Above: Souleymane Cissé’s “Yeelen” (Mali), Nacer Khemir’s "Wanderers of the Desert" (Tunisia) and "Bab'Aziz - The Prince That Contemplated His Soul"
SE: I rarely encounter anyone who has seen a single film from Africa. Not even one. When I watch my favorite African cinema - like Souleymane Cissé’s “Yeelen” (Mali), Djibril Diop Mambéty’s “Touki Bouki” (Senegal), Nacer Khemir’s “Desert Trilogy” (Tunisia), or Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s “Guimba the Tyrant” - it feels like the stories they have to tell, and the ways in which they tell them can demonstrate to the rest of the world that we haven’t even come close to fully exploring the possibilities of cinema.
[For more on some of these films, visit: http://jesselatour.blogspot.com/2016/01/the-cinema-of-mali-and-tunisia.html]
But the filmmakers I’m talking about are from the early generations of African filmmakers. Do you think younger filmmakers in Africa now have different concerns than, like Ousmane Sembène (Senegal), or Abderrahmane Sissako (Mauritania), or Haile Gerima?
ML: Yeah, for sure. Things are changing a lot in Africa, and there are different cultures of cinema. You know, in the 60s the problematics were more around post-colonial times and adapting to sudden independence. Like: now what? How will we understand and define ourselves in political terms? And there was a lot of hope. These filmmakers represent the diaspora of African filmmakers who learned how to make films abroad and were shown at international festivals. So yes, this resulted in very original cinema, but usually within the culture of international cinema. Now I think younger African filmmakers concerns are more about the future, technology, and new ways of life.
SE: And they don’t necessarily need to rely on the colonial powers to fund their films anymore, like Portugal, France, England and Russia.
ML: Totally. It’s changing. France still has a lot of influence in West Africa, but I think the African film industries are growing by themselves now. There is an explosion of grassroots cinema in Africa. I don’t know whether you have seen these Wakaliwood films, which is happening now in Uganda? Kung Fu films…
SE: Kung Fu films?
ML: It’s incredible, and very funny. There are grassroots underground films coming out of Wakaliga - a slum in Uganda's capital of Kampala - that are basically bad copies of Hollywood films. But precisely because they’re so bad, they started to become something very original. Which again, is kind of the culture of recycling. And the distortion between the original and the copy is so big that it has its own style, it’s own art. They are finding a new path by themselves. You can call it cheap, but for me it’s amazing. They inspire me a lot.