You chose to shoot your film, which is about Brazzaville street children, in a different country. I don’t think you speak Lingala, the language the children speak in the film. How did you reconcile your position as an outsider with such an insider perspective?
I think that we all have an internal and external dimension. When we leave home to go elsewhere, the things we take with us from home are internal, but we observe people from the outside, we interiorise. This approach is thus universal, therefore. I think that my gaze will always focus on the human. Even in fiction, I’m interested in faces, I touch You get to a certain stage in life where you think about what is really important. You have kids, and for me, children are now what really matter. My gaze questions a lot of things at the moment, and in this questioning process, it focused on children. What strikes me the most is that 50% of the African population is under the age of 20.
I think that it’s very interesting for a filmmaker who makes feature films, and who could very well continue to roam the corridors of the palaces of the world, to go back out on the streets, with the street kids, to work with the Forut (the Dakar amateur film school), and to make documentary films. That’s what African film is about in my mind. At one time I was against Jean Rouch, but not anymore, because I am honest with myself. He set the ball rolling so that we Africans could take up the flame once we had the means. So I intend to follow this path. People may well say that this is not cinema, but for me, today, it’s African cinema. Jean Rouch’s films weren’t smooth and steady, with their hand-held cameras, etc., but today we have DV. It is very close. It is made for this. It’s the perfect instrument. I understand film technique, and was thus able to make this film on my own with this camera.
You didn’t have a cameraman with you?
When you ask the questions in the film, it’s you are behind the camera then?
The advantage with DV is that you don’t have to be glued to the camera.
Exactly. That allows relationships to grow. My generation weren’t lucky enough to have such instruments. It took us a long time. It still takes us a long time. I think that it is normal to give people these instruments today. The Norwegians, amongst others, back the Forut. I feel that it is my duty as a filmmaker to find young people who want to learn the rudiments of filmmaking and to teach them.
I have shot a film about the mentally ill, which has not been edited yet. I made it with youngsters who worked as my assistants. There are a lot of filmmakers, but there are even more young people, so if we want things to advance and for Africa to have a dynamic film industry, we have to teach our children especially with these new tools.
I believe that these films will be the future of African film. They are universal. I get tired of certain films that only show what’s beautiful. If you show me the person looking at that beauty, then I find it interesting. We are at risk of losing our audience if we don’t stop. Most of our audience has been to Africa. They’ve seen its beauty, but it isn’t about beauty alone. So let’s show them the reality. Congo is a beautiful country, but that’s not what matters most.
Documentary filmmaking seems to be emerging, especially in Dakar. There are people who have the necessary structures, like Cheick Tidiane Ndiaye, for example. Is there any hope that television will eventually take up the relay?
I think that television is going to have to very soon. People don’t realise that the system has changed, that the arguments have changed. Who could have told me, « Moussa Touré, you will make two films in two years? » Before, everybody knew when you were shooting a film. Now, nearly no one knew that I was making this film. There will be material that the television can show. TV5 has bought this film. They will no doubt buy other films of mine, and not just fiction films. A cinematographic life is becoming established. Africa is about documentaries, everybody knows that.
Perspectives are changing. Up until now, it was mainly Westerners who came to shoot documentaries in Africa.
We continue to feed this system by making fiction films. Who really argues? You write a proposal, you send it off to find funding. There are judges even if some of them are African. Their vision always differs.
Are you referring to your own experience with your film TGV?
Yes, exactly. I am stubborn, cinematographically speaking, a Senegalese Breton!
What obstacles need to be overcome to allow this documentary trend, this film that is very deeply rooted in local life, to flourish?
People’s visions need to be unravelled first. I would like to get all my friends together and to say: « listen, something’s going on here. You all know that we don’t have an audience anymore. » As soon as we have an audience, pluralities will emerge in many domains.
Does this depend on the exhibitors and distributors?
No, it depends on the filmmakers first and foremost. The exhibitors are waiting for us in Africa because they have realised that African film is cheaper, that even if the movie theatres are small, and you screen DV, it’s still real cinema. They have realised that their original arguments were ill founded. I have screened this film in Africa. There are neighbourhood film festivals too. Exhibitors are talking about that at the moment. I heard that Bassek [Ba Kobhio] wants to set up equipment in Cameroon. Khalilo Ndiaye has the necessary equipment in Dakar, which is now nearly ready. And I have a product. Things are moving very fast. Filmmakers are the ones who are going to be left behind because they insist on using celluloid.
When you talk about equipment, do you mean video projection equipment?
Yes. The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s representative came to see me recently. I told him to resolve the problem by giving us video projectors. We have the products not just me, Mweze has made a film, and maybe others too. I have never felt so good, cinematographically speaking. Never. I have a feature film project which will be made differently. I have a new way of looking at feature films. I will produce it myself. You know what I will ask the producer? To bring me a digital editing suite. That doesn’t cost much at all. Afterwards, we’ll take it from there. If it isn’t screenable in France, it will be in Senegal, and that’s what matters.
But how does that work vis-à-vis the producers given that screenings in Africa don’t make much money
Yes they do. Screening on video can make money. Prices are going to fall. What wouldn’t make much would be to shoot on DV then to transfer onto film. DV doesn’t cost a lot, and entrance tickets don’t need to cost much either. People know that.
Will things stay within in the movie theatre network?
The movie theatre network and other networks too, such as VHS video, for example, like in Congo. VHS is highly popular there. There aren’t any cinemas anymore. Haroun was one of the first Africans to open the door with Bye Bye Africa. He opened my eyes. He opened all of our eyes, and it’s a shame that he has shut that door just as he was going in that direction. What he did was beautiful, light, it was possible. And he’s gone back to celluloid, to interminable screenplays. Come back into the fold, Haroun! It’s me who’s asking you, because there are a lot of people who have returned. What goes on in France and in Africa is different.
I used to be up there and I’ve changed. Other people have projects like mine in Africa, they have made a start, and I believe that that’s what’s going to work. I’m absolutely convinced of it.
What was it that made this exchange so rich? These kids must have been wary. There was a camera present. Even if they wanted to cooperate, an initial relationship had to be established. What broke the ice?
That’s what I was saying earlier. I have no problem, especially not with children. They look at me and it works. You can’t explain it. But, to answer your question anyway, it’s all in the face. I noticed that my children look at the faces of friends who come to visit first. And at that very moment, they either accept or don’t. Only after that do they look at your clothes. They looked at me. Children see everything. Everything! They are the ones who hold the key. They look at you and say, « Ok, I can trust that guy ».
Did your position as a foreigner, and the fact that you only spoke French pose a problem at all?
No, no, no. It’s a country where nearly everyone speaks French. They aren’t very traditional like us in West Africa. The Central Africans have accepted a lot of things. We are very traditional, with our boubous and so forth. They are more suit-and-ties, in their minds too. They are cut off from African culture. It’s a great source of frustration for them. There is a small minority that is very cultural, but there is very little homogeneity.
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