Sembène! (2015)


The life and times of Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman’s Sembène! packs a powerful punch.

Man on Fire

by Alexa Dalby


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Ousmane Sembène, who died in 2007 at the age of 84, is known both affectionately and with reverence as the father of African cinema. Yet it seems that in Dakar his legacy – his notes, his film stock – needs rescue. Born in a village in Senegal, self-taught, Sembène was an instinctive philospher who did things his way as if they’d never been done before. A novelist, communist and émigré docker in Marseilles before he became a filmmaker, his films were the first to reclaim Africans’ own image of Africa, and in features such as Black Girl, show them that it was possible to reject colonialism. His most important film Xala, a satire on post-independence corrupt leadership, was game changing. His self-declared mission was to talk to his people, although the radical nature of some of his films, such as Camp du Thiaroye, resulted in their being banned in France. This spell-binding documentary feature about his life – the first ever – was made by long-time collaborator, translator and amanuensis Samba Gadjigo, a fellow Senegalese, now an academic in the US. It shows the great man, warts and all, with never-seen-before interviews with his family and contemporaries. Abrasive, no saint – he was still a genius and a pioneer.

Sembène is released on 7 October 2016 in the UK and premiered at the London Film Festival 2015.

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