Ousmane Sembene’s London Season

Offerring its highest honour on Ousmane Sembene last month, the British Film Institute (bfi) said the 82-year-old is “the Patron Saint of Black Cinema – to call him a director is a misnomer.” Sembene became the 58th recipient of the bfi fellowship; past honourees include Orson Welles and Akira Kurosawa.

Naming some with whom Sembene has rubbed minds and shoulders in his time – Chinese Chou En-Lai, WEB Dubois, Kwame Nkrumah, James Baldwin and Aime Cesaire – the presenter declared that: “What you get here is a distillation of the very best that we’ve ever had in this world.” Sembene was honoured because “since 1963, he has created a style of film-making that is uniquely Senegalese – and African.”
The conferment took place at the National Film Theatre (NFT), London, during the UK premiere of Sembene’s “autumnal masterpiece”, Moolaade. Multiple screenings of Moolaade coincided with a month-long retrospective dedicated to Sembene. 11 of his movies played to audiences between 3 to 25 June; young film-makers got a rare Masterclass from “the maestro” himself; and there were seminars on his cinematic works. Rounding off the season was a 1994 documentary, Sembene: The Making of African Cinema – co-directed by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and featuring the African American director, John Singleton.
Sembene’s Borom Sarret formed part of a double-bill with the documentary. Made in 1963, Borom Sarret was the first movie filmed in the region by a Sub-Saharan African – and chronicled a day in the life of a poor cart driver in Dakar. Included in the season were: Mandabi (1968, The Money Order), the first African movie to use an African language – Wolof; and La Noire de… (1966, Black Girl), Sub-Saharan Africa’s first full-length feature. Also shown were Xala (1974, The Curse); Ceddo (1976); Emitai (1971, Thundergod); Camp de Thiaroye (1988); and Guelwaar (1992).
Actor-director, Mario Van Peebles – in town to promote his film, Baadasssss! – attended the Moolaade premiere, after which Ousmane Sembene took the stage with Fatoumata Coulibaly – star of Moolaade – for an interview with critic Bonnie Greer. The translator was Professor Samba Gadjigo, Sembene’s biographer.
Moolaade is the second of a loose trilogy that began with Faat Kine (2000), about what Sembene calls “the heroism of daily life.” The trilogy will conclude with the The Brotherhood of Rats, which is yet to be filmed. Unlike the rural setting of Moolaade, the planned film will focus on African cities, posing another challenge: “How can I make this film in such a way that a peasant in (the rural area) can understand what’s going on, and… raise my voice against the embezzling that’s going on in the cities?… I am making this film for the young people… how can I inspire them?”
Asked about “the heroism of daily life,” Sembene acknowledged the many crises facing the African continent. “But on the other hand, we have… individuals… who are struggling on a daily basis in a heroic way and the outcome of whose struggle leaves no doubt.” He believes the continent is still standing because of this struggle, the purpose of which is not to seize power; and “I think the strength of our entire society rests on that struggle… so I’ve tried in my own way to sing the praises of those heroes, because I am also a witness to that daily struggle.”
The griot surfaces in a number of Sembene’s films. In Borom Sarret, the cart driver gives what little cash he has to a griot who sings to him of his noble ancestry and for a few minutes, he forgets his pathetic life. In Niaye, a griot tells a story of communal wrongdoing involving incest, parricide and a son who returns home “unrecognisable from a war fought for others.” Shocked at the silence of the community, the griot decides to go into exile, saying: “As a griot, I can no longer live in a society that has no respect for dignity.” Ordinarily, “a griot says what others daren’t say”; however he insists that: “one needn’t be a griot to be a bearer of truth.” Ultimately, he accepts that he is a griot for the community and not for himself – so he returns home and speaks out.
Sembene sees a parallel between himself and the griot. In traditional society, the griot “was his own writer, director, actor and musician,” he said. “And I think his role was very important in cementing society.” From his ocean-front villa in Senegal, ‘Galle Ceddo’, Sembene the cinematic griot can visualise a film frame by frame – before the actual filming begins. The attentive can spot him in cameo roles in Black Girl and Faat Kine.

According to Sembene, film is “myth for the public.” And cinema, he argued, is needed throughout Africa “to create a culture that is our own.” Pointing out that Europeans have long realised the importance of images, he observed that: “Every night they are colonising our minds, and they are imposing on us their own model of society.” Therefore, Sembene sees films and the images they create, as a powerful means of countering the dominance of European culture in Africa. Any tool that can be appropriated to this end, he considers useful – including digital cinema.

The Hollywood actor-producer Danny Glover is currently negotiating for film rights to God’s Bits of Wood (1960), Sembene’s breakthrough novel. Known as “the father of African cinema,” Sembene-the-writer has been eclipsed somewhat, by Sembene-the-film-maker. In the documentary, he commented on the creative tension: “Me myself, I prefer literature. But in our time, literature is a luxury.”
Having named his villa – and one of his films – Ceddo, Sembene clearly identifies with the word, which means ‘rebel’ or ‘infidel’. He regularly finds himself at odds with the authorities because: “I say things as I see them, I don’t know how to be oblique.” In his view, African leaders (particularly those in the Francophone countries) “are the most alienated individuals I have ever seen.” Our First Ladies, I call them: Duty-Free Ladies; they only use European perfumes.”
He is not impressed with the big Africa-centred campaigns currently going on in the West, including, ‘Make Poverty History’ and ‘Live 8’. “I think they are fake! And I think African Heads of State who buy into that idea are liars.”
Recounting some of the episodes in the film-maker’s life, Bonnie Greer told him: “Your life was already formidable even before you began to make cinema.” Sembene became reticent. “I don’t know my life,” he confessed. I’ve travelled a lot and this is the life that I have lived, but that doesn’t mean that I know myself.”
Similarly, audiences are expected to focus on the works rather than the man. “I am a man of contradictions and equivocations,” he declares in the documentary. “I have always said I would sleep with the devil to get my films made.” What matters, he stressed, is the message in his work.

Ousmane Sembène
Ousmane Sembène, the Senegalese-born ‘father of African cinema’, talked to Bonnie Greer about film-making in Africa, his European experiences and why Live 8 is fake, before receiving the fellowship of the BFI.

Here’s a full transcript. Sunday June 5, 2005
‘I think big campaigns such as Make Poverty History and Live 8 are fake, and I think African heads of state who buy into that idea are liars. The only way for us to come out of poverty is to work hard’
… Ousmane Sembène talks to Bonnie Greer at the NFT.
Bonnie Greer: Before I start, I’d like to say that I am a huge fan of this gentleman, so I am really nervous. But I am going to do my best. There will be simultaneous translation by Mr Samba Gadjigo, Mr Sembène’s biographer and himself an eminent professor of French at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. Moolaadé is the second film in a trilogy, and you call it a trilogy about the heroism of daily life. Could you expand on that, please?
Ousmane Sembène: We are talking here about the African continent, and it is a continent going through a crisis. Nobody can deny that we have a lot of wars going on; brothers killing brothers; we have a lot of diseases and catastrophes. But on the other hand, we have a majority of individuals, both men and women, who are struggling on a daily basis in a heroic way and the outcome of whose struggle leaves no doubt. This is a struggle whose purpose is not to seize power, and I think the strength of our entire society rests on that struggle. And it is because of this struggle that the entire continent is still standing up. So I’ve tried in my own way to sing the praises of those heroes, because I am also a witness to that daily struggle. In the traditional society which I come from, when you look at our societies, whether you’re talking about the Mandinka, Bambara or Fulani, we have the tradition of the storyteller called the griot and also other kinds of storytellers. Their role was to record memories of daily actions and events. At night, people would gather around them and they would tell those stories that they had recorded. I think there are parallels between myself and these storytellers, because in that traditional society, the storyteller was his own writer, director, actor and musician. And I think his role was very important in cementing society. Now, with new technologies and the tools that we have acquired, I think we can take inspiration from them and do some work.
BG: You have said that Moolaadé is your most African film. Can you expand on that?
OS: When I made such a statement, I was referring to its narrative structure and aesthetic. But then, ultimately, it’s up to my people to judge whether or not I have come close to telling their reality. What makes the difference between this film and the others I’ve made, is I already know what the people are saying in the rural areas. I think it is up to you, brought here in the west by the contingencies of history, it is up to you to understand and to see what is African in this film. And I think your appreciation and judgment is going to help me improve my future work. Right now, I am very, very obsessed, because right now, Moolaadé is enjoying some measure of success. So what am I going to do with my next film? Since the setting for the next film is going to be an urban area, how am I going to talk about African cities? Of course when I talk about African cities, there is no difference between a building in London or Abidjan or anywhere in the world. But what is important is to wonder, the men or the women who live in that building, what kind of life are they living? It’s not enough to have all kinds of gadgets. This is what I’m working on right now.
BG: I adore the title of the latest film in the trilogy, Brotherhood of Rats. I love it because you’re talking about a very important subject: it’s about the cities and the complicity or not of African governments in some of the troubles afflicting African states.
OS: I think that’s just part of my job. If I centre that film on an urban area, how can I show it to people who live in the rural area? How can I make this film in such a way that a peasant in my village in Casamance can understand what’s going on? And how can I now really raise my voice against all the embezzling that’s going on in the cities? Here I am talking about people of this new generation. I am making this film for the young people who are here in this room, and who are going back home: how can I inspire them?
BG: What do you think of the cinema numerique, the digital cinema?
OS: For us, everything is good. I think that every tool that we can appropriate and use is good for us. What counts here actually is the result of the battle of the sexes, the war between husbands and wives.
BG: I want to go back a little bit to the early days – your life was formidable even before you began to make cinema. You were in the war, you fought for freedom in Algeria, you were a dockworker in Marseilles, you hurt your back and then decided to take a less strenuous job and investigate some of the literature of the African and diasporic world, particularly Claude McKay, the great Jamaican novelist and member of the Harlem Renaissance, and his idea about the docks in Marseilles and the languages of the African diaspora.
OS: I am really unable to talk about my life – I don’t know my life. I’ve travelled a lot and this is the life that I have lived, but that doesn’t mean that I know myself.
BG: All right then, women?
OS: I love all women. Can you show me one man who doesn’t love women?
BG: Well, you are in England. I was struck, and the reason why I wanted to show Ceddo, although you didn’t want me to show Ceddo, is because of the moment in it where a strong woman is putting a line in the ground. So I want to ask, first about the idea of women in African cinema, especially in your cinema, and how important they are for you?
OS: Here we are talking about past civilisations. When I was growing up, married women, of their own accord, always tied a belt around their waists. I think it’s a symbol of their loyalty, their fidelity. It didn’t have anything to do with the men. So when she takes off her belt and shakes it, she was putting her own life and honour on the line. So for husbands like myself, when they shake their belts and tell us not to cross the line, none of us would be able to do it. And it is only on those occasions that the community recognises the woman’s right to kill. Of course you can rape the body, but you can never go against that rule. So one has to die for that rule to be broken. But here we are talking about what I call medieval Africa, and of course now things have changed. Right now, women wear belts that are gold or leather or whatever, but that doesn’t mean that they are more loyal.
BG: Madame [Fatoumata] Coulibaly [who played the lead role of Colle in Moolaadé], how was it for you, playing in this movie?
Fatoumata Coulibaly: Thank you first of all, and I think that it shows that you have a strong interest in African films. Even before I was called upon to act in this film, I was already working in Malian radio and TV. My job was working in programmes designed for women and children, and centred on the family. I travelled a lot into rural areas, and I talked to the women and everybody there. And I tried to touch on all the issues relevant to their lives. During that work, I noticed that many young girls died following the female genital mutilations (FGM), through haemorrhaging. So I did some research in the rural areas. When I decided to conceive of a programme without consulting my boss, I ran into a lot of problems.
I myself made a documentary film which was broadcast only once on Malian television, and of course people hid the tape and said that it was lost. That’s when our administration decided to silence any dialogue about FGM. In spite of that, of course, I wanted to continue that kind of work. In my work I also collaborated with an NGO composed of women. We would go to the rural areas, and we would try to educate them about hygiene and the family, in their own languages, not in French or English. We brought together the village chief and every man, woman and child – everybody came to those meetings. Of course, we don’t start head-on with FGM; we would strategically beat around the bush for a while and then only come to the issue that is important to us. Because in our society, talking about sex is still a taboo, and of course many village chiefs don’t want to hear about that issue. “You are trying to deviate us from our way of life, our traditions.” And of course the argument they give is that these traditions date back to before our birth, and actually they accuse us of being funded by the outside world to subvert their way of life. But with persistence we would come back and get our message across.

Sometimes we used dolls to show the body parts of a woman in childbirth, we show them the pain and suffering of a woman who has been excised. Of course when we show those things graphically, they hide their faces. But we always managed to find a strategy, through jokes and whatnot, to bring them to look and take responsibility and face what we are showing them as a reflection of their own bodies. Of course, the position I hold in Mali – I am very popular – so that helped me in my job. After a while I can see that they are not closing their eyes anymore and they face the body from which a baby is emerging. Of course we do all this with the complicity of a midwife. People ask us questions and we engage in dialogue. We also talk about all the consequences of excision, and I think that has yielded some positive results in abandoning FGM. And so afterward, when Mr Sembène was casting in Bamako – at the time, he did not know how involved I was in the struggle against FGM – I was honoured, privileged and lucky to be chosen to play this lead role. I’ll tell you, this is just the beginning of my struggle, and I want you all to join and support me so that we can reach a positive result.
BG: This leads me to the two most interesting lines in the film. One, the last words of Colle’s husband, “It takes more than a pair of balls to make a man”, but the strongest sentence is when Mercenaire says, “Africa is a bitch”. I’d like you to elaborate.
OS: Mercenaire says “Africa is a bitch” because he’s completely in despair: he was shocked at what he was witnessing. Maybe it’s me who put my words into his mouth.
BG: That’s what I would like you to speak about.
OS: Because I love Africa, that’s why I call it a bitch. When you love something … I think there is no contradiction between loving Africa and calling it a bitch. I am saying it out of desperation. And the other sentence you refer to is a phrase that is used a lot in Africa, in many languages. Actually, when you look at the Bambara version, it is rendered as “It takes more than a pair of trousers to make a man.” But since I wanted to make it a more powerful statement, I made it “It takes more than a pair of balls to make a man”. In the Bambara, the metaphor of trousers is important because a male child cannot wear trousers before circumcision. Circumcision is a symbol of entry into manhood. So that’s why I was playing with those two metaphors; but I decided to use “pair of balls”.
BG: You’ve said that Africa is matriarchal, the idea of the woman as the strong force in Africa. But for us in the west, polygamy is not an acceptable or pleasant practice. Yet you sort of nuance it, the way you nuanced several customs like the excision and the protection, so in the film it is a polygamous situation, yet the women are very much in control. So is this the African language of cinema, is this an African aesthetic?
OS: As far as I am concerned, Africa is a woman. As far as I can tell, and maybe my knowledge is very limited, I really don’t think that 2,000 years of Christianity has brought anything to humanity. When you look at African education, the basis of all African education is this idea of femininity that I’m talking about. Whether you are talking about me or my father, usually, women just give us the illusion that we are in control. Actually, even our virility depends on the gaze and the control of women. Without women, we cannot do anything. I think it’s a good thing.
BG: One, almost final question, and this is a political and philosophical question, about pan-Africanism. You’ve been a great fighter for the liberation, through cinema, of African consciousness, African thought, African people. People in the diaspora, as many of us are in this room – I am myself a soixante-huitard, so I understand, but for the generation after me, and the generation after them, does pan-Africanism necessarily speak to them? Does it have any meaning at all today?
OS: For me, anything that unites is useful. Anything that can bring understanding and peace is important. And for me, there was a phase in which pan-Africanism was a political action. At the beginning of the last century, London was the centre of pan-Africanism. Actually, the first time I visited London was for a meeting about pan-Africanism. In the 1920s, Africa was not the centre of pan-Africanism; the centre was in the diaspora. And it was during those early years, around the 20s, that we saw the first educated Africans. After the first world war, it became stronger and all the people who came from all horizons knew each other. And we met and talked about independence: Chou En-Lai from China, George Padmore, WEB DuBois – those were the people engaged in the struggle. After independence, we preserved the idea of pan-Africanism for the unity of the continent. For me, that is very important.
BG: But today? OS: Nowadays, with the kind of policies that our leaders are engaged in, and here I am specifically talking about the French-speaking parts of Africa, they are the most alienated individuals I have ever seen. I think it is France that is really leading the job of dividing Africa. Most of our presidents have dual nationalities, French and African. When the going gets tough, they run away to Paris and all our decisions are made in Paris. I think in that context it’s very difficult to talk about pan-Africanism. Of course, it’s just plain rhetoric. Why don’t they abolish political borders in Africa? What is stopping them from developing education in Africa? And again, when talking about the francophone countries, there are a lot of states where the annual budget is secured only with the intervention of France. So that’s why I think in that context it is difficult. But I don’t think we should give up. I am positive that one day we will become independent.
The toughest fight we engaged in was the struggle against apartheid, and many people in Europe joined, supported that fight, and some of them were gunned down. I think what we need is goodwill because now our struggle is harder because it is an economic struggle. And now Europe is organising itself. So I think there needs to be a rupture between Africa and Europe, and all the international laws being conceived here in the west have to be revisited and changed. Just one case in point, now European countries are running into problems with China because of T-shirts. What did China do? China’s flooding their markets with T-shirts. But last century, France and England bombed Shanghai – they took weapons and invaded them. They can no longer do that because China has organised itself; and Vietnam has organised itself. That is what we lack back in Africa: we have been subjugated so much that all we can do is beg, and some even think what we are going through is a comedy.
Then there is the issue of cotton. During slavery, negroes were in the cotton fields. Everybody knew about that. Now that they are not forcing us to make cotton, we make cotton and they don’t want it. What should we do? I mean, even our leaders have failed to build factories to transform that cotton for our clothing. We could make any kind of material that would be even better than what is made here, but we wait for everything to come from European industry. They are selling us rags. And everywhere you go in Africa, in the big cities, you would think that you were in a Salvation Army store. They have even created an NGO whose role is to sell us second-hand clothes. I think the youth need to hear these stories. The struggle continues.
BG: That leads beautifully into my next question. What do you think of the big campaigns going on now in Britain: Make Poverty History, Live 8, Hear Africa 05? Big initiatives to make people aware and to maybe give money.
OS: I think they’re fake, and I think African heads of state who buy into that idea are liars. The only way for us to come out of poverty is to work hard. Poverty means begging throughout the world. I know your prime minister is spearheading that kind of campaign. A few years ago, the British army was in Sierra Leone – were they there to fight against poverty? It’s a mistake, it’s a lie. But it’s up to Africans to know that, and I think we have to start that revolution back home.
BG: Well, let’s see if that hits the newspapers tomorrow. How much do you want to bet it won’t? My last question, I saw you on French television, on a programme called Rideau Rouge. You were speaking with a young realisateur from Burkina Faso, and you said, “African realisateurs have to be less modest” and then you went into a discussion about the future of African cinema. Can you elaborate on those two things?
OS: I think cinema is needed throughout Africa, because we are lagging behind in the knowledge of our own history. I think we need to create a culture that is our own. I think that images are very fascinating and very important to that end. But right now, cinema is only in the hands of film-makers because most of our leaders are afraid of cinema. Europeans are very smart in that matter – every night they are colonising our minds, and they are imposing on us their own model of society and ways of doing it. And many of our men dress in English suits, with British ties. Our first ladies are called the duty-free ladies and they use only European perfumes and only wear labels.


Afro@Digital (DVD cover), 2003, 52 min.

Director: Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda
Country: Democratic Republic of the Congo and France
Year: 2001
Running Time: 52 min.
Language: English, French, Jula and Yoruba

In this manifesto of the African digital mind, the director traveled with a small crew across Africa, from Dakar to Robben Island, to see how internet, mobile phone, and digital video technologies are utilized on a daily basis by many Africans, in sometimes novel ways, despite the “digital divide” between North and South.


Director: Roger Gnoan M’Bala
Country: Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso
Year: 2000
Running Time: 90 min.
Language: Bambara and Baule

Adanggaman, Roger Gnoan M'Bala, Ivory Coast/Switzerland, 2000, 85 min.
In West Africa during the late 17th century, King Adanggaman leads a war against his neighboring tribes, ordering his soldiers to torch enemy villages, kill the elderly and capture the healthy tribesmen to sell to the European slave traders. When his village falls prey to one of Adanggaman’s attacks, Ossei manages to escape, but his family is murdered except for his captured mother. Chasing after the soldiers in an effort to free her, Ossei is befriended by a fierce warrior named Naka.

Available for purchase on DVD in our store!

Soldiers of the Rock Review

Norman Maake’s directorial debut is cinematic/karmic  kaleidoscope encompasses a boiling and poignant saga of the fraternity of determination and Shaka Zulu like strength that is the bedrock of a cadre of South African gold miners. Depending on the view on takes, these gallant men are centurions who ritualistic surgeons who daily descend into the bowels of Mamma Africa to extract precious gems or “boo-yaa” as gold is known amongst the miners and in the contemporary parlance of hip-hop and the bling-bling aficionados…The work of cinematographer Natalie Haarhof and the compositions of Benjamin Willem offer an honor and dignity to the claustrophobic courage and hellish handsome spirit of the ensemble cast. Vuyo, a young man returns to the mines to make “peace with the spirit” of his father, who toiled for 35 years in the mines and died when he was struck upon the head and his wages willed that his son’s could educated.  Amidst drumming, drilling and blasting the young business student is met with trepidation by his father’s comrades but experiences exorcise epiphany below ground level among the workers on the lowest and most dangerous levels of the mine. A juxtaposition of gold, gore and glory, this excursion commanders the audience from sunrise to sunset and beyond the darkness that must come emerges from light of the worker-owned and operated New Vision Mines. The conga cadence of whimpering, cursing, chanting, fighting and fearless warriors. Is candid, courageous and simply devastatingly stunning

The tense, taunt tale of a show down in the shaft covers the fine features of handsome men and the mysticism that inevitable bathes there soul of golden dust. Stunning cinematography accentuates that further and fate of the magnificent miners against tradition and change, tribalism and the counsel of Banda, the mine witchdoctor.  The protagonist Vuyo is a virgin man in this scenario of jaded souls, but nonetheless monarch because of their courage and persistence. This tour de force is ultimately a glory tale of post-apartheid bittersweet victory.

“Filmmaking can show the way”

Interview with Souleymane Cissé

Ten years have gone since Waati, your last big movie. What are your perspectives for filmmaking today in 2005?

Filmmaking with a big F is taking a break, not because of the filmmakers, but because of those who are around them, around us. Those we are trying hard to understand.

Are you referring to a type of economic censorship?

Yes, an intentional economic censorship that keeps on going. We are only facing silent walls, but we got the message and we would like to fight on another ground. Find our own financing, impose our rules, try to create new structures with the professionals in order they can create. Hence the foundation of the UCECAO (Union des créateurs et entrepreneurs du cinema et de l’audiovisuel de l’Afrique de l’Ouest/ Organization of film and video makers and entrepreneurs in West Africa). At the beginning, some saw this as an attempt against the FEPACI (Federation panafricaine des cinéastes/ African federation of filmmakers) and the FESPACO (Festival panafricain du film de Ouagadougou), but they first did not understand that it was in fact an instrument to lay the foundation of a real film industry in our region, an instrument to strengthen the Fespaco and the filmmakers association. One cannot speak about filmmaking without movie theaters and actual movies! We were lucky to be able to turn on a light: let’s make sure it does not get turned off. Some are trying to do so, to destroy it in order nobody can speak about it anymore. We are still at an age of civilization war, with the language, the economics and all this gives a wrong image of African Filmmaking. African filmmaking needs to find a solution. If the filmmakers are not united, if those who become the leaders destroy their country’s film industry, it’s getting more and more serious and dangerous: It’s time to stop. As far as I am concerned, it’s just childish. The place of filmmakers in each country is so huge that each of them could build a castle if he wished. It is counterproductive that one filmmakers made his projects and that others are opposing him. It’s bad for him, it’s bad for his country. If filmmakers could start holding each others’ hands and create African structures, we would move forward.

 I can understand this call for reconciliation, but considering that competition and conflicts are the reality in the whole film industry and not only in Africa,  isn’t  it  useless to do so?

I think perspectives do exist. What happened to Idrissa Ouedraogo, will happen to me and the others. It’s time to realize it. We are all fighting for an ideal, filmmaking, and I think that, at our level, we are able to assume our actions.

 Is your initiative being successful?

Yes. We created UCECAO in 1997. Nobody believed in it, except us but we have survived with our own meager means, persuaded that this structure is necessary for the upcoming generations. We have gathered our own funding in order that the organization could survive. We have developed a network with other professionals, for instance in France with the ARP (Association des réalisateurs et des producteurs / Organization of filmmakers and producers). We are opened to film professionals in the whole world.

The current situation seems favorable: L’UEMOA (Union économique et monétaire de l’Afrique de l’Ouest / Economic and monetary association in West Africa) wrote a report in depth about decision making in production and distribution of images. On the same token,  film distribution is in such a maze that one could wonder what to do to make things go forward?

We have arrived at a time when we have to think over and be patient. Today, in Africa, some politicians who called themselves men of culture sold movie theaters without realizing that there are some men and women who have given their lives to create movies that their own people would watch. When these politicians were in power, filmmaking became their enemy. They have destroyed 27 small movie theaters to build one in Bamaka – one theater reserved for the elites. They do not care about the people. Popular movies who made us what we are, these politicians can’t understand it. And one can then comprehend why Africa is still behind. But we haven’t lost our hopes: We know that one day Africa will explode. This change is unavoidable: The day will come.

 What are  the  basis of your hopes today?

My hope is that a whole generation wakes up and march in favor of the development of filmmaking culture. We have to give a frame to this upcoming movement. For example, we are organizing a festival for video amateur who shoot wedding ceremonies from November 9 to 13 2005, in Nyamina, a town located 120 km from Bamako. They are devoting their time to video and make a living out of it. It would be a good thing if tomorrow they could become filmmakers and surprise their people. Nayamina is a historical city, a crossroad of cultures. Prizes will be given: for a documentary that costs 10,000 Fcfa (18 dollars), the first prize is 150,000 Fcfa, the second prize 100,000 Fcfa, the third prize 50,000 Fcfa. This generation will be delighted that someone is acknowledging their activity. We could also organize some tests to find and send the best directors to good schools. Our organization does not intend to superficially organize social events. We do want to have some effects on our profession.

That is to lay your foundations in the center of filmmaking.

Yes, we want a mental education for the entire generation, which can serve filmmaking. That is why we have hopes. We have some support even if they do not talk about it. I am referring to a Secretary of Education in Mali who would like to open a film department at the university. Each time we ask him something, this “ministre” is ready to give us some cars and gas: These are strong symbolic gestures. The Secretary of Tourism welcomes the heads of UCECAO when they come to Bamako. If every department in the government could think that filmmaking is the country’s problem, as well as an important matter for its sovereignty, I think it would start to move forward….

Do you still manage to develop film projects in spite of this tension?

I have been holding a script of a great movie-to-be for two years, but I’ve also made some documentaries. In 2002, I directed a 51 minutes film, L’enfant de Nyamina (The Child Of Nyamina), about a young man who die brutally in the town he went to study. They all remembered him, and we collected these testimonies. We  also developed a 10 minutes fiction based on this character. I also made a fiction-documentary about a sage that I first called Un devin (A Soothsayer), but it is now bearing the name of his neighborhood, Ngolonina. It was a meeting with a character, who isolates himself from the rest of the world and lives with his philosophy. Some call him a “soufi” others “the fool”. We are letting him speak: He speaks about his vision of Mali, the future he’s envisioning. I have also a bunch of short films still in process: One of them -it still has no title- was shot in the United States. It’s about a Tsunami survivor from Mali, who tells us his story. I have not forgotten the camera. I practice with it, but I do not want to make anymore amateur films. I’m fooling around with the video camera, but as soon as things are going to get better, in six months or a year,  I will devote myself to my feature length project, because this is the continuation of my work.

In which direction does this project go?

I’d better remain discreet on this matter.

Do documentaries and short films find any distribution?

Through Malian TV or through Africacâble… I had asked some funding to the Agence de la francophonie, but my request came back with some advices. I have no advices to receive from this institution. It really upsets me. It’s our job to create images that others will come to see. If I have interrupted my career to devote my time to UCECAO, it’s because there is so much humiliation around. If that goes on, our children will give up. These institutions tells us .. whatever… but the thing is that they do not want our projects to be finalized. Filmmaking is like the one who steps on the needle and said he lost it in order that everyone looks for it without ever finding it.

While examining your work as I was preparing for the retrospective in Pontarlier, I noticed three contradictory themes. The first one appears to be confrontation and violence –  by the way, you’ve said that your films are created in the midst of violence and that you are filming confrontations to be able to then close the chapter and start a new one. This is not a pacifist speech: clashes must develop… This represents a peculiar vision of social changes.

I’ve never seen any important social change in any country which took place peacefully. Well, we could mention Ukraine, but the people really worked on these changes to happen: the clash happened mainly inside with a few consequences in the outside. At home in Africa, it will be very difficult to have this type of confrontation because the people is not prepared. There are some individuals that are fighting and that are eliminated, physically, morally every day. In Africa, you can find a lot of his type of people who die defending their ideals. Without a genuine confrontation, one will not be able to develop fully. Without the demonstrations in Mali in 1991, we would not be standing where we are today. Our vision of change is that it results in a real democracy. At any level. That is the only way that a revolution makes sense. We’ve reached a place where people do not know where to turn anymore. Real changes are necessary and they will take place sooner or later, especially in Mali. People need more aspirations, more openings. People from Mali need to settle behind the moon if there is any room since one says that the Soninké are there! Those who take the power and do not understand this are only vulgar salesmen. Time will come this will not be possible anymore. The soul needs food and we need to give it to her.

 I think of the final scene of Waati which is very clear and powerful, in a place where confrontation and struggle were always happening but  the charisma of one man will have prevented a bloodshed. But no one can confirm that it won’t happen.

Regarding South Africa, I am not a soothsayer but its problems are tied up to the whole continent. What is happening everywhere will happen in South Africa one day or the other. There is no turning back. The economic power as long as it lasts will allow it. One has to tear it off and to do so, one has to rise. It’s not a question of saying to the African people to rebel, but this is the reality. Waati was never shown in South Africa. Even the leaders do not want to hear about it. Those who are in power now, Black people, refuse it. But this reality goes beyond Africa’s borders, it concerns the entire world, because what you see at the end of Waati, it’s happening everywhere but people do not want to see it. I don’t want to be the one who ignites the fire everywhere but I would have hoped that our leaders had a wider vision for our future. One cannot suppress people for too long of a time, it always ends up badly. One needs a vision for the future. Otherwise, on the day a politician falls, he is forgotten at once. That has happened to a lot of them.

Second direction: your films refer to the necessity of knowledge and education and to the myth as a basis to understand the world. Your films also give a radical review of tradition and encourage people to take care of their own life. Must rebellion draw from the fundamental values,  different from the values of our society?

We live in a world of contradictions. I’m thinking of Quand les statues meurent aussi by Alain Resnais and Chris Marker. In this movie, man is the purpose of man, may he be Black, Red, Yellow or White. We have the same structure. Lives can be different but the outcome is the same. They are trying to study millenium values in order man’s life evolves. This film says that African art is a major art and one ought to try to understand it. Whoever has made these art pieces have never signed them. They never bear the artist’s name : that is a subject of invistigation. What was the status of this art? That is what one has to understand. Why would man commit himself in leaving an art piece which would speak, but without his name ? Europeans and Americans historians never wonder. This Art has other aspects that one needs to reveal. Cheick Anta Diop has tried but he was called a fool. Although he has shown that « l’Art Noir », Black Art existed in Antiquity. In the Western Art World, they do not want to listen to the small Black man who claims his civilization is the most ancient. One cannot go deep into what was called « L’Art Noir ». One has to search for knowledge where it lays. Why did nobody sign their own art piece ?

Third direction. At the beginning of Waati, the grandmother speaks about the multicultural origin of humankind. Between the self-assertion one can see in the Black intellectuals movement and the acknowledgement  of belonging to a greater human family, there is still a dynamic contradiction that appears in your films. You are defending yourself and in the same time, you are defending the vision of one united world.

As far as I am concerned, humankind is one and indivisible. The story of the young Bambara concerns the French young one, as well as the German or Japanese young ones. It is obvious that if we approach ethnic reality, we have to speak of cultural diversity. We have defended it through our films, still no one has cared to see it. We were said when our films were in Wolof that it has no value. Where is the cultural diversity if we cannot accept the other? The world goes so fast that we can’t comprehend it, but if one day we manage to slow down, we will see that it is unique. Why not create in this humankind in this world of diversity which allows us to keep our richness? These have been my words from the beginning because I believe in the universality of human being, our nature, our life. Filmmaking is universal and can show the way.

Night Stop

Director: Licinio Azevedo
Country: Mozambique
Year: 2002
Running Time: 52 min.
Language: Portuguese

In central Mozambique lies the Corridor of Death, a long-distance trucking route, where more than 30% of the population are HIV+. Shot mostly at night, the film charts a series of interwoven stories about the lives of women who wait for the arrival of truck drivers at an overnight trucking station. Three groups of sex workers, the Calamities, the Students and the Founding Members, vie for business, disappearing into the drivers’ trucks, which are cheaper than renting rooms. In this world, even though condoms are distributed free by activists, you can earn more by having unprotected sex.

KVTV Access: 2014 New York African Film Festival

Yes its true, KVTV Access is back! We invaded the 2014 New York African Film Festival and caught up with Kenyan directors Ekwa Msangi and Nick Reding, both of whom had films screening at the festival.

We had a few drops from some very special guests, so check it out and drop us a note about what you think!

About New York African Film Festival

African Film Festival, Inc. is a a non-profit arts organization dedicated to advancing an enhanced understanding of African culture through the moving image. It offers diverse platforms for the wide distribution of African media through its flagship annual film festival and complementary year-round programming. AFF is committed to increasing visibility and recognition for African media artists by introducing African film and culture to a broad range of audiences in the United States and abroad, bypassing economic, class and racial barriers.

Camera Q&A: Deborah Perkin on Bastards and Morocco

Deborah Perkin is a British documentary filmmaker based in Wales, and a former-producer for the BBC. It was while working there that Perkin first pitched a story about Morocco’s family court system, and the unique charity that helps single mothers resolve their marriage status with their child’s father — thus helping those children to be accepted into Moroccan society, rather than be shunned for their “bastard” status. Perkin eventually left the BBC to film that project — becoming the first filmmaker granted access to Moroccan family court sessions in Agadir — with former-BBC News Morocco Correspondent Nora Fakim, who served as co-producer and translator. The two shared a room within the Casablanca slum of Derb Ghalef for eight weeks, living amongst the single mothers they chronicled. Their footage become the documentary, Bastards, distributed through Icarus Films. It revolves around Rabha El Haimer’s fight to legalize her forced traditional marriage ceremony performed at age 14, and make the father of her daughter Salma accept the legality of the marriage and paternity of his child. Such opportunities for legal redress exist due to social reforms implemented under King Mohammed VI. Yet sex outside of marriage is still illegal in Morocco, and single mothers and their legally-illegitimate children are often treated as outcasts in Moroccan society. It was for the sake of such women that Aicha Chenna founded Association Solidarité Féminine [Women’s Solidarity Association], whose advocacy and clients (inlcuding Rabha El Haimer) Perkin documents in Bastards. Perkin journeyed to New York recently to present her film for its U.S. premiere at 2014′s 21st New York African Film Festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center, and talked to Camera In The Sun about her filmmaking experience in Morocco, its gender inequality issues, and her take on the local impact of the “Arab Spring.”

How does your previous producing work compare to making Bastards?

Both methods of working are tough. You never have enough money. You never have enough time. You get back to the edit, you’re always short of a shot. So to that extent, filmmaking is a real stretch. But it is thrilling to work with first-class crews, which I have done all my working life up to this project. So I can have an idea, an image in my mind, a way of working. I’ve worked with cameramen over 15 years, and together we can devise a look for the thing, take some time. I’m also working with a presenter. So if you’re not also having to think about charging your batteries, and making sure you’re downloading things, and all of that, it just gives you more thinking time. So working for the BBC in that context, you do a massive amount of planning, a very short shoot, and you have a bit more time to think in the moment. But it all gets compressed into time. Whereas working on my own… I wasn’t alone. I had an assistant producer, Nora Fakim, without whom I couldn’t possibly have made the film — because she speaks Arabic. Not just with translating, but with negotiating the access, and so on. Instead of a larger crew, we were just two women: me on a camera, and her with a mic. We needed a lot more time to achieve what we needed to do. That’s how it goes. You’re going to have a great big drama with a massive crew, and a catering truck, and a very short number of shooting days. Or you can film over 18 months, as we did with just two women living in a Casablanca slum with mattresses on the floor of a room, going to the local hammam, and keeping our costs down. I mean, you just have to cut your cloth according to how things are.

I was living in Casablanca, very close to the charity. One of their board members had very kindly organized a flat for us, which was a perfectly reasonable price. But it was a whole bus ride or taxi ride away. It was just very impractical, and not very useful from a filmmaking point of view, to have to travel. So I suggested that I’d actually like to live locally. The charity just couldn’t believe it. Because they weren’t used to film crews coming in and wanting to live in Derb Ghalef, which is a very rough area of Casablanca quite close to the charity. But I insisted, because we really did. It wasn’t a shanty town. It’s not a tin-roofed place, or absolutely filthy. But it was what we would call a “slum” in Britain. A bit like Glasgow tenements between the wars, let’s say. Just big tall buildings, and lots of steps. The assistant producer and I shared a room. There were no bathrooms, so we had to use the local hammam. And it was wonderful, because we cooked out on the landing. We shared cooking over a sort of gas stove. Often, our neighbors just wanted to talk to us. I would complain about my children, what they were or weren’t doing, and all of that. We were just having normal conversations with people. I mean, you’re not filming all the time. Obviously, you’re waiting for court cases to come up, things to happen, and so you’re living a normal life. That’s the way you get to know people, and how they start to share their stories with you. But Derb Ghalef is a really rough area. Our taxi drivers sometimes just wouldn’t drive in to take us home. It’s known to be a den of thieves, and so on. But I have to say, I felt totally safe. I was the only real European person living around the area, and therefore I stood out like a sore thumb. People got to know me very very quickly, and they knew I was carrying a camera. Nobody ever stole anything from me. They were very supportive. There was a lovely butcher at the end of the road, and he said, “If anybody gives you any trouble, Deborah, you come and see me.” And he’s sharpening his knives…

It was a privilege to live amongst the poor in Casablanca, and be treated as one of them. I mean, clearly I’m not poor. My husband’s a doctor, and I’m not pretending it’s a lifestyle I would choose to embrace for the rest of my life. That would be really hypocritical to say. But it was a real privilege to live a simpler life, actually. Just go home, cook, talk to people, jiggle their babies, not worry about running a house, and the material things that we worry about quite so much.

How visible are women in public areas of Moroccan society?

Being on holiday to Morocco, or any Muslim country, you tend to see men in cafes hanging out together playing backgammon. And the women are usually at home preparing meals. I mean, Morocco is a little bit different, because there are more women out on the streets. That’s what got me going with the whole story in the first place. I noticed there were many more women out and about serving on hotel desks, or carrying briefcases, or on television as politicians. Different from Egypt, there is a sort of expectation in Morocco that there are educated women. Indeed, a lot of the educated women in Morocco don’t wear headscarves. So in one sense, I didn’t stand out terribly much. But I guess I did look a little bit more European than others. I was treated with nothing but respect, to be absolutely honest. It’s a privilege to be a foreigner carrying a camera with permission to film. So the police would treat you with respect. They wouldn’t want to mess with you, partly because you are a foreigner.

The vast majority of women I was dealing with were very ordinary women, most of whom couldn’t read and write, who were stigmatized for having had sex outside marriage — which is illegal. So they are technically criminals. Fortunately, they live in Morocco, and weren’t going to be stoned to death or locked up. But I think their concerns, quite honestly, were where the next meal was coming from, and how to raise their children in a dignified way. The women who run the charity, they’re all educated, they’re all bilingual, they all speak French — which of course, the majority of ordinary people don’t.

What is the larger sexual climate of Morocco?

Morocco is the Muslim country closest to Europe. You stand at Cap Spartel, and literally see Gibraltar and across to Spain. Because it was a French protectorate for all those years in the first half of the 20th century, there have been a lot of ideas flowing backwards and forwards. That’s the sort of good side of it: an intellectual exchange of ideas. But also, you can’t really deny the fact that Morocco has been a place for sex tourism for many many years. All sorts of Brits, particularly gay men, have gone and lived over there. Partly to escape, I suppose, the pressures of living in Europe. Or they’re perhaps more accepted. So I think proximity to Europe brings really good things, like an openness of mind to ideas. But it also brings really bad things, with Europeans going across to buy sex. There’s a lot of pedophilia, trade in young girls, human trafficking. There’s a really murky side to Morocco. So it’s pretty fraught. They’ve suffered and they’ve benefited from proximity to Europe.

There’s a lot of sex going on in Morocco. Somebody said to me, “It’s like the opposite of football. Everybody talks about football, and hardly anybody plays it. And in Morocco, nobody talks about sex, but they’re all doing it.” So whether it is as a result of being close to France, or whether it is just Morocco’s own culture, and it has just always had a lot of sexual activity, I have absolutely no idea. Whether Islam came along and tried to put a lid on that, I don’t know. But young people are pretty sexually active in the cities. There’s a lot of people having affairs, and so on. And if you have money, if you’re educated, you can get an abortion. It’s illegal, but you can. You can certainly get contraception. There are couples even living together in Rabat. I have friends there. So there’s several layers of activity. You can live a Western life there, as long as you don’t flaunt it. But for ordinary people, that’s just not possible. For young women growing up in ordinary rural families, their virginity is paramount. If you lose your virginity, you’re not marriageable. You’re tainted goods. It’s so deeply unfair. It’s such an obvious and predictable thing to say, but it’s worth saying that where you are born, the circumstances of your birth, and the culture you’re born into just dictate the way you live. And it’s so deeply unfair, even within one society, as I’m describing.

It was just the same in the West over the centuries. It’s only about 50 years, a tiny blip in time, that we’ve accepted that people can live together and have sex outside marriage. And the word “bastard” is the technical term for illegitimate. We’ve adopted it to mean an obnoxious person. But that’s a measure of how much we dislike bastards, or used to. So being a legitimate child within the family means you get to inherit the wealth of the family. And virginity is really crucial. Because as long as its a virgin bride, then the first born, or the heir, is the bloodline who is going to inherit the money. It all comes down to property in the end, really. I know it’s aligned with honor, of course. But that is to buttress up this notion that you want to create a bloodline, where it’s clear who inherits what. I mean, this is the basis of all societies and tribes, and anywhere you’re inheriting. And I suppose it’s just a matter of getting rid of those ideas, and not worrying so much about landed families or royalty. I mean, if you even look back to Princess Diana, it was important even then in the 1980s that she was a virgin bride. It has changed now with Kate, and clearly she and William have lived together. But Diana was only 19, and it was important that she hadn’t had other boyfriends. The royal family still made that a virtue, so they were absolutely certain the first-born, the heir to the throne, was going to be really the child of that father.

Has DNA testing made resolution of Moroccan paternity cases easier?

It ought to sort everything out, shouldn’t it? It ought to be really simple. The problem in Morocco is that a man does not have to take a DNA test if he doesn’t consent to it. So a court cannot simply order a man to take the DNA test. The whole court case that I follow in the film over 18 months, it could have been done and dusted if they’d ordered the man to take a DNA test. It would have proved paternity. I could never get over that. It should have been sorted out. I kept saying to the charity, “Why don’t they just force it.” They said, “Oh well, it’s our culture. You can’t really force the man.” And it’s not so much paternity. It’s proving the marriage that matters. From a money point of view, it’s true, because she proved that she was married. The children automatically belong to the father, and hopefully she will get a back payment of money right back to the date of marriage. Not just to the birth of the child. So that’s why they were so anxious to prove the marriage. But DNA testing, I think they really need to wake up to it in a much much bigger way. A lot of lawyers say they need to just order men to go and have a DNA test to sort it out one way or another. Not let them go on for years and years. Because the father of little Salma still hasn’t paid any money, even though he lost the court case. And little Salma is now 9 years old. I mean, very soon she’s going to be a grown-up, and this father will have got out of all his responsibilities.

What is the importance of the charity you highlight in Bastards?

Aicha Chenna set up Association Solidarité Féminine [Women’s Solidarity Association] in Casablanca in 1985 to keep mothers and babies together, and try to help them reintegrate into society to live decent lives. Because the alternative is so horrific. If the girl’s parents won’t take her back — and a lot won’t — then what are her options? Certainly abandoning the baby is number one, so they can at least make a living without the literal burden to be left holding the baby. And as I say in the film, 6,500 babies are abandoned every year in Morocco. Those are UN statistics. I interviewed a doctor who deals with the backwash of all of that. He has babies brought to him from fields, from streets, found in dustbins. It’s amazing that a mother feels compelled to do that, just to carry on with her life. But I suppose some prostitutes manage to bring up their kids, and look after their kids, if you can live in some sort of brothel or in a community, or something like that. But there is plenty of drug addiction. In fact, I started filming the story of one young woman who’d grown up in the Sahara and left. She had been raped. It was a really tragic story. But during the course of filming, she left and she had her baby privately adopted, as far as we know — i.e. gave it away to a family. We weren’t very sure. Then she went off, and was taking drugs. I don’t know whether she was actually getting involved with prostitution, but I don’t know where her money was coming from.

[Association Solidarité Féminine is] using the reformed mudwana, the family code, the sharia law that was introduced in 2004. So they have lawyers who will talk to women who had been through some form of traditional marriage, or an engagement. If you can prove that you were engaged, or married, or that everybody thought you were married, then this tiny group of women can actually use the law. That’s what I wanted to show.

But for the vast majority of single mums who just had sex with their boyfriends and been promised marriage, or been raped, or suffered from incest — the law is not open to them. So there is a long way to go, and the charity is campaigning to try and expand the opportunities under the law. In practical terms, they provide space for about 50 women at any one time to train for work under their roof. They give them training in cooking in the kitchen. They run a little cafe that serves couscous, and sells that to the public. They run a hammam. So it’s not a residential place. The women live in rented accommodations around and about, and that’s where I was living alongside them. But they come in every day, and they’re expected to be there at work all day. There is also free childcare provided. And I don’t know if you have kids, but I do, and the one most crucial thing for any working parent is obviously to have your children’s safety looked after. So there are two nurseries: one for little tiny babies, and one for toddlers. They can stay there until the children are three.

So it’s an incredible, practical, hands-on way of getting them to learn how to be mums, how to be a working parent, and how to have discipline in their lives. They have a lot of psychological support as well. One-to-one counseling. And of course, they’re all in the same boat. That’s always a good thing. There are always little spats and arguments going on, and jealousies and rivalries, as you would in any kind of institution like that. But it really does work. Not many of those women abandon their babies. They really are helped through.

They also do literacy classes at the charity. So they come out of there able to read and write in Arabic, which is a huge step forward. They’re able to go for jobs which, ironically enough — if they hadn’t had the baby, and stayed in their villages, and never learned to read and write — they probably wouldn’t have been qualified to get.

But life’s very tough for them. They’re considered to be prostitutes. People talk of them like that. It’s hard for them to get married. Some of them do. Occasionally they’ll get another man, and he will want to marry them, and take on their child. But that is seen as a charitable act. It’s pretty tough. They’re really condemned to a life of being stigmatized. But the charity works very very hard. Yes, it exists to try and help them integrate into society as single mothers. But it really tries to reconcile them with the fathers. So there’s a lot of negotiation, and gentle moving forward, with trying to contact the fathers. Sometimes they go through his sister. Or they try to get at him and prick his conscience to make him feel, “Well, I brought this child into the world. Shouldn’t I really come and get married to the mother?” And that’s a long long haul. They don’t have too many successes. But I did witness one couple actually being marched down to the police station, because he’d agreed he would sign up and get married. I didn’t include the story in the film. He never did finally marry her. He went through the first stages, but it never quite resolved. Unfortunately, you can’t include every story in your film. But there’s one shot of them where the father and mother are sitting there, and she’s jiggling the little boy on her knee. It says they’re trying to bring fathers and mothers together. I just wish them well. I always tell them that Victorian Britain used to be very like Morocco today, and that parents would say, “Never darken my door again”, and “You can come back home, but only if you get rid of that baby.” All this kind of thing. And they’re amazed to hear that. Because they watch telly, and they think that the West is full of very very tolerant people, and everybody’s living together and having sex, and what-have-you. And I said, “My god, no, it wasn’t at all like that.” So things can change awfully quickly, can’t they? Attitudes can change.

How did the Arab Spring impact filming in North Africa?

It took me four years to make this film, in all. So I was actually in Morocco in January and February 2011. Tunisia kicked it off when [Mohamed Bouazizi] committed suicide in December 2010. So I was out in Morocco a month later. People were avidly following what was going on in Tunisia, and then Egypt. There were some protests, and I filmed some of them, because I thought maybe the whole story would change. Who knew what was going to happen there. So there were a lot of protests in Rabat, but it never got anywhere near violence. The complete difference between Morocco and many other places is that people really love their king. They really really love him. I mean he’s autocratic and has absolute power. He can dissolve parliament at any time. And yet, people were complaining about wanting more democracy. So I would say, “Do you want to limit the powers of the king then?” And they’d go, “Oh no, no, no. We think he’s marvelous. No, no, it’s the parliamentarians we want to get rid of.” So it was a certain amount of muddle about what was the way forward. And it’s a realistic position. I mean, they observed a lot of corruption in the parliament, and so on. But they really don’t want to get rid of their king. They’re way away from that.

What influence does Morocco’s monarchy have on everyday life there?

Nothing would happen in Morocco without the king’s approval. His father, Hassan II was, certainly in the early part of his reign, pretty brutal. He put down a couple of coups in the ’70s, and locked people up in underground prisons for the whole of their lives. So when his son Mohammed VI came to power in 1999, he wanted to make a break with the past, and with the kind of image his father had had. In fact, he’d been educated in France, and he wanted to be a modern man and move forward. Straight away, he started to talk about women’s rights, and so on. I mean, nothing happens overnight, does it? But there’s been quite a sort of feminist movement from the ’80s onwards. I guess he’d been reading and listening and talking to people, and talking to fellow students, and had his own ideas. These legal reforms which gave women in Morocco more rights than in any other Muslim country in the world, they came in in 2004. So you see, it’s within 5 years of his arrival as king. And I think quite crucially, they were hammered through a year after the suicide bombings in Casablanca. The resistance to legal reform, giving women more rights, had come from the conservative Muslims anyway. And so when these bombings happened in 2003, after that the conservatives were on the back foot of trying to defend themselves from accusations of being jihadists, or something. And so, “softly softly, catchee monkey”, they got the legislation through and onto the statute books in 2004. And it’s brave. If you read the act, the very front of it says something like, “His most divine majesty wishes to make this announcement. He wishes to reform the law along modern human rights lines.” Now that’s real dynamite, isn’t it? It’s so brave.

Camera Q&A: Kenneth Gyang on Confusion Na Wa

Kenneth Gyang is a Nigerian filmmaker from the city of Jos, where he attended the National Film Institute. In 2012, he made his directorial debut with Blood and Henna, and followed it with 2013′s Confusion Na Wa — a title drawn from a line in a song by African musician Fela Kuti, and meaning “Confusion is Everywhere”. The film is a dark comedy, where a lost cell phone intertwines the fates of a group of strangers. But it also portrays larger societal concerns in modern Nigeria — including those of crime, corruption, tolerance, and a breakdown in the family structure. The film won “Best Picture” at the 2013 African Movie Academy Awards, and in May 2014 Gyang came to New York City to screen it on opening night of the 21st New York African Film Festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center. Camera In The Sun spoke with Gyang about Confusion Na Wa, his approach to making the film profitable, and his thoughts on the future of Nigerian films.

Where did you shoot Confusion Na Wa?

It was shot in Kaduna, but it was set in Jos. I grew up in Jos, and it is a really multicultural society. They have people from all over Nigeria, and all over West Africa coming to stay there. Back in the day, colonials from Britain were extracting mineral resources, so it was really huge. And so after all of that, it became a really multicultural city. But lately, in the 2000s, there’s been lots of religious crisis and riots. I’m a Christian. I grew up with Muslim friends. But right now, it’s very hard for these young kids to mingle — Christians with Muslims or Muslims with Christians — because of how it is. So what we decided to do is use Jos as a backdrop to set our film. Because if a small thing happens there — bam, people take up arms and start killing each other. That’s where we decided to set the film, because it’s all about how the decisions you make now can actually affect the next person without you knowing it. So I wanted to shoot it in Jos, and then of course there was a crisis when we were going to shoot. People were killing people, and so we had to move the production to a city that’s like 2 or 3 hours away. And then the day that my main actor was going to come from Lagos, there was another bomb explosion in Kaduna. So we basically shot under a curfew most of the time.

We shot it in 2010 for 14 days. We didn’t have a lot of money for post-production. My writer and co-producer is in the UK, and I’m in Nigeria. So obviously, when you edit, you have to think about how you are going to be in the same place? So we bought an iMac computer, and sent the movie back and forth. It took a long time in post-production because we were not in the same city at the same time. Not because we were doing anything creative in the edits. Because of budget, and to make sure the film comes out at the right time, we just had to take our time in the post-production.

How did you go about releasing the film in Nigeria?

When the film was actually going to come out, there had been a huge outburst of theaters growing in Nigeria. People started going to theaters for something they called “New Nollywood” — or films that they show in theaters. But we have 10 screens to show films around Nigeria, servicing almost 200 million people. So it’s just for the prestige. You’re not going to actually make back your money from theaters. In Nigeria, DVD is really huge. So we said, “Yeah, of course we’re gonna do DVD. That’s where we’re gonna make back our money.” And of course VOD. All of these things: VOD and the theaters, they’re just going to add to the money you can make from DVD. Because DVD is your main market in Nigeria. And getting into theaters was definitely going to be hard. Because if you come in as an independent filmmaker, it’s really hard to negotiate with these people. Then we decided to enter film festivals. So winning “Best Picture” at the African Movie Academy Awards really helped us negotiate with them.

It’s cool that people can actually watch films on mobile phones. Because one of our deals we entered with another distributor is taking it to people via mobile phone. I don’t have a problem with people seeing it like that. But I will say, from what I’ve experienced, there wasn’t really much marketing in getting the films across via the phone. And I’m really glad that lots of other companies are not springing up in Nigeria. Because the cell phone industry is really a hit in Nigeria. So I’m sure that that will be a very good source of revenue for filmmakers

What role did your actors play in Confusion Na Wa’s marketing?

When you’re marketing your film, you have to use the right actors. Even in casting, we had to get the right actors to do it. So of course, we had to go for actors who are box-office hits in Nigeria. And of course they have a pedigree. They’ve won a couple of awards before. Yes, those are not for this film. But all the actors have been rewarded in one way or another. We won “Best Picture” at the African Movie Academy Awards. Tunde Aladese was nominated for “Best Supporting Actress” at the [Nigerian Entertainment Awards], which she actually won. Ali Nuhu was nominated for “Best Actor” at the NEA. So at the end of the day, most of the actors in the film actually have one recognition or another. It’s not necessarily for this film. But I’m really glad that the actors decided to be a part of the film, because it started from the script. Now if you’re talking about awards for the script, I’ve always been confident about it. We were given funding by the Hubert Bals Fund in the Netherlands, and we were taken to be part of the Durban FilmMart in South Africa. So I knew that if we could just tell the story on screen as it is on paper, then lots of people would definitely like it. And that’s what we were able to do. So I wasn’t really surprised when we got these recognitions all over. It’s always been really well received.

What are your prospects for future film projects?

I formed a production company with my mates called KpataKpata, and it’s about making low-budget productions. Where I’m coming from, it’s all about low-budget productions. Because if you try to make a high-end film with a huge budget, how do you intend to make that money back? We have 10 theaters in Nigeria. And if you are going to release your film on DVD, there’s lots of piracy. How would you break even? I don’t want to be a filmmaker that is all about, “Oh yeah man, you made a high-budget film.” I want to be a filmmaker that made a low-budget film that made a lot of money. That’s how you gain respect. That’s how Steven Spielberg got respect in the United States. For me, that is what is really important. It’s not about the budget. Our films are getting respected, but I always say, “You have to think about distribution and marketing, before you put a huge budget in your film.” Would I come to you to tell you, “OK, give me one million dollars to make a film”? No, I will never do that. I’ll work out all the modalities, and all the stuff that needs to get into marketing and distributing a film. Then, knowing that, I’m actually going to make back that money. So that’s what we stand for: low-budget productions. And that’s why I’ll never take myself away from Nollywood. Because that’s what Nollywood has been able to show me back home. It’s all about making low-budget productions and making money out of it. Those marketers, they make low-budget productions, and they make money out of it. That for me is what film is. Film is a business. It’s not all about making the film. I mean, I could take five million dollars and make a film, and then make $500,000. But at the end of the day, who’s gonna give you money again to make another film? It’s business, and I need to pay my bills.

Did exposure to Indian “Bollywood” films affect your taste in films?

In the north, we’re exposed to a lot of Indian films. There’s an industry in the north called “Kannywood”. It is based in Kano, which is the biggest city in northern Nigeria. They do films in Hausa, and Hausa is one of the biggest languages in Africa. It’s just before or after Swahili. So people who do films in Kannywood make them after the Bollywood medium — musicals where there has to always be people singing and dancing. It’s melodramatic. You’re talking about this person who is in love with this girl, and stuff happens just like in Bollywood films.

But the thing is, I’m not so sure if [film taste] is about the films that you are exposed to. I think it has to do with interest. Because I met people from the Southern part of Nigeria who were also into the sort of films that I watch. And when you’re having conversations, you actually have interesting conversations. It’s the same thing with northerners. There are some people who actually watch the kind of films that I watch, or who are interested in subject matter, or trying to tell the story in a particular way. So it has absolutely nothing to do with the sort of films that you are exposed to.

How did you get into filmmaking?

The National Film Institute is in Jos, and I’m from Jos. So that’s the film school I went to, but it was actually purely by accident. Because I was supposed to go to a conventional university to study mass communication. And I’m from Jos, but I didn’t know then that there was a film school there. So I was just passing by a radio station in Jos, and I saw a poster advertising the National Film Institute. And that same day, I just went to the school to ask about what it takes to enter. So I did a course in cinematography, and then I later did a degree in producing and directing.

The training in the film school is cool, but I think it’s all about how you actually want to tell stories. In Nigeria, we have the conventional Nollywood films that a lot of people are aware of around the world. But when I was in film school, I was always thinking, “How can you tell your stories differently?” So I was really interested in world cinema, and films done by Alejandro González Iñárritu, Fernando Meirelles, and of course Quentin Tarantino — how he tells his stories, his dialogue, his characters. And I started thinking, “How can we make something different.” So I attended the Berlinale Talents, because my film was selected in official competition. I went there and interacted with the people. So I had lots of education outside the classroom, by watching a lot of films and by interacting with other people. When you see some of these low-quality films coming out of Nigeria, you always wonder, “Is it because we can’t actually do it? What is the problem?”

When I was at the National Film Institute, we’d always go through a series of exercises. And some of the best students would go to attend a workshop in Burkina Faso at Imagine, run by Gaston Kaboré — who is a prominent African filmmaker. So going to Imagine actually opened a lot to me when it comes to storytelling. Because I had a lot of tutors analyzing a story, breaking down a film and all of that. We’d discuss the European model of filmmaking, the American model of filmmaking. So that actually opened my eyes. I didn’t get that in the film school, to be honest. That’s what Burkina Faso did for me. At the end of the day, I can actually decipher a film by just watching it, based on what I learned in Burkina Faso.