Professor’s film recognized internationally.

Samba Gadjigo

By Alheri Egor-Egbe ’17

Mount Holyoke College Professor of French Samba Gadjigo continues to gain international acclaim for his documentary film Sembène! The film tells the story of Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, who broke barriers in African cinema.

Gadjigo recently was featured in two stories in the Albuquerque Journal, where he discusses the journey from concept to production. One story, “‘Dreamers’ collaborate to film documentary,” highlights the diversity of the cocreators.

Gadjigo is a black Muslim from Senegal; his codirector, Jason Silverman, is a white Jewish man. Silverman, the cinematheque director at the Center for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe, first approached Gadjigo to ask if he would write about Sembène for the Telluride Film Festival.

The pair later met when Gadjigo attended the African Film Festival, which Silverman organized. Gadjigo asked for help to create a website with materials on Sembène’s art and life. Silverman urged Gadjigo to create a documentary film instead. Although Gadjigo had no experience as a filmmaker, Silverman’s “craziness was contagious,” and Sembène! was born.  

For Gadjigo, the motivation to work on Sembène! came from the influence of Sembène’s work—as a premier African writer and filmmaker—on Gadjigo’s own personal life. Growing up in Senegal under the shadow of French colonization, Gadjigo says, he had “tried to be a black Frenchman,” but Sembène’s films and writings helped him to embrace his African identity.

Another article, “Documentary chronicles life and work of filmmaker Ousmane Sembène,” discusses Sembène’s place as a pioneer in African and world cinema, and how Gadjigo became Sembène’s official biographer.

Gadjigo also was recently interviewed on Radio Télévision Swiss, the public viewing channel for French speaking Switzerland. He discussed his desire to create a film with worldwide appeal, rather than one that simply explores the Senegalese culture. He also discusses the effects of colonization on the representation of Africans in media.

“We have not only been colonized because our land was taken, but we have been colonized by texts and images,” Gadjigo said. “Thus, decolonization must take place through our appropriation of own own image [as Africans]. For me, coming here is an opportunity to share my culture, my story, and to try to create a future that will be one for all humanity.”