At the Walker we are proud of the success of the recent film retrospective, Ousmane Sembene: African Stories, co-presented by the University of Minnesota’s Global Spotlight. Not only did it bring out the Twin Cities’ film loving community in droves, but it sparked important discussions with the professors and authors who introduced the films. This overwhelming success proved, once again, why the Twin Cities remain one of the most diverse and interesting places in the country.
Many of these discussions were recorded, and will be posted on the Walker Channel so you can relive the discussions you saw and catch up on the discussions you missed.
As a sort of a retrospective of the retrospective, we present an essay from a local film/video maker and producer.ALESHIA MUELLER is the owner of Reel Nomad Productions and the President of Minnesota Women in Film and Television (MN WIFT). She works on long and short media projects that range from narrative films, commercials, podcasts, music and travel videos, and scientific, social, and historical documentaries, many of which have screened at festivals worldwide. Aleshia’s curiosity, fearlessness, and passion for her craft continue to take her on storytelling adventures throughout the world.
Inspiring Generations of African artists
How does a man who has seen colonialism oppress the voice of his people rise up to reclaim and redefine his culture’s stories? For Ousmane Sembene, a Senegalese high school drop out and manual laborer turned literary genius, it was through film. Using the moving image to reach a larger audience than his novels ever could, Sembene takes a stand against colonialism, racism, religious persecution, and traditional forms of authority. I had the honor of meeting Sembene at a forum on the Future of African Cinema at FESPACO 2005 and with the same energy as his earlier years, he continued to fight the odds to improve conditions for African filmmakers and inspire generations of African artists.
Francophone Africa has carried the torch of African cinema, but it isn’t always a pure African voice. Despite the freedom brought by Independence, many feel that African cinema is still trying to escape neocolonial rule as financing often comes from ex colonists. Hailed as the father of African cinema, Sembene was also seen as an artistic and cinematic revolutionary. He was a passionate anti-colonialist and injected true Senegalese culture and common routines into his films. Up until Mandabi in 1968, the mentality was that a film had to be made in French, but Sembene was committed to promoting his national language and culture. Drawing on his roots, he gathered lost voices and brought them back to life. He emphasized, “Art is political. Without art, there are no free men.”
Sembene’s films include part of his personal experience and philosophy. He believes that “ideas come by finding, by meeting, by listening to someone. You can make movies with just about any idea, but it’s how to elaborate and make a film coherent from beginning to end.” Sembene dedicated the second half of his life to producing movies that shared truths, exposed injustice, and imagined a better world.
The Walker Art Center series, Ousmane Sembene: African Stories, has presented us with scenarios that confront the racial and economic oppression of colonial regimes as well as the corrupt African bourgeoisie that followed. Sembene praises the strength of African women and stands up against traditional practices.