With the Master’s Tools. Narratives of African Cinema

Summer Cinema

From 9 July to 28 August 2021 - 10pm
All films will be screened in digital format
Curators
Ana Useros and Chema González
Organised by
Museo Reina Sofía
Collaboration
Acknowledgements
Institut français, Spain

The Museo Reina Sofía’s annual summer cinema returns once again, focusing this year on rediscovering a central part of African cinema which, by way of the strength of its fiction, challenges the images with which the West tries to invade it.   

As is now customary, the Museo’s film programme leaves behind the film theatre and moves into the open air and the pleasant surroundings of the Sabatini Building Garden. The series is organised in collaboration with the Museo Situado network, a project which connects the institution to the Lavapiés neighbourhood. Moreover, it is the perfect occasion to discover or become reacquainted with beautiful, classic or contemporary works, akin to those novels we finally pick up in the summer after they have spent months gathering dust on the bookshelf. Tying in with previous focal points, which have sought to translate some of the imaginaries that occupy the streets adjacent to the Museo, this year’s gaze settles on films from African countries south of the Sahara, the places of origin of different migrant communities in Lavapiés. 

Film production in these countries stretches back to the 1950s, coinciding with the beginnings of independence for some countries making up the region. Naturally, African landscapes, customs and light had been filmed previously ad nauseum, exhausted through a one-toned expression which, as yet another colonial weapon, was detrimental to film-making. Nevertheless, in response, and with an awareness that cinema is possibly one of the most powerful combat tools, films in the region were assembled early on as a cognizant reaction to racism, to the cultural appropriation of exotic beauty and to the backdrop of the adventures of Tarzan and Jane. Contrary to that which governs the heavily quoted phrase by Afro-feminist Audre Lorde (USA, 1934–1992), “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, the aim here is in fact to dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. The history behind this particular film-making is also the history of the tempestuous, creative and unexpected relationship between cinema and the anti-colonial struggle, for its strategies have been and are as different as they are varied, have been and are related to circumstances in each country, in each era.      

The series gets under way with the popular Pan-African ideal in the emancipatory work of Ousmane Sembène (Senegal, 1923–2007), before moving on to the production of imaginaries by Djibril Diop Mambéty (Senegal, 1945-France, 1998) and Safi Faye (Senegal, 1943), and Moustapha Alassane (Niger, 1942–2015), Jean-Marie Teno (Cameroon, 1954), Jean-Pierre Bekolo (Cameroon, 1966), Abderrahmane Sissako (Mali, 1961), Sylvestre Amoussou (Benin, 1964) and Akosua Adoma Owusu (Ghana-USA, 1984), offering a glimpse into the complicated relationship these films have with canonical film genres and with the imperialism of the West’s audiovisual industry.  

With the Master’s Tools. Narratives of African Cinema does not attempt to be an exhaustive film series, and could not be so even if it wished. It does not look to map different forms of national film-making or establish an auteur-centred canon. Any film notable for its absence could easily have found a place here, because if anything this series sets out to fill in gaps, enquire about them, and open many others, until the master’s house is dismantled. 

Collaboration
Sponsor

Programa

Ousmane Sembène. La Noire de... Film, 1966
Friday, 9 July 2021 – 10pm
Session 1
Second session: Friday, 6 August 2021

Akosua Adoma Owusu. Me Broni Ba (My White Baby)
Ghana and USA, 2009, colour, original version in English and Akan with Spanish subtitles, 22’

Ousmane Sembène. La Noire de…
Senegal and France, 1966, b/w, original version in French and Wolof, with Spanish subtitles, 60’ version, restored by the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna

— Recital with a musical accompaniment in the first session by poet, actress and activist Syla Aboubabacar and Artemisa Semedo, whose work fuses poetry, dance and music through an Afro-Descendant gaze.

The first feature by Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène is considered a seminal film in cinema from African countries south of the Sahara and a landmark of world cinema. Yet the history of a nameless woman, a black servant working for a rich white family in Dakar who moves with them to Europe, a story of alienation and isolation, loses none of its relevance and topicality over time and today is as pertinent as it ever was. The short film Me Broni Ba by Ghanaian-American film-maker Akosua Adoma Owusu offers keys to the present-day relevance of Sembène’s work. The confused legacy of European colonialism in Africa is evoked through women who braid the hair of discarded Western dolls — a lyrical portrait of the hair salons of Kumasi, in Ghana, which presents the body as a place of political meanings linked to notions of race and gender.

Sabatini Building, Garden

90 people

Admission

Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before each session. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before each screening. 

Moustapha Alassane. Bon Voyage, Sim. Film, 1966
Saturday, 10 July 2021 – 10pm
Session 2
Second session: Saturday, 7 August 2021

Moustapha Alassane. Bon Voyage, Sim
Niger, 1966, colour, sound, 5’
Courtesy of Institut français, Spain

Ousmane Sembène. Mandabi (The Money Order)
Senegal, 1968, colour, original version in Wolof and French with Spanish subtitles, 90’. Restored version

Sembène’s second feature is the tragicomic odyssey of a man trying to cash a money order sent by his nephew from France and coming up against local bureaucracy, widespread greed and his own ignorance. This film was the first feature shot in an African language, Wolof, cementing its place in film history, yet it is also simultaneously an arresting portrait of newly independent Senegal and Sembène’s statement of intent which, torn between literature and cinema (Mandabi, like La Noire de…, is based on his own previous stories), chooses cinema. In contrast to literature, which limits the work’s reception because it requires reading and writing skills, more often than not in one of the colonising languages, Sembène conceives of film as a universal language that prolongs oral African conveyance, and as a key medium to disseminate history and the present without the boundaries of literacy. Another universal medium able to dispense with dialogue is the satirical animated fables of Moustapha Alassane, a tireless pioneer and inventor of critical film impelled by a desire to reach the masses.

Sabatini Building, Garden

90 people

Admission

Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before each session. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before each screening.

Djibril Diop Mambéty. Touki bouki. Film, 1973
Friday, 16 July 2021 – 10pm
Session 3
Second session: Friday, 13 August 2021

Jean-Pierre Bekolo. La Grammaire de grand-mère (Grandma’s Grammar)
Cameroon, 1996, colour, original version in French with Spanish subtitles, 7’

Djibril Diop Mambéty. Touki bouki
Senegal, 1973, colour, original version in Wolof with Spanish subtitles, 89’

In Dakar, a shepherd meets a student and both dream of going to Paris using any means necessary to raise money for the trip. Between the daily life of poor neighbourhoods in Dakar and the representation of Paris, more symbolic than real, between tradition and modernity, dream and reality, a classic of African cinema is born. Touki bouki is preceded by an interview with Djibril Diop Mambéty, filmed almost reverently by Jean-Pierre Bekolo. Mambéty tells us: “Film was born in Africa because the image was born in Africa. Perhaps the instruments are European, but the creative need and reasoning comes from our oral tradition. To make a film you just have to close your eyes and see images. You open your eyes and the film is there. I want children to understand that Africa is a land of images […] simply and paradoxically because of oral tradition. And oral tradition is a tradition of images. What is said is more powerful than what is written; the word directly speaks to the imagination, not the ear. The imagination creates the image and the image creates cinema, so directly we are the forefathers of cinema”.  

Sabatini Building, Garden

90 people

Admission

Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before each session. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before each screening.

Safi Faye. Fad’jal. Film, 1979
Saturday, 17 July 2021 – 10pm
Session 4
Second session: Saturday, 14 August 2021

Safi Faye. Fad’jal
Senegal and France, 1979, colour, original version in Serer with Spanish subtitles, 112’

— First session presented by Elena García, an anthropologist and member of the CNAAE (Black, African and African-Descendant Community in Spain) association.

In 1975, film-maker and ethnologist Safi Faye premiered Kaddu Beykat, the first feature-length film directed by an African woman. Four years later, she directed Fad’jal, a documentary on her ancestral village, based on her PhD thesis, in which she seeks to put history and daily life, hitherto preserved through the word, into images, while also condemning existing exploitation in the agricultural world. As Safi Faye puts it: “In contrast to France’s history, written and studied at school, how is African history, which only exists in oral tradition, conveyed? Who will pass this on to children? The elder preserves the memory of history. Every evening, the children scramble up into the beautiful kapok trees after getting out of school to gather around the village elder. He would then pass on their history, that which hasn’t been written down. Fad'Jal speaks of this, of the foundation of the village and all the events that have since unfolded there. The grandfather speaks of traditional rites of passage and agrarian rites, as well as the origin of this village founded by a woman (Mbang Fadial) around the 16th century”.

Sabatini Building, Garden

90 people

Admission

Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before each session. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before each screening.

Jean-Marie Teno. Lieux saints. Film, 2009
Friday, 23 July 2021 – 10pm
Session 5
Second session: Friday, 20 August 2021

Moustapha Alassane. Le Retour d’un aventurier (The Return of an Adventurer)
Niger, 1966, colour, original version in Hausa and French with Spanish subtitles, 34’
Courtesy of Institut français, Spain.

Jean-Marie Teno. Lieux saints (Sacred Places)
Cameroon, 2009, colour, original version in French with Spanish subtitles, 70’

— Second session by film-maker Javier Fernández Vázquez, who has directed two feature-length films on Equatorial Guinea and Spain’s colonial past, Anunciaron Tormenta (Storm Forecast, 2020) and Árboles (Trees, 2013), produced by the film collective Los Hijos.

Jean-Marie Teno returns to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, to attend FESPACO, the Pan-African Film and Television Festival and a major event in African cinema since 1969. This time around, however, following an invitation from a friend, he lives in and films the city and the St. Léon neighbourhood, where there is a video club screening pirate copies of films for local residents. Subtly the film’s scenes unfold, raising questions — some new, some old — and revealing unheard-of threads entwining film, religion, tradition, craftsmanship and masculinity. As a prologue to this documentary, which combines intelligence, humour and modesty, we retrieve Le Retour d’un aventurier, the first African western and an homage to the genre in an adaptation of the context and an ironical reflection on its different codes. Talking about his film, Jean-Marie Teno remarks: “Fifty years ago African films weren’t shown because there weren’t any. Even now when there are, European and American films dominate the market. We run the risk of a whole generation growing up without having seen African films. Idrissa Ouédraogo said to me: ‘If I had the resources, I would be worse than the pirates. I would flood the market so that the youth would get used to watching these films’”.  

Sabatini Building, Garden

90 people

Admission

Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before each session. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before each screening.

Jean-Pierre Bekolo. Les Saignantes. Film, 2005
Saturday, 24 July 2021 – 10pm
Session 6
Second session: Saturday, 21 August 2021

Jean-Pierre Bekolo. Les Saignantes (The Bloodettes
Cameroon, 2005, colour, original version in French with Spanish subtitles, 97’

— Second session presented by photographer and film-maker Rubén H. Bermúdez, founder of the Afroconciencia collective and creator of the feature A todos nos gusta el plátano (We All Like Bananas, 2021) and the photobook Y tú, ¿por qué eres negro? (And You, Why Are You Black?, 2018).

A bold mix of political satire, horror film and science fiction narrative set in a not-so-distant 2025. Two young women turn to mutual support and the powers of the ancient Cameroon rituals of mevungu to defend themselves in a society driven by death, bureaucracy and corruption. As Bekolo asserts: “I would say, above all, the films of the genre are part of our culture as Africans. No doubt about that. The issue is not to use them but question them in relation to the choices we have to make in the context of African cultures. It’s about knowing how we appropriate the cinema out there and that we see like everyone else. Not copying, like sheep, what people are doing and instead reaffirming our own identities. […] We have to ask ourselves the question: Why am I using a horror film style. Why resort to science fiction? I don’t think there is any formula, except that you have to reflect on it and ask yourself, why make a sci-fi film? For me, the most important thing is that every time Africa is spoken about there is never any mention of the future”. 

Sabatini Building, Garden

90 people

Admission

Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before each session. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before each screening.

Abderrahmane Sissako. Bamako. Film, 2006
Friday, 30 July 2021 – 10pm
Session 7
Second session: Friday, 27 August 2021

Abderrahmane Sissako. Bamako
France, 2006, colour, original version in French, Bambara, Senufo languages, Wolof and English with Spanish subtitles, 115’

— Second session presented by Susana Moliner (a cultural manager with far-reaching experience working with the African and Afro-Descendant community in Spain, founder of Grigri Projects and a member of the Museo Situado network) and Mamadou Traore, a collaborator with the Programme Afrique Day Centre from SERCADE (an association of social action, cooperation and transformative education)

At the end of the 1980s, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund wanted Africa to be part of global capitalism. Their policy demanded that African countries open their markets to international capital, reduce governmental spending and privatise goods and services. In the yard of a house a singer and her unemployed husband share with other families, lawyers, judges and witnesses gather to put globalisation on trial. Scenes unfold with flecks of humour and a western-inspired sequence which sees Danny Glover arrive in the city to spare a final confrontation. “Westerns are many things to me. Spaghetti westerns were the first films that made me dream, but then so did Moustapha Alassane’s Le retour d’un aventurier (1966); when I was a kid and still didn’t know I would make films it made me see that we could also do it. […] The World Bank’s and International Monetary Fund’s mission is like a western. Structural adjustment was considered ‘good work’, and that’s where people’s suffering and poverty is gambled with,” writes the film-maker. 

Sabatini Building, Garden

90 people

Admission

Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before each session. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before each screening.

Sylvestre Amoussou. Africa Paradis. Film, 2006
Saturday, 31 July 2021 – 10pm
Session 8
Second session: Saturday, 28 August 2021

Sylvestre Amoussou. Africa Paradis
Benin and France, colour, 2006, original version in French with Spanish subtitles, 87’

— First session presented by Red Interlavapiés, a mutual support network made up of migrant and autochthonous people fighting against racist and excluding policies in diversity.

— Recital with a musical accompaniment by poet, actress and activist Artemisa Semedo in the second session.

In an imaginary future, Africa has entered an age of prosperity while Europe has succumbed to misery and underdevelopment. Olivier, an unemployed computer scientist, lives with Pauline, a teacher who is also out of work. Given the depressing employment prospects in France, they secretly emigrate to Africa, yet upon their arrival the border police detain and imprison them as they await deportation back to France. Olivier manages to escape and embarks on a life underground; Pauline accepts a position as a maid for a bourgeois African family. Sylvestre Amoussou writes: “It is complicated because those who fund African cinema tend to block projects they don’t finance and make ‘pitying’ films, which speak of ablation, disease or Africans suffering and struggling day to day. We are the ones who have to create the chains, from start to finish, that enable our cinema to gain currency. The films that I make are, above all, aimed at African countries and diaspora”.

Sabatini Building, Garden

90 people

Admission

Free, until full capacity is reached, with prior ticket collection on the Museo Reina Sofía website from 10am on the last working day before each session. A maximum of 2 per person. Doors open 30 minutes before each screening.