Implementing policy with wisdom

Interview with Henri-Joseph Kumba Bididi, by Olivier Barlet

Ouagadougou, Fespaco 2001
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We are currently witnessing the emergence of a new Gabonese cinema after 22 years without feature films. What caused this revival possible?
The revival of the Gabonese film industry started around 10 years ago. With the way that film is structured in Africa we hardly get any private funding. All over Africa, we need support from the State. For example, the head of the national film centre, Charles Mensah, tries to juggle his budget to cover both feature films and television. He alternates feature films with television series, soaps and documentaries. The kinds of initiatives that the government has implemented over the past few years help us glean funding from here and there to complete our budgets.
For your first feature film you chose political corruption and politicians’ excesses as your theme. Isn’t it a bit of dangerous subject for Gabon?
The central story features a woman who tries to get her husband to see reason, and the husband’s liaison with another woman. It’s the powerful emotions that work between them that are of interest to me and that justified the story in the film. However, you can’t talk about a cabinetmaker if you don’t talk about his workshop and the husband is a parliamentary representative… The political aspect is only secondary to the story – I don’t deal with it in any detail. The film is built on humour and since it’s not the central theme I was able to treat it as a joke.
Politics is nevertheless extremely present. They’re candidates and they’re all corrupt…
You can see a political point of view in the young woman whose has the determination of the people. She’s after something and she screams at the top of her lungs. Sometimes people hear her cry, sometimes they don’t. The one thing that’s certain is that at the end she doesn’t enter into discussion because she’s got what she wanted. That’s where my point of view could be of interest to politicians because they could say, « We have to be careful to listen to the needs of the people « .
You’re not afraid that people will see you film as a perception of the « rotten » side of politics?
Far be it for me to tarnish their ideas. From the outset, I created a comedy with numerous undertones. I am not dictating what is morally correct. I have simply presented some situations and emotions, leaving the viewer free to do what they want with them, to decipher the message for themselves, although I do provide signposts from time to time. It’s no coincidence that the girl is called Aurore. She has a healthy attitude to the world.
It’s always the women who are positive. This is the same in lots of other films – there’s a depreciation of the male characters while the women are very humane and manage their affairs extremely well.
Women know what they want. When a woman wants something she puts all her passion into obtaining it. My film is a tribute to African women and to women in general.
Why a comedy?
It’s the easiest way to safely discuss politics. And at the same time, on a personal level for the hero, it’s a tragedy.
In your film, does the impotence of the corrupt politician hold the same political importance as in Sembene’s Xala?
It helped construct the film. At the end the sap starts flowing again because he has understood that he had to share something.
Do you think derision is the best way to expose ideas?
That’s my perspective.
What was it like working with Wasis Diop on the soundtrack?
Great. He asked for a videotape. After lengthy discussions we retained « My Son » as the theme. There’s a moral message but people are capable of thinking for themselves.

///Article N° : 5564


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