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February 6 – 9, 2015

The 17th Geneviève McMillan - Reba Stewart Fellow: Mati Diop

Each year, Harvard’s Film Study Center awards the Geneviève McMillan-Reba Stewart Fellowship to a Francophone filmmaker from Africa or of African descent. The latest recipient is Mati Diop, a French filmmaker and actress working in both France and Senegal. Her formally adventurous films explore exile and identity, memory and loss using fiction and documentary tools. Additionally Mati’s uncle is the celebrated Senegalese director Djbril Diop Mambéty, director of the landmark film Touki bouki (1973). Mati Diop is currently a 2014-2015 Radcliffe-Harvard film study fellow writing a feature film, Fire, Next Time, a gothic coming-of-age tale about the disenchanted youth of the 2000s in Dakar.

The films of Mati Diop conjure faraway places. Characters both fictional and quasi-documentary long for locales beyond their reach, or sometimes, as if in a trance, they drift magnetically toward them. No matter where the films take place, there is always the specter of somewhere else, and, perhaps with it, the possibility of a different life. These evocations of distant locations—a friend’s tropical Yucatan adventures relayed by text message in Snow Canon, memories of home mournfully recalled in Big in Vietnam, and the idea of an opportunity-rich Europe worth risking one’s life for in Atlantiques and A Thousand Suns (Mille soleils)—suffuse the concrete worlds her characters inhabit so that her films often seem to be in multiple places at once.

Simultaneously anchored in the real world and tuned into an imaginary one, Diop’s work offers a resolution to what is perhaps cinema’s oldest divide: the split between documentary observation (as practiced by the Lumière Brothers and their globetrotting band of cinematographers) and fictive creation (as seen in the magic films of George Méliès). In a statement typical of her enigmatic style, Diop has said of her hybrid style “nothing is true and nothing is false.” Instead, her films never announce what parts are fictive or documentary, and reside ambiguously between the two. In this space, which is perhaps unique to cinema, her characters find themselves rooted in one place and dreaming—deliriously, melancholically, and always vividly—of another. – Genevieve Yue

Presented in partnership with the Film Study Center, Harvard University

Text adapted, with permission, from Film Comment, "Art of the Real: The Films of Mati Diop" by Genevieve Yue April 18, 2014

$12 Special Event Tickets - Free Admission with Harvard ID
Mati Diop in person
Friday February 6 at 7pm

A Thousand Suns (Mille soleils)

Directed by Mati Diop. With Magaye Niang, Wasis Diop, Ben D. Beye
France/Senegal 2013, DCP, color, 45 min. French and Wolof with English subtitles

A Thousand Suns is a portrait of Magaye Niang, the non-professional actor who played the lead in the African film classic Touki bouki, which was directed by Diop’s uncle, Djibril Diop Mambéty. Fusing documentary and fantasy in homage to her uncle’s masterpiece, Diop follows Niang to a screening of that 1973 film as the old man comes to terms with the vanished past he longs for and the future he still hopes is possible. A Thousand Suns was originally conceived in 2008, though it was not shot and completed until 2013. In the interim years, Diop made Snow Canon, Atlantiques, and Big in Vietnam. In many ways, A Thousand Suns is the culmination of those previous films, taking from Snow Canon its dreamy lyricism, the distant opportunities dreamed in Atlantiques, and the ruminative wanderings and regrets of Big in Vietnam. A Thousand Suns is also the most intimately entwined with Diop’s own family (in addition to her uncle’s film, it features her father, the musician Wasis Diop), the troubled history of Senegal, and its cinema. – GY

DCP courtesy of Anna Sanders Films

A reception in the lobby of the Carpenter Center will follow the screening and discussion.

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$12 Special Event Tickets - Free Admission with Harvard ID
Mati Diop in person
Saturday February 7 at 7pm


Directed by Mati Diop. With Alpha Diop, Cheikh M’Baye, Ouli Seck, Serigne Seck
France/Senegal 2009, DCP, color, 15min. Wolof and French with English subtitles

Sitting before a beachside fire, and barely illuminated against the night sky, Serigne (Serigne Seck, appearing as himself) and two friends weigh the dangers of crossing the sea to Europe by pirogue, a small fishing vessel not built for deep water. Faced with unemployment and hunger at home, Serigne argues that there is no choice but to leave, even if it means risking one’s life. “Forget Europe,” a friend urges. “Let’s speak of here, Africa.” Like the shot of a rotating lighthouse lens that concludes the film, their conversation circles itself. There’s talk of family, of sacrifice, and even of magical transformation from man into fish, sometimes little more than voices in the dark. – GY

DCP courtesy of Le Fresnoy

Big in Vietnam

Directed by Mati Diop. With Henriette Nhung, Ghe Büi, Mike N'Guyen
France/Senegal 2012, DCP, color, 29 min. French with English subtitles

Big in Vietnam depicts the making of a film, a Franco-Vietnamese adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos’s Les Liaisons dangereuses. In Big in Vietnam, the production stalls when the lead actor goes missing in the woods, and the director Henriette similarly abandons the set. Leaving the film in the tentative hands of her son, she wanders the streets of Marseille, eventually entering a Vietnamese restaurant. There, in a duet sung with a mysterious man, she finds the sensual quality she had been seeking in her film. As night turns to morning, he tells her stories of home. She asks about a tattoo on his arm, which means “the life far away.” – GY

DCP courtesy of Neon Productions

Snow Canon

Directed by Mati Diop. With Nour Mobarak, Chan Coïc, Alban Guyon, Nilaya Bal
France/Senegal 2011, 35mm, color, 33 min. French with English subtitles

Snow Canon, a coming-of-age story catalyzed by an erotic encounter with an American babysitter, is inspired by events from Diop’s own life, along with touches of the Stendhal short story “Vanina Vanini.” In the film, the teenage Vanina is by turns petulant and curious about the alluring older stranger. At her family’s chalet, the shades are perpetually drawn, creating for the pair a private, sensual world set against the magisterial French Alps outside. – GY

Print courtesy of Aurora Films

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Free Admission with Harvard ID
Introduction by Mati Diop
Sunday March 1 at 7pm (rescheduled from earlier cancellation due to weather)

Touki bouki

Directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty. With Magaye Niang, Mareme Niang, Aminata Fall
Senegal 1973, DCP, color, 89 min. Wolof and French with English subtitles

The debut feature of Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty, Touki bouki stands today as one of the classics of African cinema and of 1970s world cinema. Built out of a rich montage of sights and sounds, Touki bouki is exuberantly syncretic, mixing the contemporary and the traditional, the naturalistic and the modernist in an expression of post-colonial Senegal’s ambitions for the future. This syncretism is embodied onscreen by the relationship between its two protagonists: a charismatic cowboy-turned-biker and a young student who meet in Dakar and dream of going to Europe. DCP courtesy of Cineteca di Bologna

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