During the Colonial era, cinematic images of Africa and its people were entirely the work of Western filmmakers. The Tarzan movies, African Queen, King Solomon’s Mines and others were usually filmed on soundstages half a world away from Africa and made little to no effort toward authenticity, instead trading in exoticism aimed primarily at exploiting Western tastes.
Senegal gained its independence from France in 1960. Like most West African countries, Senegal is highly diverse. The Wolof, Peul, Halpulaaren, Serer, Lebou, Jola, Mandinka, Moors, Soninke and Bassari are all long established in the country. There are also substantial populations of French, Mauritanians, Lebanese and Vietnamese. Three years after independence, the first Senegalese film was made by Ousmane Sembene titled L’empire sonhrai, which would set the standards for a uniquely African cinematic language that would establish Senegal as the capital of African Cinema.
Ousmane Sembène, as the first sub-Saharan director to make a film widely seen outside of Africa (La Noire de… ), is widely recognized as the “Father of African Film.” The son of a Wolof fisherman, he attended both Islamic and a French-run school until he was kicked out. After fighting in World War II, he illegally immigrated to France and became a member of several Communist groups.
His creative career began as a writer. His first novel, Le Docker Noir (published in 1956), was based on his own encounters with racism as a dock worker in Marseille. In the novel, a black dock worker with literary aspirations writes a novel which is stolen by a white woman and published as her own. He confronts her, accidentally kills her, is tried and executed. After a two more novels, Semebene, driven by his desire to affect social change, decided that he could reach larger audiences through film rather than with critically-lauded but mostly unread novels. He adapted and developed cinematic techniques that would influence most West African filmmakers who followed (with the notable exception of the prolific, commercial Nollywood scene of Nigeria and its followers).
His films, occasionally in Wolof, could only be understood by Wolof speakers. Subtitles could only reach the literate minority and he’d have to decide which language to translate them into. So in order to reach the widest possible African audiences, he applied techniques perfected by Soviet silent films to stories which had pan-African sensibilities and addressed pan-African concerns. The result was a didactic populism, the primary targets of which are conservative Islam, sexism, neo-colonialism, corruption and the bourgeoisie.
His personal take on Social Realism was slow-paced, highly visual and subtly comedic. One of his most common themes was that of the unfair plight of women. He both engaged with and confronted what he saw as the negative and positive traditions of both African and European cultures. He remained active, if not prodigious, as writer and director until shortly before his death at 84 in 2007, still crafting brilliant films in the 2000s.
L’empire sonhrai (1963), Niaye (1964), La noire de…(1966), Borom Sarret (1966), Mandabi (1968), Tauw (1970), Emitai (1971), Xala (1975), Ceddo (1977), Camp de Thiaroye (1987), Guelwaar (1992), Faat Kine (2000), Moolaade (2004)
DJIBRIL DIOP MAMBETY
Djibril Diop Mambety was born in Colobane in 1945. His father was a Muslim cleric. After attending acting school, he went to the Daniel Sorano National Theater in Dakar from which he was expelled. In 1969, without formal training, he made first film. It established his style, which is largely at odds with much of West African film.
Instead of aspiring to Social Realism, his work owed more to France’s Nouvelle Vague, although with a strongly Senegalese sensibility. His second film won awards in Moscow and Tunisia. 20 years passed before he made another feature. His work was flashy, quick cut, non-linear, surreal, playful and individualistic. His films, as highly personal expressions, largely avoid the conventions of Third Cinema as developed by Argentine filmmaker/theorists Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino. But they weren’t without a political view –a deep mistrust of wealth and power are evident in all of his works alongside an often cynical view of the masses.
Although he scarcely made any films, he’s a giant of the country’s Senegalese film. He died in 1998 at 53 of lung cancer, cut short from achieving his full potential, yet leaving an indelible mark on cinema’s language.
Contras’ City (1969), Badou Boy (1970), Touki Bouki (1973), Parlons grand-mere (1989), Hyenes (1992), Le Frac (1994), La petite vendeuse de soleil (1999)
MOUSSA SENE ABSA
Moussa Sene Absa was born in 1958. He’s worked as an painter, writer, television producer and musician in addition to his career as a filmmaker. He first found work as an actor before directing one of his own plays, La Légende de Ruba. He wrote the screenplay for Les Enfants de Dieu, which was awarded at the Francophone Film Festival. His directorial debut, Le Prix du Mensonge, won a Silver Tanit at 1988’s Carthage Film Festival. Tableau Ferraille won “best photography” at FESPACO in 1997.
Ken Bugul (1990), Set Setal (1991), Jaaraama (1991), Entre nos mains (1991), Moolan (1992), Offrande a Mame Njare (1993), Yalla Yaana (1994), Twist a Popenguine (1994), Tableau ferraille (1997), Jef Jel (1998), Blues pour une diva (1999), Ainsi meurent les anges (2001), L’extraordinaire destin de Madame Brouette (2002), Ngoyaan, le chant de la seduction (2004), Teranga Blues (2007).
Safi Faye was born 1943 in Dakar. She first worked as a teacher in the 1960s. She later found work as an actress and model after attending school in Paris and Berlin. At the encouragement of famed ethnographic filmmmaker Jean Rouch, she became a filmmaker herself –although she reportedly doesn’t like his films. She became the first black African woman to direct a commercially distributed feature with 1972’s Le Passante.
Le Passante (1972), Kaddu Beykat (1975), Fad’jal (1979), Goob na nu (1979), Man Sa Yay (1980), Les ames au soleil (1981), Selbe: One Among Many (1983), 3 ans 5 mois (1983), Racines noires (1985), Elsie Haas, femme peintre et cineaste d’Haiti (1985), Tesito (1989), Mossane (1996).
PAULIN SOUMAROU VIEYRA
Paulin Soumarou Vieyra was born in 1925 in Porto Novo, Benin. He moved to Senegal when he was 10. After re-locating to Paris and acting in a couple of films, he shot the first Francophone-African film, L’Afrique sur Seine in Paris, in 1955. After returning to Senegal in 1956, he founded the Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes (FEPACI) in 1969. In 1975 he published Le cinema africain. Des origines a 1973. He died in Paris in 1987.
C’etait il y a quatre ans (1954), Afrique-sur-Seine (1955), L’Afrique a Moscou (1957), Le Niger aujourd’hui (1958), Les presidents Senhor et Modibo Keita (1959), Avec les Africains a Vienne (1959), Presence Africaine a Rome (1959), Independance du Camerou, Togo, Congo, Madagascar (1960), Une nation est nee (1961), Lamb (1963), Voyage du president Senghor en Italie (1963), Voyage presidentiel en URSS (1963), Avec l’ensemble nation (1964), Ecrit du Caire (1964), Sindiely (1964), Voyage du president Senghour au Bresil (1964), N’diongane (1965), Le Senegal au festival national des arts negres (1966), Mol (1966), Au Marche (1967), La bicyclette (1967), Le gateu (1967), Rendez-vous (1967), Ecrit de Dakar (1974), L’art plastique (1974), L’habitat rural au Senegal (1976), L’habitat urbain au Senegal (1976), Birago Diop (1981), En residence surveille (1981), L’envers du decor (1981), Les oiseaux (1981), Iba N’diaye (1982)
Khady Sylla was born in 1963 in Dakar. She’s worked as both a writer and filmmaker. She currently teaches German at Cheikh Anta Diop University.
Les Bijoux (1997), Colobane Express (1999), Une fenetre ouverte (2005)
JOSEPH GAI RAMAKA
Joseph Gaï Ramaka(aka Joseph Gaye Ramaka) was born 9 novembrer, 1952 in Saint-Louis, Senegal. He studied visual anthropology in Paris at the Ecole des Hautes en Sciences Sociales and film at the Institut des Hautes Etudes. In 1990 he founded Les Ateliers de L’Arche, a French production and distribution company. In 1997 he co-founded Les Ateliers de L’Arche – Dakar, in Senegal. He now lives in New Orleans, Louisiana.
OTHER SENEGALESE FILMMAKERS
Abacar Samb-Makhbaram, Ben Diogaye Beye, Clarence Delgado, Ahmadou Diallo, Bouna Medoune Seye, Moussa Toure, Mansour Sora Wade, Samba Felix Ndiaye, Laurence Attali, Angele Diabang Brener, Dyana Gaye, Aicha Thiam, Ibrahima Sarr, Mahama Johnson Traore, Momar Thiam, As Thiam, Blaise Senghor, Thierno Faty Sow, Moustapha Ndoye, Cheik Ndiaye, Ousmane, William Mbaye, Clarence Thomas Delgado, Tdiane Aw, Felix Ndiaye, and Fatou Kande Senghor
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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