Interview with Abderrahmane Sissako, by Olivier Barlet

Cannes 1998
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I am struck by the continuity of your personal involvement in La Vie sur terre, Rostov-Luanda, and even October.
When you work as a filmmaker, you have an intense desire to express yourself and I think that the best way to do so is to speak about oneself, or one’s experiences. It’s the best way to bridge the gap with the Other. Although there are some similarities, each film is a lesson in itself, a lesson in life. When I get close to the people I want to film, the confusion inside me gradually clears: I find what I’m lacking in the Other, and tap into it. I can see myself in the Other, and can accept myself more. I think this is what is vital in the gaze. In Sokolo, my father taught me a lesson. I wanted to film him and he made me understand that if I wanted to talk about him, I had to film the others too. I didn’t really know where I was going and I didn’t have to persuade anyone to trust me.
That’s what you express at the end of the film: the achieving of a sense of solidarity in the world that involves both recognizing something of oneself in the Other, and something of the Other in oneself.
Absolutely. Which is why I hope that this film is a hymn to justice, to love, to sharing, to respect, is understood as a philosophy of life, not especially an African one, a life on earth possible even in a place where it is difficult to keep one’s feet on the ground.
There is a constant tension between the gentleness of gaze directed at the people and the violence of Césaire’s text.
That’s right. It was absolutely vital to avoid creating a magnificent image of a peaceful village! Sokolo is about pain! It is also about the rejection of the people who’ve abandoned it. And Sokolo is sensitive to Other people’s indifference! This death that hobbles along, as Césaire puts it. It was important to create a harmony between the two terms.
Hence the emphasis on communication, on communication with the outside world in particular?
The intention to communicate is more important than communication itself. When you decide to talk to the Other, a loving gesture has been made. If somebody wants to speak to me, it means I exist in their eyes. We never hear what the Other says in reply. It’s the same with the radio: Radio France International musn’t assume that we always understand them, it is the attempt at listening that matters. And that shows and constantly proves how universal African culture is.
You cite Césaire’s phrase « life is not a show » at the beginning of the film. Isn’t that a contradiction with cinema?
I try to avoid making a show. Africa has been filmed in a showy manner so many times. Other people’s suffering is not a show.
You cite him again: « Europe overestimates itself »…
I do not make revolutionary films, but it is important to speak one’s mind, out of love for the Other, but without silencing him/her! A symbolic pardon has not yet taken place. Europe is now glorifying the people who abolished the slave trade. It hasn’t stopped overestimating itself….
Why does the young woman look sad?
She represents energy, beauty, the woman who takes control of things, her courage, her audacity. But I didn’t want her smile to permanently erase the sadness that I felt in her. I always try to find the just measure, an equilibrium.
« Force is not in us, but above us », Césaire says again…
I don’t know if that’s what Césaire was trying to say… I sense that we don’t have force today, but that we can see it and aim for it. That’s what I’m trying to do with this film, which is at times a cry, but more often a whisper. Other people do so every day in their own lives. I am not at the forefront of the struggle. My form is visible, but others are more meritorious.
In the film you wear an outfit that is quite unlike that of the local inhabitants.
I like to give a free reign to chance, references, the play of the Other. When I left Bamako to go to Sokolo, my mother gave me that outfit, and the hat was given to me in Sokolo. Everybody wears them in the sun. My uncle gave all the crew a hat… It is part of the return, of highlighting what one has.
In Rostov-Luanda you said that you belong to a generation that still believes in the future. One gets the impression that you repeat this in this film…
I told Raymond Depardon when I saw his film Afriques, comment ça va avec la douleur? that you cannot suffer more than those who are really suffering. In Sokolo I saw people who were suffering, but who didn’t complain. Every meeting is a lesson. That’s where hope lies.
You include another Césaire phrase: « ear pressed to the ground, I heard tomorrow pass »
The year 2000 is already here. The future is already present. My uncle hopes to suffer less than last year. I hope my film sharpens a sense of responsibility and sharing.
You decided to express this request for help in the film.
It is asked for in the intimacy of a letter to his brother. Help is sharing. I can help, as yesterday someone helped me. Its a chain of sharing.

///Article N° : 5312

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