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The Hyena's Last Laugh - A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety

ORDERTRACKING CONTACTUS
ORDERTRACKING CONTACTUS
with Djibril Diop Mambety ORDERTRACKING CONTACTUS close home THEHYENA'SLASTLAUGH
with Djibril Diop Mambety ORDERTRACKING CONTACTUS close home THEHYENA'SLASTLAUGH AconversationwithDjibrilDiopMambety

THEHYENA'SLASTLAUGH

AconversationwithDjibrilDiopMambety

byN.FrankUkadike,fromTRANSITION78

TheysaidhewasaUFO."ThemostparadoxicalfilmmakerinthehistoryofAfricancinema."Tosome,

hewas"theAfricanDionysus,"or"theprinceofColobane."Otherssimplycalledhim"D.D.M."

OnJuly23,1998,DjibrilDiopMambetydiedintheParishospitalwherehewasbeingtreatedforlung

cancer.Onlyfifty­threeyearsoldatthetimeofhisdeath,Mambetywasadirector,actor,composer,

poet,andorator,lovedandadmiredbycriticsandaudiencesallovertheworld.

MambetyhadstudieddramainSenegal,andheworkedasastageactorattheDanielSoranoNational TheaterinDakaraftergraduation.ButhewasexpelledfromSoranoashorttimelater­­undisciplined, theysaid­­andtheexperiencegoadedhimtopursuehisloveaffairwithcinema.Mambetyremembered hisexpulsionasakindofchallenge:herefusedtogiveup,andimmediatelysetaboutraisingmoneyto makefilms.Althoughhehadnoformaltrainingincinema,thetwenty­four­year­olddirectedand

producedhisfirstfilmshort,Contras'City[Acityofcontrasts],in1969.Experimentalandsatirical,the

filmlampoonedthefreewheelingcosmopolitanismofDakar'scolonialarchitecture,inwhich,as Mambetynoted,"wehadaSudanese­stylecathedral,achamberofcommercebuildinglookinglikea theater,whilethetheaterresembledablockofcouncilflats."Mambety'snextshort,BadouBoy,was

releasedin1970.ThefilmexploredcontemporarySenegalesesocietybypittinganindividualagainst

thestate:aslyyounghooligan,saidtobemodeledonMambetyhimself,spendsthefilm outmaneuveringacrass,bowlegged,overweightpoliceman.Althoughbothfilmswerebox­office

disasters,theywerecriticallyacclaimed­­BadouBoywontheSilverTanitatthe1970Carthagefilm

FestivalinTunisia.

In1973,Mambetyreleasedhismasterpiece,ToukiBouki[Thehyena'sjourney],atourdeforceof

narrativeandtechnicalsophistication.ItcombinedthestylesofMambety'sfirsttwofilms,marrying

montageandnarrative,challengingaudienceswithitsunconventionalcollageofpoliticalandsexual

images,enticingthemwithitsstoryanditsuseofcolorandmusic.ToukiBouki,Mambety'sfirstfeature­

lengthfilm,wasacriticalsmash:itwontheSpecialJuryAwardattheMoscowfilmFestivalandthe

InternationalCriticsAwardatCannes.ItwasunlikeanythinginthehistoryofAfricancinema;today,film

scholarsaroundtheworldagreethatToukiBoukiisaclassic.Itscentralthemesarewealth,youth,and

delusion:MoryandAntaareafashionableyoungSenegalesecoupleontherun­­fromtheirfamilies,

theirhome,andtheirfuture­­dreamingofEurope.Thestoryrevolvesaroundthecouple'sbrashand

illegalattemptstogetenoughcashforboatticketstoParis.Butitislessthenarrativethanitsmodeof

presentationthatcarriestheburdenofmeaning.Mambetymixeselementsofseveralstorytelling

techniquestocreatephantasmalimagesofpostcolonialAfricansociety'smyriadfailings.His

presentationinvitestheviewertounderstandtheseimagesindialecticalterms.

Despitethefilm'ssuccess,Mambetydidnotproduceanotherfeatureforalmosttwentyyears.During thislongabsence,hewasabletomakeonlyonefilm:ParlonsGrand­mére[Let'stalk,Grandmother],a

shorthemadein1989whilehelpinghisfriend,theBurkinabedirectorIdrissaOuedraogo,withthe

filmingofYaaba.

In1992,Mambetyreturnedtothelimelightwithanambitiousnewfilm,Hyènes[Hyenas].Itwasan

adaptionoftheSwiss­GermanwriterFriedrichDürrenmatt'ssatiricalplayTheVisit.Mambety'sauthorial

voiceisstrongandclearinHyènes;asonecriticobserved,theuniquenessofthedirectionthroughout

thefilm"undoubtedlystemsinpartfromhisownmagisterialsenseofpresence."

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The Hyena's Last Laugh - A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety

Hyèneswasconceivedasthesecondinstallment,followingonToukiBouki,ofatrilogyonpowerand insanity.Thegrandtheme,onceagain,ishumangreed.AsMambetyhimselfobserved,thestoryshows howneocolonialrelationsinAfricaare"betrayingthehopesofindependenceforthefalsepromisesof Westernmaterialism,"andhowAfricanshavebeencorruptedbythatmaterialism.WefollowLinguère Ramatou,awealthywomanwhoreturnsfromabroadtothedesolatevillageofColobane,her birthplace­­andMambety's,aswell.Manyyearsbefore,shehadbeenseducedbyayoungman, impregnated,andabandonedforawealthierwife;shewasthenmercilesslyostracizedbyher neighbors.Now"asrichastheWorldBank,"Linguèreofferslavishgiftsandhugesumsofmoneytothe villagers­­inexchangeforthedeathofheronetimelover.Theyacceptthedeal,andMambetymakesit easyforustoseewhy.TheColobaneofHyènesisasadreminderoftheeconomicdisintegration,

corruption,andconsumerculturethathasenvelopedAfricasincethe1960s."Wehavesoldoursouls

toocheaply,"Mambetyoncesaid."Wearedoneforifwehavetradedoursoulsformoney.Thatiswhy

childhoodismylastrefuge."ButwhatremainsofColobaneisnotthemagicalchildhoodMambetypines

for.InthelastshotofHyènes,abulldozererasesthevillagefromthefaceoftheearth.ASenegalese

viewer,onewriterhasclaimed,"wouldknowwhatroseinitsplace:thereal­lifeColobane,anotorious

thieves'marketontheedgeofDakar."

HyènesconfirmedMambety'sstatureasoneofAfrica'sgreatestauteurs,anditseemedtoheraldthe

beginningofanewandproductivephaseinhiscareer.Afterunleashingthispessimisticvisionof

humanityandsociety,Mambetybeganatrilogyofshortfilmsabout"littlepeople,"whomhecalled"the

onlytrue,consistent,unaffectedpeopleintheworld,forwhomeverymorningbringsthesamequestion:

howtopreservewhatisessentialtothemselves."Lefranc(1994),acomedyaboutapoormusicianwho

winsthelottery,exposesthehavocwroughtuponthepeopleofSenegalbyFrance'sdevaluationofthe

AportraitofthedirectorpublishedinÉcransd'Afriquedescribedsomeofhispeculiarities:"Hisrevolts,

hispoetry,hisalcoholism,hissensitivity,hiswanderings,hisarrogance,andhislucidityclothehimwith

ahalooflegend­­andmakehimadifficultdirector."Mambety'sdedicationtohisartisunassailable;he

onceobserved:

Onehastochoosebetweenengaginginstylisticresearchorthemererecordingoffacts.I

feelthatafilmmakermustgobeyondtherecordingoffacts.Moreover,Ibelievethat

Africans,inparticular,mustreinventcinema.Itwillbeadifficulttaskbecauseourviewing

audienceisusedtoaspecificfilmlanguage,butachoicehastobemade:eitheroneis

verypopularandonetalkstopeopleinasimpleandplainmanner,orelseonesearches

foranAfricanfilmlanguagethatwouldexcludechatteringandfocusmoreonhowtomake

useofvisualsandsounds.

Inotherwords,MambetydepartsfromthelinearanddidacticpatternsofAfricanfilmmakerslike

OusmaneSembeneandSouleymaneCisséinordertopursuehisartisticfreedom.Itisthisrefusalto

makeconcessions,eventotheaudience,thatenabledMambetytomatureintoadirectorof

internationalstature.

Withhisdeath,Africahaslostahighlytalentedandcreativefilmmaker,arareartistofexceptional

insightandperception.ThelegionsofuswhoadmiredDjibrilDiopMambetyforhishumor,vision,

creativity,anddevotiontoAfricancinema­­andthoseofuswhowereblessedtoknowhimasafriend,a

manofgreatvitality­­willmisshim,evenaswecontinuetocelebratehislife.

N.FRANKUKADIKE:Howdidyoustartmakingpictures?

DJIBRILDIOPMAMBETY:IlovedpictureswhenIwasaveryyoungboy­­butpicturesdidn'tmean

cinematomethen.WhenIwasyoung,Ipreferredactingtomakingpictures.SoIdecidedtostudy

drama,butonedayinthetheater,IrealizedthatIlovepictures.ThatwashowIfoundmyselfinthis

thingcalledcinema.Fromtimetotime,Iwanttomakeafilm,butIamnotafilmmaker;Ihavenever

beenafilmmaker.

Whenchildrenaskme,"Howdoesonemakeafilm?"Ialwayssaythatyouhavetohavefreedomto

makeafilm,andtohavefreedom,youneedconfidence.Itellthemtoclosetheireyes,tolookatthe

stars,andlookintotheirhearts,andthentoopentheireyesandseeifthefilmtheywanttomakeis

there,infrontoftheireyes.

IbegantomakeHyèneswhenIrealizedIabsolutelyhadtofindoneofthecharactersinToukiBouki,

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The Hyena's Last Laugh - A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety

whichIhadmadetwentyyearsbefore.ThisisAnta,thegirlwhohadthecouragetoleaveAfricaand crosstheAtlanticalone.WhenIsetouttofindheragain,IhadtheconvictionthatIwaslookingfora characterfromsomewhereinmychildhood.IhadavisionthatIalreadyhadencounteredthischaracter

inafilm.Ultimately,IfoundherinaplaycalledTheVisit(1956)byFriedrichDürrenmatt.Ihadthe

freedomandconfidencetomarryhistextwithmyfilmandmakehisstorymyown.

NFU:ManycriticsareamazedbyhowwellDürrenmatt'splayhasbeenadapted­­theyneverimagined

thatanyonecoulddoitsowell.HyènesfollowslifeinanAfricanvillage,soitreliesheavilyonoral

tradition,stories,andsong.ButthereareelementsofEuropeandramaandcinemaaswell.Howdid

youbringallthesesourcestogether?

DDM:Earlier,Ifocusedonthenotionoffreedom,whichincludesthefreedomnottoknow.Thatimplies

confidenceinyourabilitytoconstructimagesfromthebottomofyourheart.Whenartistsconvergeon

theseimages,thereisnolongerroomforethnicpeculiarities;thereisonlyroomfortalent.Youmustn't

expectmetocutthepatrimonyofthemindintopiecesandfragments.Afilmisakindofmeeting;there

isgivingandreceiving.NowthatIhavemadeit,Hyènesbelongsasmuchtotheviewerastome.You

musthavethefreedomandconfidencetounderstandandcritiquewhatyousee.

NFU:Butwhataretheseimagesthatrisefromthebottomofyourheart?Whatareyougivingtothe

viewer?

DDM:Iaminterestedinmarginalizedpeople,becauseIbelievethattheydomorefortheevolutionofa

communitythantheconformists.Marginalizedpeoplebringacommunityintocontactwithawiderworld.

ThecharactersofToukiBoukiareinterestingtomebecausetheirdreamsarenotthoseofordinary

people.AntaandMorydonotdreamofbuildingcastlesinAfrica;theydreamoffindingsomesortof

Atlantisoverseas.Followingtheirdreampermittedmetofollowmyowndreams,andmywayof

escapingthosedreamswastolaughatthem.MoryandAnta'sdreamsmadethemfeellikeforeignersin

theirowncountry.Sotheyweremarginalizedpeople,inthatrespect.

IfwethinkofDramanDramehinHyènes,wefindthathe,too,ismarginalized,althoughheisawell­

knowncharacterinthecityofColobane;heismarginaleventhoughheownsamarket.Everyone

comesin­­tobuyfood,ortohaveadrink­­soDramanDramehhasthekeytothe"treeofwords."Yethe

ismarginal.Notable,butmarginal:thefactthateveryoneconfidesinhimsetshimapart.Butthisaspect

ofhischaracterallowsmetoinvestigateeveryaspectofhissociety.Perhapsamarginalpersoncan

giveyouanaccuratevisionofasocietybecausehevariesfromitsnorms.LinguèreRamatouisalso

marginalized,becausesheisexactlythesamepersonwhocrossedtheAtlantictogotoEuropeinTouki

Bouki.Shedaredtoliftupthemooringsofthevesselandsailout.Sheisarichforeigner.Thepeopleof

Colobanefeeltheyneedhermoney;youcouldsay,inthelanguageoftheWorldBank,thatsheisa

marginalperson"wewanttohave."SoLinguèreRamatougivesmeameasureofmyexistencein

relationtootherthings.

NFU:InoticedthatLinguèreRamatouhasanAsianbodyguardinHyènes.Howdoesshefitintothis

schema?

DDM:ThepointisnotthatsheisAsian.ThepointisthateveryoneinColobane­­everyoneeverywhere­­

liveswithinasystemofpowerthatembracestheWest,Africa,andthelandoftherisingsun.Thereisa

scenewherethiswomancomesinandreads:shereadsofthevanityoflife,thevanityofvengeance;

thatistotallyuniversal.Mygoalwastomakeacontinentalfilm,onethatcrossesboundaries.Tomake

Hyènesevenmorecontinental,weborrowedelephantsfromtheMasaiofKenya,hyenasfromUganda,

andpeoplefromSenegal.Andtomakeitglobal,weborrowedsomebodyfromJapan,andcarnival

scenesfromtheannualCarnivalofHumanityoftheFrenchCommunistPartyinParis.Alloftheseare

intendedtoopenthehorizons,tomakethefilmuniversal.Thefilmdepictsahumandrama.Mytaskwas

toidentifytheenemyofhumankind:money,theInternationalMonetaryFund,andtheWorldBank.I

thinkmytargetisclear.

WhileHyènestellsahumanstorytothewholeworld,Ialsowantedtopayhomagetothebeautyof

AfricawhenImadethefilm.Forme,partofthatbeautyisthefactthatitisnotverydifficulttomakea

filminAfrica.TheabandonedbagsofricethatthepeopleofColobanewearattheendofthefilmdid

notcostmuch;itwasonlytheequipmentfortheproductionthatwasalittleexpensive.Ihaveagreat

desiretodemystifycinema­­especiallythefinancialaspectofcinema.Africaisrichincinema,inimages.

Hollywoodcouldnothavemadethisfilm,nomatterhowmuchmoneytheyspent.Thefuturebelongsto

images.Students,likethechildrenIreferredtoearlier,arewaitingtodiscoverthatmakingafilmisa

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The Hyena's Last Laugh - A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety

matteroflove,notmoney.

NFU:ThepioneersofAfricancinemaoftenmadefilmswithanopenlypolitical,didacticpurpose­­one

thinksofOusmaneSembene'sXalaorMedHondo'sSoleilO.Howdoyoucombineeducationand

entertainmentinyourownfilms?

DDM:Idonotrefusetheworddidactic.Ifollowthesameprincipleasastory.Whenastoryends­­or

"fallsintotheocean,"aswesay­­itcreatesdreams.Ithasenergyanddirection.Ihopethatallmy

storiesfinishbypresentingalessonforsociety,butthereisalsogreatfreedominmywayofseeingand

treatingthings.Idotheaudiencejustice:theyhavethefreedomtoenterornottoenterintomystories.

Theyarefreetotaketheirownpath,toenterortoleave.Inoneword,"liberty"iswhatcharacterizes

whatIamdoing.

NFU:YourstyleisradicallydifferentfromotherAfricanfilmmakers.Whatsetsyouapart?

DDM:StyleisawordthatIdonotlike.Ihaveneverpursuedasinglestyle,andtheothershaven'tdone

that,either.Ibelievethateachfilmmakergoeshisownway,buteachpersonisconstantlyevolving,

changingashelookstothelighthereceivesthathelpshimadvance.SoIdon'tlikethewordstyle.On

theotherhand,IhavefoundthatIamabletomakefilmsbecauseeachfilmsetsmefreetothinkabout

thesubjectItakeon.WhenIplanafilm,theideasflownaturallyfrommyoriginaldream,from

conceptiontofinish.

NFU:TherewerecertainlyAfricanfilmsbeforeToukiBouki,butthestyleofyourfilmisquitedifferent;

manypeoplethinkitbrokenewaestheticground.Whataboutthegyratingcameramovements,the

editingtechnique­­thejumpcuts,collidingmontage,andsoforth­­wheredidtheycomefrom?

DDM:It'sthewayIdream.Todothat,onemusthaveamadbeliefthateverythingispossible­­youhave

tobemadtothepointofbeingirresponsible.BecauseIknowthatcinemamustbereinvented,

reinventedeachtime,andwhoeverventuresintocinemaalsohasashareinitsreinvention.

NFU:IwillneverforgetthefirsttimeIheardtheeeriecombinationofhumanscreamsandgull'scriesin

ToukiBouki,orthejuxtapositionofthesaxophoneandthemuezzin'sprayerinLefranc.Iknowyouwere

acomposerbeforeyoustartedmakingfilms.Howdoyouchooseyourmusic,andwhodoyouwork

with?

DDM:Idonotchoosethemusic,Ichoosethesound.Allmovementisaccompaniedbyasense.Ilike

windverymuch.Windismusic,justasmusiciswind.Itrytomaketheimageillustratethemovement.

Wind,likemusic,isthebreathofmovementandlife.Ithastodowithstimulation:fromtheimagesIdo

themusic,fromthemusicIdothesound.Butsoundisnotsomethingforeigntoadornthefilm.Itis

intrinsictothefilm;itmagnifiestheaction.

NFU:TherearemanysymbolsofdeathinHyènes.WhyaretheinhabitantsofColobanedressedasthey

are,andwhydotheywearwigs?

DDM:ThepeopleofColobanearedressedinricebags.Theyarehungry;theyarereadytoeatDraman

Drameh.Theyarealldisguisedbecausenoonewantstocarrytheindividualresponsibilityformurder.

Sowhattheyhaveincommoniscowardice.Foreachindividualtohavecleanhands,everybodyhasto

bedirty,toshareinthesamecommunalguilt.SothepeopleofColobanebecomeanimals.Theirhair

makesthembuffaloes.Theonlythingtheyhavethatishumanisgreed.

NFU:Sodespiteyourinsistenceonfreedomandimmediacy,youareverydeliberate,verycarefulin

choosingcostumeandotherformsofcharacterization,verycarefulabouthowyoustructureyourfilms.

DDM:Itseemstomethatwhenwetalkaboutstructure,weenterintoconfusion.Tome,structureoften

meanspremeditation.Myworkisnotbasedonpremeditationorplanning;itisbasedontheinstant.The

instantismotivated.Itarisesfromthenecessitiesofdiscourse.Well,Idonotliketheworddiscourse,so

perhapsIshouldhavesaidtheinstantisforcedbythenecessitiesofmovement.Movementcreatesits

owninternaldynamic,andthedifferenteffectsofafilm­­text,music,image­­arisefromthisdynamic:

theyareneverseparated.Socostumeisnotanornament,itisthereflectionofasituation.InHyènes,

thepeopleofColobanewouldnothavebeenabletoenactacollectivemurderiftheyhadeachkept

theirindividualclothing.Ifthemayorhaddressedlikeamayor,iftheprofessorhaddressedlikea

professor,thentheywouldhavefeltindividualresponsibility.Buttheinstantofmurderrequired

collectiveresponsibility,andthisrequiredamask.Themaskiswhatmakesitimpossibleforthe

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The Hyena's Last Laugh - A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety

townspeopletorecognizegoodandbad.Thatiswhywemadethemanimals,becauseanimalscommit

thiskindofmurder.Forthatreason,theirhairisdoneasthatofthebuffalo­­thelaughingstockofthe

savanna­­andthericebagstheywearsymbolizetheirobjective.Theirobjectiveistoamassasmany

richesaspossibleandtocreatethedeadlyharmonythatLinguèreRamatoudesires.

NFU:You'vesaidthatpowerandmadnessarerecurrentthemesinHyènes,asinyourotherfilms.What

doyoumeanbythat?

DDM:Idonothaveagrandexplanationofpowerandmadness.Ithinkthatthepowerofmadnessis

onething,andthemadnessofpowerisanotherthing.Together,theyaretooheavyforhumanbeings.

Thatisnotanexplanationoranideology.Inthesematters,humansaremeretoys.

NFU:Ifhumansaretoys,thenwhataboutanimals?Whyareyouobsessedwithhyenas?

DDM:ThehyenaisanAfricananimal­­youknowthat.Itneverkills.Thehyenaisfalsehood,acaricature

ofman.Thehyenacomesoutonlyatnight;heisafraidofdaylight,liketheheroofToukiBouki­­hedoes

notwanttoseedaylight,hedoesnotwanttoseehimselfbydaylight,sohealwaystravelsatnight.He

isaliar,thehyena.Thehyenaisapermanentpresenceinhumans,andthatiswhymanwillneverbe

perfect.Thehyenahasnosenseofshame,butitrepresentsnudity,whichistheshameofhuman

beings.

AfterIunveiledthisverypessimisticpictureofhumanbeingsandsocietyintheirnakednessinHyènes,I wantedtobuilduptheimageofthecommonpeople.WhyshouldImagnifytheordinarypersonafter thisdebauchofdefects?ThewholesocietyofColobaneismadeupofordinarypeople.Idonotwantto remainforeverpessimistic.ThatiswhyIhavefishedoutcaseswhereman,takenindividually,can defeatmoney.ThinkofLefranc.Theheroofthefilmisgoingcrazybecauseofalotteryticket,buthe managestoholdonbecausehehasthepowerofdreaming.InLapetitevendeusedeSoleil,allthe protagonistwantsistosellhermagazines,butmoneycomestosubvertherplan.Arichmancomes

along,andamagazinethatshouldcost5francsissoldfor500francs.Thus,therichmancreatesa

problem,butshemanagestoescapethisproblem,becauseshedreamsofsomethingbetter.Inthe

thirdpart,Latailleusedepierre[Thestonecutter],awomanexcavatespiecesofbasalt.Shebreaks

themintosmallerstonesthatcanbeusedinconstruction.Peoplewhowantmodernbuildingsintheir

neighborhoodaskhertomoveherworkshopaway.Butshecanconquertheuglinessanddirtinessof

humanbeingsbecausesheisclosetothetruth.SoLatailleusedepierreshowshowanindividualcan

dreamofbeauty.

NFU:It'squiteremarkablethatyou'veneverusedthesameactortwiceinthetwenty­fiveyearsyou've

beenmakingfilms.Youdon'tuseprofessionalactorsatall,andyetinyourfilms,everyoneactslikea

professional

DDM:Theprofessionalactordoesnotexist.Economically,yes,butbasically,no.Professionalactors

breakthemagicofthedreamandthemagicofcinema.Isaythatasacreatorandmanipulatorof

characterandevent.Idonotwanttouseanactoragainoncewehaveworkedtogether.Oncewehave

workedtogether,itseemstomethattheactorhasalreadygiveneverything,becauseIhavealready

askedeverythingofhimorher.Soweleaveeachotherinthefullnessofourfirstmeeting.WhenIwas

young,whenIwenttothemovies,IwasalwaysangrywhenIsawanactorwhohaddiedinonefilm

appearinginanotherfilmalive.Thatbrokethemagicofcinemaforme.Itisveryimportanttopreserve

themagicofcinema.Forexample,attheendofHyènes,ifyouwanttoknowwhereDramanDrameh's

bodyhasgone,youriskbreakingthemagic.Onlymagicknowswherehisbodyhasgone.Cinemais

magicintheserviceofdreams.

NFU:DoyouthinktheAfricanfilmindustryiscapableofsustainingitselfinthefuture?

DDM:Thereareotherswhocanrespondtothisbetterthanme,butIknowthatAfricaisimmenselyrich

incinematicpotential.ItisgoodforthefutureofcinemathatAfricaexists.CinemawasborninAfrica,

becausetheimageitselfwasborninAfrica.Theinstruments,yes,areEuropean,butthecreative

necessityandrationaleexistinouroraltradition.AsIsaidtothechildrenbefore,inordertomakeafilm,

youmustonlycloseyoureyesandseetheimages.Openyoureyes,andthefilmisthere.Iwantthese

childrentounderstandthatAfricaisalandofimages,notonlybecauseimagesofAfricanmasks

revolutionizedartthroughouttheworldbutasaresult,simplyandparadoxically,oforaltradition.Oral

traditionisatraditionofimages.Whatissaidisstrongerthanwhatiswritten;thewordaddressesitself

totheimagination,nottheear.Imaginationcreatestheimageandtheimagecreatescinema,soweare

indirectlineageascinema'sparents.

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NFU:Whataboutthesilentfilms,beforethetalkies?

DDM:Thatdoesn'tchangeanything.Oraltraditiondoesnotjustmeanopeningyourmouth.Itmeans

evoking,creating,andwriting.

NFU:Areyoureferringtothequalityoffilms?

DDM:Quality,quality.Everythinghastobeperfect,butwhatdoesperfectmean?Itmeansthat

somethingiswellcommunicated.Itdoesnotmeanadornedwithmakeup.Itmeansclearlysaid.What's

essentialiscommunication.

NFU:Butfilmsthatjustcommunicate­­filmsthataren'tasgoodasyours­­oftencan'tbeshownoutside

thecountrieswheretheywereproduced.

DDM:Iamallforthequalityofthings­­thetotalquality.AsIsaidmorethantwentyyearsago,forthe

educatedAfrican,Chinese,orJapanese,nothingauthorizesmediocrity.

NFU:Doyouseeanypossibilitiesforcoproductionswithothercountries?YoumadeHyèneswith

ThelmafilmsinSwitzerland,forexample.

DDM:Idon'twanttotalkaboutEurope.Let'stalkaboutmakingfilmsinAfrica.Europeisnotimportant

forme.Wherethemoneytomakeafilmcomesfromdoesn'tmatter.

NFU:InAfrica,thelittlecountryofBurkinaFasohasdonequitealottodevelopcontinentalfilm.They

havebuilttrulypan­Africanfacilitiesforeducationandproduction;andofcoursethereisFESPACO[Le

FestivalPanafricainduCinémaetdelaTélevisiondeOuagadougou].

DDM:Idon'twanttotalkaboutBurkinaFaso,either,excepttopointoutthatBurkinameanstigerand

Fasomeanslamb.Forme,BurkinaFasoisthedreamofAfrica'sfuture.WhenIthinkofBurkinaFaso,I

seethefutureIdreamforAfricaand­­whynot?­­forthewholeworld.Oneday,theworldcouldallbelike

BurkinaFaso,evenifthehyenasdoeverythingtheycantopreventthat.

NFU:InoticedthatyouaresellingHyènesonvideo.Isthisyourwayofcopingwiththeproblemsof

distributionandexhibitionontheAfricancontinent?

DDM:Iworkinmyownway.Wejustcreatedthenotionoffilmsdepoche[pocketfilms].Weareputting

alotofAfricanfilmsonvideo,sowecandistributethemtopeopleatpricesthatrivalthepriceofbooks.

Ofcourse,wealsoneedmoreVCRsinAfricaifwearetomakeourfilmstrulyaccessible.Thiswill

revolutionizeAfricancinema.Ourpremiseisthatourpopulationmustseeourfilmsasmuchas

possible.Wecan'tjustdreamaboutthis.Wehavelosttwentyyearsalready.Nomiraclecouldjustmake

thedistributionoffilmsincinemahouseseffectiveovernight.Sowemustinventsuchthingsasthefilm

depoche.

NFU:ButHollywoodreleasestheirfilmsinthetheatersbeforethevideoversion.

DDM:Withfilmsdepoche,wearetryingtodevelopawaytodistributefilmsinAfrica.Thefirstexample

isHyènes,whichisalreadyafilmdepoche;therewillbeawholeseriesofthesefilms.Inasocietythat

wecallunreceptivetowritingandreading,imagesmustsupplementtheword.Thatiswhyselling

Hyènesonvideowillmakeabigdifference.

NFU:Yourfirstfilm,Contras'City,isaninterestingfilm;Iunderstanditasacritiqueofthesocial

hierarchyofDakar.Whatmotivatedyoutomakethefilm?

DDM:Themotivation?Themotivationisalwaysthepicture,andformeitisalwayspicturesfromthe

placewhereyouwereborn,theplaceyoucomefrom.Ineverdreamaboutsomeotherworld,away

fromhome.WhatIhavealwayswantedtoexploreismyrelationshipwithimages,withthecinema;I

wanttoseeit,makeanimageofit,fromtheperspectiveofeternity.Iamnotacreatureofeternity,

though:theplaceIwasbornisumbilical.ItisasifIwerebornintoanenvelope,alakefromwhose

watersIneveremerge.EverytimeImakeafilm,thecreativitycomesoutofthatoriginalenvelope.For

me,filmingisremembering.

NFU:LookingattheimagesofContras'City,itiseasytounderstandhowthefilmrelatestoyou,tothe

society,toAfricaingeneral,andtocolonialandneocolonialencounters.

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The Hyena's Last Laugh - A conversation with Djibril Diop Mambety

DDM:Idon'twanttotellstories.Ionlywanttocreate,togivepleasure.AssoonasIbegintomakea

picture,thecreativityandtheimagescomefromimagination,fromsomewhere,whichIcallaccident.

Otherwiseitisdilettantism.Ifmyfilmshaveapoliticalmotivation,thatisnotmybasicpreoccupation.

NFU:ButthecritiqueofarchitectureinContras'Citysuggestsyoubelievethatforeigninterventionhas

amountedtoanassaultonAfricanculture.

DDM:Ifyouhaveachild,youmustrememberthatyouhavebeenachild:youcannotforgethowyour

mothercarriedyouonherback.Andifyouseethatyourownchildisnotcarriedaswellasyourmother

carriedyou,youcanreactbysaying,"No.No,itisnotlikethat,thatisnotmymother'sway.Thisisnot

myorigin;itisnotthewayIwantmybabytobecarried."That'smypointofview;itmayrelateto

architecture,totoday'sevents,toourmemory,ourhistory.Ifitleadstocriticism,formeinanycase,that

criticismrelatestohowIimaginethatmymothercarriedmewell.Iallowedmyselftobeamusedin

Contras'City,soastomaketheviewerexperienceanticolonialistlaughter.Butanticolonialistlaughteris

ultimatelylaughteratoneself.Iamnotanideologist.Ican'tjustloveandrefusetolove.

ToukiBoukiisveryimportantinthiscontext.WhenIbegintodreamofotherplaces,tobeobsessedby

themtothepointofbecomingastrangerinmyowncountrylikeMoryandAntainToukiBouki,my

naturalinstinctistorefusethetemptation.Thatiswhathassetthecourseofmylife;Ihavealways

founditsadtobeawayfromhome.

NFU:YetwheneverIgotoFESPACO,IseemanyfilmsthatpresentthenormsofAfricancultureina

harshlight.Whatguidesyourconcernfortradition?Doyouhaveanyadviceforambitiousyoung

filmmakers?

DDM:Idon'tconductmyselfwithreferencetootherpeople.Iamnotacontrarian.Socomparisonwith

anythingelsestopsthere.Regardingmyyoungcolleagues,Ihavenotseenmanyoftheirfilms.Irarely

gotothecinema.PerhapssomedayIwillbeabletoexplaintoyouwhyIrarelyseefilms,evenAfrican

ones.Ihavesaidtotheyoungfilmmakers,"Ifyouwanttomakeafilm,pleasethinkthoroughlyaboutthe

contentofthefilmyouwouldmake."ButIcannotcomparetheirfilmstomine;IcannottalkaboutAfrican

cinema.IhaveseenfewerAfricanfilmsthanyouhave.

NFU:Whatareyourownfutureprojects?

DDM:Iwillfinishthethirdpartofthetrilogyaboutordinarypeople.Afterthat,IwillmakeMalaika,the

thirdpartofthetrilogyaboutthepowerofcraziness.ThefirsttwowereToukiBoukiandHyènes.ThenI

willconsultGodaboutthestateoftheworld.

and Hyènes .ThenI willconsultGodaboutthestateoftheworld.

N.FrankUkadike,"TheHyena'sLastLaugh[interviewwithDjibrilDiopMambety],"Transition78(vol.8,

no.21999),pp.136­53.Copyright1999,W.E.B.DuboisInstituteandIndianaUniversityPress.Posted

withPermission.Viewathttp://www.jstor.org/stable/2903181.

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