Source: https://lescommeres.sn/film-documentaire-le-senegal-a-bien-du-talent/. Published 3 July 2023. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson
Mame Woury Thioubou, journalist and filmmaker, is just as much at ease with the pen as with a camera. Tools that allow her to observe and describe her world, to share feelings. An exercise that has earned her honors worldwide.
At a time when movie theaters are dying in Senegal, one of its daughters lives and brings to life, the 7th art. Mame Woury Thioubou is now a name to remember in the Senegalese cinemascape. A journalist known and appreciated for her work in the Economic and Culture pages of the Quotidien daily for more than a decade, is also a talented documentary filmmaker.
“The two professions are rather complementary. At the newspaper I work with words and when I make a film, I do so with images—I feel emotions that I cannot render in writing" she admits. “I felt the need to find another form of expression and by a happy coincidence, I came across the creative documentary program at Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis (Ugb).”
After several years of training there, her artistic vision takes flight. And so a star was born. From the start, her new passion earned her distinctions. In 2009, while she was still pursuing the Master's in Creative Documentary Filmmaking, her first student work, Ébène, was named best film at the (Fifq) Festival International du Film de quartier de Dakar (Dakar International Neighborhood Film Festival) in 2009. She is well on her way to imprinting her name in the annals of Senegalese cinema.
From a desire to engage head-on with the social issues of Senegalese society, Mame Woury directs her first medium-length film Agora Braille which focuses on the inclusion of the blind in the Senegalese school system. Other productions follow. In the world of culture and festivals, Mame Woury Thioubou has distinguished herself both at home and abroad. From Gorée to Togo, passing through Madagascar or France, her cinematographic productions have garnered distinctions.
In 2019, she won the prize for best documentary feature at the Vues d'Afrique Festival in Montreal, for the film Fifiiré en pays Cuballo; it also received the mention of the juries at the Festival Images et vie (Dakar) and at the Urusaro Festival from Kigali, as well as awards for best international documentary at the Yaoundé Black Screen Festival (Cameroon), at the Luxor African Film Festival (Egypt), at the Mostra de Cinéma Africana in Salvador de Bahia.
The number of distinctions that Fifiiré en pays Cuballo has received testifies to the quality of the work, but also to its meaning. It is a story drawn from the depths of her origins. “I belong to the traditional fishing people of the Senegal River Valley. My people have always chased crocodiles and hippos from the river using mystical formulas. Today, with the changes affecting the river, the crocodiles have disappeared; my people are now only fishermen and yet there are not many fish left. " And the most distressing thing for the filmmaker is that "out of the ruins of these mystical beliefs and the warrior exploits of our ancestors, still carried along by the song of the Pekaan, the life of the inhabitants of my community are plunged into poverty. Hope remains, sustained by the epic story of the women who could rebuild the river” she says.
Does Mame Woury Thioubou see herself in these achievements? She admits: “At first, my films were about me and my family. It is very often through this door that one encounters the documentary." For example, her first film, Face à Face (Face to Face) deals with beauty, the traumas of her childhood. An outlet to “overcome a lot of things. And at the same time, it doesn't only help me, as there is always someone who lives the same situation and who, by watching the film, draws from it the requisite strength to move forward…That is one of the most satisfying aspects of documentary filmmaking. Putting words to pain and emotions and helping people get better,” she says.
In her cinema, she also wants to show the hidden face of the world, such as the reality of illegal emigration, visualized in 5 Etoiles (5 stars). “We often talk about the dangers of crossing the desert and the Mediterranean. But what is not talked about as much is what happens once the migrants arrive at their destination. In this place called 5 Etoiles, Malians, Senegalese, Guineans, and others, find themselves trapped in their dreams. Then begins a new fight under the gaze of Governor Faidherbe,” she explains. This production was awarded the Bronze Tanit at the Carthage Film Festival in 2019. It also earned Mame Woury a distinction at the Festival Film Femmes Afrique in Dakar in 2020, and, among others, was selected, for the official selection of Fespaco 2021.
Very conscious of the myriad issues in her society, Mame Woury Thioubou aims to raise public awareness. Giving a social dimension to her documentaries, which resonate as an echo of the emotions and problems of her environment. "We want to give our vision of reality," such as with the medium-length film on prisons: Rebeuss, Chambre 11, which relates the story of two young prisoners who died from electrocution at the Rebeuss Central Prison, right in the center of Dakar. The film, which recently won an award in Canada, talks about prison conditions in Senegal. “My objective is above all to encourage debate on this subject, to initiate a reflection that could lead to improving our detention sites” insists Mame Woury Thioubou.