A tribute to and précis of the director who bristled at being called “the father of African cinema,” Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo’s heartfelt doc is rich in footage and access: Here are gripping excerpts from the films of Ousmane Sembene, scenes of everyday life and strife certain to tantalize newcomers and rekindle the admiration of devotees. And here is the world Sembene inhabited — his seaside Senegalese home, left untended after the director’s 2007 death, now stocked with rotting books and rusted film canisters — and here the voices of people who knew him, admired him, grew infuriated with him.
Co-director Samba Gadjigo is an academic who long has taught students Sembene’s films and even succeeded in getting Sembene to visit America for screenings, where he was treated as a master rather than as a gadfly. From his 1966 breakthrough, Black Girl, Sembene had set himself the high task of capturing in film life as it was lived on his continent, from the perspective of those living it.
His zeal for speaking truths in art limited his audience and ran him afoul of censors: His 1970s trilogy of films about an Africa at war with itself, with colonists — and, in ’77’s Ceddo, with Islam — were banned in his home country, and years later France forbade screenings of 1988’s Camp de Thiaroye, which depicted a massacre of Senegalese by French troops.
Willing to do anything to get a film finished, right down to terrifying a little girl or claiming as his own funds meant for other filmmakers, Sembene emerges here as a courageous man dedicated above all else to his art and the vision he felt compelled to express. As his camera tracks the faces of village women refusing to allow female circumcision, in Moolaadé, almost forty years after Black Girl, his stubbornness feels like a gift.
Directed by Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo
Opens November 6, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas