Les États généraux du film documentaire 2011 Africa


Africa or how are you documentary fine thank you!

Creation documentary films made in Africa have in recent years regularly provided information about a continent long left aside by pictures, long reduced to archetypes and tragic headlines. Our aim, with the yearly programming of African documentary films, is to explore outstanding works and the most significant movements of the trade – not looked at as snapshots of a situation, but rather as ground swells on the long run, making sense in such a way that our viewpoints will change in the long-term. For this year’s program, I would like on the one hand to introduce on Monday, August 21, films from the collection Lumière d’Afrique 2, and on the other hand, to show on Tuesday, August 22 in the morning, films that bear evidence of promising experiments.

For our young African fellow documentarians, everything can be documented! The real offers countless aspects never before represented in African films. More or less consciously, these filmmakers have challenges to take on in terms of civic responsibility, and this confers their activity a social aspect that is indeed present on their minds. The African documentarians we are in contact with generally have a keen knowledge of the fields they explore in their films, because most of them have personally experienced them. I think they use directly facts from their own life experiences more often than young European filmmakers do in their projects. But we know that in order to go past archetypes, it is necessary to develop and think a project in terms of filmmaking; all relevant technical shooting devices are the expression of a cognitive and sensitive way of thinking the real. This also applies to the films of the collection Lumière d’Afrique that might seem fragile. But please make no mistake about them! These first films are indeed the result of in-depth stylized viewpoints.

In Bakoroman, Simplice Ganou follows step by step his young characters walking under the burning sun along the road to Ouagadougou. This is a standard type of immersion, and the purpose there is not creating a new form, but using an existing form in such judicious way as to represent these denied beings as genuinely as possible! Experiencing what occurs to the teenagers or what they cause, makes us understand where from and who they are. This is filmmaking with an individuation process way beyond anonymous figures reaching the city under the label “street kids”. The work done by Simplice Ganou creates a trustful relationship with each and every one of them. How do they consider their own position in the world, how can their moral and their viewpoints about life not be totally affected by their wretched conditions of life? They are free beings, owners of projects full of hope, fatalism and dreams, just like all “street kids” in the world.
In the film Savoir raison garder, we are also taken into an immersion. Mamounata Nikiema films from the inside all steps that make up an election at a national level in Burkina Faso. The film takes particular care in showing that the electoral process pertains to a collective mechanics, reminding us that for law to be properly enforced in the young African states, people with both political ability and awareness have to join their efforts. No flights of lyricism or metaphors in this film, but as entomologists would do, we observe each aspect, each stage of the whole process, from writing the texts to organizing polling stations. The results of the final vote are hardly mentioned: this isn’t what is at stake in the film. You will probably never forget the sequence in which a member of the National Committee in charge of preparing the election underlines, by quoting Montesquieu, how important it is to keep the separation of powers.

Koukan Kourcia ou le Cri de la tourterelle by Sani Magori is a much more peculiar film than you would first think. In Sani Magori’s first film Pour le meilleur et pour l’oignon ! (collection Lumière d’Afrique 1), the real seemed to be created for the film; once again, something similar occurs. The film story is amazing: we are traveling with a very old lady singer from Niger to Abidjan, because the director has convinced her to urge, with her singing, the elder to return home, among whom the director’s own father. It is really striking to see how Sani Magori’s films twist the real, as if all characters, all situations belonged to a feature screenplay. Obviously Sani Magori is not afraid! He does know that the real will be up to what he wants to tell from it. His setting the scenes works the same way as documentary mise-en-scène, implacable. We are carried by the narration, dumbstruck by Koukan Kourcia’s powerful character and by her voice.
Koundi and the National Thursday by Ariane Atodji, is the director’s first film, already praised in numerous festivals. It is the result of an outstanding accompaniment, from writing to finalizing the project. The German team in charge of training on behalf of the Goethe Institute in Yaoundé — Isabelle Casez for the camera and Sebastian Kleinloh for the sound — was the same as the technical team shooting the film. We feel how strong bonds could develop during the shooting, as well as a remarkable attention paid to the characters; all of this is moreover underlined by Mathilde Rousseau’s and Sebastian Winkels’ superb editing jobs. Astrid Atodji shows the every-day functioning of a village community in Cameroon. Humor, justice and love issues, as well as magic, are as basic as environmental and economic issues in this village community. The film unfolds to the light pace of a daily show in which the characters’ grace is displayed in an incredibly human rhythm. This film is a kind of a tale of the real.

The last part of this program is called “African Experiments”. Fate would have it that we also have the opportunity to explore films resulting from training experiments and productions. This is at stake: understanding how training or trade devices can bring about films, sometimes in an unexpected way, hence questioning the meaning of such films. I would like you to first view the exercise “filming talking people” by students of the fourth Master 2 group at Saint-Louis du Sénégal University. In their film À Saint-Louis du Sénégal, la France reconnaissante, we have to try and understand the motivations of the students in a self-filming exercise in which they debate about the issue of colonial inheritance; this collective directing exercise represents the core of the teaching project in the Master 2 curriculum. Further in this program: Inch’Allah. S'il plaît à Dieu ?, a film by Abbas Thior, one of the students of the group, dealing with violence to children and demonstrating how rigor is required, both in the way of filming and in the shooting distance. This director is indeed accurate and rigorous.
Three short films from the collection Une journée avec… will then provide the opportunity to confront our critical viewpoints. This collection was initiated by a production group consisting in Arte Strasbourg, four African TV channels and six independent producers (four from Africa and two from France). Ten young African documentarians are asked to portray a child in the course of a day and the films are for children. These short films are all in one commissioned, independent, documentaries and documentary tales: what is at stake in such films for children, as far as both aesthetics and content are concerned? How can we tell when something is documented without exoticism or when “the Other” is turned to unreal? We have to question these various documentary accounts that enable children and adults, here and everywhere, to develop curiosity and understanding for “the Other”.

Jean-Marie Barbe