« The revival of Africa will occur through knowledge »

Ousmane Sembène's Press conference at the Ecrans Noirs festival, Yaoundé, June 6 2004

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As his film Moolade was presented at the Ecrans Noirs festival closing ceremony in his absence due to a flight delay; Ousmane Sembène agreed to meet the press and the audience the following morning at the festival’s village. Bassek ba Kobhio personally handed him a prize offered by PMU Cameroon, the festival’s sponsor, as well as a check representing the Ecrans noirs award of the year.

Ousmane Sembène: Central Africa isn’t the underbelly of African film anymore. We must consolidate! We don’t make films to get rich: we must grow wings. I didn’t break my wings so I’m here with you.
Question from Jean-Marie Mollo Olinda (film critic, president of the Cinépresse association): How were the young actresses during the filming, these four little girls who escape female circumcision? Secondly, you’ve been planning to make a major production for a long time: where is it at?
Actors, they’re like a cooking recipe. Do we ask a woman how she prepared the food? It’s good or it’s not. I always work with my actors for a couple of weeks before. You must be patient. Africans are too talkative! You must know how to remain quiet. Silence scares Africans! Actors have to learn how to remain silent, to walk, to look. It’s not a school, something that I invented, it’s a method. In Moolade, they speak Manding and Pulaar, but I wonder how the viewers who don’t understand these languages can understand, between the subtitles and the acting.
Samory: I don’t have the means but the screenplay is ready and the location spotting has been carried out. It should be four-hours long, with an eight-month shoot, a 200-strong crew. It’s quite an investment.
Question: You blame Islam, but isn’t it an integral part of African culture?
The strength of African culture is that we have accepted all religions without losing our culture. Religion is a structure, not a basis. Excision isn’t due to Islam. I carried out extensive research in order to make that film. It’s the African continent that practices it but not Muslims only. Ethiopians, who are not, practise it. It’s an affront to women’s dignity. Circumcised or not, a woman can go to Mecca. We don’t practice scarification on the body anymore, or elongated women’s necks: it is possible to change! The women were listening to a different voice on the radio so they burnt down radios: are we going to accept the others’ input? We must take the best of it. No civilization has been built without others’ input. In order to renew ourselves, we must see ourselves as we are, have the courage to criticize ourselves. Moolade is the second in the trilogy « L’Héroïsme au quotidien » (« Daily Heroism »). This woman bears the repercussions: are we going to advance and keep our dignity? It has nothing to do with religion.
Question: Hasn’t the issue been sufficiently addressed already?
In films, we often address the same questions but each generation renews them. Zarah Yacoub tackled the issue in Chad with Feminine Dilemma and received a fatwa! I hesitated to give the film its African premiere in Cameroon because it’s not practiced everywhere here. Some countries have voted laws against it. Some haven’t had the same courage. It has to be denounced. It’s not a religious act. Only the hadîths mention it, which were written one hundred years after the Prophet’s death. It is said that a tiny bit can be cut. It isn’t said whether it is right or wrong. Female circumcision isn’t practised in Saudi Arabia. In Sudan, they cut and sew. It’s even more serious. It’s linked to our freedom. It is done to four or five year-old children. It’s a terrible imposition. From the 25th of June, I’ll be in Burkina Faso, in Mali, in Senegal to show the film. It’ll be an element of reflection, a militant film.
Question from Roger Alain Taakam (the daily Mutations): your film is militant but also very violent; isn’t it a problem? The television aerial replaces the ostrich’s egg, you position yourself within globalization. Isn’t it African tradition that is disappearing?
The ostrich’s egg that is on the top of the mosque signifies in Bambara mythology that the world was born in an ostrich’s egg. The mosques feature it: they’re in contradiction with Islam, which imposes the crescent moon. Does the television aerial really matter? It’s what we put on the screens the problem, not the equipment in itself! We must have our television, our culture and speak to the others. Europe is not our model anymore morally speaking. Our African governments have turned us into alimentary canals but they don’t have any culture. Man doesn’t live on manioc or bread alone. The revival of Africa will occur through knowledge and it is happening now. We haven’t assimilated the others’ input yet.
In our countries, there is a constant violence. We’re used to killings, and to power seeking. I depicted us the way we are. Violence isn’t gratuitous: it’s politically motivated. There’s not a single gunshot in my film. You see in it the internal violence imposed on women. I’ll be more violent next time, then!
Question from Bella Sita, who was the first actress in Cameroon, (and to whom the Ecran Noirs festival paid tribute by showing a film on the closing evening): my brother, the fact that a woman couldn’t step behind the camera is a violence too. I’ve never been to these places, but after I saw the film, it was as if I had lived there. When you give and receive, you must be everywhere. Is it possible to translate into languages we understand: reading the text makes us loose a lot of it? When are we going to have real African productions?
Technology allows us to dub in every African languages. That’s what we’re trying to do for the film with South Africa. The market economy rules, you must have the means. But the image of Africans is political. We’re not represented on our screens. Senegalese channels don’t broadcast any African films. I don’t have any solutions until things improve in our countries. We have money: we’d rather buy castles in Europe or have two or three wives instead of investing in films! We need a surplus of exploitation: movie theatres are closing. Senegal had 80 cinemas. There are only around fifteen left now…
Bella Sita: And we’ve got only one cinema in Yaoundé!!
Television is used as a platform for the government, which means that nobody watches it. Our countries take into account folklore and football. Our heads of state are afraid to think, and even more if it’s a woman who thinks!
Question: Were the women who fight against female circumcision in the film excised? Did you try to get their opinion on female circumcision?
I researched for two years. The women who played in the film were all excised but they categorically refuse to excise their daughters. They act together in associations and travel these countries’ rural areas to do away with excision.
Question: What about the third episode of « L’Héroïsme au quotidien »?
The third opus will deal with corruption. The Senegalese people are as corrupted as you! I’ll shoot it at home in Dakar!

Translated by Sutarni Riesenmey///Article N° : 6933


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