Les États généraux du film documentaire 2010 Africa


All of you who have, for many years, paid attention to this selection, know for sure that its programming aims at both observing the emerging generation of African film-makers and at highlighting powerful works made in Africa by mostly European film-makers. The objective is indeed to show films made in the course of the year, even if this programming is by no means just an inventory of the best films.

The selection is based on a double logic. First, the work for the work’s sake. The uniqueness of a work of art is the extension of the artist’s uniqueness. We all know that attending a festival may result in remembering but one film, "The unforgettable film". But this kind of romantic, exclusive vision has its own limits: the unforgettable film is not the same for everyone and a festival highlights a large number of films. The second logic is based on interaction between the selected films, that are like a herd of galloping horses; taking into consideration the fact that the films create a kind of exchange with each other, that they make up a composition first meant to spark off our emotions and thoughts. Creating a program is not just listing a “best of” of the films of the year, but assembling them in a well-thought and careful way, thus generating a dialogue between them.

The second issue deals with "territory and film-maker". Two kinds of logic have to be combined, although they may seem contradictory: the cinema in Africa and the African cinema. Exotic or sensational documentary images are just using the African continent for their own purposes (from National Geographic to Voyage TV channel…). But on the other hand it is exhilarating to observe that every year creation documentaries are shot in Africa by independent film-makers, mostly from Europe. And this is of course something positive for Africa and for all of us: we can imagine how European societies would benefit from being filmed by talented film-makers from Africa, India, China... The point is that such films have to be spotted and shown, and this is precisely one of the objectives of this programming. Of course, for years, these documentaries creation shot in Africa by independent, mostly European film-makers, have underlined even more obviously and strikingly the fact that Africans could not document their own or elsewhere’s real. Wherever people live, independent creative artists have to provide documentary representations of their own worlds – this is a civilization requirement. In the past ten years, thanks to some people’s will and to lighter digital equipment, a new generation of African film-makers has emerged. Actually today, there is an increasing number of completed films, so that we can reasonably think that a network of independent African documentarians and producers will exist on a long-term basis.

This year, I have based the programming on three different periods, each of them bearing a specific issue. With these first films made in workshops or by African students, I want to show how combining different works may result in a specific musicality or color, all in one documenting African societies, and becoming History by demonstrating the specific meaning of an emerging cinematic movement. I have decided to show five films by young film-makers: Le prix du sang, by Anne Elisabeth Ngo Minka; We don't Forget, We Forgive, by Annette Kouamba Matondo; Cris du chœur, by Sébastien Tendeng; Un peuple, un bus, une foi, by Simplice Ganou; Changer de peau, by Salamatou Adamou Gado. These five films document significant social situations and question in a particularly powerful way the part played by the documentary cinema in African societies and how it confronts to their realities. The major and permanent issue of the significance of such films will help us consider differently the fact that they are necessary, as well as the part played by films here and there.

Why is it that a well-completed documentary film is always the representation of a strong and accurate relationship between what has been filmed and the filming person? In Marabou's Shadow, film-maker Cheikh N'diaye starts with the idea of questioning “the other” Islam, while always staying at a distance. From the beginning he sets up a narrative device that connects to the historical roots of Mouride power – the most important Muslim brotherhood in Senegal. In parallel, we can observe the daily lives of four Senegalese men at work who, carrying out a ritual that belongs to their faith, take us to the annual pilgrimage of Touba, the very heart of political and religious Mouride power. This is how the film unrelentingly documents the obviousness of power and criticism about power, while skillfully remaining ambiguous, and thus most likely making the film acceptable to local authorities.

The film by Alassane Diago, The Tears of Emigration, is for many reasons exceptional. With utter sobriety, it develops its own cinematic time that perfectly concords with the filmed persons’ time. It once again underlines how a very sober and personal documentary film has a resonance with the whole world. Beyond the fact that only this young director filming his mother could give us a key to this kind of reality, this film confirms that there is in Africa a genuine way of filming the intimate and that an author is born.

Even if it is often true to say that a film-maker in his own environment has better chances than a newcomer for a successful immersion, hence for accurate filming, it is also true to say that the appropriate question to a documentarian isn’t: “Where are you from?”, but rather: “Where are you heading?” Opposing Africans who film their own Africas to documentarians from anywhere in the world filming Africa, is absurd. It is absolutely necessary to show and to question the different perspectives of documentarians from all over the world. This reminds us that for a documentary film-maker, the approach is primarily a vibrating mental territory that starts existing in a kind of dance with the real.

In In the Name of God, of Us All, of Heaven, Marie-Violaine Brincard films the words of some Righteous in Rwanda. Distanciation from the protagonists and the way nature and its sounds are filmed, make up a subtle composition that unmistakably provides human beings with great cinematic strength.

Kafka in Congo by Arnaud Zajtman and Marlène Rabaud, tells about the coming together of two different kinds of humble resoluteness: that of a Congolese woman, a character in search of justice, and that of a couple of journalists and film-makers who are determined to film in a simple way, with accurate distance, this woman’s life story, and to explore its specific context. This film intertwines two skills that for once do match: the investigative journalists’ who film facts, mere facts; and the film-makers’ who, in an uncluttered and sober style, through the shooting duration and the repetitiveness of the filming device, find the matter of an account as implacable as the dreadful reality that is unveiled.

Kinshasa Symphony by Martin Baer and Claus Wischmann is first of all a delightful film. In a clearly readable editing style, the film shows several of the absolutely terrible conditions in which the inhabitants of Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo, struggle for survival; and how, as members of a congregation, they are to invent a symphony orchestra. This is the metaphor of a flower growing on a garbage dump, praising in a very Judeo-Christian way the resoluteness of having the good and beautiful overcome; and last but not least, the way the music is filmed, provides a few unforgettable moments of grace.

Jean-Marie Barbe

To prolong the "Africa" programme, the film Dance to the Spirits by Ricardo ĺscar will be shown in the open air on Tuesday August 24 at 9:30 pm. Cf p. 141.