(part of a multi-article series about the 2014 Fabrique des Cinémas program at the Cannes Festival)
THE PITCH : On a quest for freedom which will lead her to revolt, Rama seeks balance between the Western progress which she values and the traditions which she respects.
Regarding the burden of ethnicity, is there an intent behind being acknowledged as being from one country in particular or do you prefer that people saw your film and thought, this kind of story could have happened in any country?
I’d like for my movies to be watched, quite simply, like movies, not like African movies. Clearly, my work represents who I am, it reflects that I am culturally anchored to my country but also that I am open toward an elsewhere, toward influences acquired during my travels around the world and from the various countries I’ve lived in.
My films aren’t only made with my Africanness but with bits of here and there. There are stories that are universal and that should thus be seen only as such.
Sometimes in world cinema one presupposes that the filmmaker has a debt to pay to society, that same society that has potentially supported them in becoming a filmmaker.
That’s an incorrect assumption. The topics in my films often have a political subtext, it’s true, but I don’t chose them because of some presumed debt that I hold towards my country. Besides, I was never in a situation in which a community mobilized itself to fund me as I became a filmmaker. I don’t feel like I have any obligations, even though I am lucky to have grown up in a country like Senegal.
I choose themes that affect me, stories that speak to me, and which allow me, sometimes, regarding certain topics, to change the outlook, a pessimistic one, on Africa. I don’t just make movies about Africa. My choices are personal ones. Society doesn’t impose anything on me.
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Is being a world cinema filmmaker also a call to arms ?
What’s with this world cinema filmmaker label ? Michael Moore does political movies and yet he’s not a world cinema filmmaker, is he ?
Point well taken. Was your film adapted from a novel ? Can you describe the process by which you first came into the book and how the novel will be adapted to the big screen?
“So long a letter” (Heinemann, 1981) is a famous novel by Senegalese author Mariama Bâ that is assigned reading in West African colleges and also in certain universities in the U.S.
It was translated in twenty languages. I thus read the book when I was a teenager. I wanted to read it again later on as I became a filmmaker, because I thought that women’s position vis-a-vis love, family and socio-cultural expectations made for an interesting narrative context.
Although the original story takes place in the eighties, my adaptation of it is a contemporary one. And yet, even though the context of my film is modern and has evolved a lot, the problematic remains the same.