There seems to be little on the Web about African Film on
sites that are nonspecialist. Although I do not have any expertise in
African culture and African film and could not pretend otherwise, I can
do two things.
As a film reviewer, I can write reviews of as many African
films as I can see and think I have coherent opinions about. I can only
do this as what I am: a white male who grew up in the US in the '50s.
Catching the meaning of a film depends partly on having basic cultural
responses, and my lack of familiarity with African culture hinders me.
Still, this is a problem with reviewing any film, and I always
have to be sensitive to the possibility that I have failed to grasp what
a film-maker has tried to do. Even if I don't catch all that an African
might, I still can see what can be seen of a film from my specific
vantage point and I still have my basic equipment as a reviewer. No one
can hope to say everything, and I can try to say something distinctive
and helpful. Also, by reviewing these films, I express my belief that
they need to be taken seriously, that they should be on our agenda.
Perhaps I can encourage others to see them, review them, and add their
As webmaster of a site visited by filmgoers generally, and
not just specialists in African culture, I also can try to increase
awareness of African film by acting as a signpost, by maintaining the
following list of links to resources about African film.
Directed by Idrissa Ouédraogo.
With Mariam Kaba, Abdoulaye Komboudri, Bakary Sangaré,
Written by Idrissa Ouédraogo, Jacques Arhex, and Santiago Amigorena.
Cinematography by Pierre Laurent Chenieux.
Film Editing by Joëlle Dufour.
Music by Wasis Diop and Falon Cahen
Samba Traoré had left his village years ago to seek his
fortune in the big city. He has found only unemployment and rootlessness.
As the film begins, he is part of a filling station holdup in which his
partner is killed but Samba Traoré, determined, takes the money at
He returns to his village, hides the money, and lets out
that he has been successful and now wants to live at home. He resumes
old friendships. He marries. His impulses run away with him as
opportunities arise to spend more and more of the money. At first people
just think he did well in the city. Then they think he did amazingly
well. Then they think that they never dreamed anyone could make so much
money. Finally his trail becomes so obvious that the police hear of him.
Like many of the film makers that Joan and I really admire,
Idrissa Ouédraogo is a humanist. He is not primarily concerned with
plot, but with people. The plot of Samba Traoré is rudimentary.
It's only there because at each turn of the plot the context in which
his characters live changes and so they act and express new sides of
themselves. We come to see them with great subtlety. Samba Traoré
himself, for example, is sometimes generous in sharing with his friends,
but he overreacts with possessiveness when his girlfriend is visited by
an old boyfriend. At other times he might be anywhere in between these
extremes. One doesn't find these differences contradictory; one is moved
and amazed at how richly complex people are.
Ouédraogo draws these portraits sharply. When Samba Traoré
attacks the boyfriend or the service station operator, there is no
motive of personal malice or vindictiveness or greed or brutality; his
motive is simply that his own needs come first and he is accordingly
direct and practical but relentless.
Ouédraogo is constantly aware of the physical landscape in
which his characters live. He photographs the details of the people, of
the countryside, and of the village with loving respect. He seems to be
saying, "Look at these ordinary things. These people are living in
Samba Traoré is a fine film, entertaining and
touching, within the great humanist tradition. but with a distinctively
African way of thought and expression.
The Sénégalese director Ousmane Sembène is regarded by
many as a father of African film. His voice and his example have
encouraged Africans to build a tradition of expressing themselves in
this medium, and by now they have a rich heritage.
More generally, Sembène has called for Africans to assume
responsibility themselves to find their own way and to build on their
continent a world that they want.
It is ironic to
read Sembène's words and to realize that Africans could help their
economy, not only by gaining control of distribution and exhibition in
their own countries, but also by exporting films. They have developed
the ability to make films of high artistic quality in reasonable
quantity. However, they have almost no distribution in, for example, the
US, where people would rather line up at shopping malls and pay to see
films like Steven Spielberg's Amistad
than to see films that genuinely represent Africa. It is not that Amistad
is a superior film. To some degree, it may be a matter of taste: these
people may actually prefer Spielberg and find his glossy expensiveness
an indicator of quality. However, to some degree it is also a matter of
lack of distribution, lack of familiarity, and lack of awareness that
there are outstanding African films to go to.
I am maintaining this page in honor of Ousmane Sembène and
of his belief in an indigenous African vision. As a member of the human
race—as one with a need to complete the picture I see from where I
stand with visions told me by others standing elsewhere—I can assure
him that I also have a concern that Africans succeed in doing so, and on
their own terms