Despite the well-documented difficulties in production, distribution and exhibition that it has faced over the last fifty years, African cinema has managed to establish itself as an innovative and challenging body of filmmaking. This book represents a response to some of the best of those films. It is the first introduction of its kind to an important cross-section of postcolonial African filmmakers from the 1950s to the present. The book brings together ideas from a range of disciplines, film studies, African cultural studies and, in particular, postcolonial studies, to combine the in-depth analysis of individual films and bodies of work by individual directors with a sustained interrogation of these films in relation to important theoretical concepts. It provides both an overview of the director's output to date, and the necessary background to enable readers to achieve a better understanding of the director's choice of subject matter, aesthetic or formal strategies, ideological stance. The book focuses on what might loosely be called the auteur tradition of filmmaking, closely associated with Francophone African cinema, which explicitly views the director as the 'author' of a work of art. The aim is to re-examine the development of the authorial tradition in Africa, as well as the conception of both artist and audience that has underpinned it at various stages over the past fifty years. The works of Youssef Chahine, Ousmane Sembene, Med Hondo, Djibril Diop Mambety, Souleymane Cissé, Flora Gomes, Idrissa Ouédraogo, Moufida Tlatli, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, and Darrell James Roodt are discussed.
At first glance, Moufida Tlatli's rapidly growing international reputation might seem to align her closely with Djibril Diop Mambety, since the widely acknowledged status of both is based on a very limited cinematic output: in Mambety's case, two feature films and a handful of shorts; in Tlatli's, just two feature films. Tlatli's first film Samt al-Qsur was released in 1994. The story of the illegitimate daughter of a servant growing up in a princely palace in Tunis in the final period of the French colonial regime, it won prizes at Cannes, San Francisco, Carthage, and Toronto film festivals, and was even commercial success. Tlatli's second film, Mawsim al-Rijal is a study of the lives of women in the Tunisian south whose husbands leave to work in the capital for eleven months a year, returning only for their brief 'season'.
Even within the contradictory conditions of film making in South Africa, Darrell James Roodt is a contradictory figure. This chapter explores and attempts to understand some of the contradictions which Roodt and his films embody. It examines the 'powerful tendency' of Roodt being seen as embodying the white dominance of the film industry in South Africa. The overwhelming historical and political presence in the development of filmmaking in South Africa is the apartheid state, but no other South African director has responded to that fact in the same way or to the same extent as Roodt. Roodt's anti-apartheid films clearly belong in the tradition of African films of anticolonial struggle, but could be seen as simultaneously constituting a 'special type' within that tradition as they work towards the belated emergence of a South African postcolonialism.
Jean-Pierre Bekolo is at the forefront of a wave of innovative and dynamic young African filmmakers who have emerged since the early 1990s. Openly embracing the values and forms of urban African youth culture, Bekolo has created a cinema that exists at the interface between a global youth aesthetic and an experimental narrative approach that blurs both identities and genres. This chapter underlines the importance of tracing multiple strands within African cinema, and developing more complex genealogies of African filmmaking practice. It focuses on Bekolo's first feature film, Quartier Mozart, although some comparisons will be drawn with his approach in Aristotle's Plot and analysis the 'theoretical' questions raised by Aristotle's Plot. By tracing his own lineage within African cinema, and aligning his work with the maverick talents of Djibril Diop Mambety, Bekolo underlines the existence of different styles and approaches within the category of African cinema.
Idrissa Quedraogo is a key figure in the 'second wave' of African filmmakers who came to the fore in the 1980s, and he is often argued to have forged a new cinematic style in which political issues have given way to smaller, 'human' stories. This chapter considers the popularity of Burkinabe 'national' cinema and examines the nature of the engagement in detail. It examines the 'popularity' of Ouedraogo's breakthrough film, Yaaba, in an attempt to uncover the nature of critical attitudes towards the very notion of a popular African cinematic aesthetics. Although Quedraogo style is markedly different to that of Sembene, Hondo or Cisse, and he rarely adopts a specific 'position' in his films, his work none the less echoes their progressive stance on questions such as authority, power and the status of women, and it is this combination of the progressive and the popular that is examined.
This introduction presents an overview of key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book shows ideas from a range of disciplines - film studies, African cultural studies and, postcolonial studies - in order to combine the in-depth analysis of individual films and bodies of work by individual directors. It overviews the director's output to date, and the necessary background - personal or national, cultural or political - to enable readers to achieve a better understanding of the director's choice of subject matter, aesthetic or formal strategies, ideological stance. The book offers a particular reading of one or more films to situate African cinema in relation to important critical and theoretical debates. It constitutes a new departure in African film studies, and the need for complex yet accessible approaches to it, which move beyond the purely descriptive while refusing to get bogged down in theoretical jargon.
The Senegalese director and novelist Ousmane Sembene began his film career in the early 1960s, and is often hailed as 'the father of African cinema' for his role in the development of filmmaking on the continent. The strength of Sembene's political convictions has been a central factor in critical assessments of his work, this chapter focuses on defining the precise nature of his political vision. It examines various aspects of Sembene's filmmaking practice, beginning with an assessment of aspects of his film style that have been relatively neglected. Sembene often uses the conclusion of his films not to provide a sense of narrative closure but rather to suggest that the film itself is only the beginning of a process of reflection that should continue long after the film has ended. The examples from Sembene's work illustrate that political filmmaking is not necessarily the reductive process described by critics.
The Malian film director Souleymane Cissé is known for his breathtaking film Yeelen, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 1987. Yeelen clearly marks the culmination of an artistic journey away from the naturalism of his earlier works such as Den Muso or Baara. Yeelen may be an example of the 'postcolonial exotic' but it also contributes to the oppositional discourse of postcolonialism. Cissé's work is praised or criticised by critics for having abandoned his early social realism in favour of a more symbolic and less direct narrative form. Even in Finyé, the film in which he refers most explicitly to specific political events, the precise demands of the student protestors are never clearly articulated; rather it is the symbolic significance of their stance that counts. This allows his films to be read as 'human' stories, which has had a profound effect on the critical reception of his work.
E. M. Forster somewhere comments on Youssef Chahine's fellow Alexandrian, his late friend the poet C. P. Cavafy, as 'standing at a slight angle to reality'. Chahine's 'slight angle to reality' also includes his relation to his country: as a Lebanese Greek Christian in an Arab Muslim nation, Chahine's Egyptian identity is not absolutely straightforward - though for Chahine himself it is quite simply not a problem. The films of the first decade, including musicals, social problem films and anticolonial films, give an indication of Chahine's seemingly effortless ability to work across genres in different films. Given the length of Chahine's career, an appropriate contextualisation might seem to require something resembling a full history of Egypt in the second half of the twentieth century. However, the Egypt had a stronger social and economic base than other countries to develop cultural forms such as theatre and cinema.
At the time of his premature death in 1998, at the relatively young age of fifty-three, there was a consensus amongst many commentators that the Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety was the most gifted of all African film directors. If we examine the work of the first generation of sub-Saharan African filmmakers as a whole, his films certainly stand out for their rejection of the dominant, 'prosaic' social realism of his colleagues, in favour of a more 'poetic', indirect and highly experimental style. This chapter explores the notions of the modern, the postmodern and the postcolonial, and assess how they relate to Mambety's work. It shows how individuals and communities in Senegal have been transformed by the arrival of capitalism is central to Mambety's work. The chapter focuses on Mambety's films, Touki Bouki and Hyenas, as these offer an illuminating contrast between the early and late periods of Mambety's career.