A cinema in northern Senegal is the centre of Mamadou Dia’s short film, Samedi Cinema. The story follows two young friends who are trying to earn enough money to catch the last screening of a movie that they’ve been peeking on through a hole in the cinema wall. Screening as part of Short Cuts Programme 1 at TIFF 2016, Dia briefly answered some questions about his short and the personal inspiration behind some of the story.
Describe your film in ten words or less.
A strong friendship challenged by a deep passion for films.
What inspired you to make this film?
The young protagonist’s experience (Baba) is based on my own childhood and thus inspired this film. When I was about ten-years-old, I used to write letters for my neighbours who often were illiterate. I would transcribe their oral Fulani, my mother tongue, into written French, the country’s official language.
What was the best thing about production? Most challenging?
The best thing was shooting in Senegal with an incredible crew – one that included professionals from Senegal and the US. The most challenging was probably on set – having to constantly switch between four different languages: Pulaar/Fulani, Wolof, French and English.
What’s the one thing you want people to know about your film?
Senegal has a long and rich history of cinematic excellence. As most cinephiles would know, Senegal was the first SubSaharan country to make movies. During France’s colonization that ended in 1960, it was illegal for Senegalese people and other colonized subjects to make movies. However Senegalese filmmakers made what is considered to be the first film directed by Africans (A frique sur Seine) shot in Paris in 1955. From that moment, Senegal produced renowned directors such as Sembene Ousmane and Mambety. My short is a tribute to this history.
While your film deals with the friendship between two boys, it would seem like their bond isn’t as strong as you would imagine in the end. Do you think that one boy is more deserving of the reward of hard work at the end?
I love movies that let viewers reach their own conclusion. With that being said, with these two characters I sought to explore the intricacies of friendship, different types of literacy communication (oral, visual, linguistic) and possibly render different aspects of Senegalese history. For instance, Baba and Sembene could stand for two segments of the Senegalese society: those who had access to cinema and those who were excluded from it. Baba represents the generation of the 1970s and ’80s – the golden age of Senegalese filmmaking. He stands for those who were passionate abound and inspired by watching movies on the big screen. On the other hand, Sembene stands for those who decades later in the 1990s and 2000s had only heard about cinema but experience the remnants of a grandoise cinematic past. Dakar is now a capital city with many abandoned theatres. Sembene knows that he is missing out on something but doesn’t really know what. These are just a few ways of interpreting these characters and it is my hope that their motives will encourage further rich discussions in the future.
What will you be working on next?
My first objective is to complete my third and last year of the MFA program at New York University and develop a strong script for my first feature. I have several ideas I am working on. One is to develop my short Samedi Cinema, beginning with the story of the protagonist who writes letters. My second feature script idea follows a Senegalese imam that doesn’t want to give his youngest daughter away in marriage although he had always taught the practice. This feature would foreground the idiosyncrasies of Islam in West Africa.
Your film is screening as part of TIFF. What are you most excited about seeing or doing at this year’s festival?
I am particularly excited about meeting filmmakers from all around the world and hope to meet world cinema references like Mahamat Saleh Haroun, Ava Du Vernay, Med Hondo. I can’t wait to watch Queen of Katwe by Mira Nair, the new Errol Morris film, The BSide: Elsa Dorfman’s Portrait Photography, Wim Wenders, The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez, among other films. I am also eager to attend workshops and meet potential partners for my next projects.