SAMBA GADJIGO / ‘SEMBENE’ INTERVIEW
With the BLACK STAR BFI festival underway and the appreciation of more diverse works, people have a chance to reflect on the past histories and legacies with brand new-screenings from the work of the ‘Father Of African Cinema’, Ousmane Sembene. John Higgins had a chance to discuss the film-maker in a recent telephone interview.
- The film gives a very balanced and honest assessment of Sembene’s life from the outset. You were given a golden opportunity to preserve his legacy. Where is the legacy at present?
We have a lot of legal issues, which we cannot comment on at present, but the house is still in my care.
- The REBEL WITH A CAMERA season which highlights three of his key works is getting a lot of exposure across the UK. What are your hopes for the films and what would you like to see more of from the UK film community in terms of preserving the memories?
We made the films for a worldwide audience and also to outline the community spirit of African Cinema and the special bond. We also want to popularise the man for a new generation
- Sembene represents an individual who had a troubled upbringing, but turned his life around from being expelled from school, through his back accident to redefining a whole continent through his artistry and talent. Did he ever have regrets or reservations about that label, or was it something he became comfortable with towards the end of his life?
He came from Africa He saw the label as a term of endearment. He gained respect through his work and he accepted it, along with what the messages of the films were portraying. Overall, for him, it wasn’t a big deal.
- Let’s talk a bit more about Marsellies. How did Sembene adjust to life in the city after moving from Senegal?
He worked a ten-hour shift on the docks, which would be a challenge for anyone. He had objectives. A lot of this part of his life is covered in the biography.
- The films do come across as very insightful and representative of the true African voice? Who did Sembene admire in terms of film-makers, particularly during his studies in the Soviet Union?
He became aware of the power of Cinema when he went to study Film in the Soviet Union. He interacted with the Russian film-makers and saw Cinema from the point of view of education, rather than entertainment.
- Martin Scorsese placed him alongside Hollywood greats like Hitchcock and De Mille? Which films did he admire from Hollywood and did he actually get to meet Martin Scorsese?
I cannot confirm whether he met Scorsese, although Scorsese did see his films. What he referred to was the influence and that Sembene led the way like Hitchcock and De Mille.
- Where is the Senegalese film industry at present? Is it flourishing or struggling?
There has never been a film industry in Senegal as such. It is more based on outside sources etc.
- Given the censorship issues that faced his work, on both a cinematic and political level, would Sembene have found it difficult to finance or make these movies today?
It has always been difficult to make films like this and you always have to rely on the outside world and influence
- If Sembene had been alive today, how would you have seen him as a film-maker? Would he have been lured to Hollywood or France to make more mainstream and independent films in those cultures?
He would never have gone to Hollywood, even today.
- BLACK STAR is a festival that is highlighting the wide spectrum of work from black film-makers? Have you watched any of the other films in the festival and which film-makers on show have you admired?
I am not in London, so didn’t go I’m afraid
- Do you get a lot of people coming to visit the house on a pilgrimage and is the place secure?
I am based in the USA, so I don’t know about that.