete in their lives. This is what allows us to discover who they really are.

I have not yet read the novel but based on the synopsis and the interview with Abasse Ndione by Christophe Dupuis there are many differences, and in some cases fundamental ones. How did you adapt the novel to screen and what were the choices that you made?
The novel is rich and lively, around 500 pages. If it had been transposed in its entirety, it would have required a 4-hour film rather than the 90 minutes, as is the case. The other possibility was to make a film in three or four episodes. It is my understanding that Abasse Ndione had this in mind. But the economic reality of African cinema does not allow one to engage in risky adventures. In my case, I had the creative liberty in the adaptation process, with of course, the tacit approval of Abasse Ndione who co-wrote the screenplay. And by definition, an adaptation should betray the initial work, break free, move away from it, at the same time preserving its essence. And it seems to me that I have not betrayed the author too much, there are some infidelities, but quite often he was in agreement.

The other women in the film: DS, Ramata's sister-in-law, her daughter Dieynaba, and the club owner Yvonne and her daughter Diodio play important roles in Ramata's life, and yet, their presence is rather cursory. Even the intriguing relationship between Ramata and Yvonne is cut short. Some reflections?

What you perceive as distance is something that I have observed a lot in certain situations in Africa. Everyone knows who Ramata is, everyone knows that something is going on, but everyone acts as if everybody doesn’t know. And so nobody says anything. But yet, the are paying attention—the caring gestures in everyday life, empathy, kindness, affection. The character Yvonne is a kind of alter ego for Ramata but in the opposite sense, as the weight of her past is less burdened with serious consequences. Even though Ramata did not confided in her, Yvonne is very protective of her because she senses that she is confronted with the fragileness of a woman who reflects her own image. All of the women around Ramata know very well who she is, so there is no need to go through myriad intricacies and endless palaver.
In Senegalese films, there is a litany of intriguing female characters and their connection with water--Anta in Touki Bouki and Ramatou in Hyenes both by Djibril Diop Mambety, Safi Faye's Mossane; Karmen Geï by Joseph Gaï Ramaka and Gagnesiri in Tableau Ferraille by Moussa Sene Absa and even the stoic woman played by Mbissine Therese Diop in Emitai by Ousmane Sembene. While the majority of the film is set in urban Dakar, the end of the film takes us to Gorée Island on the Atlantic Ocean, where Ramata spends the rest of her years.
Yes, exactly. Because the setting is beautiful and tragic I wanted to inscribe it into the beginning and end of the film. In the novel these sequences take place elsewhere, between Rufisque and Diam Nadio. It is evident that the historical and emotional weight of Gorée renders the solitude of Ramata event more tragic. In terms of the other characters in the films that you cited, the context of water did not come to mind. Though it seems to me that the geographic location of the city of Dakar is such that it would be difficult to avoid the ocean. It is evident. Certain places, by their sheer beauty, have an unconscious influence on the films.

Sadly, Katoucha has left us. What are your feelings about her death? What was post-production like having to work with her only in memory? I suppose it is important for you that this film not evolve into some kind of homage to her.

Yes, it is a great lost. What feelings can one have about the loss of someone? Regrets no doubt. Regrets and still more regrets. Tremendous sadness. Sorrow…No, the film is not and should not be a homage to Katoucha, but through the film she is among us. There is a magnificent poem by Birago Diop, which goes something like this:
“Those who have died have never left
They are in the shadow that fades to light
They are in the shadow that deepens”…

What has been the response to the film?

The reception by Senegalese audiences has been very positive and encouraging. The film has been screened at numerous festivals with favorable reactions. Upon its release in France at the beginning of June, I hope that it will also find its public there.

Interview with Katoucha by Fatou Kiné Sene and Thierno Ibrahima Dia, December 2007 the final day of the film shooting of Ramata, less than two months before her death. (Translation from French to English by Beti Ellerson).

Africiné: What moved you to agree to play in this film, was is it the novel?

Katoucha Niane: I only had the script that Léandre, the director, gave me. They did not want me to read the novel, especially since the story was so similar to my own life. I never wanted to be an actress because I believe that there are men and women who know the profession very well, and I respect them a lot. Besides, my sister is an actress.  I can tell you that at the time I did not have the feeling that I was acting because Ramata resembled me so much. So yes, that is how I got involved with the film.

Was it the woman’s personal story that touched you when your first read the script?

Yes, Yes. As the producer Moctar Ndiouga Bâ said, it is this eminence and decline. This woman is uncompromising and I am exactly like that. She does not hesitate to abandon everything: a minister husband, fortune and everything that goes with it, for the love of a 25-year-old man who has just gotten out of prison (laughs). And I am like that somewhat. I have always had uncompromising love affairs. Ramata is a determined woman who knows what she wants. And then at the end of the story, she falls into madness.

Initially, did you ask yourself whether you had the necessary experience to play the role of such a remarkable character?

I had doubts about myself right until the last moment, but I had told myself that I must excel. And that's what I liked about this adventure. I am very happy to say today that the film is finished. I did it and it was not so bad, that I stayed right to the end. Now you can tell me when you see the film, since you are the critics.

You just released an autobiography that describes your life and what you confronted. You reveal yourself in this book. Is the film another unveiling?

Not at all. It is a great adventure that I just experienced. I did not realize that I could work and live with the same people for six weeks—the duration of the shoot. It was something that was quite difficult for me to grasp, but they were a great professional team. The director of photography François Kuhnel and the film director Léandre-Alain Baker realized that as a model I already had the experience of posing and that I could move to another stage: that of an actor. Ramata is really a woman, not specifically an African woman, she is universal. I liked Moctar’s approach, to want to make a film, not necessarily an African film.

Is this your first role in a film, what were your experiences?

This is called a baptism of fire. (She bursts out laughing) besides, we started with a scene where I make love with an actor that I did not know beforehand. It was pretty tough.

What was the mood of the film?

The film was shot at a fairly steady pace, everyone was delighted to work on the film and to see it through to the end. I'm sure that initially there were some technicians who thought, “but we will waste our time with her, she is a model, she is going to be a pain in the ass, etc...” But they finally saw that I was a professional and that I respected everyone. In fact, it went well.

Did you have any blockages during the film shoot?

But of course. I told you earlier that we started with a lovemaking scene. The first scene I had to play the first day was a love scene. I tell you, it was pretty amazing to have a gentleman on top of you, who, just an hour before you did not even know. But that is cinema. I learned and I hope I improved throughout the continuation of the shoot. 

Are you tempted to continue your adventure in cinema?

You know we just finished the last shot of the film today [Saturday, December 22, 2007]. The film is complete. Give me some time to think about what I have just gone through and then we'll see. But I know there is an interest in making a film about my autobiographical book that was just published. But obviously, it will not be me because I am no longer a twenty-year-old (laughs). No we'll see, we'll see. Ramata was exceptional. I do not know if I will do it again, but this adventure was great.

Léandre-Alain Baker parle de son film Ramata interpreté par Katoucha

La protagoniste éponyme du film Ramata de Léandre-Alain Baker confronte ses désirs irrépressibles qui ont été subitement déclenchés par un amant improbable. Elle s’entiche d’un voyou et plonge dans un univers dans lequel ses plaisirs ne supportent plus la réserve prescrite par la haute société sénégalaise. Elle finit inexorablement par l'acceptation de ses propres hantises. Désespérée et inconsolable elle s’effondre dans la folie.

Entretien avec Léandre-Alain Baker par Beti Ellerson, mai 2011
Pour faire le film Ramata, il y avait des éléments déjà en place : le producteur Moctar Ndiouga Bâ vous a demandé de réaliser le film basé sur le roman éponyme de Abasse Ndione, comment en avez-vous fait votre propre oeuvre?

Il fallait bien que j’y imprègne ma propre sensibilité, ma vision artistique des choses, mon sens de la narration. Le même roman adapté par un autre ou d’autres scénaristes, le  même film fait par un autre réalisateur aurait eu une autre tonalité, un autre rythme. Vous savez, il existe des dizaines de versions cinématographiques de Carmen d’après la nouvelle de Prospère Mérimée. Il y a même une version sénégalaise, « Karmen Geï ». Et tous ces films, tirés de la même histoire ne se ressemblent pas. Ils n’ont en commun que les personnages et encore. Pour ma part, en ce qui concerne Ramata, je suis parti de l’adaptation de Miguel Machalsky en y injectant, pour la mise en scène, mon expérience d’homme de théâtre, d ‘écrivain, ma passion pour la poésie et la peinture. Et puis, il me semble aussi que le cinéma tout comme la poésie est un art fait d’ellipses, de métaphores, de musicalité, de rythme, de rupture de ton, etc. En somme, c’est un film poétique et théâtral. Le cinéma - la technique et l’industrie en plus - est un art éminemment théâtral et poétique. C’était un choix de narration, quand on regarde bien ce film, il est corrompu par divers genre cinématographique : le polar, le western, le film d’aventure, le drame social, la comédie sentimentale, et même le conte africain, mais tout en gardant la ligne directive du drame qui se joue, qui se noue entre les protagonistes. La poésie qui s’en dégage était pour moi une façon de m’affranchir de certains archétypes du cinéma africain, du côté anthropologique que donne à voir trop souvent ce cinéma. J’ai voulu plus travailler sur les regards, les non-dits, les petites attentions du quotidien, la pitié, la compassion, l’amour de l’autre, en inscrivant le récit dans des atmosphères feutrées et nocturnes plutôt que sous le soleil écrasant et incommodant ou sous l’arbre à palabre.

Dans une interview par Fatou Kiné Sene et Thierno Ibrahima Dia jusqu’après le tournage du film, Katoucha, qui a joué le rôle de Ramata, a déclaré: « Je n'avais que le scénario du réalisateur, Léandre. Parce qu'on n'a pas voulu que je lise le livre. Et surtout parce que cette histoire a eu tellement de similitude avec ma vie. » Comment et pourquoi avez-vous choisi Katoucha pour le rôle de Ramata? 

Justement à cause de cette similitude qu’elle évoque. Au départ, j’étais un peu réticent à l’idée que ce soit elle qui incarne le personnage de Ramata à cause de cette réputation sulfureuse qu’elle drainait, - même si cette réputation était très souvent exagérée - et aussi parce que ce n’était pas une actrice, mais très vite je me suis rangé à l’avis du producteur, car ayant fait le tour des possibilités, tout me ramenait finalement vers elle. Katoucha était une femme très singulière, charismatique et d’une beauté très étrange qui rejoignait celle du personnage décrit dans le roman.

Ramata, l'épouse du Ministre de la Justice, mène une vie riche et bourgeoise, qui a l’apparence d’être heureuse et épanouissante. Toutefois, sa rencontre avec Ngor l’emmène à l'autre côté de la classe sociale et éveille en elle un désir profond—un désir insatisfait et illusoire, qui couve en elle, qu'en fin de compte Ngor n'est pas disposé ni en mesure de satisfaire. Ce besoin émotionnel irrationnel pour Ngor la plonge dans un abîme affectif qui s'effiloche en autodestruction. Et pourtant, il ne joue aucun rôle perceptible dans le film. Comment le caractère Ramata a-t-il évolué ?

Ramata est une femme blessée depuis l’enfance. Elle est constitutive de cela. La rencontre avec Ngor Ndong, son jeune amant va réveiller en elle des douleurs qui s’étaient tues. Pour l’essentielle, c’est l’histoire de la métamorphose d’une femme, de sa relation au monde et de l’univers qui l’entoure. Sa liaison avec son jeune amant, Ngor Ndong, va prendre une tournure dramatique lorsqu’un épisode secret de son passé revient la hanter. Il est vrai que leur relation est irrationnelle, mais le désir de l’autre, l’amour, ne l’est-il pas. C’est cet aspect irrationnel qui nous révèle des choses plus concrètes de leurs existences. C’est cela qui nous fait découvrir qui ils sont réellement.

Je n'ai pas encore lu le roman, mais fondée sur la description du livre et l'entretien publié avec Abasse Ndione, je vois des différences, quelques-unes, on peut dire, qui sont fondamentales. Comment avez-vous adapté le roman au cinéma? Pourquoi avez-vous fait ces choix?

Le roman est foisonnant, 500 pages environ, s’il fallait le transposer entièrement, cela nécessiterait au moins 4 heures de film et non 90 minutes comme c’est le cas. L’autre possibilité était d’en faire un film de trois ou quatre épisodes. Je crois savoir qu’Abasse Ndione envisageait cela. Mais l’économie actuelle du cinéma africain ne permet pas de se lancer dans des aventures hasardeuses. En ce qui me concerne, c’est une adaptation libre avec, bien entendu l’accord tacite d’Abasse Ndione qui co-signe le scénario. Et puis, par définition, une adaptation doit trahir l’œuvre initiale, s’en affranchir, s’en éloigner tout en conservant l’essence. Et il me semble que je n’ai pas trop trahi l’auteur, je lui ai fait quelques infidélités et bien souvent il était consentant.
Les femmes autour de Ramata: sa belle-sœur, DS, sa fille, Dieynaba, et la commerçante, Yvonne et sa fille, Diodio, sont des personnages importants dans la vie de Ramata, mais elles restent assez distantes vis-à-vis d’elle. Même la relation intrigante entre Ramata et Yvonne a été écourtée. Quelques réflexions?

Ce que vous appelez distance est une chose que j’ai beaucoup observée dans certaine situation en Afrique. Tout le monde sait qui est Ramata, tout le monde sait qu’il se trame quelque chose, mais tout le monde fait comme si tout le monde ne savait pas. Et donc personne n’en parle. Et c’est là qu’interviennent les regards, les petites attentions du quotidien, la pitié, la compassion, l’amour de l’autre… Le personnage d’Yvonne est une sorte d’alter ego de Ramata mais à l’opposé car son passé est moins lourd de conséquences. Sans pour autant que Ramata lui aie confié quoi que ce soit, Yvonne se révèle très protectrice parce qu’elle sent qu’elle est en face d’une femme fragile qui lui renvoie sa propre image. Toutes les femmes autour de Ramata savent très bien qui elle est, donc nul besoin de passer par moult circonvolutions et des palabres à n’en plus finir.
Il y a toute une litanie de personnages sénégalais féminins intrigants qui ont un rapport avec la mer: Anta dans Touki Bouki et Ramatou dans Hyènes de Djibril Diop Mambety, Mossane de Safi Faye; Karmen de Joseph Gaï Ramaka et Gagnesiri dans Tableau Ferraille de Moussa Sene Absa et même la femme stoïque jouée par Mbissine Thérèse Diop dans Emitai de Ousmane Sembene. Bien que la majorité du film ait fixé dans les zones urbaines de Dakar, la fin du film se déroule dans l'île de Gorée sur l'océan Atlantique, où Ramata passe le reste de son existence, un cadre à la fois beau et tragique ...

Oui, c’est exactement cela. C’est parce que le cadre est beau et tragique que j’y ai inscrit le début et la fin du film. Dans le roman ces séquences se passent ailleurs, entre Rufisque et Diam Nadio. Il était évident que la charge historique et émotionnelle de Gorée rendrait la solitude de Ramata plus tragique. Quant aux autres personnages des films que vous citez, cela ne m’était pas venu à l’esprit. Mais il me semble que la situation géographique de la ville de Dakar est telle qu’il est difficile d’éviter la mer. Cela va de soit. Certains lieux, par leur beauté, ont une influence inconsciente sur les films.
Malheureusement, Katoucha nous a quitté. Quels sont vos sentiments au sujet de sa mort? Comment la post-production s’est elle passée sans la présence de Katoucha ? Je suppose qu'il est important pour vous que ce film ne se transforme pas en une sorte d'hommage à elle.

Oui. C’est une grande perte. Que peut-on avoir comme sentiment au sujet de la perte d’un être ? Des regrets sans doute. Des regrets et encore des regrets. Une énorme tristesse. Une désolation. Non, le film n’est pas et ne sera pas un hommage à Katoucha, mais à travers ce film, elle est là parmi nous. Il y a un magnifique poème de Birago Diop qui dit à peu près ceci :
« Ceux qui sont morts ne sont jamais partis :
Ils sont dans l’ombre qui s’éclaire
Et dans l’ombre qui s’épaissit. » …

Quelle a été la réponse du public à Ramata?

L’accueil du public au Sénégal a été très positif et très encourageant. Le film a été vu dans de nombreux festivals et chaque fois la réaction du public était plutôt favorable. A la sortie française le 1er juin 2011, j’espère que là aussi le film trouvera son public…

02 June 2011

Theresa Traore Dahlberg and the Taxi Sister

Theresa Traore Dahlberg
Theresa Traore Dahlberg talks about her Swedish-Burkinabé heritage and her film Taxi Sister

Theresa, you grew up in Sweden and Burkina Faso, how have your experiences in these very different cultures shaped you personally and professionally?

I grew up with a mother from Sweden and a father from Burkina Faso.  They met when they both received grants to study abroad at Washington State University. When they had children, my three brothers and me, they decided that they wanted us to grow up with both cultures. In Sweden we lived on the island Öland, south of the mainland, and in Burkina we lived in the capital, Ouagadougou. For me, I enjoyed having two homes in different countries, and it helped me to get a greater understanding and perspective of different cultures and values.  Since I am so used to moving around, I have noticed that I am always travelling a lot, going from place to place. Working with film allows me to be mobile, and to explore my curiosity in different projects and subjects that I find important.

Taxi Sister, is your thesis film for your studies at the Royal Dramatic College in Stockholm, how did you choose the subject and location for the film?

I was on Skype talking with a good friend of mine, Valerie Traore who works and lives in Dakar. She mentioned the Taxi Sisters Project and immediately I became interested. I did some research and found out that today there are only 15 women who drive taxis in Senegal compared to the 15,000 male taxi drivers. I wanted to get to know one of the women drivers and explore her everyday experiences and to know more about why she made the choice to go against the norm and the consequences for doing so.  Being in the film industry I could also relate to being a woman in a male-dominated profession. I also wanted to make a movie that was inspiring for women all over the world, and to give a different picture of a country in Africa, from what I am used to seeing in the western media.

Boury, the protagonist of Taxi Sister, is a fiesty and assertive woman, how were you able to get to know her and her life as a taxi driver?

I spent a lot of time with her on the phone before coming to Senegal. I talked to her while she was working, even when she had clients. Sometimes she would have to stop the call in order to collect the fare for the taxi ride. While there I had hours and hours of in depth interviews. I also spent time driving around in the taxi, though not filming, but just to get a sense of her daily routine on the job. The photographer and I were guests at her house a couple of nights during which time we got to know her family and her best friend Fari, who is also a taxi driver.

Your film has travelled quite a bit to many festivals, what has been the audience response to the film? Has it been screened in Senegal?

I am still working on arranging a screening in Dakar, hopefully it will be sometime this fall. But there are a lot of Senegalese people that have come to my screenings and they have all loved the movie. Even people who have never been to Senegal want to go there after seeing the movie. When it was recently screened in Italy, there was a great reaction by the audience: "In Italy we have a lot of Senegalese people selling things on the street, I would never have thought that they came from such a beautiful place. All I see on the news is war and famine”.

The film has been popular amongst women and men, young and old, and with feminist organizations. At the pre-show in New York there were a lot of young enthusiastic artists from all over the world. I am now looking for a distributor.

The film was screened at the CineAfrica Film Festival in Stockholm, what was the reception to the film in Stockholm?

In Sweden it received coverage in the largest newspaper and was actually on the cover. In addition, it has been reviewed in a lot of magazines, and has been the subject of discussion on the radio. The screening at the Festival was sold out and the reactions from people were very positive.

Taxi Sister by Theresa Traore Dahlberg

Future projects?

Yes. Lots of them, but I am developing them as we speak. I am moving to New york this fall, and hoping to be in Ouagadougou this winter.

Interview by Beti Ellerson, May 2011

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