Interview with Flora Gomes and Serge Zeitoun, by Olivier Barlet

Cannes, May 2002
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Flora Gomes (director of « Po di Sangui », which was selected for a previous Cannes Official Competition) had hoped to finish his film « Nah Fala » in time for this year’s Cannes, but it wasn’t to be. We met him and his producer to find out more about his much-awaited musical.

This project is very dear to you. What is it about?
It’s true that I have been fighting for this film for nearly six years. Music plays an important role in Africa – music, the musicians, and what is actually sung too. A young African woman gets a grant to go to study in Europe, but mustn’t sing due to a tradition that has it that women die if they sing. She meets a young musician who gets her to sing. Song is the freedom to say what we think.
How did you manage to make such a demanding film given all that Guinea-Bissau has been through over the last few years?
It was all down to various encounters. It’s an ambitious film that involved big risks and everybody was motivated by this adventure! The team was fantastic and the meeting with Fatou Ndiaye (who played « Fatou la Malienne » on TV) for the leading role was decisive. She learnt Creole very quickly for the film. I had intended to dub her, but when I saw how well she was managing, I kept her own voice! Manu Dibango’s support was important too. He proposed a new Manu for this film, renewing his style wonderfully well!
Women who die when they sing – does that really happen in Africa?
Salif Keïta used to say that Keïtas are not allowed to sing! But otherwise, no, I was looking for something poetic to express conflict. This young woman wants to live her life in this century and to say what she wants to about her country, her family, about humanity. That’s what made me make this film. The traditions inspire us, but we must not be prisoner to them.
There are a number of films at this year’s Cannes film festival that narrate Southerners’ desire to exist in the world.
Globalisation is inevitable, but we have to make a contribution. I never cite the name of the country where I shoot so as not to be limited to something specific. European technique inspires us and gives us a tool. The first African films, Ousmane Sembene’s films, which I greatly admire, are still very young. We have to carry on despite our weaknesses. The world is like that, made up of suffering and joy.
So, a woman heads off overseas…
My films always include someone who sets off. The woman in « Mortu Nega » walks. « Les Yeux bleus de Yonta » starts at the end of a journey. « Po di Sangui » revolves around exodus. « Na Falah » is also about displacement.
Serge Zeitun: The songs say a lot of things in the film, but Flora wanted to say them lightly, in the style of a musical. The film talks about North-South relationships, about tradition and modernity, but in a light manner.
What gave you the idea to make a musical?
When we shot the last sequence of « Po di Sangui » in Tunisia – the mirage shot in which the people sing – I wanted to make a musical. I thought about centring it on a young man, but I was advised to make it with a young woman. I apparently incarnate women better in my films!
Serge Zeitoun: The metaphor of being forbidden to sing seemed even stronger to me when applied to a woman. It is more often women who are forbidden from speaking out.
Was the project hard to get off the ground?
The producers worked very hard to make the film we have today. We could have made it faster, but not as well.
Serge Zeitoun: The main difficulty with a film that isn’t in French is that this bars us from the televisions. Even with the recent upheavals, they remain cinema’s biggest financier. We therefore had to get a capital structure together without the backing of the television companies. But given the usual budget of an African film, we did very well getting the 14.5 million FF (2.2 million €) needed to make the film. We took a whole crew over to Cape Verde, shot in Paris, and had to get the music right. All of that cost a lot of money.
Why did you shoot in Cape Verde?
Cape Verde is an island, which poses a great many logistical problems. We had to bring a lot of people over from Guinea-Bissau despite the poor flight services. It was impossible to shoot at home. The recent conflicts have devastated the country and we couldn’t guarantee that it was safe enough to shoot. But we also shot there because I consider myself Cape Verdean. We share the same Creole language. I feel good there, at home.
What problems did you encounter that stopped the film being ready for Cannes?
We had problems with the final post-production stages, with the mixing. It was impossible to make up for lost time.

///Article N° : 5596


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