Les États généraux du film documentaire 2006 Africa


The merited honour of the African documentary

Starting this annual perceptive on the production of documentaries in Africa with a film on the blind, Amma, les aveugles de Dakar, is neither an attempt at provocation nor the fruit of chance. Moreover, I dont believe in chance. It all started with Mamadou Sellou Diallo, a young university professor in Dakar who is a member of a small group comprised of teachers and students who frequent the theater workshop at Cheikh Anta Diop University. We met in Gorée during an Africadoc writing workshop, in the winter of 2002-2003. He decided to try for the Masters degree in documentaries in Lussas and was accepted, becoming the first African student registered for the degree. During the eight months that he spent in Ardèche, Sellou perfected the writing of his film, convinced JFR Productions to take on the project and managed to obtain a co-production agreement from France 3 Lorraine. Sellou's return to Dakar, after his yearlong absence, was difficult. The setbacks with the producers in Dakar led him to create his own production company, Les Films de l'atelier, along with his friend Gora Seck. They used part of the money for the film to buy a PD 150 and sound equipment, acquiring the capacity to produce films made by incipient filmmakers, in addition to their own works.
The story of Les Films de l'atelier typifies the emergence of small production units: they have a skills core and networks, have to struggle daily, are tormented by the desire to play or to film and have independent means and a generous approach.

Amma, les aveugles de Dakar and Nyani, directed by Khassé Théra, will open the session on the films made through the Africadoc workshops. Khassé, who lives in Bamako and works at ORTM, Mali television, is a free man, magnificent and without equal. During his stay in Gorée in 2004, he was our president and we, trainers and trainees, were his ministers, carried along by laughter or whatever else.
In Bamako, he tromped up and down bars until the middle of the night and talked to street girls. His film, Nyani, is about female excision and takes a woman's perspective. The film is a mixture of fiction, interviews, documentary and happiness. During the shoot, in search of financing, he goes as far as selling his car. The film is about struggle, about the unbearable, the unacceptable; a film like the honour earned by the African documentary.

Without hesitation I grouped Mallam Saguirou's film, Un Africain à Annecy with that of Moussa Touré, Nosaltres. Both films, decidedly very traditional, are rarities in the world of documentaries. By lugging onto the film shoots of others (us Europeans), they inverted the relationship between the person filming and the person being filmed. In the film Un Africain à Annecy, during his first stay in France, in the cold and bourgeois city of Annecy at the home of his producer Christian Lelong, who he had met at the Tënk in Gorée in 2004, Malam Saguirou, a young Nigerian from the Zinder region, is struck by our affluence and dissimilarities. He attempts to understand why looking beyond what is spectacle and the ostentatious signs of wealth in human terms, things are just not right there. From injustice to absurdity. Moussa Touré, however, is not as naive; he has experienced Europe for twenty years. Moussa is a filmmaker who feels and believes that film can heal and cure. He only films the things that bring people together. In Nosaltres, he films his compatriots from Mali who have immigrated to a town in Catalonia. He also films the native population and the absence of dialogue or the attempts at dialogue between people of different social class, culture and even language.

"Africa is not filmed by Africans!" This fact is increasingly disproved by the emergence of new documentary filmmakers, the raison d'être of Africadoc. Notwithstanding, when it comes to films about Africa or that take place in Africa, clearly some films are fairer than others, they enable one to say that being filmed by outsiders is a good thing. Both of the films scheduled for the Friday night session can be described as having an enriching perspective created by the right distance and the right intentions of the French filmmakers, both of whom are unfailingly linked to Africa. In the first film, Jean-Pierre Lenoir delves into a deeply hidden family event. The film is in the first person. A healing documentary, that takes place at a point in history that is difficult to recall: the colonial period. In the second film, Laurent Chevallier continues to explore his other, African, heritage. After Hadja Moï, his grandmother from Guinea, he meets another elder, a monument to beautiful music: Momo Wandel Soumah, the music icon from Conakry.

The program also includes three films about tragic moments and the political sphere. Two films are about Rwanda revisited and the search for dignity and use very different formal approaches. Jean-Christophe Klotz, the director of Kigali, des images contre un massacre is a reporter, but time works wonders. But can questions that obsess him -the news images- change the course of things? The guilt-producing, tragic impotence of the directors dream for news and the editing, which subtly combines news report images that inform and images that document, plunge the film to a documentary universe that torments the spectator. The title of a film frequently reveals the intentions of the film. Such is the case with Rwanda, les collines parlent, a beautiful film of implacable sobriety, without tricks or pathos. A diagram of a tragedy. Acts and responsibilities are easily attributable to the persons in the film. Whether tired of fighting or still fighting, who are these enemies living together? Et si Latif avait raison!, the third film, is a firebrand not unlike a political pamphlet. It starts with a fictitious accusation and moves on to a more documentary analysis of political power in Senegal. The film technique is conventional, from the filming of the interviews to the violence of the fictional scenes. We are immersed in several forms of film. The films strength, in addition to its existence, is the critical analysis that the subjects carry out in the film: an attempt at the political deconstruction of the regime, which in the end is what makes this political documentary so unusual. With this, to my knowledge, he inaugurates a new style of the African political documentary.

To close the evening, we are going to show in a quasi-definitive version, and outdoors, the latest documentary made by Pierre-Yves Vandeweerde, Le Cercle des noyés made after Closed District. In this magnificent work, the director filmed the war in peoples head: the imminence of war. The structure of the stories, the bodies and voices of the people who haunt the walls of silence and the rocks in the desert all seem to speak of just how commonplace suppression is. As the film progresses, witnesses torment our conscience by talking about what the authorities in Mauritania believed they had permanently silenced.

Jean-Marie Barbe

1. "Tënk" : to express an opinion in a powerful manner.

Guests : En introduction de ces deux jours de programmation, aura lieu une présentation du projet d'Africadoc pour la période 2006-2009 et du projet de l'association de formations internationales au cinéma documentaire, Doc là, en présence de Jean-Philippe Bayon, vice-président de la commission des Relations internationales du conseil régional Rhône-Alpes et des responsables des actions Africadoc et Doc là.