Nigerian filmmaker Mustapha Alassane was made Knight of the Legion of Honour during the 2007 Cannes Festival. Véronique Cayla, director of the CNC (Editor’s Note: French film institute) made the traditional tribute speech, below, that was followed by the filmmaker’s reply.
Mustapha Alassane, good afternoon. You have always been and still are a committed man and we would like to pay tribute to you. Born in 1942 in N’Dougou in Niger, you are an autodidact and have a passion for mechanics. You learnt the techniques of filmmaking thanks to a providential encounter with Jean Rouch, a Niger lover, who became your friend and now rests in peace in your country. Then you left for Canada where you trained in animation under the direction of Norman McLaren.
Your first film Aouré (Wedding), a short about marriage traditions in a village of Niger, won awards in 1963. In 1965, you made the first African animated film, La mort de Gandji, an allegory that draws on a legend about a toad king and his courtiers. With Sim the toad, who becomes king of the toads and president of the Toad Republic, who goes on a diplomatic mission in a neighboring republic, you painted the amusing and uncompromising portrait of the early African republics of the sixties in the amazing Bon voyage, Sim. Fifteen years later, Sim the toad featured again in Kokoa, another ironic tale in which the people are cordially invited to come and watch a wrestling match between the chameleon, the frog, the bird and the gecko. Sim the toad could have been one of La Fontaine’s creations: you master the art of telling tales to perfection.
In 1966, you surprised us again with the parodic medium-length film Le retour d’un aventurier (The Return of an Adventurer), the first African western that we recently had the pleasure of discovering at the Cinemas of the South pavilion. Djibril Diop Mambéty, the late Senegalese filmmaker and another great figure of African cinema, was marked by this major work that inspired him for one of his masterpieces, Touki Bouki.
FVVA: Femme, Voiture, Villa, Argent, your first evocatively titled feature film in 1972, is a satire denouncing the nouveaux riches’ ruthless ambition and thirst for power in Africa. This film marked all generations of young Africans. In 1977, your remarkable mixture of puppets and sketched and painted sets revealed its true power in your film Samba le grand, an ancient legend about the always tricky relations of love and power.
Today, you have more than thirty films to your name, including animations, fiction films and documentaries that reproduce social situations and the mores of your country and continent with an ironic and satirical eye. Your commitment to cinema continued when you became director of the Cinema department at the university of Niamey for fifteen years. Insatiable, you also turned to distribution. With a minibus and a few film projectors, you toured Niger, sharing your passion with your compatriots even in the most remote areas of your country.
Through your prolific creation and your perpetual commitment, you contributed in the sixties and seventies to making Niger a great filmmaking country along with Oumar Ouganda, Moustapha Diop and Djingarey Maïga. Today, you live in Tahoua in the north of Niger, in your hotel where you have turned a few rooms into shooting and editing studios. From home, you continue ploughing your furrow You are pursuing your work by learning computer graphics and virtual editing, a good way, according to you, of working without leaving your Tahoua that you like so much. Because you are aware of the importance of transmission and heritage, you have conveyed your enthusiasm to your sons and neighbours who manipulate the puppets for your animated films, which remains your true passion. You are Africa’s reference for film animation. If young African filmmakers owe you so much respect, it is because you are the most lively and alert of all: a « fantastic young imp hidden in the skin of an old monkey », as one of your biographers said. Tonight, I make the wish, with all those who are here, that this energy and conviction keep spurring you on for a long time: we all need it dearly. Mr Mustapha Alassane, on behalf of the president of the Republic, and by virtue of the powers conferred upon me, we hereby make you Knight of the Legion of Honour.
Thank you. What you have done for me today is a gesture towards my country and especially all of Africa. We have here children from North Africa, South Africa, from everywhere, and African children of the Diaspora. All of them came when they heard about the initiative you had taken for us. For years, I have benefited from the backing of the CNC since the sixties. I regret that some people, like Jean Rouch, who did a lot for African cinema, are now gone. I would have like them to be here with me today to attend this ceremony.
We believe that we should benefit even more from the CNC, whether we are European or African filmmakers. We hope that, with the renewal of the whole system, you will not forget about the African countries which have started taking steps to improve audiovisual means for television, cinemas, etc. These countries need your help. The aid we have received from France corresponds to 5 % of what we ought to receive. You must keep on helping us so we can keep on working! Countries like Nigeria have found the way to produce the equivalent of 1300 films a year, that are seen by everyone. They have developed an ideal system; we want to be able to do the same in Francophone countries. I thank all of those who are present and who wish for the youth to continue in our footsteps. Those who create may expect to be rewarded: that is God’s decision. May God help us and you. Thank you.
Translated by Céline Dewaele///Article N° : 6682