Scen.: Samba Gadjigo, Jason Silverman. M.: Ricardo Acosta. Mus.: Ken Myhr, Chris Jonas. Animazioni: Edwina White, James Dunlap. Prod.: Samba Gadjigo, Jason Silverman per Galle Ceddo Projects · DCP.
When I was growing up, in a small village in Senegal, I had no radio or TV, only my grandmother’s stories, told around the fire. But by the time I was 17, I had lost those stories, and the connection to my home. The stories I heard in the French-language high school I attended (where it was forbidden to speak my own language), were of places far away, where Blacks were, if at all mentioned, marginal and often caricatured. Then came my first encounter with the work of Ousmane Sembène, a novelist and filmmaker. His works changed my life – they reminded me that I, too, had my own dignity, my own culture and my own power. Sembène, a fifth-grade dropout and laborer, had that effect on many Africans and others, around the world, who had lost their voice. In this film, made with Jason Silverman, I tell his story of heroism, self-empowerment, myopia and redemption, from Sembène’s days working on the docks, his teaching himself to write, his decision to move to cinema so as to reach Africa’s illiterate, and his rise as the ‘father of African cinema’. In an era when many of us were afraid to speak out against the African leadership, Sembène was a fearless advocate for us, turning his camera into a weapon against oppression, hypocrisy and corruption, establishing himself as an icon for radical artists and activists around the world, and as a thorn in the side of African powers-that-be. The French and Senegalese governments banned and censored his films, yet Sembène grew fiercer and more determined… and also willing to sacrifice anything – family, friends, even the protégés who worship him – to make his films. I met him later in his life, learning immensely from him and assisting him in his work (and I carried my video camera as we traveled the world together, including to the set of his final film). “Africa will disappear if it loses its stories”, he told me, and I’m determined that we remember the story of one of Africa’s greatest heroes, and a truly significant figure of world cinema.