Interview with Souleymane Cissé, by Olivier Barlet

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Brigitte Baudin (Le Figaro), Renaud de Rochebrune (Jeune Afrique), and I met up with Souleymane Cissé for an informal discussion at one of the Hotel Indépendance’s poolside tables. Notes on Cissé’s answers during the course of a desultory conversation

Our cinema is currently going to the dogs. We have to stop and take stock of what we have done. I made « Waati » in 1995 and I haven’t shot a film for seven years, despite really wanting to. We set up the UCECAO in 1997 to give African film a new boost, and I am now going to delegate the running of it so that I can work on my next film, which is about a young boy.
Despite the new technology, you still need a big budget. It’s the big adventures that pay off the best at the end of the day. It’s not a waste. If there is still a political desire to produce 35 mm film, I will happily comply!
Our profession can create jobs. We mustn’t keep falling into the same traps. We need to pool our regional potential to get things off the ground once and for all and to put an end to the backstabbing. We lose out on every front when we start infighting. We have to pool all our potential to make films. Brazilian film got back on its feet in the space of two years thanks to a political desire. Everybody pooled their efforts and the results are now there for all to see on screens everywhere, with productions that are keeping Brazilian cinema alive, and with the best people.
DVCams are a real chance for young people. We need to create small structures where they can produce. Audiences also need to adapt to this product. We have the example of the Nigerian experience. People make a living from film there and they attract big audiences, even if the quality isn’t always great. We need to use our countries’ limited resources to set up a film centre. We will be inviting the African cinema professionals and decision-makers to discuss this in Bamako in January 2004.
Mali’s new minister is a politician. He turned to filmmaking to expose his politics. That’s all that I want to say on the matter. It’s not for us to judge him. He is welcome to make things advance.
I have to back today’s generation, but we mustn’t encourage them to think that you make films with one million. Film is a technique and you need the means to make people dream and travel.
You cannot isolate yourself if you want this profession to advance. I said so in ’97 when I got treated like public enemy number one. It’s the only combat that young people have left. The FEPACI is the directors’ union organisation, but not that of the producers and distributors.
« Yeelen » is the most contemporary film that I have ever made. It’s a timeless story that projects itself in the future. Images need to encourage this conception of life. I was able to say what I wanted to in the film. This was perhaps incomplete or overstated in my other films. Those that understood this understood the full significance of the film.
In « Waati« , I put my finger on a problem that I shouldn’t have posed, as apartheid was seen as being over. There are films on the war and the Nazis, but we don’t have the same degree of awareness here. Issues raised by an African are not given the same reception. If an African-American had made « Waati », it would have been different. The white South Africans fought hard, but the film remains. If I could make it again, I would go even further. With hindsight, I think I have understood things better.
Showing things to be calmer in Côte d’Ivoire bothered people. People know that students dress smartly in this country. That bothered people – an Ivoirian paradise compared to a South African hell. If we made it again today, we’d have to speak about the death squads. A new 110-minute version is in the pipeline, rather than the original 140 minutes, with a new mix and a new soundtrack.
When I was making « Yeelen« , I never thought the film would be exoticised. My aim was to set up a dialogue with myself first of all, to know what my existence would be in the future. The problems posed in this film continue to grow clearer today. What is changing is the relationship to magic. If I make a film today, I have to manage to project the human being into the vision of the world.
There are forces that cause you to modernise. I have no complexes about this. The calabash has important significations in our environment. I shouldn’t have to feel ashamed when I speak about myself.
Every time I make a film, I am fortunate enough not to have to work with someone. Toscan was the only co-producer. I always produce my own films.
I live in a dazzling universe that encourages me to keep exploring expression.

///Article N° : 5670

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