Les États généraux du film documentaire 2007 Africa


Africa Documentary

It must be said again and again that the space devoted to African documentaries or to documentaries on Africa at Lussas is the result of a strong conviction: cinema is a continent to which all of us, film lovers from the North or the South, belong. Documentary film is a common political and esthetic concern far overreaching the barriers of nation or identity. And in this “world movement” of documentary art, the silence imposed on Africa is so obscene that I persist in uncovering the films which narrate and recall this continent to our shared conscience.

Half the films screened this year are films made by African filmmakers living in Africa. I wish there were more... Next year this will certainly be the case, for a number of films are being developed, in particular within the collection "Lumière d’Afrique" to which we shall return.

Moussa Touré, Samba Félix Ndiaye, Jean-Marie Teno, Mariette-Chantal Mêlé, these are the filmmakers in francophone Africa who have made more than two remarkable documentaries screened in international festivals since 2003, the date we started to organize this selection. These directors and their films are present in festivals because through them African documentary sends news of Africa, I was about to say, to the world. But if we think a little, most of these films are principally viewed in Europe; African television does not often broadcast them, African theatrical distribution is in ruins.

But their isolation, the small number of these filmmakers and the importance of their films says nothing about a new development: a new generation of African documentary filmmakers is emerging. The first part of the 2007 selection aims to show the first films of filmmakers who are just completing their studies. They are young authors, as many females as males. Their films are the result of a deliberately targeted movement of cooperation between African and European training structures. This was the case for films like Papa... by Aïcha Thiam and Oumy et Moi by Adams Sie – results of the work carried out together by the Forut – Dakar Media Centre and the festival Filmer à tout prix in Brussels; Senghor, je me rappelle… by Gora Seck – made with the support of Dix Mots de la Francophonie and Les Films de l'Atelier in Dakar; Sénégalaises et Islam by Angèle Diabang Brener – supported by the Goethe Institut – or Ra, la réparatrice by Mamadou Cissé – born in the Africadoc writing workshops, organised by Dakar Images and Ardèche Images.

Other films made by African authors have managed to find production support among traditional documentary channels. There are links between the skills and sources of finance from the South and the North that are obviously essential. I am convinced they are necessary steps in the development of a network of African producers and documentary filmmakers based on equitable North/South alliances. These author-directors have managed to find partnerships among producers and television commissioning editors thanks to the contacts they make, their mobility and presence at some key professional meetings like Fespaco or the Tenk Meetings in Gorée. Les Disparus de Douala directed by Osvalde Lewat and produced by AMIP is exemplary in this sense. This magnificent film, screened as part of the open-air programme, beyond the courage of Osvalde and his interviewees, inaugurates a documentary act of resistance and conscience. Facing the abject, the film by its approach, language and subject is a work of reference: a herald of the political and moral consciousness of a new generation of African filmmakers.

Today, only South Africa with the SABC TV company permits the home grown production of creative documentary. We will see a South-african documentary, The Mothers’ House by Francis Verster which is an example of direct cinema in immersion. The film tells the chronicle of a family where the men are absent but where violence predominates between the women and generations. More than a simple social portrait, the film expresses a fine ambition: by filming over a long period, it raises and provides some answers to the question: "how can we escape from social and cultural determinism?"

In the second part of this selection, European films will be presented. These films work on the relation between history and politics in Africa. They are professionally made objects which document contemporary history and its underlying political and economic mechanisms. They act as deciphering machines, allowing the understanding of the stakes of history, their importance to the present.

First of all, the fascinating fresco Cuba, une odyssée africaine informs us of the history of independence and post-independence wars with the tale of Che in the Congo as its emblematic figure. The film Le Petit Blanc à la caméra rouge relates the anti-colonial commitment of René Vautier and the story of his film Afrique 50, a filmmaker deeply involved in anticolonialism at a time when French cinema definitely was not. To move from political history to present politics, the film by Philippe Baqué and Alidou Badini Le Beurre et l’Argent du beurre explains the nuts and bolts of underdevelopment, without esthetic research other than the techniques of direct cinema but with great perseverence and application. The film communicates the complex nature of resource exploitation in the South, a kind of "true history of fair trade through the case of shea butter".

Finally, the third part of this programme brings together four films with very different documentary styles. They are all founded on a sensitive relationship to characters, portraits directed in complicity with African authors and co-authors. Films "made together", in which the act of filmmaking often predominates over the subject of the film. Maïsama m’a dit by Isabelle Thomas is not a film that documents anything. This film based on texts read by a voice over and a visual approach based on wall paintings filmed in Dakar, composes the portrait of an absent character and turns out to be a very fine cinematic experiment. Grandes Vacances by Oldrich Navratil is an astonishing work, somewhere between radical and improvised cinema, made by two people. In this film, the sound has documentary value. The image, sometimes a metaphore, sometimes movement and prolongation of the story, is globally at the service of the voices. Poussière de femmes by Lucie Thierry and Maïmouna, la vie devant moi by Fabiolla Maldonado and Ulrike Sülzle, are both classical and unostentatious forms of documentary film. Recording largely unspectacular forms of daily existence, they appear above all as fine examples of documentary cinema's capacity to transmit the correct way of looking at their subject material.

To conclude, the words of two young filmmakers jotted down at the last Tenk Meeting at Gorée: "Jean-Marie!! You know, our parents, our cineast elders didn't teach us to like nor to admire them. One day when we can see their films, maybe we'll think differently of them".
"You know, documentary saves us because there is no power at stake, our cinema will be like that, with the people, with Africans. You'll see, people will speak about our films and us before ten years are up as a generation which, right from the beginning, knew that it had something to transmit and to share..."