Co-director of « Le Silence de la forêt »

Interview with Bassek ba Kobhio, by Olivier Barlet

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The film seems to say, « look at yourselves first ».
For several years now, I have been very interested in the question of exclusion and ethnic conflicts. The novel on which the film is based deals with the issue very well. Looking first of all at the exclusion that the Pygmies suffer from, it manages to schematise the question of racism in central Africa. Didier had an option on this book so I read it. As he has training as an editor and experience in video, I felt that we could get the project off the ground. People are only aware of the militaro-political aspects of the central African situation, but ethnic considerations are fundamental too. The Pygmies are considered a sub-class, as having no soul. At first, I was only meant to produce the film. Didier came to Cameroon to work on the outline of the project for a month and I realised that it was a fiction and that we were going to have to work together on the screenplay. We got funding from the Fonds Sud, but I felt that the screenplay was still too verbose so I contacted Marcel Beaulieu, a Canadian I met in Cameroon, who worked with film students taking the screenplay option. We were better prepared as a result, even if the screenplay was still a bit long in relation to what we had to do when we started shooting.
How did you and Didier work together?
The option that Hatier had given on the book had run out, but the book was still free. Hatier thus granted my company, Terre africaine, a new option on the book. Didier wrote the screenplay, which I then reworked for two months. I didn’t want the film to be a literary adaptation of the novel. Marcel Beaulieu then acted as script-doctor, asking us 50 question about the screenplay. I asked Didier to rework it on this basis. It was gradually becoming more Americanised, so we corrected this to re-root it in the forest! This stage took two years, but we could have done with another three more months shut away on it because it would have saved a lot of money. I shot another ending, in which he goes back to Simone when he leaves the forest. We could have saved those four days’ work. We need to time our screenplays and get rid of anything that’s superficial from the writing. I should have taken another two weeks to film the Pygmies in a documentary manner. The three days that I did film are in the film, and I would have had more matter.
For my next film about child soldiers, which is due to be an adaptation of Kourouma’s novel, Allah n’est pas oblige, I’m going to work with Marcel Beaulieu again and we are going to work much harder on the screenplay. As the film will be a lot more expensive, I want us to make a storyboard to be closer to real time.
One indeed gets the impression that there is an ellipse in the montage. We expect him to come back to Simone.
I preferred this ending because I wanted to open up the end of the film. Deep down, the Pygmy question is not what really matters to him. He is not at peace with himself, he is not satisfied with his own life, and through this experience with the Pygmies, he finally does something with his life. To bring him back to Simone’s would have reduced the field of questioning. I preferred this open ending.
There is a clear documentary, or even ethnological approach to the Pygmy sequences.
Yes. It was important to put the Pygmies’ life in the film and I thought that that would be more effective than any discourse to show that they have their own happiness and that this guy who turns up to bring them happiness is the one in fact who has a problem with happiness!
The message applies to humanity in general.
Absolutely. I believe that only a community can know what is right for it and determine itself in relation to that. The message that you can’t make people happy in spite of them is valuable everywhere, and particularly in Africa. We’ve had everything, NGOs of all kinds, who have wanted to bring us happiness without consulting us. When Gonaba leaves the forest, I’m not certain that he’s totally aware of this. Whoever said that taking the Pygmy child to the town is good for him?
A South-South production is a feat in itself. I imagine that it wasn’t easy.
With Charles Mensah, there was no problem. We are used to working together. But things were more delicate with the Central African Republic. Charles came as an official structure, I came as a private one. It was very difficult, but we managed to achieve what we wanted – that is, technicians and funding from the three countries. We are going to do the same thing again for Imunga Ivanga’s next film. The partnership will be complete in terms of the technical crew, equipment and funding. I got together the technicians and equipment for Les Couilles de l’éléphant. This time I’m going to do more, and we hope to select a film at each edition of Ecrans Noirs via a kind of grant system and will pool our efforts around it.
People are going to start realising that African film doesn’t just come from West Africa. Le Silence de la forêt was presented at the Directors’ Fortnight as a West African film!
Yes. It’s important to recognise central Africa’s specificities and to see that we are fighting for this sub-region!
People criticised you for not employing people from the Central African Republic, particularly in the cast. Was that difficult to handle?
In Eriq Ebouaney and Nadège Beausson-Diagne’s case, people understood after two to three weeks why they were essential. I didn’t want to talk too much about it at the actors’ seminar at the last Fespaco because it’s like that that things function. If you take a foreign actor, you have to have good reasons for doing so.

///Article N° : 5696


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