"Sembène Centennial", the New York tribute to Ousmane Sembène

Until September 21st, the legendary New York cinema Film Forum pays tribute to Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène to celebrate the centenary of his birth. With more than sixty screenings scheduled and panels of discussions with his loved ones, the "Sembène Centennial" festival is also an opportunity to realize the still very important echo of the works of the filmmaker, considered the father of African cinema and disappeared in 2007, on this side of the Atlantic. Report.

Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman at the Film Forum in New York, on the occasion of the presentation of their documentary "Sembène!". © Michaël Oliveira Da Costa / RFI

By: Michaël Oliveira Da Costa Follow


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The titles of the films are still displayed in large black letters on a white background, and the walls of the entrance of the establishment, lined with photos and posters of Ousmane Sembène, announce the color in this mythical cinema of the "big apple", opened in 1949. To celebrate the centenary of the birth of the filmmaker, this high place of the seventh art, where we often meet Martin Scorsese or Christopher Nolan who come to watch independent productions, has decided to put the small dishes in the big ones to pay tribute to the pioneer of African cinema.

On this opening night, in one of the four screening rooms, a good hundred spectators, young and old, from various and varied horizons, watch the classic Xala, then exchange with Ousmane Niang, Senegalese journalist and close to Sembène, who came to talk about his compatriot. "It's important to organize events like this," says Niang. "His work and philosophy resonate like never before, and we must continue to project to pass on the cultural heritage he created. It is also beautiful to see that Sembène attracts the curiosity of people from so many different backgrounds. He would have been proud to see that, that's for sure! " he smiled.

In the audience, Tanya, a doctoral student in African studies at Columbia University, exchanges with other spectators, and notes that Sembène attracts curiosity and debate. "There is always a certain surprise to see that an African filmmaker is quite well known in the United States, but I am really not surprised to see so many people come to attend the events and want to know more about him," she says, before adding: "his films are incredible, and I think that beyond his desire to show that Africa and its people can make cinema, The fact that his message, which advocates the affirmation and recognition of diversity, is more relevant than ever, helps to ensure that his legacy lives on."

Despite the distance between his native Senegal and an America where the film industry is ultra-competitive, Sembène has managed during his career - and beyond - to develop a privileged link with the United States, to become an important figure in independent cinema, but not only.

The recognition of the environment, and the "Sembène" touch in American university education

With 1,200 spectators expected during the fortnight, the Sembène Centennial is also an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the impact of the African filmmaker on this side of the Atlantic, who has asserted himself well beyond cinemas. The screening of the documentary Sembène! at the beginning of the second week, co-directed by Senegalese university professor Samba Gadjigo and American Jason Silverman, shows that the works of the African filmmaker have an important resonance in American culture, linked to oppression and the struggle for the promotion of minorities. "Sembène quickly had an important echo here, and his works are studied very closely in a very large number of universities in the United States," says Gadjigo, before adding: "there is here what is called African Studies, a course of African studies in almost all colleges, and Sembène is constantly on the program, whether in film studies. or on themes of affirmation of minorities or the oppressed. Indiana University has even digitized all of his works to make them available to researchers around the world. This shows the importance of Sembène in American university culture! " he says.

He and his associate answer the many questions of the spectators present, and sweep a wide field of themes, to the delight of Fanta and Binta, both Senegalese and film students at New York University. "Honestly, Sembène is a source of pride for us, and to see that his work is recognized at its true value here, it is still a huge achievement," they emphasize, "but the most important thing is his social commitment, and the desire he had to see more equality, and recognition of diversity. He also helped to empower women by antagonizing officials. It takes courage! " they exclaim.

For Silverman, seeing the younger generations draw inspiration from Sembène is important, even paramount, in order to continue to spread his thought, his legacy. "His message is not only directed at Africans, it is directed at all those who fight for equality. He believed in universal values of respect and emancipation, and this festival, with spectators from all walks of life and all ages, is the kind of initiative that shows that the impact of Sembène is there, timeless," he concludes.

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