Ousmane Sembene becomes an ancestor

Publié le par hort


Mourning Peerless Film Giant
By Sifelani Tsiko
June 11th, 2007

Death Of A Peerless Film Legend

Ousmane Sembene who died this past weekend was a rare breed of African artist--of the emerging days of African independence that used creative restorative images and cinematic language rooted in African culture for the social and mental liberation of African people.

The grandmaster of African film died at the age of 84 in Dakar, Senegal, Saturday. He was one of the last few surviving giants of pioneers of African cinema who chronicled the lives of the dispossessed, exposed the inequalities of wealth and power in postcolonial Africa.

Ousmane never allowed himself to get swallowed by the Hollywood movie approach; he used the Afrocentric approach blended with a deep knowledge of African culture to describe the authentic reality of the class struggle for dignity and liberty in Africa. Ousmane lived all his life as a novelist, film director, social critic, activist and revolutionary.

"If there is a message, it is that the future of men lies in their own hands particularly for the working class and the peasantry," Sembene once told the writer, Moeletsi Mbeki, who is brother to South African President Thabo Mbeki.

"I am a writer and I prefer literature to cinema but it happens that I write in French, a language which is not the mother tongue of the majority of the population in my country. As most of this population goes to the cinema it is better to speak to them visually? That is why I went into films,” the great filmmaker said.

"Cinema allows me a permanent meeting point with my people, a permanent dialogue. I am not saying that I’m always right, but I can discuss the concrete realities of my country. I have not abandoned literature, I work in both literature and cinema," Sembene added. "Until now Africa has been a civilization based on oral tradition. The ear plays a large part and my aim now is to bring together ear and eyes, the audio and the visual, because in order to appreciate a film one must understand cinematic metaphor."

Sembene, who had been unwell since December last year, was born into a fisherman's family in the southern region of Casamance in 1923 in Senegal. The city lights of Dakar attracted him in the 1930s. He held several jobs in Africa and Europe as a mechanic, carpenter and builder and was conscripted into the French army in World War II where he worked as a laborer and docker.

His experiences provided Sembene with rich fodder for his artistic and literary works. "I tell stories
through film. I am only a story-teller," was a favorite refrain. "The film itself is the story. So why waste time discussing it. See the film and you have the story."

He lived all his life for the people of Africa, for the betterment of his country, Africa and the African person in the eyes of the world. He was not apologetic about working on his themes on colonialism, neo-colonialism, Marxism, cultural imperialism and others deeply rooted in African culture.

"I would not say that colonialism and neo-colonialism are of the past but in the evolution of Africa there is the problem of the growth of a black bourgeoisie, the problem of an oppression which is no longer racial but based on economic interest," Sembene told Mbeki. "There are problems of beggars, of the poor, of prostitutes, of the church, problems which Africa is now going to have to face in their concrete reality—The new African literature will deal with relations between men, not between Blacks, but between interest groups. As an artist I am only sorry that I do not have 10 heads to do work on all these problems."

His collection of books and films he produced, sum up his lifelong commitment to the cultural industry. His first novel, Black Docker (1956) is a story about an African dock worker convicted of killing a Frenchwoman after she has passed off his novel manuscript as her own. It depicted exploitation.

God's Bits of Wood and The Money Order were some of his successful works before he went to study film studies at Gorky Studios in Moscow in early 1960s.

He began his filmmaking career in 1963 with 'Borom sarret,' a short black-and-white, the first film made in the region by a sub-Saharan African, followed a day in the life of a Dakar cart driver.

Niaye (1964), based on a short story, looked at the taboo of incest, while La Noire de ... (Black Girl, 1966), the region's first full-length feature, was sparked by a news story about a Senegalese maid brought to the French Riviera who kills herself. Her voiceover reveals that, though her country is supposedly free, she remains a possession, film reviewers observed.

Sembene produced more than 10 films and one of his last films 'Moolade' was a denunciation of female genital mutilation. The film won him an award at the Cannes Film Festival.

Sembene won two prizes at the Venice Film Festival in 1968 and in 1988. The first was for 'The Money Order,' the second for 'The Camp of Thiaroye' which tells about the violent repression by French troops of protests by Senegalese soldiers demanding their pay.

Africa will remember him most for is contribution to the Pan-African Festival of Film and Television of Ouagadougou where he was a co-founder of this festival held every two years.

His most acclaimed film is Xala (1974) which won many international prizes and looks at the excesses of black bourgeoisie in post colonial Africa. The film satirizes a new bourgeoisie who wash their Mercedes in Evian, through the tale of a polygamous businessman struck down by impotence, and the procession of beggars who spit on him to end the curse.

Many of his films are based on anecdotes of everyday life, exposing the excesses in material post-colonial Africa. Tributes to Sembene have been pouring in from all corners of the African continent.

Former Senegalese president Abdou Diouf, now secretary general of the French-speaking club of states, the Francophone, said Africa had lost “one of its greatest film-makers" and “a fervent defender of liberty and social justice."

He wanted Africans to have a sense of their own history and to achieve their own sense of social, e
ducational, economic, psychological freedom and mobilize black thought and action to uplift the
African communities.

Publié dans culture

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