Safi, You hold the title of “Dean of African Women Filmmakers.” What do you think of this title that has been bestowed upon you?
I don't mind having it. Fate had it that I was the first woman to make films; I accept the role as such. However, it leaves me neither hot nor cold.
Do you feel in some way a model for the women who follow you?
Yes, the women who follow show a great deal of consideration for me. They respect me because I try to do my work as a filmmaker by giving my best, which, I suppose, commands respect. But also, the Senegalese people feel the same way. They call me the “National Safi.” However, those are not the things that I am concerned about or even think about.
What was it like during the time when you began in the 1970’s?
I did not come to the cinema by chance. I studied ethnology at the Sorbonne. We had access to cinematographic equipment once a week and had to learn how to use it. I realized that in order to be more efficient, I should go to film school. That’s why I went to L'Ecole Louis Lumière, one of the best film schools in France, in Paris. I learned like everyone else—I was the only African woman there—how to handle a camera, and I became familiar with how to use the cinematographic equipment.
At the end of the first year, I dared to make a little film [La Passante]. It was mainly to put myself to the test, for me to know whether I had learned cinematography well or not. That is how I came to learn filmmaking; it was very easy during those years. I made the film in 1972. Right away, everybody began to talk: “There is an African woman who is making films.” It was easy for people to hear about me because I was the first to appear on the scene. It was by chance and by choice that I made this little film, a little film, rather intimist, that I made for myself. Afterwards, out of curiosity, people began to ask about the film.
Your film Mossane is very striking and very touching. It treats the themes of beauty, virtue, and sensuality. In many ways, the film language is very different from your other films, in the manner in which you tell the story. Could you talk about the themes of Mossane and its evolution? What inspired you towards the idea of Mossane?
All my other films were half-fiction, half-documentary. Since I worked with the rural population, it was not possible to arrange the community and its people to fit within the story line of my films. Only in Mossane was I able to adapt the community and the people to the story that I had imagined.
I don't know how a film is born. It's an idea that comes and then I begin to work on it. I had been working on Mossane since 1982, I was while cooking, getting dressed, taking a bath, and everywhere I went. During that time, I made little films that were commissioned, which allowed me to earn a living. I don't know how Mossane was born. All that I know is that I have a daughter, my only child, whom I cherish. And perhaps because of these feelings I wanted to cherish Mossane and make her the most beautiful, the purest and most virtuous.
Some moments in the life and work of Safi Faye (ongoing and continuing)
1943 - Born in Dakar
1963 - Begins teaching in Dakar after receiving her teaching certificate
1966 - Served as a hostess at the Premier Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres, Dakar
1968 - Begins participation as actor in Jean Rouch's Petit-à-Petit traveling to Cote d'Ivoire, France, Niger, Switzerland, the film was released in 1970
1970 - Studies ethnology at the Sorbonne and Ecole des Hautes Études in Paris.
1972 - Begins studies in filmmaking at the Louis Lumière Film School, Paris.
- Completes student film, La Passante (The Woman Passerby). 10 min.
- Begins filming Kaddu Beykat (Peasant Letter).
1973 - Completes collective film, Revanche (Revenge). 15 min.
1975 - Release of film, Kaddu Beykat. 95 min.
Receives award at the Festival International du Film de l’Ensemble Francophone (FIFEF), Geneva, Switzerland.
1976 - Kaddu Beykat receives the Georges Sadoul Prize, France.
- Special award, 5th Pan-African Film Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Burkina Faso.
- International Film Critics Award, Berlin Film Festival, Germany.
- Daughter, Zeiba is born.
1977 - Completes studies in ethnology
1979 - Receives doctorate in ethnology
- Release of film, Fad'jal (Come and Work). 108 min.
- Selected for “Un Certain Regard,” Cannes Film Festival, France.
- Release of film, Goob na ñu (The Harvest Is In). 30 min.
- Spends the academic years from 1979-1981 at the faculty of the Freie Universität in Berlin as a guest professor
- Studies video production in Berlin, Germany.
- Begins film, Trois ans cinq mois (Three Years, Five Months).
1980 - Completes film, Man Sa Yay (I, Your Mother). ZDF production, Germany. 60 min.
Fad'jal receives award at Carthage Film Festival, Tunisia.
1981 - Release of film, Les Ames au soleil (Souls Under the Sun) commissioned by the United Nations. 27 min.
1982 - Release of film, Selbé et tant d'autres (Selbé and Many Others). «As Women See It» Series, UNICEF and Faust Films Production. 30 min.
1983 - Completes film, Trois ans cinq mois. Daad Production, Germany. 30 min.
Selbé et tant d'autres wins Special Prize, Leipzig Film Festival, Germany, and Vancouver Film Festival, Canada.
1984 - Completes film, Ambassades nourricières (Culinary Embassies). «Regards sur la France» Series, FR3 Television, France. 58 mins.
1985 - Completes film, Racines noires (Black Roots) for Télé-Europ and FR3 television, France. 11 min.
- Completes film, Elsie Haas, femme peintre et cinéaste d'Haiti (Elsie Haas, Woman Painter and Filmmaker from Haiti), FR3 Television, France. 8 min.
- Member of Jury at the 10th International Film Festival of India, New Delhi
1989 - Completes film, Tesito, commissioned by Comité Catholique contre la Faim et pour le Développement (CCFD). 27 min.
1990 - Completes the shooting of Mossane.
1990-1995 - Legal proceedings for film rights for Mossane.
1996 - Release of Mossane. 105 min.
Mossane selected for for “Un Certain Regard,” Cannes Film Festival, France.
1998 - Safi Faye Retrospective and Gala, Festival International de Films de Femmes, Créteil, France
2001 - Member of Jury, Fespaco
2006 - African Film Summit, South Africa, Panelist.
2010 - Tribute to Safi Faye at the 32nd Festival International de Films de Femmes Créteil, France
2015 - Prix Safi Faye pour la meilleure réalisatrice - Safi Faye Award for the best woman filmmaker - JCC - Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage (CREDIF - UNESCO). Initiated by the CREDIF Centre de Recherches, d'Etudes, de Documentation et d'Information sur la Femme (Centre for the Research, Study, Documentation and Information on Women) and supported by UNESCO (United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture). It aims to reward a woman filmmaker whose film—be it a feature or a long documentary—has been selected in the official competition. The award bears symbolically, the name of Safi Faye; as the first African woman filmmaker: "This pioneering artist has shown the way to a possible woman-inspired and African cinematographic creation."
2016 - Tribute to Safi Faye - Luxor African Film Festival
2017 - Festival du Film Documentaire de Saint-Louis (Senegal), Invitée d'honneur receives the Grand Prix d'Honneur
2018 - One of the three halls at the Complexe Cinématographique Ousmane Sembène in Dakar bears the name of Safi Faye. The other two are Djibril Diop Mambety and Ousmane Sembene.
- Restoration of Selbe et tant d'autres with the Wolof-language version – screened at the African Film Festival New York in the presence of Safi Faye
- Safi Faye returns to Cannes with Fad,Jal, restored by the CNC, presented at Cannes Classics.
2019 - Special Focus: Safi Faye - Royal Anthropological Insitute (RAI) Film Festival
2021 - Screening of Kaddu Beykat. Black Women at the Centre as part of ‘Ruptures – Beyond the frame: Experimental Cinema from Africa and the Diaspora’, a film program screened at the Cinemateket in Copenhagen in October-November.
2022 - Tribute to Safi Faye - Festival Films Femmes Afrique, Dakar with screening of Kaddu Beykat
Carte blanche à Fatima Sissani | Mossane de Safi Faye (30 November 2022) Marseille
2023 - Safi Faye Man sa yay | I, your mother Berlinale - Forum Special Fiktionsbescheinigung
- After an illness, dies in Paris
- Buried in paternal native village of Fadial
Homages to Safi Faye:
- Homage to Safi Faye as part of the Focus: Thérèse Sita Bella, Safi Faye and the evolution of African women’s cinematic practice. A project initiated by Rosine Mbakam through the KASK & Conservatorium / Gent School of Arts, Belgium, 20 March 2023
- Homage to Safi Faye at the Festival de films de femmes, Créteil with Franco-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop - 27 March 2023
- Safi Faye was to be the special guest at the Tag Festival in Denmark in April.
Articles on African Women in Cinema Blog
Safi Faye : La Grande Référence - 1943-2023 - A Tribute
Safi Faye: Man sa yay | I, your mother - Berlinale Forum Special Fiktionsbescheinigung 2023
Safi Faye's La Passante 50 years on: "I dared to make a film"
Safi Faye's Mossane at 25
Black Camera: Safi Faye's Mossane: A Song to Women, to Beauty, to Africa by Beti Ellerson (Spring 2019)
Safi Faye : Selbe, one among many | Selbe et tant d'autres – restored/restauré en/in Wolof – African Film Festival New York 2018
Safi Faye : “Fad,jal” (Cannes Classics 2018)
Prix Safi Faye de la meilleure réalisatrice - Safi Faye Award for the best woman filmmaker - JCC - Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage.
Reflections on Safi Faye in Petit à Petit. Notes by Beti Ellerson
Safi Faye: Role Model | La Grande Référence
Gendered Sensibilities and Female Representation in African Cinema : An analysis of Mossane by Safi Faye and Ousmane Sembene's Moolaadé