In 2003, a documentary crew led by Samba Gadjigo traveled to Djerisso (Burkina Faso) to film the making of Sembene’s Moolaade, his last feature film. In 1989, Djibril Diop Mambety had made a similar trip in the same country to document the shooting of Idrissa Ouedraogo’s Yaaba. In the words of Olivier Barlet, the ensuing film, Parlons grand-mère is a »sensitive, uncommented » take « on an African film shoot » (1) . Djibril, who then fully enjoyed a warm, deep voice, is heard several times in the voice-over, repeating a plea of dignity for African filmmakers, Africa and the younger generation: « Cinema or not cinema, grand-mother will avenge the child they have brought to its knees! » No such pronouncements occur in Gadjigo’s documentary, but his relentless pursuit of Sembene and his crew, the earnestness of his interlocutors, their almost visceral concerns for a broken camera, an overheated projector or simply being able to work under the sweltering heat is comparable to Mambéty’s plea for « honneur et respect ». The Making of Moolaade is a film mode-d’emploi, one that concretely complements the writings of Manthia Diawara on « le mégotage » (2) of African cinema, the research of Claire Andrade on the (3) financing of African films, and the musings of Olivier Barlet on African actors and directors. More significantly, The Making of Moolaade illustrates the unchanging conditions of African filmmaking since the 1970s: The number of trained film actors is increasing by the year, yet to a large extent, the film director has to train the majority of the latter. Scene after scene in The Making of Moolaade, Gadjigo shows village women being trained by members of the film crew, young girls being taught the dance of the excised, and excisers (the saldanas) being instructed on how to handle the latter.
African filmmakers have long known about the dearth of technical and support crew for their films. Gadjigo convincingly shows that almost every actor on the set of Moolaade doubles as an assistant of some kind: Georgette Paré, one of the women actors in the film, is not only casting agent, but also public relations person and at times interpreter between Sembene and his Jula speaking actresses. The proverbial veteran in the film, Mercenaire, is also first Assistant director. When he is not mediating between Sembene and his Malian or Burkinabe actors, he makes sure that Sembène’s instructions are well executed by various actors. Clarence Delgado, long time associate of Ousmane Sembène, remains behind the scene at all times, but his work can be felt throughout: He helped Sembene find the location of Djerisso after miles and miles of travel through the African Savannah, scouted for the technical infrastructure of the film (electricity, water, places for the crew to stay etc ). Both Delgado and Bassori agree with Mbye Baboucar Cham that filmmaking on a continent that is devoid of funding, distribution and production infrastructure is a daunting adventure: « It’s even a miracle, given the limited means at their disposal, that African film-makers are able to make films at all, and once such films are made, the other major hurdle is getting them out to the spectator. People have to see a film before it can make a career, both artistically and commercially (4). »
Delgado who for years headed the « Association des Cineastes Sénégalais » goes as far as stating that « one has to be nuts » to undertake such ventures. Yet year after year, films are being announced. The Fespaco still manages to attribute its prizes. Some films, Moolaade is a case in point, are even being considered at the Cannes film festival. The continent still counts filmmakers eager to tell their stories, to show African people as people -warts and all-, but also as people resolute to chart their own destinies. It is this indomitable spirit that Gadjigo’s film documents.
1. Olivier Barlet « Djibril Diop Mambety: The One and only » in http://www.africultures.com/anglais/articles_anglais/Mambety.htm. Acessed May 2, 2006.
2. Manthia Diawara African Cinema: politics and Culture. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 167. See also Guy Hennebelle « Entretien avec Ousmane Sembene » in Afrque littéraire et artitisque 49 (1978).
3. See Olivier Barlet Decolonizing the Gaze. London: Zed Books, 2000.
4. Martin Jumbam « Interview with M.B Cham » in http://www.martinjumbam.com/. Accessed May 2, 2006. ///Article N° : 5748