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September 7 - 10

Ousmane Sembene – In Memoriam

A former bricklayer and soldier turned trade union organizer, Ousmane Sembene is widely recognized today as one of the most prolific African writers and film makers. But Sembene’s significance moves beyond the question of his productivity.  He is celebrated today throughout Africa and around the world as the first African creative artist with a “virginal faith” in the redemptive and galvanizing power of art and as a filmmaker who used the barrel of the camera to restore the African self-image.

The recipient of many honors throughout his career, Ousmane Sembene, who died in June at 84, will leave his mark on world cultural history as one of the most talented storytellers of his time and as a rare and solitary African revolutionary who understood the political nature of narratives, their power in shaping our past, our present, and our future. He devoted his life to giving voice to a voiceless continent through the production of narratives countering dominant, hegemonic discourses (political and religious) of the African Islamic and postcolonial elite. Sembene wrote books and made films not for profit but for man’s sake because he believes man is culture. -- Samba Gadjigo, Professor of French, Mount Holyoke College


Introduced by Samba Gadjigo
Friday September 7 at 7 pm

Mooladé

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal/France/Burkina Faso/Cameroon/Morocco/Tunisia 2004, 35mm, color, 120 min.
With Fatoumata Coulibaly, Maimouna Héléne Diarra, Salimata Traoré
Bambara and French with English subtitles

Winner of the 2004 Un Certain Regard Award in Cannes, Sembene’s last film delivers an open attack on the tradition of female circumcision still practiced in Muslim and Christian communities in East and West Africa. A wonderful testament to Sembene’s belief in the cinema as the most effective means of social change in Africa, Mooladé describes the brutal impact of circumcision on adolescent subjects and the ostracisation suffered by the mothers and fathers who resist the violent practice. Mooladé was intended to be the second film in a trilogy designed to honor the lives of African women, who Sembene referred to as the "heroines of everyday life.” Print courtesy New Yorker Films.

The Making of Mooladé

Directed by Samba Gadjigo, Appearing in Person
USA 2006, video, color, 20 min.

This documentary captures Sembene, at the ripe age of 79, working 12 hour days in a remote African village where midday temperatures usually exceeded 100 degrees. Actors, production personnel, camera assistants, and others connected with the film describe the challenges presented by the scarcity of funding and the difficulties of shooting on location.

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Friday September 7 at 9:30 pm

Borom Sarret

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal, 1964, b/w, 19 min.
With Abdoulaye Ly
French with English subtitles

Sembene’s first film, Borom Sarret (“cart owner”) chronicles a day in the life of a beleaguered horse-cart driver in Dakar. In spite of the material limitations of the production - if not because of the challenges they posed - Borom Sarret manages to create a powerful social statement as it combines simple means with complex observations on bureaucracy, religion, and the anonymity of the modern city. Compressing his narrative into a mere nineteen minutes, Sembene conveys the condition of Senegal’s urban poor as he situates their experience in the larger social panorama of post-independence Africa. Print courtesy New Yorker Films.

Black Girl

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal 1965, 35mm, b/w, 65 min.
With Thérèse M’bissine Diop, Anne-Marie Jelinek, Robert Fontaine
French with English subtitles

Regarded as the first major film in the evolution of African cinema, Black Girl chronicles the bitter and unambiguous story of a young Senegalese woman who is hired on the “maid market” in Dakar and taken to the Riviera by her white French employers. Under conditions that Sembene saw as a new form of slavery, she falls into the ultimate despair of isolation and invisibility. Inspired by a news story, the film made a profound impression at international film festivals in 1966. The first work by a sub-Saharan black director to have been seen outside the continent, Black Girl represents the essential first step in Sembene’s self-described project to counter the “neocolonialism [that] is passed on culturally through the cinema.” Print courtesy New Yorker Films.

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Saturday September 8 at 7 pm

Xala

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal 1974, 35mm, color, 123 min.
With Thierno Leye, Seune Samb, Miriam Niang
Wolof and French with English subtitles

Zeroing in on the myth of African independence and on the capitulation to white colonial policies by newly empowered black African leaders, this savage and funny satire deals with a self-satisfied, half-Westernized black businessman who is suddenly struck down by the xala: a curse that renders its victim impotent. While he desperately chases after witch doctors and soothsayers in search of a cure, the character’s condition becomes a mirror of the impotence of young African nations that are over-dependent on white technology and bureaucratic structures. Print courtesy New Yorker Films.


Saturday September 8 at 9:15 pm

Mandabi

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal 1968, 35mm, color, 90 min.
With Makhouredia Gueye, Ynousse N’diaye, Isseu Niang
Wolof with English subtitles

Sembene’s first comedy, his first film in color, and first work in Wolof - the language spoken by most of the population of Senegal - Mandabi is the deceptively simple story of a man whose initial good fortune leads to encounters with an intimidating barrage of Third World bureaucracy. The film, which consists of a series of comic mishaps involving Dieng’s futile attempts to get an identity card so he can cash his check, takes the viewer on a journey with corrupt government officials and impoverished members of Dakar’s proletariat. Mandabi was seen as a betrayal by many in the newly independent Senegal. The fact that the film was a comedy did not spare Sembene’s film from attacks in the press. Print courtesy New Yorker Films.

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Sunday September 9 at 3 pm

Camp De Thiaroye

Directed by Ousmane Sembene and Thierno Faty Sow
Senegal 1987, 35mm, color, 152 min.
With Iprahima Sane, Sijiri Bakaba
Wolof and French with English subtitles

In 1944, the French army massacred several units of West African conscripts recently returned from the battlefields of Europe. Sembene, who had been drafted into the French army that same year, knew of this event and in 1998 used it as the basis for his sixth feature film. What was essentially a demand by African veterans that they be paid the same wages as their French counterparts led to an attack on soldiers who had only recently been fighting the Nazis in Italy and Germany. In 1944, the French colonial authorities viewed returning African veterans as second class citizens and because the colonial administration was financially bankrupt, found it convenient to refuse their demands. The resulting mutiny by the veterans of Camp Thiaroye led to a full scale artillery attack on the camp. Print courtesy New Yorker Films.

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Sunday September 9 at 7 pm

Ceddo (aka The Outsiders)

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal 1977, 35mm, color, 120 min.
With Tabara N’diaye, Ismaila Diagne, Moustapha Yade
Wolof with English subtitles

Banned in Senegal on an absurd technicality, Ceddo, Sembene’s most ambitious film, uses the story of a beautiful princess’s kidnapping to examine the confrontation between opposing cultural forces: Muslim expansion, Christianity, and the slave trade. The “Ceddo” - or feudal class of common people - cling desperately to their customs and their fetishistic religion amidst the impending changes. Nominally set in the nineteenth century, Ceddo ranges far and wide to include philosophy, fantasy, militant politics, and a couple of electrifying leaps across the centuries to evoke the whole of the African experience. Print courtesy New Yorker Films.

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Sunday September 9 at 9:15 pm

Emitai

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal 1971, 35mm, color, 101 min.
With Ibou Camara, Ousrnane Camara, Joseph Diatta
Diola and French with English subtitles

Sembene's third film launched his international reputation, reaching an audience far beyond Senegal’s Diola community, to whom he had directly addressed the film. Emitai takes place in the period at the end of the World War II, as West African veterans are returning to their homes in the French colonies. General De Gaulle, the hero of the trench resistance, is now the leader of the newly liberated France, yet forced conscriptions and massacres of Diola villages continue, some of them led by former members of France’s Vichy government. With Emitai, Sembene realized his statement “film should be a school of history.” When the film was released in 1971, it was immediately banned in Senegal, and throughout Africa. Print courtesy New Yorker Films.

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Monday September 10 at 7 pm

Faat-Kiné

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal 2000, 35mm, color, 118 min.
With Venus Seye, Mame Ndoumbé Diop, Tabara N’diaye
Wolof and French with English subtitles

Faat-Kiné, the manager of a sparkling new gas station, drives an elegant car, lunches with fashionably dressed friends, and worries about her children passing their high school finals. But Sembene contextualizes his heroine’s thoroughly modern triumphs and anxieties within the complex culture and politics of Dakar, with its contrastive architecture of shantytowns and high-rises, streets crowded with cattle and Mercedes, and women whose lives have been shaped as much by tribal custom and male prejudice as by their twenty-first century aspirations. As it examines the changing roles of women in Senegalese society, Faat-Kiné opens onto a new chapter in the career of this legendary director. Print courtesy New Yorker Films.

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Monday September 10 at 9:15 pm

Guelwaar

Directed by Ousmane Sembene
Senegal 1993, 35mm, color, 115 min.
With Thierno N’diaye, Ndiawar Diop, Myriam Niang
French and Wolof with English subtitles

When the body of Guelwaar ("the noble one"), a political activist, philanderer, and pillar of the Christian community, is mistakenly buried in a Muslim cemetery, the result is a perfect storm of bureaucratic red tape, family disputes, and religious conflict. As usual with Sembene, Guelwaar is many films in one: black comedy, political allegory, social satire, family drama, and, at the end, thunderous indictment of the twin evils of homegrown African corruption and neocolonial Western aid.

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