Sembene Profile

The Guardian has a fascinating profile by Maya Jaggi of the legendary Senegalese novelist/screenwriter/director Ousmane Sembene. (His latest film, Moolade, was released in the U.S. late last year, and is opening in Britain this week.) Sembene started his career as a novelist, but turned to film in order to reach a wider audience in Africa. I was particularly interested in this tidbit about African cinema and how it is regressing due to many factors, including the obvious one: economics.

Sembene has always been uncomfortable with French sponsorship and patronage, though what is known as African cinema, Shiri points out, “was born out of France’s desire to retain cultural influence in the continent”, through subsidies to officially approved films. Sembene increasingly taps EU coffers. “I go everywhere, knock on all doors,” he says.

According to Talbot, he has “always been in total financial control of his work; he has all his negatives.” For Sembene, “Africa is my audience; the west and the rest are markets.” But he feels the chronic distribution problem in Africa (where many commercial cinemas offer a diet of Bollywood and kung fu) has “gone backwards not forwards, especially in francophone countries”. Outside festivals, Gadjigo says, “it is hard to see African films in Africa. African leaderships don’t see the role cinema can play in development,” and 90% of Senegalese cinemas have closed in the past 10 years. Shiri notes that under IMF belt-tightening in the 1980s and 90s, “governments weren’t given any leeway to support culture”.

Read the rest here.