In 1996 I was a member of a Senegalese organization dealing with drug addicts and toxicomania they were collaborating with Forut Media Centre of Dakar, for which there was an admission exam to get in. Fortunately, enough, I was amongst those selected we were taught filmmaking based on social issues and with those films we tried to raise awareness among the Senegalese communities, especially young people. Since I was a teenager I’ve joined lots of think -tanks and youth organization. I should also add that my dad was running a movie theatre in my hometown when I was a child. All these combined ingredients led me into the documentary film world.
- Why are you interested in telling social stories?
My main interest in telling social stories is making wake up calls, showing and maybe telling people that something is” wrong” with us that could be related to our traditions or our modernity’s. As filmmakers or artists, we should be the mirrors of our society for ourselves and for these others as well. We need to question ourselves as sometimes we pretend to be “neutral” but how someone can be without taste nor choice. We are for or against something and it’s true that we can tell in a subtle way or suggest it with our creation. The craft teaches us how to handle all social issues. It then depends on us to use it or not. Cinema for me is like a powerful “weapon” to use wisely to defend good causes and to heal the world.
- Tell us about your latest documentary ” The Mad Man’s Truth”, what is it about?
It is a documentary film based on the life and work of Thierno Seydou Sall aka “The wandering poet”. Here is the synopsis: In the Senegalese villages, where oral traditions can constitute an integral element in the development project, the wandering poet, Thierno Seydou Sall introduces a new system of social communication with the goal of effecting positive change in the comportments and attitudes of rural populations. Two musicians, encouraged by the power of his pertinent and provocative poetry, help him.
- Is Africa losing its oral traditions, why is it important to preserve them through film?
I don’t think that Africa is losing its oral traditions. You may know that there are huge urban artists communities who nowadays are practicing spoken word and poetry in their native tongues which lead them to do research based on the traditional way of saying things . They try to get it right in their own tongue. The new generation are trying to bring they own identity back. It is important to preserve it because it is part of our heritage. You can’t build your present without knowing your past. We still have our griots, even if we are now facing “modernity”. Our slammers are the new griots.
5. When stories about rural Africa do you think are important?
Every story is important but the story which matters to me is the one dealing with the human condition: The status of women, children’s rights and so on… If I must make a documentary, it has always to be against injustice, as any injustice should be tackled. I’ll always stand for the voiceless people.
- What is the film industry like in Senegal does the government encourage the industry?
The film industry in Senegal is like every film industry: It depends on who you know, you’d better be well connected and trying to be with the “power” and the “powerful people”. You have to find good mentors and to play a lower profile. In Senegal, we do have the “Fopica”. It’s the cinematographic fund which helps filmmakers to have a go (start) on their project. Being an independent filmmaker is not for my country. I think it is very selective and complicated for younger filmmakers without a producer. We have very few producers in Senegal. The Fopica budget is also very small, 2 billion FCFA (about 1,350,000 pounds) to share between 10 to 25 projects. I would prefer to put that money in just one good project.
7. Tell us about the system of social communication introduced by Thierno Seydou Sall in the film?
Thierno Seydou Sall defies inhibiting traditions and contributes to a new discourse on fundamental development issues among Senegal’s rural populations. With the same perspective, he transgresses once-taboo issues and brings a new model of democracy to the populations inciting them to take control of their own lives. His voice written down in spare Wolof language, funny and provocative, is that of village society’s forgotten ones namely women and children. The message in all his poems are clear, that it is time to recognize the right of all members of our society to participate in the creation of a new social order based on respect, humanism, and friendship, rather than on social status, gender or wealth
- How long did the documentary take to make and where was it filmed in Senegal?
It took me 15 years to do the documentary in terms of negotiation, research, (pre-production, production, and post-production). The film was shot mainly in the rural area of Thies and a little bit in Dakar.
- What were the challenges if any to the filmmaking process and what did you learn when making the film?
I had to revise several times my film script project. Some people refuse to take part in the film project. A great journalist for whom I always had a profound respect because of his social and political engagement refused to be filmed, saying disdainfully that he was not an actor. I also tried to put two of my favourite visual artists (friends of Thierno) in the same scene and make them interact but they categorically refused because of their antipathy, of which I was initially unaware. It caused tremendously delay in the shooting plan as I could film separately. On another occasion, one of my multiple cameramen (because I used 4 or five of them) came five minutes late because of this delay, one of our protagonists got mad and wanted to quit. We were finally able to calm him down and we shot an excellent scene. While facing all these issues, plus the usual daily problems linked to directing a film in an underdeveloped country (lack of material, and an adequate budget plus the lack of consideration for my work as an artist). I learned to be patient and to negotiate tactfully so that the whole project would remain as little affected as possible. I always took the time to explain to the people how important the project was for documenting Senegalese cultural heritage and then, how crucial their contribution was. The film was not only mine but theirs too, as we were a team. It helped to create a certain intimacy, allowing me to access the complexity of their character. But it has also its own limits, as it tends to increase their ego. Some critics could say that I may have been a little bit overwhelmed by my protagonists who constructed the film as much as I did, that I should have affirmed myself more. But in a way, the film also reflects part of their true self. Sometimes they like being in the centre of the stage and the film attempts to render this as much as their social and political engagement. My training at the cinema school of” bout de ficelles”(of bits of strings because of lack of means) has made me adaptable and tenacious regarding my work as a documentary Film Director.