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Culture - Arts

Africa’s cinema father is gone

afrol News, 13 June - Senegalese woke up with the sombre news of the death of Africa’s father of cinema last Sunday. Sembene Ousmane was considered the doyen of African cinema.

Senbene, also a well-known writer and thinker, died of caner in the Senegalese capital Dakar. He was 84 years old.

Thousands of prominent personalities, including the celebrated Senegalese singer, Youssou Ndoure, paid their last respects to Sembene.

“Ousman is a true African who spread the African message well beyond the African border”, Youssou Ndoure said.

The French Ambassador to Senegal was also enthused by the fallen thinker’s works, describing him as a premier contributor to the African arts and literature.

His death has been interpreted by many as a great loss and setback for Africa’s drive to attain development as well as win the war against cultural and traditional emancipation.

Jacques Behanzin, the Secretary General of the Pan-African Federation of Film Directors, described Ousmane as a greater leader, a shinning model, an adviser and a cultural guide.

He would be best remembered for his rich catalogue of films as well as authoring so many books.

The renowned poet, novelist and motion-picture director endowed with the skills of blending arts and culture to tell the African story from the African perspective was a product of migrating parents in the southern Senegalese capital of Ziguinchor in 1923. He had dedicated his invaluable time and resources to set the stage for socio-cultural and political liberation of the black continent through cinema.

Sembene was expelled from middle school in 1936 for being indiscipline. This ended his road to formal education and his parents did not bother to send him back to school either. Instead he was returned him to Dakar to live with his father’s relatives two years later.

Bereft with no skills, the man who would later record his name among Africa’s greatest writers and thinkers, saw future in apprentice mechanic and bricklaying while in Dakar. But he had spared a lot of time to read and develop movies as well as listening to African stories being narrated by elders. His passion was also found in watching traditional wrestling and cultural musical events.

Sembene decided to join the French colonial army in 1944 to fight against Germany in World War II. The French sent him to Niger as a chauffeur in one of the colonial infantry units. His army stint came to an end two years; he was discharged and returned to Senegal to join a union of construction and worker’s traders.

A year later Sembene travelled to the French city of Marseilles where he wanted to better his life. Here also he had become a member of a left-wing workers union, which enabled him to participate in several lectures, seminars or workshops on critical issues such as Marxism.

By 1950, he had already become a member of the French Communist Party and the Movement against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Peace (MOURAP). This gave him the platform to become deeply involved in the struggles against Korean War, the Rossenberg trial and execution in the United States. He took part in so many street protests against injustices in the world.

In 1961, Sembene returned home purposely to dedicate his life to telling the real African story through poems, novels and films.

A year later he was awarded a year’s scholarship to study film-making in Moscow, Russia. This prepared the great thinker for film-making, writing and directing. Upon return from Moscow, he produced his first short black and white movie, Borom Sarret, which tells the plight of a cart driver in Senegal.

This masterpiece earned the Tours Film Festival awards in France. He wrote and directed another film, L’Empire Sohnhrai (Songhai Empire), which documented the history of Songhai Emire (now Mali). The Malian government supported the production of this film.

His popular films include Niaye, a dreadful movie that unveiled the community’s refusal to tell the French colonial administration that a young girl was impregnated by her father.

Mr Ousmane’s first novel, Le Docker Noir, was published in 1956.

A co-founder of Senegalese Association of Filmmakers and Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers, Sembene Ousmane had been showered with so many accolades. His awards included the Life Time Achievement Award at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Spirit of Saint Louis Award of Human Rights Watch.

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