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Sembène: Re-awakening the African Cinema


The talk about how to develop the African Cinema and exploit the potential of African film writers has dominated discussion at the 36th Durban International Film Festival 2015. In places like elevators where people normally retain their silence thinking about what the day has to offer them, a dramatic shift has been seen.

This is because the need to resuscitate an African Cinema was so intense and that strong feeling was made possible by discussions like the New Wave of African Cinema and films that tell stories of Africa’s film fathers. Among which is the groundbreaking documentary by Professor Samba Gadjigo whose film ushered the audience into the life journey of Ousmane Sembène. A dockworker and fifth-grade dropout from Senegal, who dreamt an impossible dream to become the storyteller for a new Africa.

The excellent cinematic techniques with the use of special sound effects and file archival footages depicting how Sembène was passionate and began to introduce film on the African soil, helped draw audience into the dispensation of the history, disruption and development of African Cinema. The film in its purest form take the audience into a journey of a man who understood that with the power of moving image and sound, one can tell a story that can change not only the African continent but also the world. In an excellent artistic manner the filmmakers incorporated some of the most popular and controversial file footages of Sembène in the documentary. Among Sembène’s work is the 1963, Barom Sarret (The Wagoner) and Niaye. In 1966 he produced his first feature film, La Noire de based on one of his own short stories; it was the first feature film ever released by a sub-Saharan African director. The film commanded wide public attention for Sembène from all continents of the world. However, the film has a sterling but disheartening ending, showing the Illness and tragic death of Sembène.

The documentary touches on themes like Pan Africanism in African Cinema, Afropolitanism and the need to resuscitate the African cinema, and the need to shift attention from copying the much celebrated Hollywood Cinema and begin to tell our own African stories from an African perspective. In an interview, explaining and setting the context of the film, Professor Gadjigo reasoned that a paradigmatic shift in the African cinema was necessary and without any reasonable doubt go a long way, placing the Africa Cinema on the same footing with other cinemas around the globe.

A heart-piecing statement that boggles the audience and other film makers who watched the film was that, “If Africa do not tell its own stories, will disappear”. In this context, if what Sembène said was true that time, it is crystal clear that it true now. The re-awakening and development of the African cinema requires that African filmmakers take the initiative to tell people of the world about African cultures, lifestyle, and politics without bias. Such a step, it can be reasoned that it will fundamentally deconstruct or forms of stereotypes that have been conveyed by other world cinemas who visit some parts of Africa and draw conclusions by simply homogenizing African ways of living as a single whole . Giving an example on how Africans lost their dignity in Europe, Sembane made it translucently clear that, Africans are being marginalized and treated unfairly in France because they have allowed people from outside the continent to spread our own gospel to the world by means of motion picture on the screen, a thing that is detrimental and destructive to the success and development of the African Cinema.

Tigere Muringa is a creative and passionate writer who spend most of his time writing articles about university politics and media at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. He is well known for his involvement with The Society of Political Science Students (SOPSS) where he writes publication of that society. He is a holder of a BSS degree (Cum Laude) in Media and Cultural Studies, Political Science at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal. And he is currently studying towards his Honours degree in Media and Cultural Studies at the same institution.


The 36th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) is organised by the Centre for Creative Arts at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (a special project of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Humanities, Cheryl Potgieter) with support from the National Film and Video Foundation, , KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission, City of Durban, German Embassy, Goethe Institut, Industrial Development Corporation, Gauteng Film Commission, KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture and a range of other valued partners.


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