Professor Offers Behind-the-Scenes Look at Making of Award-Winning Film Moolaade

Thursday, January 27, 2005 - 12:00pm

For immediate release
January 27, 2005


SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. - A documentary film by Samba Gadjigo, professor of French at Mount Holyoke College, about the making of the award-winning film Moolaadé has been released by New Yorker Films. "The Making of Moolaadé " marks the first time that Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, widely credited as the father of African cinema, has allowed an outside camera to document his work.

Gadjigo, who is Sembene's biographer and the provider of the English subtitles for Moolaadé, was given unrestricted access to the filmmaker during two weeks of filming in the spring of 2002. He captured Sembene, then 79, working 12-hour days in a dusty, remote African village where midday temperatures usually exceeded 100 degrees. There was no running water, and generators had to be brought in to provide electricity.

"That is a price to pay to make images in Africa, and Sembene believes it is worth it," Gadjigo said. The filmmaker believes it is important that images of Africa presented to the outside world be created by Africans themselves, not by outsiders who impose their own images on the continent. "To Sembene, an image is worth dying for - images are as important as bread and clothing."

Gadjigo flew into Burkina Faso, bringing with him a digital video camera. He hired another camera operator after arriving, and the two traveled to the village where Moolaadé was being filmed.

The documentary illustrates the difficulty of making a film in Africa. In interview after interview, more than a dozen actors, electricians, production personnel, camera assistants, and others connected with the film describe the challenges presented by the environment and the scarcity of funding. "It's an adventure, a job for crazy people," Timothee Bosori, a production adviser, says into the camera. "Every film that gets made is a miracle." Agrees electrician Maiga Hazou Sassane, "It's not talent we lack, it's equipment."

What also comes through is the tremendous respect and affection felt for Sembene, whose drive to reach his goals can make things difficult for those with whom he works. "He's tough on peoples' weaknesses," Gadjigo says. "He wants to extract the best of each individual in the crew, with a focus on productivity."

Toward the end of the documentary, Sembene speaks about his role as a filmmaker, and his reasons for making Moolaadé. The film constructed on the tension between two ancient traditions: female circumcision, and the right to offer moolaadé, or protection of the weak from the strong. Moolaadé tells the story of four young girls in a small village in Senegal who, encouraged by radio broadcasts from the outside world, revolt against the tradition of female genital mutilation. They seek the help of a woman in the village who offers them protection against their seizure by the male elders of the village. Protection of the weak is also a powerful tradition, and those who violate its protections face a penalty of death.

"As far as I am concerned, politically speaking, cinema allows me to show my people their predicaments so they take responsibility," Sembene says. "They hold their destiny in their hands. Nobody other than ourselves can solve our problems. We are in 2004; out of 54 states of the African Union, more than 38 still practice female circumcision. Why? I don't know! Origins? I don't know! … But Moolaadé is not just about female circumcision, it's about the liberation of our societies, the freedom of our people."

"Unflinching both in its condemnation of genital mutilation and in its warm-hearted optimism, Moolaadé is an example of humanist cinema at its finest, a movie that reminds you of the dignity and heroism of ordinary life," wrote A. O. Scott in the New York Times.

"The Making of Moolaadé" will be shown on February 22 at 7 pm in the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Conn. Call the box office at 860-278-2670.

Samba Gadjigo can be reached at