Of all the so-called modern arts, cinema probably comes closest to matching the versatility of African oral tradition, where the possibility exists of speaking horizontally, like the Griot or the elders, with and to all or at least the vast majority. The horizontality of cinema as a discourse enables one to present, narrate, represent, and recreate imagined scenarios and realities that transport us inside those experiences despite our being geographically distant from a country. As Ousmane Sembène once said, “cinema speaks as much to an African living abroad as it does to a farmer in the remotest village on the African continent.” This interplay between mirror and rear-view mirror allows for an emotional umbilical connection with one′s country of origin. In the diaspora, films condense the past in the present and serve as a refuge against the phantasm of uprootedness. In African cinema in general and in Manthia Diawara′s films in particular, exile more so than territorial displacement is both an encounter and a missed encounter between the present and memory and history. Peeking in the mirror of the present is the rear-view mirror of the past, in search of the roots and meanings of our diasporic condition and its link to the inherited dynamics of historical processes in identity construction that lead to the constitution of the African political subject. In “Conakry Kas” and “Bamako Sigi-Kan”, this quest to reconcile the present with memory and history is a metaphor of what has remained and has yet to be achieved in the pan-African dream. As incredible as it sounds, pan-African sentiment is now more alive and of greater significance in the diaspora than on the continent. Amongst other aspects of Manthia Diawara′s films, this lecture aims to discuss how, on the one hand, cinema is, for the diaspora, a way of looking at oneself and how nostalgia in “exile can restore Africa” in diasporic communities by reconstructing imagined and/or lived scenarios, and on the other, how cinema can be place of refuge against the hardships of exile, uprootedness, and isolation. And how the rear-view mirror of past time and the mirror of the present linking us to the past are an exorcising of the dystopic remains of the utopias of the past and of those to come.
Conakry Kas (2003, Mali, 82’)
Director: Manthia Diawara; Production: Lydie Diakhaté, Moussa Diakité; Editing: Harry Kafka, Sikay Tang; Cinematography: Arthur Jaffa, Racine Harouna Keita; Sound: Jean-Paul Colleyn; With: Harry Belafonte, Stokely Carmichael, Telivel Diallo, Danny Glover, Kouyaté Sory ‘Douga’ Kandia, among others; English subtitles
In 2003, Manthia Diawara visited Guinea-Conakry to see what was left of the artists and intellectuals of the Guinean Cultural revolution, and how the citizens of Conakry were coping with globalization. The film casts a nostalgic look at Pan-Africanism in the 1960s and asks what the utopia of the Guinean youth is today.
Bamako Sigi-Kan (2002, Mali, 76’)
Director: Manthia Diawara; Production: Lydie Diakhaté, K’a Yéléma Productions; Editing: France Langlois; Cinematography: Arthur Jaffa; Sound: Magatte Salla; With: Jules Allen, Malick Sidibé, Ali Farka Touré, Aminata Traoré, among others; English subtitles.
Set in Bamako, capital of Mali, this unconventional documentary tells the story of the return of the director to his hometown. Diawara is surprised to find that his childhood buddies have different, and often contradictory, views from him on globalization. This documentary offers a new perspective of the modern African city and discusses how democracy takes root in Mali.