Posted: April 22, 2010
Mount Holyoke professor of French Samba Gadjigo has authored two books on the renowned African author and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène. Now he's telling the story of the "father of African film" in the medium closest to the subject's own heart, in a documentary titled SEMBÈNE!
Gadjigo is taking an important step this week toward gathering the support he'll need to complete SEMBÈNE! The film proposal is being featured by the prestigious Tribeca Film Institute (TFI) as one of just two dozen projects selected for the Tribeca All Access (TAA) festival and awards competition in New York City.
Currently in its seventh year, TAA was created to cultivate relationships between filmmakers from traditionally underrepresented communities and film industry executives. Twenty-four filmmakers from across the country were selected from a pool of 453 submissions to participate in TAA this year. From April 19 to 24, women and minority directors and screenwriters are participating in workshops and presenting their upcoming projects in one-on-one meetings with more than 100 potential investors, development executives, producers, and agents.
"Through TAA, we provide women and minority filmmakers professional connections they might not otherwise have access to," said Jane Rosenthal, who cofounded TFI with actor Robert De Niro and Craig Hatkoff. "But equally important to the valuable networking opportunities and guidance we provide our participants, is furthering our goal of bringing diverse voices and stories to audiences."
As part of the TAA program, a jury comprised of industry professionals, including actors, writers, producers, and directors, will review script excerpts and work samples from all TAA participants and deliberate on the most promising projects, both in the narrative and documentary film categories. The Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Awards will then be announced at the TFI Awards Ceremony April 23.
TAA will officially conclude April 24 with a panel that challenges the filmmakers to continue to engage audiences with their stories through new models of distribution. The organization will also present the film projects throughout the six-day program taking place during the annual Tribeca Film Festival between April 21 and May 2.
SEMBÈNE!, said Gadjigo, will "celebrate a sixth-grade dropout who fought a 50-year battle to return African stories to Africa." The filmmaker's life and work demonstrate "the importance of self-empowerment, resistence, and storytelling," he added.
In 2007, Gadjigo penned a long-awaited biography, titled Ousmane Sembène: Une Conscience Africaine, which covered Sembène's life from his birth in 1923 to the writing of his first book in 1956. His follow-up book, Ousmane Sembène: The Making of a Militant Artist, was published April 9 by Indiana University Press.
Sembène, who died in 2007 at age 84, started out working as a bricklayer, fought in World War II as a colonial infantryman, and then became a trade union organizer and a political activist in the French Communist Party and in pro-independence African parties in Marseilles, France, before turning his attention to writing and filmmaking in the 1960s. Born and raised in Senegal, Gadjigo had his first taste of Sembène's work as a high school student, when he read God's Bits of Wood. From that point on, he was an avid follower and scholar of Sembène's writing and films.
The two first met in 1989 when Gadjigo invited the filmmaker to participate in a Five College African Studies Consortium conference on his work. When Gadjigo approached Sembène in 1994 about writing his biography, Sembène anointed him his official biographer. Though Sembène--who died in 2007 at age 84--persistently deflected attention away from his private life and past, Gadjigo had unprecedented access to the artist and his family.