Click on Read More and the links. In year order, most essential first.
My Favourite African Films":https://mubi.com/lists/my-favourite-african-films .
Great work by Blue K, manager of team Africa, semi finalists in our Auteurs/Mubi Film World Cup. And do see his superb list Songs of the Griot. Kuxa Kanema/The Africa Project has been building a tremendous collection of lists in a “Lost Continent” series, on South Africa, Mozambique, Cameroon, Tunisia..; a collection that is surely one of this site’s great treasures. And now a tremendous undertaking, in different parts, “The Africa Project”: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6. Kolar has done a very comprehensive list Nigeria: Africa’s Largest Movie Industry (in quantity, indeed, Nollywood" outdoes Hollywood).. I’ve done ones on Mali, Lesotho, also outsiders’ viewpoints in Are Meerkats Really Russian? Africa through Western Eyes. See also Edgar C.K/clockworkdaisyblues’ list Some African Cinema, My Interest .
Kuxa Kanema/The Africa Project has conducted The Mubi Africa Film Poll 2011-2012 .
Now, 2 giants of African cinema
Youssef Chahine (Arabic: يوسف شاهين) (January 25, 1926 in Alexandria, Egypt –July 27, 2008 in Cairo, Egypt) was an Egyptian film director active in the Egyptian film industry since 1950. He was credited with launching the career of actor Omar Sharif. A critically acclaimed director frequently seen in film festivals during decades, Chahine also had his reach to wider international filmgoers’ audiences as one of the co-directors of 11’9"01 September 11.
Chahine was born on Jan. 25, 1926 in Alexandria, Egypt to a Lebanese Catholic father, from Zahlé in east Lebanon, and a Lebanese Roman Catholic mother. Although born a Christian, Youssef Chahine was not a believer in organized religion and it was stated that, if asked of his religion, he would reply: Egyptian.
Fascinated by the performing arts from an early age, young Chahine began to create shows at home for his family. Chahine began his education at a Frères’ school Collège Saint Marc. Growing up, he attended Alexandria’s elite Victoria College. In 1946, Chahine convinced his parents to let him travel to Hollywood to study acting, where he attended the Pasadena Playhouse outside of Los Angeles, California.
Starting as a director
After returning to Egypt, he turned his attention to directing. Cinematographer Alvise Orfanelli helped Chahine into the film business. Chahine directed his first feature film in 1950, Baba Amin (Daddy Amin) at the age of 23, two years before the revolution of 1952 that saw the overthrow of the monarchy and the rise of the charismatic leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. One year later, with Nile Boy (1951) he was first invited to the Cannes Film Festival. Sira’ fi-l-Wadi (The Blazing Sun, 1954) introduced Omar Sharif to the cinematic screen. In 1970 he was awarded a Golden Tanit at the Carthage Film Festival for al-Ikhtiyar (The Choice). With The Sparrow (1973), in which he showed his political opinions after the Six Day War with Israel, he directed the first Egypt-Algeria co-production.
He won the Silver Bear – Special Jury Priz at the 29th Berlin International Film Festival for Alexandria… Why? (1978), the first installment in what would prove to be an autobiographic quartet, completed with An Egyptian Story (1982), Alexandria, Again and Again (1990), and Alexandria…New York (2004). The producer Humbert Balsan went to Cannes in 2004 with Alexandria… New York, his ninth film with the Egyptian director since 1985’s Adieu, Bonaparte. In one of his films The Sixth Day اليوم السادس, an adaptation of a novel written in French by Lebanese writer André Chedid, the famous Egyptian singer Dalida was the protagonist in the role of a poor Egyptian woman.
About his work, Chahine has said, “I make my films first for myself. Then for my family. Then for Alexandria. Then for Egypt,” Chahine once famously said. “If the Arab world likes them, ahlan wa sahlan (welcome). If the foreign audience likes them, they are doubly welcome.”
Chahine’s early films in Egypt included Raging Sky (1953), begun while Farouk was still King and dealing with a peasant farmer’s challenge to a feudal landlord. But the first truly indicative film of his style and preoccupations was Cairo Central Station (Bab al-Hadid), in 1958.
Chahine himself plays the central character, Kenaoui, a simple-minded man, beneficently employed as a newspaper-seller. He cuts pictures of women from magazines for the station hut he lives in, but a living focus of his sexual frustrations is Hanouma (played by the popular actress Hind Rostom), who sells lemonade and is engaged to Abou Serib (Farid Chawqi), porter and trade union organiser. With unthinking but affectionate playfulness Hanouma exacerbates Kenaoui’s frustration and adds to his confusion which leads to death. Egyptian audiences, used to simpler melodramas, were disturbed and rejected the film. It was not seen again for some 20 years.
In 1963 Chahine made Saladin (original title: El Nasser – defender/deliverer – Salah ed-Dine), an epic, three-hour film in CinemaScope named after the 12th Century Sultan who, as the film begins, is preparing to liberate Jerusalem from its Christian Crusader occupiers. It was scripted by Naguib Mahfouz and the poet and progressive writer, Abderrahman Cherkaoui, and a parallel between Saladin and President Nasser is easily drawn. Saladin is shown as an educated and peaceable man – at one point he is asked to give clandestine medical help to Richard (the Lion Heart), shot by an arrow, and later he tells him: “Religion is God’s and the Earth is for all … I guarantee to all Christians in Jerusalem the same rights as are enjoyed by Muslims.”
A novel by Cherkaoui, serialised in 1952, formed the basis of The Earth (1968), noted particularly for its image of the peasant farmer – “eternal ‘damned of the earth’” – which broke with “the ridiculous image the cinema had (hitherto) given him” (Khaled Osman). There followed a further collaboration with Mahfouz on The Choice (1970), ostensibly a murder investigation story involving twin brothers, but with the underlying theme of intellectual schizophrenia. In 1976 he made The Return Of The Prodigal Son, a “musical tragedy”, but four years earlier had made one of his greatest films, The Sparrow (1972), both co-productions with Algeria. A journalist and a young police officer meet while investigating incidents of corruption. They and other people of the left pass through Bahiyya’s house, whose name represents the idea of the mother country and is invoked in Cheikh Imam’s song at the end of the film. After Nasser’s announcement of the defeat in the war and his subsequent resignation, Bahiyya runs into the street, followed by a growing crowd, shouting “No! we must fight. We won’t accept defeat!”
In Alexandria, Why? (1978), Yehia, a young Victoria College student, is obsessed with Hollywod and dreams of making cinema. It is 1942, the Germans are about to enter Alexandria, thought preferable to the presence of the British. In An Egyptian Story (1982), as a result of a heart operation, he reviews his life: moments of Chahine’s own films are replayed against their autobiographical and social historical context. Memory is very important to Chahine’s most recent work —whether of the “city of my childhood, Alexandria, between the two world wars tolerant, secular, open to Muslims, Christians and Jews” or of a more distant past: such as evoked in Adieu Bonaparte (1985), based on the cultural aspect of Bonaparte’s expedition into Egypt (1798). “Out of this marvellous confrontation there was a rebirth of Egyptian consciousness, of its past … which belongs to humanity.”
In 1992 Jacques Lassalle approached him to stage a piece of his choice for Comédie-Française: Chahine chose to adapt Albert Camus’ Caligula, which proved hugely successful. The same year he started writing The Emigrant (1994), a story inspired by the Biblical character of Joseph, son of Jacob.
This had long been a dream-project and he finally got to shoot it in 1994. This film created a controversy in Egypt between the enlightened wing and the fundamentalists who opposed the depiction of religious characters in films. In 1997, 46 years and 5 invitations later, his work was acknowledged at the Cannes Film Festival with a lifetime achievement award on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the festival. He is also credited with discovering Omar Sharif, whose first starring role was in Chahine’s film The Blazing Sun (1954). He also provided Hind Rostom with a very early role as a murder victim in Bab al-Hadid (Cairo Station).
During his long career Chahine produced different movies, including the famous Aly Badrakhan’s Chafika et Metwal.
Chahine was awarded the 50th annual lifetime achievement award at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.
The Sparrow attacks Egyptian corruption and blamed it for the defeat in the Six Day War.
Cairo Station, albeit a classic of Egyptian cinema, also shocked viewers both by the sympathy with which a “fallen woman” is depicted and by the violence with which another is killed.
During the several following years Chahine found himself increasingly in conflict with the government-backed film industry of Egypt and its heavy political restrictions in filmmaking. In 1964 he voluntarily went into exile to Lebanon, where he shot two musicals: Bayya al-Khawatim (1965, Ring Seller ) and Rim al-Dhahab (1967, Sands of Gold ). Ring Seller became one of the best musicals of Arab cinema, bringing success to Youssef Chahine, whereas Sands of Gold , due to delays in shooting and its box-office failure, forced him to quite his work in Lebanon and return to Egypt.
Gay-Bisexual themes in his work
Chahine frequently included gay or bisexual themes in his work. Alexandria…Why? tells the story of two young men—one Egyptian, the other European—who fall in love during World War II. Yehia’s cousin is gay and ‘buys’ drunken British soldiers. Jewish friends are forced to leave and decide to settle in Palestine. In An Egyptian Story (1982) Yehia is a flim-maker, going to London (as Chahine had earlier) for open-heart surgery. He has a brief affair with a taxi driver.
Illness and death
Youssef Chahine died in his Cairo home following an apparent cerebral haemorrhage on Sunday July 27, 2008.
Ousmane Sembène (January 1, 1923 — June 9, 2007), often credited in the French style as Sembène Ousmane in articles and reference works, was a Senegalese film director, producer and writer. The Los Angeles Times considered him one of the greatest authors of Africa and has often been called the “Father of African film”, though father of indigenous Sub-Saharan film might be more appropriate.
The son of a fisherman, Ousmane Sembène was born in Ziguinchor in Casamance to a Muslim Wolof family. He went to an Islamic school (common for many boys in Senegal) and to the French school, learning French and basic Arabic in addition to his mother tongue, Wolof. He had to leave his French school in 1936 when he clashed with the principal. After an unsuccessful stint working with his father (Sembène was prone to sea-sickness), he left for Dakar in 1938, where he worked a variety of manual labour jobs.
In 1944, Sembène was drafted into the Senegalese Tirailleurs (a corps of the French Army) in World War II and later fought for the Free French Forces. After the war he returned to his home country, and in 1947 participated in a long railroad strike on which he later based his seminal novel God’s Bits of Wood.
Late in 1947, he stowed away to France, where he worked at a Citroën factory in Paris and then on the docks at Marseille, becoming active in the French trade union movement. He joined the communist-led CGT and the Communist party, helping lead a strike to hinder the shipment of weapons for the French colonial war in Vietnam. During this time, he discovered writers such as Claude McKay and Jacques Roumain.
Sembène drew on many of these experiences for his French-language first novel, Le Docker Noir (The Black Docker, 1956),the story of Diaw, an African stevedore who faces racism and mistreatment on the docks at Marseille. Diaw writes a novel, which is later stolen by a white woman and published under her name; he confronts her, accidentally kills her, and is tried and executed in scenes highly reminiscent of Albert Camus’s The Stranger. Though the book focuses particularly on the mistreatment of African immigrants, Sembène also details the oppression of Arab and Spanish workers, making it clear that the issues are as much economic as they are racial. Like most of his fiction, it is written in a social realist mode. Many critics today consider the book somewhat flawed; however, it began Sembène’s literary reputation and provided him with the financial support to continue writing.
Sembène’s second novel, O Pays, mon beau peuple! (Oh country, my beautiful people!, 1957), tells the story of Oumar, an ambitious black farmer returning to his native Casamance with a new white wife and ideas for modernizing the area’s agricultural practices. However, Oumar struggles against both the white colonial government and the village social order, and is eventually murdered. O Pays, mon beau peuple! was an international success, giving Sembène invitations from around the world, particularly from Communist countries such as China, Cuba, and the Soviet Union. While in Moscow, Sembène had the opportunity to study filmmaking for a year at Gorki Studios.
Sembène’s third and most famous novel is Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu (God’s Bits of Wood, 1960); most critics consider it his masterpiece, rivaled only by Xala. The novel fictionalizes the real-life story of a railroad strike on the Dakar-Niger line that lasted from 1947 to 1948. Though the charismatic and brilliant union spokesman, Ibrahima Bakayoko, is the most central figure, the novel has no true hero except the community itself, which bands together in the face of hardship and oppression to assert their rights. Accordingly, the novel features nearly fifty characters in both Senegal and neighboring Mali, showing the strike from all possible angles; in this, the novel is often compared to Émile Zola’s Germinal.
Sembène followed Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu with the (1962) short fiction collection Voltaïque (Tribal Scars). The collection contains short stories, tales, and fables, including “La Noire de…” which he would later adapt into his first film. In 1964, he released l’Harmattan (The Harmattan), an epic novel about a referendum for independence in an African capital.
With the 1965 publication of Le mandat, précédé de Vehi-Ciosane (The Money Order and White Genesis), Sembène’s emphasis began to shift. Just as he had once vociferously attacked the racial and economic oppression of the colonial government, with this pair of novellas, he turned his sights on the corrupt African elites that followed.
Sembène continued this theme with the 1973 novel Xala, the story of a El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye, a rich businessman struck by what he believes to be a curse of impotence (“xala” in Wolof) on the night of his wedding to his beautiful, young third wife. El Hadji grows obsessed with removing the curse through visits to marabouts, but only after losing most of his money and reputation does he discover the source to be the beggar who lives outside his offices, whom he wronged in acquiring his fortune.
Le Dernier de l’empire (The Last of the Empire, 1981), Sembène’s last novel, depicts corruption and an eventual military coup in a newly independent African nation. His paired 1987 novellas Niiwam et Taaw (Niiwam and Taaw) continue to explore social and moral collapse in urban Senegal.
On the strength of Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu and Xala, Sembène is considered one of the leading figures in African postcolonial literature. However, a lack of English translation of many of his novels has hindered Sembène from achieving the same international popularity enjoyed by Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka.
As an author so concerned with social change, one of Sembène’s goals had always been to touch the widest possible audience. After his 1960 return to Senegal, however, he realized that his written works would only be read by a small cultural elite in his native land. He therefore decided at age 40 to become a film maker, in order to reach wider African audiences.
In 1963, Sembène produced his first film, a short called Barom Sarret (The Wagoner). In ‘64 he made another short entitled Niaye. In 1966 he produced his first feature fim, La Noire de…, based on one of his own short stories; it was the first feature film ever released by a sub-Saharan African director. Though only 60 minutes long, the French-language film won the Prix Jean Vigo, bringing immediate international attention to both African film generally and Sembène specifically. Sembène followed this success with the 1968 Mandabi, achieving his dream of producing a film in his native Wolof. Later Wolof-language films include Xala (1975, based on his own novel), Ceddo (1977), Camp de Thiaroye (1987), and Guelwaar (1992). The Senegalese release of Ceddo was heavily censored, ostensibly for a problem with Sembène’s paperwork, but more probably for its anti-Muslim themes. However, Sembène distributed fliers at theaters describing the censored scenes and released it uncut for the international market. In 1971, Sembène also made a film in the Diola language and French entitled Emitai.
Recurrent themes of Sembène’s films are the history of colonialism, the failings of religion, the critique of the new African bourgeoisie, and the strength of African women.
His final film, the 2004 feature Moolaadé, won awards at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and the FESPACO Film Festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. The film, set in a small African village in Burkina Faso, explored the controversial subject of female genital mutilation.
Ousmane Sembène died on June 9, 2007, at the age of 84. He had been ill since December 2006, and died at his home in Dakar, Senegal where he was buried in a shroud adorned with Quranic verses. Sembène was survived by three sons, from two marriages.
Seipati Bulane Hopa, Secretary General of the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) described Sembène as “a luminary that lit the torch for ordinary people to walk the path of light…a voice that spoke without hesitation, a man with an impeccable talent who unwaveringly held on to his artistic principles and did that with great integrity and dignity.”
South Africa’s Dr. Z. Pallo Jordan, Minister of Arts and Culture, went further in eulogizing Sembène as “a well rounded intellectual and an exceptionally cultured humanist…an informed social critic [who] provided the world with an alternative knowledge of Africa.” —Wikipedia (+ Kenji)
Thanks to Kuxa Kanema for suggestions
Further reading on African FilmsRead less