Ousmane Sembene's 'African Stories,' 9 Feature Films By The 'Father Of African Cinema'

WHO: Ousmane SembeneWHAT: African Stories- Film Retrospective WHEN: November 5- November 20, 2010 WHERE: WALKER ART CENTER Walker Cinema, 1750 Hennepin Ave. Minneapolis, Minnesota

WHY: Africa, a continent full of stories both old and new, has over the last half century been affected by enormous political, social, and ecological change. Since shedding its long period of colonialism, it has seen newly formed governments, revived countries, and tribal alliances placed under severe pressure by conflicts over resources, foreign intervention, social customs, and religious differences. Perhaps no filmmaker captured these transformations better than Ousmane Sembene, the Senegalese artist who turned his own literature into film and became known as the father of African cinema.

Black Girl (1966)

A Senegalese maid employed in the Cote d’Azur is confined to the kitchen and treated like an object—forced to defend her humanity against a new form of slavery. Sembene’s assured debut, shot in arresting black and white, screened at the Cannes Film Festival and won the Prix Jean Vigo. 1966, 35mm, in French with English subtitles, 65 minutes.

Xala (1975)

Sembene’s comic portrait of the new Dakar bourgeoisie was chosen as one of the British Film Institute’s 100 best films. This brilliantly funny, ironic satire goes sour when it is revealed that businessman El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye got his start by swindling his own family. “A masterpiece considered one of the best films to come out of Africa.” (Time Out New York). 1975, 35mm, in French and Wolof with English subtitles, 123 minutes.

Moolaadé (2004)

Fatoumata Coulibaly plays Collé, a courageous mother in a small Burkina Faso village who refused “circumcision” (genital cutting) for her daughter, and subsequently is asked for help by girls who want to be spared. When Collé sets up a magical line of protection for the girls at her home, the village descends into chaos. Winner of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard prize, Sembene’s last feature was an unusual excursion outside of Senegal.

Mandabi (1968)

An unexpected money order appears to be a boon to Ibrahima Dieng and his large family—but Dieng’s attempts to cash it make for a ruefully comic tour of the bureaucracy in a newly independent Senegal. “Displays a controlled sophistication in the telling that gives it a feeling of almost classic directness and simplicity” (New York Times). 1968, 35mm, in Wolof with English subtitles, 90 minutes.

Ceddo (1977)

Slave traders, Christian missionaries, and proselytizing Muslims come together at a mythical, unspecified moment of West African history, as a Wolof princess resists a powerful imam who forcibly converts an entire village. “Ceddo” refers to a caste that refuses conversion to Islam or Christianity. This film, banned in Senegal, incorporates gorgeous costumes and music from Cameroonian jazzman Manu Dibango. 1977, 35mm, in French and Wolof with English subtitles, 120 minutes.

Emitai (1971)

In 1942, Vichy French soldiers stationed in Dakar arrive in southern Senegal to confiscate rice from the fiercely independent Joola people, but the women have hidden the crop. Based on historical events, including a massacre and the deportation of Queen Aline Sitoé Diatta (the “Joan of Arc of Senegal”), this is the only full-length feature in the Joola language. “Sembene does not grab you; he engages you” (New York Times). 1971, 35mm, in French and Joola with English subtitles, 103 minutes.

Faat Kiné (2000)

A successful Dakar businesswoman and middle-aged single mother, Faat Kine still hopes to find love, despite terrible treatment by men in her life. She and her equally independent friends meet up to chuckle at their lovers’ defects in a film that “draws the audience slowly into the rhythms of another world” from the “adroit and elegant storyteller” (New York Times). 2000, 35mm, in French and Wolof with English subtitles, 118 minutes.

Guelwaar (1992)

A missing body delays a Christian funeral—and launches a satire involving religious conflict and still-controversial objections to dependency on foreign aid. When powerful elites fail, Sembene finds genuine leaders in surprising places: a parish priest, a local cop, and a village imam. “A powerful, pointed, and multilayered political satire” (New York Times). 1992, 35mm, in French and Wolof with English subtitles, 115 minutes.

Camp de Thiaroye (1987)

African troops were essential to Charles de Gaulle’s Free French forces, which helped to liberate France after its surrender to Hitler. But upon victory, de Gaulle wanted to see only white faces marching toward the Arc de Triomphe—African soldiers were rapidly demobilized, and some were detained in a concentration camp–like facility at Thiaroye. Sembene is mordantly witty about postwar racial identities: American soldiers are welcomed at a whites-only brothel; and an African-American sergeant from Detroit needs a black Frenchman to explain Langston Hughes and Charlie Parker. With cooperation from Tunisia and Algeria, the entire film was completed on the African continent. 1987, 35mm, in French and Wolof with English subtitles, 157 minutes.