Les États généraux du film documentaire 2009 Africa


For this edition I have chosen seven films finished these last months or weeks and which make up the first Lumière d'Afrique collection. Their directors come from Togo, Mali, Niger, Burkina-Faso and Senegal. The aim is to allow you to discover a group, a collection of films by new African documentary authors, from the most polished to the most uncertain. A little as if we were exploring the entire filmography of an author trying, obviously, to appreciate each film, but also analysing the links of "identity" or "culture" which exist between these creative works, which are all first or second films.
We will certainly question production conditions but they are not the primary object of our attention. What I would like to work on more deeply is the place of the director in his film and the connection between the form of a narrative and the African society that each filmmaker attempts to explore. How do these young African authors develop their ways of looking and how do they free themselves from the extremely powerful set of determining factors that surround them (religious, political, family)? This is one of the questions which cover the entire programme. As an introduction to the screenings and debates, here are a few observations.
The first person singular, the "I" appears in numerous films as one of the ways authors use to recount their experiences. Thus with the romantic bravery of pioneers and their generational innocence, often unaware of the power of their ways of seeing, they reveal contradictions and unspoken truths, constitute points of view which are often in opposition to current taboos.
These documentaries exist in African societies where the absence of images (aside from news programmes) is general. African images on African societies are rare. The films have a much more powerful resonance and effect than in societies over-saturated with images like those of the North.
Women documentary filmmakers are particularly at work and caught up in the work. They accede to reserved worlds. Their daily activity as women and their extremely important role in the functioning of African societies make them strong narrators. They often tell of their own experiences, at least during their first films. From this point of view, these authors by connecting their place and their legitimacy as director in the film with the fundamentals of the genre produce a cinema of an extremely rare courage. But what also marks this collection is the great porosity and curiosity between the worlds of men and women.
Boul Fallé, The Wrestling Way by Rama Thiaw is an ode to bodies and to the body to body struggle between a suffocating youth and a society without perspectives. Her film, through its commentary and introductory sequence, traces the history of the movement. How did her generation, that of the rebellious neighbourhoods of Dakar, profoundly change Senegalese society in the eighties? A young woman who, in appearance, films a world of men, that of traditional wrestling, but who in fact reveals the meaning of a generation.
Gentille M. Assih in Itchombi films a circumcision rite in northern Togo among adult males. The interesting aspect of Gentille's cinema is that she is curious about the other people in her home region. She reveals from within the originality of an ethnic practice which is not hers and films, camera in hand, the violent vitality of a masculine ritual, confirming the porosity of male and female and making a vital point: the risk of contamination by Aids and the preoccupations of hygiene and health must necessarily modify tradition.
Awa Traoré and Waliden, children of others is the story of children mistreated by traditional adoption practices. Fundamentally it is her own story and we strongly sense her reserve. But this first film is a homage to the words of the elders, those who allowed her to find her balance and which she respects to the point of only hinting at the tragedies of these adoptions, and hidden in her own past. But this is already a great deal.
La Gardienne des étoiles by Mamadou Sellou Diallo is a pretty incredible example of the access to others offered by the new generation of African documentary filmmakers. As a man, he films the world and bodies of African women as they have never been represented. He builds a poetic lesson based on a speech to his daughter. His literally poetic narration weaves a link between his daughter, his future wife and the tragedy which runs through the existence of the feminine condition. By filming the care and attention devoted to women's bodies, he portrays the violence of which these bodies are victims. Scabs and scars function like the skin's memory, revealing the wounds of societal existence. The body is like an open book on the daily difficulties of survival. Sellou, shot by shot, sketches the representation of a man's consciousness of the female condition in Senegal.
Sani Elhadj Magori in For The Best and For The Onion !, as a good agronomist, starts from onion cultivation to tell the beginnings of a couple and the adventurous preparations for their marriage. He films his own people in their village. The scenario's highly rigorous construction and the proximity, the intimity with which he films create a work where the stylistic borderlines between fiction and documentary are totally blurred. The film's subjects display incredible presence in front of the camera and become true characters. The film confirms the documentary power of the visible realities of African society, as well as the promise of a new cinema tucked away at the heart of this first opus.
The Hectic Life of a Dismissed Worker is a film born of the collaboration between an amateur writer – Grand Z – and his director friend – Camille. The former, a fifty-five years old Burkinabe wrote a documentary project telling the story of his life as someone laid off from the railways, a "dismissed worker", but he didn't want to make the film as he was not a filmmaker. Based on the story, his young French friend Camille who admires the individual as much as the power of his writing, decided to film this "African Beckett". The result is an airy film about a leaden environment where social misery destroys the human soul, but to which the incredible poetic vitality of Z, his texts and their interpretation lend a profound lightness. The Bolloré company did not authorize Camille and the railway worker Z to film their locomotives, depriving us of the reality of pistons, iron wheels and packed passengers. But this allows Camille to choreograph the best and the most elegant aspects of an unknown poet.
The film Autopsie d'une succession by Luc Abaki and Augustin Talakeana is not a great work of art in the formal sense of the word. It is sometimes long and repetitive. Nonetheless it is an important film. For the first time on the screen, we see the tumultuous weeks following the death of the dictator Eyadema during which the Togo wrestled with the problem of his succession. The great quality of the film is in the attempt to give a political analysis of recent history. The documentary image testifies (the proof by seeing) to the chaotic process of the advance of democracy. It is a political film which inaugurates a kind of movement: a Togolese author and a Togolese producer, living in Togo, tell from inside and with great skill the passage from a dictatorship to a democracy, and give us a personal and well documented reading of events: a documentary account of immediate political history. This film has a symbolic value, it is a first.

Jean-Marie Barbe

Guests : Debates with the participation of the directors.