Sarah Maldoror is a French filmmaker of African descent and her film Monangambeee,
produced in 1969 will be screened out of competition at the 2017 edition of Berlinale Shorts. The film is part of the collection of Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art e. V. and was only recently digitized, bears witness to a cinematic practice in opposition to colonial oppression. In the following interview she talks about her beginnings in the film industry and how important films from a Black perspective are.
What is your ambition in the film?
Monangambeee, is my first motion picture, shot in 1969. The film’s script (written collaboration with Serge Michel) is based on a short story by the Angolan writer and political activist Luandino Vieira, who had been sentenced by the Portuguese colonial regime to serve a fourteen-year term at the camp of Tarrafal in Cape Verde.
Shot in the late 1960s, depicts Portuguese ignorance of Angolan culture and the cruel treatment and imprisonment of people actively opposed to colonialism.
How did you get started in the film business?
In the late 50’s, I and three friends, the Haitian singer Toto Bissainthe, Timité Bassori, and Ababacar Samb, decided to create our own troupe, the Compagnie d’Art Dramatique des Griots. Our objetcives were to introduce black authors and literature and also to create an art schools for African actors.
In early 1960s, I abandoned the legitimate stage to became actively involved in the struggle for African liberation. I realize that in Africa, cinema was the most appropriate medium that could be used to raise the political awareness of the masses of people, many of whom were and still are illiterate. At that point I set out to become a filmmaker. Awarded a scholarship by the Soviet Union, I went to Moscow to study filmmaking at the Gorki Studio under Sergei Gerassimov and Mark Donskoy, who introduced me to the techniques and ideology of Soviet cinema. Both with Sembene we worked as assistants won Donskoy’s film Hello Children (1962).
Later in Algeria, where I became Gillo Pontecorvo’s assistant during the filming of The Battle of Algiers. This 1966 film, which illustrates the bloody confrontations between the Algerian freedom fighters and French paratroopers in 1957 and 1958, now stands as a classic of militant cinema. It was also in Algeria that I made my first motion picture, Monangambeee, in 1969.
I made films because I am deeply interested in both cinema and African history.
I believe that we, as blacks, have a moral responsibility to present a fair account of African history. If we want to eradicate racism, we will have to study our culture very thoroughly in order to present it to the world….If only Westerners make films about Africa, people will only see Africa through their eyes…When Americans made films about Africa, they made westerns transposed in Africa! These films were remarkably well done, but their African characters were, more often than not, stupid and ignorant….In my films, I mainly strive to present issues of importance to Africa or the Black Diaspora from a Black perspective. This does not mean that only Blacks can make those kinds of films or that I should only be limited to Black themes. Culture is an exchange and a mixing of ideas. Whenever culture is limited it stagnates. I strongly believe that tomorrow’s culture will be largely based on images and this is why filmmakers have such an important role to play in their society.
Filmstill from Monangambé (1968) by Sarah Maldoror