On his film « Tasuma, le feu »

Interview with Daniel Sanou Kollo, by Olivier Barlet

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You carried this screenplay for fifteen years…
Yes, it evolved and matured with all the hurdles on the way. I suffered several disappointments with various producers. In the end it was my meeting with Les Films du Mogho, run by Toussaint Tiendrébéogo, that enabled me to finalise the project which is now finished. It was originally meant to be a historical film that told the story of a veteran soldier after his release from the French army. The former tirailleur infantrymen who served for 15 years now live on pensions that they receive every quarter. Their pensions scarcely amount to a third of what the French receive. The others who served « 90 days on the frontline » and who are now 65 years old are entitled to a so-called « combatant’s pension ». My hero belongs to this second group.
There is now talk about « de-crystallising » all soldiers’ pensions, but it is far from being a foregone conclusion!
I don’t want to enter into this argument. I am an artist and I wanted to deal with a historical reality, but I don’t make « pamphleteer films », as Sembene put it. My work is more of an observation. I nonetheless feel that it is only just for France to opt for this de-crystallisation at last.
You have worked on a lot of television productions.
I got my training in television and have indeed worked on a lot of TV productions, notably a well-known programme in Burkina called « l’Etat des faits », which denounces corruption, delinquency, and so forth. It takes a lot of initiative and we work within very short delays. Even on « Taxi-Brousse », a series I made with Beninese colleagues, you have to be efficient and good in a very short space of time and with very few means. That has seriously warped me! For « Tasuma », I shot in terms of what I felt about the event. I wasn’t spoilt for finances thanks to dishonesty of the previous producers, which diminished the budget. I had very little film stock to shoot with, but a team of good Burkinabè and French technicians. The atmosphere on the shoot was excellent and that contributed to the result.
Why are you so determined to make films when it’s so hard?
A film takes ten years on average to finish when you live in Africa! I started this one in 1987! I decided to hang on in there with this subject, with the support of those who showed that they believed in the project by funding it. Its theme concerns the whole of Africa and the French too. It’s a subject I had carried since childhood, as my father fought in the Indochina and Algerian wars.
« Paweogo » made me realise that film in Africa doesn’t pay, even if it might make you famous. We do or don’t make useful works and that’s how you leave a trace! « Paweogo » addressed the young people who emigrate to Côte d’Ivoire, telling them that it wasn’t heaven on earth! History has now caught up with the film…
I also think that, despite our cinema’s real funding problems, Africa must not be absent from the history of world cinema.
The mad character is central and determines the rhythm of the film.
He sort of represents my viewpoint. It isn’t gratuitous derision. He sees further. He already imagines what will happen to the character as soon as he or she sets off. I tried to position myself in relation to this madman: it’s a reference to my country’s history, a sarcastic vision of day-to-day life, of these war veterans who fight for their dues which often never arrive until after they die. The madman is sort of the filmmaker too: we cannot develop film stock in our country! He even asks the Lebanese character to buy the film. We have turned ourselves into beggars. It’s an old story that we know the solutions for, but delay in applying!
You don’t attack France.
It’s not a pamphleteer film. I have no scores to settle with France. I make a film to entertain and to get people to think at the same time. The war veteran’s problem is politically very well known and it isn’t the filmmakers who will find a solution. I simply inform both Africans and the French about the injustice inflicted on the war veterans. I wanted to avoid connivance: there’s no need to hammer the message home to please the audience. « Paweogo » raised young people’s awareness so that they would invest more in the country, not through pure nationalism, but in their own interest. « Tasuma » has a clear discourse which does not need to be polemical.
You revive memory by including the tirailleur songs.
I was fortunate enough to work with war veterans who actually fought in Indochina and Algeria (those who fought in the Second World War are often now dead). I rediscovered the tirailleur tunes that my father used to hum, like « Les Africains », a military march that is still used today. This gives a certain gaiety and, along with the griotte who sings Sogo’s praises very well, I wanted to pay homage to them too.
Did you father hand this memory down to you?
I didn’t learn it like in a tale, but I experienced it full-on because I lived with him in the Bobo Dioulasso military camp (the French base before independence) when I was very small, in his world, with his fellow soldiers. What really struck me was these men’s suffering, and their dignity from having fought for a cause, even if they couldn’t explain it. It had warped them. People often took them for madmen because their behaviour could be surprising, like an uncle who sounded the bugle in the village because he had been a bugler in the army. He used to take a grenade out of his pocket to show me what it was like…
But there were never any tragedies. The grenades never went off. They never used them because they had this dignity. My character goes to threaten the administration with an uncharged arm. He has a conscience. Today we need to acknowledge that dignity and render them justice.
The Lebanese character turns out to be a good sort at the end of the day…
It was important to make him human: the women ask to pay him with their cereals and Sogo gives them for free. The Lebanese traders are becoming integrated. They are taking nationality, but aren’t always given a favourable press. I decided to make him a partner. I didn’t want to join the argument that they are just crooks. They are integrated and make their contribution to the community, even to sporting events. They aren’t necessarily dishonest. In the film, it’s his client who takes advantage of him. Khalil kept his own name in the film. He really is a trader in Bobo and is passionate about film. He already played the role of the white man in « Bal Poussière ».
One detects an opposition in the film between the perversity of the town and the humanity of village relationships.
I simply portray Burkina’s present reality. My aim isn’t to oppose the town and the countryside, but that is what happens. Customs are still practiced, such as marriages of interest, female circumcision, levirate (marrying a dead relative’s wife so that she stays in the family). These practices still exist and associations and the Ministry of Social Affairs fight against them.
You were keen to keep a good dose of humour in the dialogues.
Yes. The Fulani and the Bobo have a joking alliance, for example. We adhere to it. As they are allied, they have the right to abuse one another without getting upset. The Mossi and Samo do the same. I made use of this African-style humour to set my story in the village. The cow’s explosion is part of this. In joking alliances, we even laugh over corpses. Diallo, the Fulani whose cow explodes, and who urges the chief to give his daughter to Sogo, is a good example in the film.
The lighting is very polished. It is particularly used to accentuate people’s faces during the night scenes.
Keo Kosal Nara, our Cambodian lighting-cameraman’s experience contributed a great deal to filming and lighting of the black skins. What interested me was to concentrate on the main character’s humanity to give him the chance to be as convincing as possible, and the director of photography helped me a great deal in that respect.
Sogo is a spirited and positive character! He shows wonderful determination!
That is part of my memories too – my father, my uncles who fought in the French army. They were the pioneers of independence. Before the trade union struggles emerged in West Africa, they contributed their experience and their open-mindedness. They were at the forefront of modernity. They didn’t all adopt Sogo’s position, but were for more justice and brought modernity to the villages. The first flourmill in my village was introduced by a tirailleur! Today, people invest more in the big urban centres than in the villages. They were rural folk: they were conscripted into the army in their villages. They returned there to participate.
Sogo is ultimately a warrior who opts for peace!
Sogo’s pride of having been in the army is his raison d’être. His past legitimates his demands. He bears this past through his clothing and his accessories. But it is a hard past to bear. Sogo represents everything that these people have been through and put up with, the weight of war and the injustice that followed. The bullets made no distinction, but afterwards they went and used different living standards as an excuse to pay people less!
The films « Sarzan » and « Camp de Thiaroye » deal with the trauma of war and the awareness of what France owed them. « Tasuma » is more a homage to these people overlooked by history. The main character in my film is obsessed with war: it triggered his consciousness. The film ends on the Zao song to signify his pacifism.

///Article N° : 5665


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