The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.

31 July 2014

Omah Diegu: artist, and filmmaker of the iconic L.A. Rebellion film movement

Nigerian-born, Ijeoma Iloputaife, artist name Omah Diegu, was among the first generation of U.S.-trained African filmmakers. She studied filmmaking at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) during the "L.A. Rebellion", a film movement whose objective was to legitimised African, African American and Native experiences and visual representation by confronting Eurocentric aesthetics and questioning western culture as the point of reference in film language and elements of style. Omah Diegu, who lives and works in the United States, talks about her experiences during this historic period and her evolution as artist and cultural producer.

Omah, when looking at your cinematic trajectory, it parallels the first generation of Africa women filmmakers emerging in the 1970s and 80s, who went abroad to study filmmaking, though your path took you to the United States rather than Europe, which was the general tendency at the time. What motivated you to study in the United States and to pursue filmmaking at UCLA (University of California Los Angeles)? Perhaps before answering that question you could talk a bit about your background in Nigeria, what was it like growing up in relationship with cinema and the moving image?

Growing up in Nigeria, Tarzan, Hercules, Zorro and such films were the type of fictional movies that were on television then; otherwise there were documentaries (mainly British) that dealt with serious topics such as the World War II. As a child, among other questions, I always wondered how the filmmakers were able to follow the characters in the movies throughout their exploits. More so intriguing was when a character was shown from childhood to adulthood . . . how in a couple of hours, year after year passed by. At secondary boarding school (high school), where there were no movies, I read all kinds of books. In the classroom when I was supposed to be listening to my teacher, I read; during siesta, I read; when I was supposed to engage the physical world, I hid in a corner and read mystery and science fiction books. I enjoyed the pictures I painted for myself in my mind, of situations that were described in words. I wrote short stories and plays, and did some sketches and paintings here and there. I entered some of them in Art Festival competitions in Nigeria and won awards. As a college undergraduate in the mid 1970’s, I studied fine arts at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), but worked as a newsreel correspondent with Radio Nigeria Lagos during the vacations.

On graduation, I worked as a reporter with Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) Lagos. I thought I could truthfully report the events I covered, but the newsroom gave its own version of my reports as dictated by the politics of the day. When a colleague of mine was fired for investigating and revealing the disappearance of eight billion dollars from the national coffer, I decided it was time to look for another medium of expression. I chose to study how to tell a story that would allow intelligent and imaginative persons to get the true picture, without exposing myself to hostilities. I had visited England and the United States during a couple of summer breaks from the University of Nigeria; and thought I would be better off exploring new ideas in the United States. University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) film school offered me that chance. I had read somewhere that not only was it not Hollywood oriented (that is: independent film-making was encouraged), but it was one of the top film and television schools in the world. I guess I was drawn more towards the current affairs type of storytelling because my father had been killed as a result of the political situation in Nigeria of the late 1960s. Influential was also the surreal experiences I had during the pogrom and consequent civil war. My journey through all kinds of literature and real life experiences has taught me that there is no demarcation between true-life events and perceived fiction.

The political climate of the 1970s in the United States played an important role in the intellectual and creative development of a generation of artists, and specific to UCLA, it was the catalyst for the emergence of what has come to be known as the “L.A. Rebellion”. Please talk about the cultural climate during that time and the impact of the “L.A. Rebellion” on your development as a filmmaker? What was your relationship with the other African American and "third world" film students in this context?

“Until the lion - king of his jungle - tells his side of the story, the narrative of the hunt will always glorify the hunter-man.” - African proverb.

It was of the utmost importance to a whole lot of us blacks at UCLA then, that we learn to use the language of film to tell our stories our own way. For me, as a fine-artist and story teller, my own way was encumbered with the way the African artisan and the Griot broached his subject – as an abstract representation of an innermost spiritual vision of trueness. The late 1960s with its black pride championed from UCLA by political activists, such as Angela Davis, had concluded in an open ended way. So there was this thing in the air for me that – given the deceit of the Nigerian public first by the British colonialists, then by the indigenous politicians and press - I had lots of things in common with the black Americans I met at the film school. I too wanted to make a positive impact in the lives of my people without being shut up. However quality of production is always controlled by the financial producer or lack thereof . . . for as the saying goes: “He, who pays the piper, calls the tune.”

There was no African student at the film school in my 1st year. I learnt that a Nigerian lady by the name of Grace had been there, but left a year before my arrival. My first film project was a super 8 short of an Ibo folk tale “Obaledo”. The young girl, Obaledo, was disobedient to her parents by switching the priorities, which she was enjoined with. This led her to venture alone outside of her home, in spite of their warnings. Consequently she exchanged her beauty for the ugliness of a spirit who accosted her from another world by imitating the spirits’ alien incantations. This simple folktale mirrored my creative mind set. However, my quest was for a more adult way to impart such subtle teachable moments to a sophisticated audience.

During that time the presence of African film students was indeed rare, what were your experiences, and in particular as a woman? It also appears that two of your fellow filmmaking students were also from Africa, Ruby Bellgam and Anne Ngu, did you work with them at all?

Yes indeed there were few Africans at school in California – period. Most were in the East coast. However, in the Black American / Caribbean film students at UCLA, I saw Africa; not necessarily because they were black like me (a couple of them were actually light skinned and of multiple race). There was this sense that they longed to inculcate and interpret the Africa embedded in their very being. I worked with Melvana Ballenger who came in the same year as I; also with Ben Caldwell, Pamela Jones and Bernard Nicholas among others who were earlier. There were also a couple of white American film students who were working on films they shot in Africa. I was at home with all of them and worked in any projects to which I was invited. So when Ruby Bellgam came to the film school - I believe that was in my 3rd year - she was like any other black student to me. However had she arrived earlier I probably would have sought to cast her as the African woman in my short movie African Woman-USA because of her physique and accent. The Nigerian Segun Oyekunle, like Ms. Bellgam, might also have been invited to participate in my projects.  

This movement appears to have galvanized a pan-African, Third World-ism among the students of colour. In what ways did this shared cultural ideology manifest itself among the students as it relates to filmmaking?

There was Professor Teshome Gabriel of UCLA History of African Cinema Studies who literally nudged us along the path of finding our own cinematic identity, which would be relevant to our unique sensitivities as children of British neo-colonialism and post American racial-segregation. However, we were all practically handicapped by an inadequate film production budget that limited our ability to fully exploit our creativity and experiment with enough materials for our “masterpieces”. We saved money and gathered experience by working on each other’s film and television projects in whatever capacity was needed: be it as cameraman, sound engineer or actor.

What is your relationship to Nigeria and the film industry there, which by the way has imposed itself on the global cinematic landscape!

None! Of course I am with the filmmakers in spirit and laud them for bulldozing their way into the global cinematic landscape in spite of meager budgets and lack of movie theater distribution. I am first and foremost a fine-artist – that is my very being. For the life of me, I am not able to create without trepidation, anything that does not come from my very core… i.e. Just as I cannot come up with any finished oil paintings except those that sought my canvas of their own volition, I cannot make a film for the mere purpose of entertaining an audience and making a buck. Of course if I were to be inspired to produce something in which an audience is also entertained, that would be a bonus.

You made several films during the 1980s and 1990s that reflect the themes of the “L. A. Rebellion” as well as working within the theoretical framework of Third Cinema, such as African Woman U.S.A., Atilogwu: The Story of a Wrestling Match, The Snake in My Bed. Could you talk about the films within this context, and especially the latter, The Snake in My Bed for which you are best known?

African Woman U.S.A. tried to address challenges that black women generally face in the US: be it from the white man (institutionalized racism) or black man (black-on-black violence). It underscored the animosity that exists between black people who came to the US of their own free will (usually for educational purpose) and those Americans whose African ancestors were forcibly transplanted. However it fell short of fully addressing the issues due to budget constraints. This made the film rely on dialogue to make a quick point where more visuals and lengthier film would have made a more memorable impact.

Atilogwu: The Story of a Wrestling Match is the film of a dance by a Nigerian Igbo dance group known as “Nkpokiti”. The dance interprets the story of a wrestling match during which a hero endowed with mystical powers was victorious. One must know the Igbo culture; understand the meaning of the various dance steps, visual and audio expressions, as well as the role played by each music instrument, to fully follow the story line. Otherwise “Nkpokiti” is just another visually pleasing acrobatic dance. My intent in filming the dance was to eventually add a narrative study enhancing the symbolism of various aspects of the content expressions, so that a greater audience of non-Igbo-culture-savvy will appreciate the depth of the performance. Chinese martial arts is widely enjoyed today because at one time, the codified systems of movement was explained to the audience: i.e. the deeper meaning of poses imitating the snake, praying mantis etc. Ballet such as Swan Lake Op. 20 by Tchaikovsky is enjoyed, not just because of the music and beautiful dances, but because it tells the story of Odette, a princess turned into a swan by the curse of an evil sorcerer.

My film The Snake in My Bed is as is. Addressed to my son, it is a personal recount of a clash between two distinct cultures, two races, spanning two countries and two continents; and finally reconciling at a common ground. However it is a human story that is played out time and time again, in all variations, everywhere between any given cultures and race, be it without or within national borders. It is a story lived and told in such a way that one concedes inferiority to no one, no people and no place. It is such an earnest tale that anyone who appreciates what went down will comprehend a connection to his/her own life. Will I go out of my way to garner broader interest in the film, especially in Nigeria? Once upon a time I might have. I refrained when at the time in 1995, of the initial release of the film at The Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), my brother Bishop Iloputaife who spoke up against the ills of the ruling Government of Nigeria was gunned down by assassins. His efforts to make a difference to the lives of others in Nigeria only landed him a bullet to the head; and for what? Conditions in Nigeria today are worse than they were in his own time. To make matters worse, my film got badly scratched-up and bled magnetic sound strip caused by a malfunctioned projector at the festival. I was thrown into such a depressive quagmire that I elected not to send my film to any other festival or even consider making another. Suffice it that about 20 years later I was persuaded by Jan-Christopher Horak to include The Snake in My Bed as part of the “L.A. Rebellion” collection. Of this I am well pleased. The film is bound to still do someone somewhere some good someday. And I might yet finish a script and make another film.

According to Jan-Christopher Horak, The Snake in My Bed reflects the tenets found in many of the films of the “L.A. Rebellion” such as the focus on institutionalized racism, colonialism and issues relating to women of colour. Could you talk about the making of the film in terms of your motivation, the form and content and also its reception? That it has the German title Die Schlange in meinem Bett indicates that it was released in Germany, which of course is not surprising as the film focuses on your own personal experiences with Germany. What role did Germany play in the production of the film and what was its reception there?

Dr. Jan-Christopher Horak wrote such knowledge-filled and telling exposé of The Snake in my Bed that I marvel at the extent to which even the most subtle nuances in my film was picked up. I made The Snake in my Bed as I would any of my paintings: an abstract vomit from the very depth of my soul. Just like with all paintings, one either gets it, or does not. However it helps to have knowledge of art appreciation in order to fully comprehend the depth of a true work of art. Nevertheless every grown individual has sets of life experience from which can be found communion with something in another’s. My motivation in making the film is shrouded in my earlier quote: “Until the lion - king of the jungle - tells his side of the story, the narrative of the hunt will always glorify the hunter-man.” - African proverb. My film is in the form of what I would call “Abstract Documentary”. Unlike a regular documentary or docudrama, my story is a juxtaposition of the narrated recount of past events (the “historic”), with the present scenic reality (the “now”). The “now” is enhanced by select activities undertaken by the narrator (Griot) and the sole character (audience) to which the narration is addressed in the film. Some of these activities involve visiting the actual venues, but not reenacting the events, highlighted in the narration. Other film locations hold abstract symbolic ties to the narration; likewise the actions of the characters therein: be they human, animals or projected imaginary. These elements are punctuated by earnest discussions between the narrator and various characters who were actual witnesses to the recollected episodes.

I also said: “He, who pays the Piper, calls the tune.”  The film “The Snake in my Bed” was bankrolled by the German companies: Die Kuratorium Junger Deutscher Film and ZDF (Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen). There were aspects of my odyssey in Germany that had I included them in my script, my film might never have been produced there. These were not complimentary maneuverings by some higher authorities of the German government. Their actions were mitigated, at some time though, by an elected German politician of a minority liberal party, and at another by the Nigerian Embassy in Bonn. All these intrigues and counteractions were going on outside of the judicial system that was still trying to sort out the German officials’ mess-up with my son’s birth certificate and legal status. Then there was the German activist organization - of which my diligent attorney Marion Tamura Ikeda was a member - that publicized my son’s dilemma in a German newspaper. This had precipitated expert legal opinion being advanced, pro bono by a concerned German citizen, to the relevant court. So in spite of not blatantly telling all in the film (and probably all the better so), I could still make my case to an empathetic German audience; especially those within the lawmakers, bureaucrats and interracial community. My film aired a couple of times on German television and theater. It is of great consolation to think that my story played a part in the enactment of a law in Germany - soon after the debut of my film there. This law recognized the German citizenship of an interracial child born to an unwed German man, as an earlier one had done for the child born of an unwed German woman. This meant equal right of German citizenship to every child born of a German parent! For even though I married his German father in Nigeria, some German bureaucrats, hell bent on throwing my biracial baby to the dogs, were able to feign ignorance of the legality of my marriage. This way, they could camouflage their racism under the umbrella of the absence of a specific law protecting the biracial “illegitimate” child of a German man.

On another level, the drive to make The Snake in My Bed at that very time in space was the chance to preemptively tell my son the story of his birth and ancestry in the event of my precipitous demise. That would help him never to let anyone else define him. As his Griot, my son is my primary target audience hence I addressed him directly. I could not have asked for any one more appreciative.

What cultural and film activities have you been involved in during the past several decades and what are your thoughts on the renewed interest in the “L. A. Rebellion”?

Well in terms of filmmaking I am working on a novel/script that encompasses different perspectives of deities and elements. While at the University of Nigeria (UNN), I wrote an Igbo language play: “Iwe na Onuma” on this very theme. I lost this play in the hands of a renowned Nigerian playwright who was a professor on campus, but relocated to London before I could retrieve it.

The necessity to pursue a reliable sustenance income as a single parent tampered with my artistic spirit. When I finally have time on my hands, I am hard pressed to find the same zest of my youth to make a difference in society. I enjoy my creativity in home décor, renovations, multimedia designs, paintings etc… to find peace with myself. I welcome any who gets joy from what I create. Do I go out of my way to look for who will appreciate my work? No. Not I.

In terms of the L.A. Rebellion, those who are interested in the films showcased there will learn things that will add to their cultural intelligence. Any one of the films is a projection of the creator’s soul in all its unpretentiousness. The way we were.

Interview with Omah Diegu by Beti Ellerson, July 2014.

Link

17 July 2014

Festival International de Films de Femmes de Créteil | International Women's Film Festival of Créteil - 2015 - Inscription | Registration


Festival International de Films de Femmes de Créteil | International Women's Film Festival of Créteil - 2015


REGISTRATION FOR THE 37TH FESTIVAL IS OPEN UNTIL 15 DECEMBER 2014

The next festival will take place 13 to 22 March 2015!

You may send your films beginning today until 15 December 2014 for the 37th edition.

Information and registration form: http://www.filmsdefemmes.com




LES INSCRIPTIONS AU 37e FESTIVAL SONT OUVERTES JUSQU’AU 15 DECEMBRE 2014

Le prochain festival aura lieu du 13 au 22 mars 2015 !

Vous pouvez nous envoyer vos films à partir d’aujourd’hui et jusqu’au 15 décembre 2014 pour la 37ème édition.

Infos et formulaire d’inscription : http://www.filmsdefemmes.com

10 July 2014

Homage to Andrée Davanture (1933-2014) grande dame and passionate supporter of African cinema


Homage to Andrée Davanture (1933-2014), grande dame and passionate supporter of African cinema 

I met Andrée Davanture while doing research in Paris for my African women in cinema project. Atria, the structure that she founded in 1980 and that closed in 1998, was a hub for African film professionals, bustling with activity, a site for professional encounters, cinematic discourse, film editing, and research. A homage to the grande dame of film editing, passionate, eager to listen and assist, who left us on 1 July 2014.

Nicknamed Dédée, Andrée Davanture’s passion as editor spans some 50 years. Chief editor of the stunning Mossane (1996) by Safi Faye and the haunting The Night of Truth (2004) by Fanta Nacro, her sensitive hand is visible in a host of African films, notably of the renowned Souleymane Cissé (for which she was editor of all of his feature films). Her African film work dates as early as 1974 with Sous le signe du Vaudou by Pascale Abikanlou, and in 1975 with Cissé's Den Muso and Muna Moto by Jean-Pierre Dikongue, spanning the decades with Oumarou Ganda’s L’Exile (1980), Wend Kuuni (1982) by Gaston Kaboré, and the illustrious list continues.

Rest in Peace, chère Dédée.
(Beti Ellerson)

Tributes to Andrée Davanture:

Souleymane Cissé: We have just lost a sister, a friend, a mother, who has contributed enormously to African cinema in general, especially Malian cinema…the enduring memory of a warrior who has always supported our cinema and always had the right words that pushed you to go beyond yourself in the cinematic process.  (Maliactu.net)

FESPACO: For her indefatigable technical, artistic and pedagogical contribution to African cinema, FESPACO gives a spirited tribute to Andrée Davanture. She has contributed to the formation of the history of African cinema. She leaves us with weapon in hand, on the work in progress of film director Souleymane Cissé. (Fespaco)

Michel Amarger (Afrimages / RFI / Médias France): The influence of Andrée Davanture for the generation of filmmakers of African independences is considerable. She supported them, gave them contacts, and encouraged them on their scripts. Today this impetus leaves an imprint on a new generation that knew her and benefited from her advice. (Africiné)

Olivier Barlet (Africultures): "I saw Borrom Sarret [Ousmane Sembene, 1963] and I remember crying." For Andrée Davanture, also, there was a click, which was an emotion. "It is a cinema that deeply moves me, a vital cinema." This is the key that motivates these "fous d'Afrique", those passionate about Africa* who dedicate their lives to the service of contemporary African cultural production. 

"In the profession, continues Andrée, many do not understand the choice I made." Indeed, against all odds, she fought for a certain relationship to filmmakers whose difference baffled many. "I am completely idealistic. Time passes and I remain. Life is so short!! If there is no interest in growing every day, what force does one have to fight against death if not the solidity and the importance of what we feel? "

After her death on 1 July 2014 at the age of 81 years, this interview from 1995 resonates even louder. (1) Already, when I was preparing my first book on African cinemas, Andrée’s warm welcome and her way of telling me with the right words what I felt myself, gave me a wonderful energy. (Africultures)


*Corrected translation: Olivier Barlet refers to the book "Fous d'Afrique" by Jean de la Guérivière, about those generations of French who have a passion for Africa.

08 July 2014

"I am not interested in denouncing polygamy: my film goes beyond that". Interview with Angèle Diabang by Olivier Barlet about "So Long a Letter"


"I am not interested in denouncing polygamy: my film goes beyond that". Interview with Angèle Diabang by Olivier Barlet about "So Long a Letter" 

Source: Africultures.comPhoto © Olivier Barlet, Cannes, mai 2014. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson

Senegalese director Angèle Diabang was selected to participate in La Fabrique des cinémas du monde during the 2014 Cannes Film Festival professional program that contributes to the emergence of young artists of the South on the international market. Designed by the French Institute, the annual program invites with their producers, ten directors to Cannes who are developing their first or second feature film. Angèle Diabang's project in development is the adaptation of the celebrated novel by Mariama Bâ, So Long a Letter. 

Adapt a celebrated book; this is an impressive and risky project! Why this choice? 

I made the choice to adapt it into a film because I think the debate on polygamy but also on the situation of women vis-à-vis society, family and love is as important today as ever. At the present we are in an era where the image has a great impact, many young people no longer read. We look at more and more images, films, either on the Internet or television, even if there are no more cinema houses in Dakar. I thought it would be great to take an emblematic work of African literature, and adapt it for the screen. 

Is polygamy still practiced in urban areas? 

I think so, even in the urban environment and though our country has evolved and modernized, polygamy is still there. 

It is true that the topic is dealt with in recent films, such as 5x5 by Moussa Touré. 

Exactly, the debate is on going. 

You come from the documentary genre; you have directed and produced many, why this passage to fiction. What desire is manifested in this? 

It is true that so far I have produced and directed documentaries, and also a short fiction, but I have never made strict boundaries between fiction and documentary. I always knew that one day I would also do fiction because there are stories I want to tell that are impossible to do with a documentary: it would be too sensitive and not sufficiently subtle. I prefer to relate it through fiction. In the case of Mariama Bâ, it is an adaptation and so I can only do it in fiction. But I would never set limits with respect to these two genres. Rather, the documentary is a learning experience for me, allowing me to grow and develop into fiction. 

While it is a fiction, it is still quite documentarised, since it is her own story... 

Exactly. This novel is, so to speak, a "semi" autobiography and I'm sure there will be a documentary aspect in my film. 

The literary adaptation is relatively rare in black African cinemas. It is an approach that has not shown real results. I remember the workshop "Etonnants scénarios" that I introduced a while ago in Bamako, whose objective was to bring together writers and filmmakers. However no concrete projects emerged from it. How did you go about your process? 

It came about when producer Eric Neve from La Chauve-Souris and I agreed to work together on the novel. It took us several months to find out who had the rights and how to obtain them to make the film. When we got the rights, I knew that since I am not a screenwriter and having made documentaries, I did not want to write the film adaptation, but rather have someone else do so. Because Eric Neve believes strongly in me, and my talents, he pushed me to do it. He told me: "Begin, and when you know where you want to go, you take on an author," and now, I'll begin the third version of the script by myself! So far it's going well, people who read it are quite surprised and happy with the results. After this writing phase, I think there will be a screenwriter or a second writer. 

Were the rights difficult to obtain? 

Not really. There have been discussions with the rights holders for Mariama Bâ, but there were no difficulties. 

Eric Neve has worked with Moussa Touré for the film La Pirogue, which is also loosely adapted from a literary work. How is your rapport with someone who is known to be an efficient producer, with his expectations and his constraints? 

For me it is easy and pleasant to work with Eric Neve who I have known for a long time. We have had a very human relationship, pleasant and friendly. For the fiction, he was the one who pushed me to direct it, since for the last several years I have only worked as producer. He believes in my talent as a director and really propelled me, encouraging me to resume directing. He is in tune with what I want to do but he knows also how to read and make constructive criticism. 

With a producer of his weight, the funding issue may be easier? 

We are still in development. I'm at the Moulin d'Ande, which allows me to isolate myself, insulated from everything, and concentrate on writing. When Eric makes films, he does not say: "This is an African film, we will try to mend it." No, he simply says: "we will have the budget required for the film," regardless of the cost. He does not fix the budget according to the origin of the project. 

Is he aware of the importance of the topic to contemporary African society? 

Yes, I think he is aware. He has a house in Gorée, he comes to Senegal often and is steeped in Senegalese culture. We are on the same wavelength. 

Can one imagine that the film once completed could be used for educational purposes, in schools for example, bringing the classroom to cinema? 

I'd love to do that in fact. Since I finished Fémis, I have thought about a cine-school project or image education in Senegal. For this film, it will be imperative that I make the rounds of the schools to present it to students since it is a novel that is in the curriculum. If a student told me that after seeing the film that she/he revisited the novel to read, I would have succeeded because I have participated in reuniting this student with the literature! 

As a woman I suppose this is a topic that touches you? 

Yes, but with this film I am not interested in denouncing polygamy. Neither my producer nor I come with an anti-polygamy approach. There is merely the desire to show how the sociocultural rules of Senegalese society evolve and how we as women are a bit torn between a certain modernity—we are well educated, we travel, we want more freedom—it is a position specifically female, and that wants to respect tradition. How to manage this split between a strong tradition that is worn with pride and the desire for more freedom? It is in this sense that the project interests me, and less in the direction of pushing to abolish polygamy, because I am for freedom of choice: whether homosexuality, polygamy, the freedom to practice religion, everyone is free to choose. If someone feels good being in a polygamous relationship it is her right, after which she deals with the consequences. It is not for me to say whether polygamy is right or not. 

I remember an anthropology book, “The Woman of My Husband” by Sylvie Fainzang and Odile Journet, which showed that polygamy in rural areas had an important function for women as it facilitated the sharing of heavy workloads, including childcare. But the book concluded that nonetheless polygamy was still negative for the status of women. 

It is true that it is rather difficult. I could not be in a polygamous marriage, but that is me. I think it is difficult for women as for men because you have to manage two families, and today, financially, with the economic crisis, polygamy is not particularly useful to those involved. If a woman arrives at a certain age and is not yet married, she is not very well regarded by society. So when she reaches her forties, she resigns herself to be a second or third wife. Perhaps the evolution of sociocultural rules will bring about attitudes that will accept that a woman can live, be free, be someone socially respected without being married. It is not because a woman is married that her moral values are superior to those of others. I hope that we can one day see these attitudes come to fruition, thereby preventing the practice of women having to marry because of social pressure. I think that there are still many marriages that take place because of social pressure, both by women and men. I would like the adaptation of So Long a Letter to participate in moving things in that direction. I have friends who are in a polygamous marriage and who are happy with their situation, so who am I to say to them that it is not good. I would like the debate to evolve beyond "is polygamy right or not?". 

This goes against a number of stereotypes about African women. 

Exactly. As Eric Neve has often said, modernity does not mean Westernization. I think this way of condemning polygamy means that if you are not like us, you're not modern enough. But we can be modern without copying Westerners! 

Does La Fabrique des cinémas du monde allow you to make significant developments? What have been some of the results? 

Actually there have been important developments, as the project has already gained visibility. Before then, I had been developing it by myself underground. Today I can dare to talk about it, people know about it, are waiting for it. We met the artistic directors of the Critics' Week, and so they know us and are interested in our work. Apart from that, we met German, Norwegian and Brazilian producers, which has enabled us within this professional framework to discuss our project concretely with co-producers with whom we could finalize it. Having our project selected at La Fabrique makes it better received: having already been among the ten chosen out of more than one hundred candidates. And when looking at the percentage of projects completed at La Fabrique, one recognizes its quality. 

Will there be a follow-up that continues throughout the next year? 

Exactly. One already comes to Cannes with an established schedule of activities and meetings. We have the opportunity to indicate whom we would like to meet during the festival; it is a luxury! I was able to see the director of the CNC Brazil, for example. If I need contacts later, they will help me advance in this new phase. We were fortunate to have Walter Salles as a sponsor: a generous person with a great artistic sensibility. It was really a great opportunity; it was wonderful!

Last year with Raoul Peck, the participants said the same thing: in other words, sponsors really do participate! 

Yes, Walter had read all projects before coming. I, myself was lucky because he had read So Long a Letter well before knowing about my project and when he saw that I had adapted it, he was enthusiastic. But he really had a genuine sensitivity regarding all the directors and producers who were there. He was interested in all the projects. 

Last personal question: how do we combine family life with cinema when you have a young child? 

It is not evident! For the last two years I have not really worked because I was taking care of my child, my work was a bit on hold. But I'm glad to restart with projects such as So Long a Letter and my documentary about Dr. Mukwege of DRC, as well as working with the Société des gestions collectives (League of collective management) in Senegal. Now that my child has grown a little older, I can balance my work and family life, one just needs to find a balance. It is not easy I’ll admit, but I am trying to find it!

ALSO SEE: Angèle Diabang adapts "So Long a Letter" to film - Interview by Agnès Chitou 
http://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2014/07/angele-diabang-adapts-so-long-letter-to.html 

"Je n'ai aucune envie de condamner la polygamie : mon film va au-delà" entretien d'Olivier Barlet avec Angèle Diabang à propos d'Une si longue lettre


"Je n'ai aucune envie de condamner la polygamie : mon film va au-delà" entretien d'Olivier Barlet avec Angèle Diabang à propos d'Une si longue lettre

Photo © Olivier Barlet, Cannes, mai 2014

La réalisatrice sénégalaise Angèle Diabang a été sélectionnée pour participer à La Fabrique des cinémas du monde durant le festival de Cannes 2014, programme professionnel qui contribue à l'émergence de la jeune création des pays du Sud sur le marché international. Conçu par l'Institut français, ce programme invite chaque année à Cannes une dizaine de réalisateurs, accompagnés de leurs producteurs, qui développent leur premier ou deuxième long-métrage. Le projet en développement d'Angèle Diabang est de l'adaptation du célèbre livre de Mariama Bâ Une si longue lettre.

Adapter un livre aussi célèbre, voilà un projet impressionnant et risqué ! Pourquoi ce choix ?

J'ai fait ce choix de l'adapter en film car je pense que le débat sur la polygamie mais aussi sur le rapport de la femme à la société, à la famille et à l'amour est toujours d'actualité. Aujourd'hui, nous sommes dans une période où l'image compte beaucoup, les jeunes ne lisent plus. On regarde plus d'images, de films avec internet ou bien la télévision, même si nous n'avons plus de cinéma à Dakar. J'ai pensé que cela serait bien de prendre un monument de la littérature africaine, et pas seulement sénégalaise, et de l'adapter à l'écran.

À lire dans son intégralité : http://www.africultures.com/php/index.php?nav=article&no=12298


Angèle Diabang adapts "So Long a Letter" to film - Interview by Agnès Chitou - Afrik.com

Angèle Diabang adapts "So Long a Letter" to film
Source et Photo: Afrik.com. 19 June 2014 / by Agnès Chitou. Translation from French by Beti Ellerson

Filmmaker Angèle Diabang tackles for her first step in fiction So Long a Letter*, a classic of the African literary tradition. Her project is one of ten selected by La Fabrique des cinémas du monde at the French Institute, and presented in May 2014 during the Cannes Film Festival. 

Senegalese filmmaker Angèle Diabang trained in her country, as well as in Germany and France, notably at the Femis. She directed her first short documentary, Mon beau sourire (My beautiful smile) in 2005. Having learned her lesson from her difficulties with a producer, for her next projects she decided to create her own production company Karoninka. "There is a certain tenuousness, as a filmmaker. I feel safer in production," she explains. Next she directs two documentaries: Senegalese and Islam in 2007 and Yandé Codou, the griotte of Senghor in 2008. Her company has produced a dozen projects. So Long a Letter, adapted from the novel of her celebrated compatriot Mariama Bâ, will be her first fiction. It is one of ten projects selected this year at La Fabrique des cinémas du monde, a program designed by the French Institute and the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF), the Cannes Film Festival and the Film Market. Through the program, the filmmakers, who are working on a first or second feature, are invited on the Croisette (Cannes) with their producers.

Afrik.com: "So Long a Letter" (1979) by the Senegalese writer Mariama Bâ is a classic of African literature. Why the desire to adapt it to screen?

Angèle Diabang: The debate, which is at the heart of the book, is still relevant. Mariama Bâ wrote the novel over 30 years ago during a time when the issue of the struggle for women's liberation was already happening and our country became independent two decades before then. In Senegal, there had never been a woman writer before then. Women began to distinguish themselves. It was therefore important that this novel existed during the 80s. We are now in 2014. We have evolved quite a bit. The world is more modern, we are in the full stage of globalization, but I think the debate on the place of women in society and within the family is still current. I revisited the book that I studied at school and I decided to make a film because we are also in the era of the image. In Senegal, for example, our young people do not read. Bringing to the screen a novel that has marked our literature is another way to speak to the younger generation, to guide them indirectly through the image to reading. 

Afrik.com: How did you work on this adaptation, the scenario of your future film?

Angèle Diabang: I propose a contemporary adaptation. The film will be set in in a Senegal of the last ten years. I am on the third draft of the script. My producer Eric Neve has really encouraged me; he is very involved in the writing process of the films. He is not just about finding the money. He really helps with the startup and development of a project. He secured the writing residency at Moulin d'Ande (a cultural center in Normandy, France). This is where I am currently developing the film project and it is wonderful to be able to be secluded in this paradisiacal place to focus on my thoughts and writing. We will later decide whether to procure the services of a second author to finalise the text, or at least a screenwriter to make the dialogue more dynamic, or to get another perspective. It is sometimes easier to work with another person.

Afrik.com: It is a well-known novel in West Africa and beyond and therefore a challenge to adapt. What do you see as the essential elements that will best render the ambiance of the novel to the screen adaptation? 

Angèle Diabang: For me, So Long a Letter is not limited only to a story of polygamy. When talking about the novel, one often thinks of nothing else. What concerns me is the strength of women, all women. What stands out is this great story of friendship between Rama and Ada, but also between Rama and her husband Modou. Although he took a second wife, Buchi, the friendship between the two partners is maintained. Although Rama was disappointed in love, stabbed in the back, and held a deadly grudge against Modou, the strength of their friendship remains and it is the singularity of their relationship. Modou may well come home and Rama may continue to discuss certain issues with him. I would like to highlight the strength of all these women in my film and that there is the realisation that polygamy has consequences for everyone involved. Modou, who has a family that everyone dreams of having, suddenly overnight cannot see his children, spends twice as much, and is therefore obliged to borrow in order to meet his financial commitments.

Afrik. com: Polygamy is still a current practice in Senegal. Though the Senegalese are very modern, they remain very attached to this aspect of their tradition, including the younger generation. How do you explain this?

Angèle Diabang: I do not know how to explain why polygamy still exists. But at the same time, I would like to say that all men are polygamous. If they do not take a second or third wife officially, they all have a second or third “office” (one mistress or more). Including Westerners who criticize the practice and express indignation at polygamy among Africans. They, too, are polygamous since they also have mistresses. Their situation is tantamount to maintaining two relationships simultaneously and to having their two women believe that they are the only one. This is what the polygamist does. Yet he has the guts to take responsibility for what he practices, contrary to he who has a mistress. Hence the importance of knowing what to keep in the story. That is why I said that the question is still a valid one. How to be both as modern as we are today and to be in touch with our traditions, our cultural heritage, which sometimes is not always easy to carry, although we are proud? Me, I'm very proud! The strength of my films comes from the fact that I am Senegalese, open to the world, and I know how to enjoy what it has to offer me.

Afrik.com: Women, it seems, is one of your preferred subjects. In one of your documentaries, you raised the issue of the veil, which has become increasingly common with the rise of radical Islam. The film Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako (in competition at the last Cannes Film Festival) also refers to the theme. In African capitals, in fact, we see more and more women wearing the full veil...

Angèle Diabang: This was not seen in Senegal when I was growing up. This is contradictory to living in a more modern and liberated world, to see so many women in full veil: all in black, eyes hidden and gloved hands. For me, this is something else! I have friends in Senegal who wear the veil, but they are more coquettish than me. They are adorned with colorful outfits. I do not see them at all as being confined. If someone wears the veil voluntarily, that is her choice. But when it's something that imprisons and that is imposed, that is different. I don’t accept this! 

* As its title suggests, the novel by Mariama Bâ is a long letter from Ramatoulaye, the heroine of the novel, addressed to her friend Ada who moved to the United States. The woman has just lost her husband Modou, an event that takes her back to her marriage, devastated by polygamy.

ALSO SEE: "I am not interested in denouncing polygamy: My film goes beyond that". Interview with Angela Diabang by Olivier Barlet about So Long a Letter:
http://africanwomenincinema.blogspot.com/2014/07/i-am-not-interested-in-denouncing.html

Angèle Diabang adaptera "Une si longue lettre" au cinéma - Entretien par Agnès Chitou


Angèle Diabang adaptera "Une si longue lettre" au cinéma. Jeudi 19 juin 2014 / par Agnès Chitou. Source & Photo : Afrik.com

C’est à un classique du patrimoine littéraire africain que la cinéaste Angèle Diabang a décidé de s’attaquer, pour ses premiers pas dans la fiction. Son projet est l’un des dix projets sélectionnés par la Fabrique Les cinémas du monde de l’Institut français, et présenté en mai dernier durant le Festival de Cannes.

Elle voulait être ambassadrice « comme (la cantatrice américaine) Barbara Hendricks. « Quand j’ai quitté le droit pour aller faire du cinéma, je me suis dit que je pouvais toujours être ambassadrice... grâce à l’art », confie la cinéaste sénégalaise Angèle Diabang. Elle se formera dans son pays, en Allemagne et en France, notamment à la Femis. Elle réalise son premier court métrage documentaire, "Mon beau sourire", en 2005. Pour ses projets suivants, elle décide de créer sa propre maison de production Karoninka, échaudée par ses déboires avec un producteur. « Quand on réalise, on est fragile. Je me sens plus en sécurité dans la production », explique la cinéaste. Elle réalisera ainsi deux autres documentaires : "Sénégalaises et islam" en 2007 et "Yandé Codou, la griotte de Senghor" en 2008. Sa maison a produit une dizaine de projets. "Un si longue lettre", adapté du livre éponyme de sa célèbre compatriote Mariama Bâ, sera sa première fiction. Il est l’un des 10 projets sélectionnés cette année à La Fabrique Les cinémas du Monde, programme conçu par l’Institut français avec l’Organisation internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), le Festival de Cannes et Le Marché du film. Le programme invite sur la Croisette des cinéastes et leurs producteurs qui travaillent sur un premier ou deuxième long métrage afin de les aider à le concrétiser.