We will make films just as we make kids!
Ousmane Sembène is considered one of the most important film director in Africa nowadays. He is one of the filmmakers that managed to make the Senegalese cinema one of the most prominent in Black Africa.
Ousmane Sembène told me, when I met him for the first time in Cannes International Film Festival in 1967, where he was a member of the jury: I would never thought, that I will escape from my poverty without entering to the university, but that is exactly what happened. In literature I have found way to fulfill my dream to reach the African people, from among which I come and I know well what troubles them just as I know how their future looks like.
He directed his first film in 1963, short film Cart Man and one year later he made his second movie, short one as well: Fields.
After two years he made his first long narrative movie Black Girl which won Grand Prize of the First Carthage Film Festival in 1966, where he was discovery of the festival.
Is there an African cinema?
There is a groundwork for the cinema in Africa, but yet there is still nothing we can call as African cinema. There are cinemas, but they are all in the hands of foreigners. There are directors in Niger, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali etc. but no matter what do they do they cannot find anyone to distribute their films.
What are the prospects for the future?
There is no doubts, that warranty of existence of cinemas is essential. Then directors have to work hard, and if they efforts will be real, the audience will finance their films. On the other hand there has to be conferences and festivals organized in Africa to learn about her problems and find the way to solve them.
Who are you?
We are writers and artists, members on African Presence Union which was set up in Paris in 1947 and that right now has its branches in every country of Black Africa. It also has its special magazine coming out in Paris.
Speaking of Paris, Mario Ruspoli wrote in his research Cinema in developing countries that real cinema is the one typical for these countries. What do you think about that?
Pure nonsense! Ruspoli or the others determine only one direction for the cinema in developing countries and it makes no sense as he made himself guardian of these countries and chooses for them true cinema or any other course. I do not see anything forbidding films to come from any trend and even make new ones. I would say to Ruspoli and those like him: stop making choices for us! Europeans! We will make films just as we make kids!
But we need Europe’s support.
Yes, that is true. I went there and I have left my country for a long time to learn. We have to learn to be able to do anything. But there is a difference between learning and listening to those imams without minarets or mosques.
I have notice, that your first two short movies, as well as your first long movie were screened in many festivals. What is the audience you are trying to reach? Or, maybe simpler: what is your audience?
Without any discussion, my audience is the audience of Senegal in particular, and audience of Africa generally speaking. I do not think that there is something called universality, it will not come, and never came in the history of art except in the reality inspirited by the artists. If the artist succeeded in creating his own style – it become universal.
As an African, do you see any improvement regarding to American cinema concerning matters of African Americans?
There is a small development, but it is very superficial. I have played several roles in Hollywood for Sidney Poitier and the others. But they never reflected the situation of African Americans in US. Their problem is a class-problem. They are proletarians of US and this will never be shown in American film. I was offered work in Hollywood, but I refused it because of Vietnam. American imperialism sends far more African Americans than their others citizens to fight in already lost war. It is not their war, nor any other American.
Gomhuria Magazine, Egypt
July 13, 1967