|Biographical detail : ||The ‘father of African cinema’.
A crucial figure in Africa’s post-colonial cultural awakening, Ousmane the Senegalese filmmaker and writer who gained international recognition was widely seen as the father of African cinema.
He took up filmmaking in the 1960s, in part because Ousmane believed that film could reach a wider and more diverse African audience than literature. His debut feature, La Noire de.. (Black Girl 1966), combining realistic narrative technique with elements of traditional African storytelling is about a young woman who commits suicide after travelling to Europe with her French employers, who treated her with utter contempt.
The tensions between tradition and modernity and between newly independent African nations and their erstwhile colonial masters are sources of drama and comedy in his films, which are nonetheless focussed on the lives of ordinary people, frequently women. He always aimed at the Senegalese public – “Africa is my audience, the west and the rest are markets,” he said.
Ousmane’s finest film, “Xala” (The Curse, 1974), – is a bitterly funny drama about an African state shortly after independence, based on his novel. The country has fallen into the grip of a clique of corrupt businessmen every bit as venal as the westerners they have replaced. When one prominent businessman and politician, El Hadji, takes himself a third wife, he is afflicted with the curse – impotence. He attempts at finding a cure bring him humiliation and ruin.
Some of his other films include “Guelwaar” (1993), a Catholic priest is erroneously buried in a Muslim cemetery and mayhem inevitably follows, “Faat-Kine” (2001), a single mother with two children and two ex-husbands balancing tribal customs and “Moolaade” (2002) which chronicles a middle-aged woman’s campaign to stop the practice of female genital cutting in her village.
He studied film, in 1962, at Gorky film institute in Moscow. Ousmane won prizes at the Venice Film Festival in 1968 for “Mandabi” (The Money Order), on his novel Le Mandat – about a man who receives a money order from his nephew in Paris but is obstructed in every attempt to cash it. This was shot in two versions – French and Wolof, the majority language of Senegal.
Again in Venice he won prize, in 1988, for “Camp de Thiaroye”, a complex and searing condemnation of colonialism and of events written out of history, and, not surprisingly, did not screen in France until the late 1990s. At Cannes he won prize for “Moolaade”, in 2004.
He was a jury member at Cannes in 1967, Berlin (1977) and Venice (1983), received special recognition at Cannes in 1982 and in 2005, and became the first African director to hold a lecon de cinema there.
He was a co-founder, in 1969, of the biennial Pan-African festival of film and television of Ouagadougou (Fespaco), in Burkina Faso.
Born into poverty in Ziguinchor village in the Casamance region of southern Senegal, Ousmane left school at 14. He moved to Dakar and to France where he worked as a fisherman and an auto mechanic before being drafted, in 1944, by the French Army in World War II. Ousmane Sembene died at his home in Dakar, Senegal – “African cinema has lost one its lighthouses.”