Writing on Walls

Documentary, the future of African cinema?

In following the issues and day-to-day workings of a neighbourhood video-club in Ouagadougou, home of the FESPACO and capital of African cinema, my latest work, « Sacred Places », allowed me to question my own work as a filmmaker in Africa, and to consider the direction that cinema is taking on the continent. Offering a personal reading of both past and present documentary filmmaking in Africa, this article aims to continue that reflection, raising one of today’s most salient questions: that of transmission. As the visionary Abbo reminds us in « Sacred Places »: « In the beginning was the word… » But who is speaking? And to say what to whom?

When I arrived in Ouagadougou for my first Fespaco in 1983, I was struck by the intensity and abundance of debates about African film. In the endless discussions to define African cinema and its future, one of the points that kept coming up was the impression that the first films by African filmmakers were either documentary in style or of documentary value. This overriding view apparently emerged as most of these first films – « Afrique sur Seine », « Contras’City », « Borom Sarret », to name but a few – took place in urban settings, with characters often playing their real-life roles. Moreover, the content of these stories, often rooted in the social and political context of the time, led many people somewhat disparagingly to equate these films with documentaries, at a time when documentary film had not achieved the levels of popularity it has gained in recent years with the films of Michael Moore and other European and American directors. If realism in African cinema led critics to associate narrative films with documentaries at a time when documentary did not have the appeal of fiction film, who can blame African filmmakers for turning their backs on realistic stories...

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Les images de l'article
Affiche de Lieux Saints (Sacred Places)
Abbo, le personnage de Lieux Saints qui écrit sur les murs.
Samba Felix NDiaye en conversation.
Jean-Marie Teno
Video Club
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