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date: 29 March 2020

Senegal, film in

A Dictionary of Film Studies

Annette Kuhn,

Guy Westwell

Senegal, film in 

While the country was under French colonial rule, the French filmmaker, Georges Mèliès produced two films in Senegal, including La marche de Dakar and Le cake-walk des nègres du nouveau cirque (both 1905), and there is a record of mobile cinemas showing animated films touring Dakar and its suburbs in the same year. The 1934 Laval Decree, a French law controlling the content of all film made in Francophone Africa, imposed censorship on anything deemed subversive of colonial rule and as a consequence the first Francophone African film, Paulin Vieyra's Afrique sur Seine/Africa on the Seine (1955), was actually produced and set in Paris. Made in collaboration with three fellow filmmakers, Mamadou Saar, Robert Cristan, and Jacques Melo Kane, Vieyra's film is a visual essay recording a group of African artists and students as they seek their civilization and culture.

In the first decade after independence in 1960, film production consisted mainly of documentary films, predominantly made under supervision of the Ministry of Education. The first Senegalese fiction film, Ousmane Sembene's 19-minute Borom Sarret (1963), which tells the story of the iniquities suffered by an impoverished Dakar cart driver, was also the first film be entirely conceived and created in Africa by an African filmmaker. Sembene, a former soldier, novelist, and trade unionist, studied film in Moscow and has enjoyed a long and influential career. Through films such as La noire de…/Black Girl (1967), the story of a Sengalese girl who accompanies her white employers to France; Ceddo/Outsiders (1977), about the history of Islamic conquest in Africa; Camp de Thiaroye (1988), the story of the 1944 massacre of Sengalese tirailleurs by French forces; and Guelwaar (1992), which looks at contemporary Muslim-Christian conflict, Sembene has confronted and challenged the violence of colonial occupation and marked the complexity of both pre-colonial and contemporary African experience. Sembene was a pioneer in making searching, polemical films that offered a distinctively African perspective on colonialism; using the Wolof language as well as French, Sembene also tours his films around the country to ensure that they are accessible to as large an audience as possible. Other Senegalese directors include Djibril Diop Mambéty, whose highly personalized avant-garde filmTouki-Bouki/Journey of the Hyena (1973) is widely regarded as an attempt to coin a postcolonial, specifically African, film language: like Sembene, Mambéty extended his critical eye beyond the injustices of colonialism, scrutinizing specifically African social issues. The female director Safi Faye's socially committed ethnographic films interweave documentary, fiction, and social history; and her debut feature, Kaddu beykat/Letter From My Village (1975), was the first film directed by a woman in Sub-Saharan Africa. Faye's most recent film, Mossane (1996), which is about a young woman who rebels against forced marriage, shows a continuing interest in exploring gender inequality in rural West Africa. Moussa Touré's films, Toubab-Bi (1991) and TGV (1997) are the most recent films to receive positive international attention. As with much Francophone African filmmaking, the main outlet for Senegalese films is the international festival circuit (see film festival); in Senegal where 85 per cent of the population speak Wolof and where French (the language used in almost all films) is not widely understood, this is especially true. Since 2000, film production has seen a steady decline, as competition from foreign imports and satellite television as well as widespread piracy has ensured that local film has been restricted to a handful of documentaries. See sub-saharan africa, film in; burkina faso, film in.

Further Reading:

Murphy, David Sembene: Imagining Alternatives in Film and Fiction (2000).Find this resource:

Pfaff, Francoise The Cinema of Ousmane Sembene, a Pioneer of African Film (1984).Find this resource:

Spaas, Lieve ‘Senegal’, The Francophone Film: A Struggle for Identity 63–116, (2000).Find this resource: