On the 11th October, Broadway Cinema in Nottingham will be showing a screening of ‘Sembène!’, a docu-film charting the life of ‘the father of African cinema’, who despite being a central figure in universal cinema, is relatively unknown in film circles. Directed by Samba Gadjigo, the official biographer of Sembène and an expert on his life, the film explores the life of a man who worked for 50 long years to give ‘African stories to Africans’ and arguably changed the world for the better.

Part of the beauty of the documentary is the intertwining of black and white clips from Sembène’s films with commentary and interviews. The co-director of the film, Gadjigo features frequently, recounting stories of Sembène’s life as a fisherman, dock worker in Marseille, member of the French Free Forces in World War II and film-maker. Sembène himself features in the documentary, through clips of interviews he gave, discussing, amongst other things his experience in hospital for 6 months after breaking his back, and how he educated himself.


In 1960, Senegal, Sembène’s home, was liberated from France. Sembène travelled to the Soviet Union, returning home a year later with a camera and began the revolutionary act of creating films. Before liberation, this act was banned by the French, so Sembène’s films are the first opportunity to see clips of life at that time, arguably an extremely important breakthrough. With a high proportion of illiteracy, cinema was incredibly powerful, as it became a ‘mirror’ to the people. Sembène himself comments that his writing was intended ‘to give voice to the voiceless’.

His first film ‘Black Girl’ went against ‘100 years of stereotypes’ and used no professional equipment or actors, yet remains timeless. His actors were people off the streets, his friends and family, meaning that it is a true reflection of African society. It was a huge success internationally, and paved the way for his entry as the first Black African member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. As discussed in the documentary, ‘Sembène created a new land for black people’.


From watching the documentary, one can see the pride radiating from Gadjigo as he speaks of his friend, and as a result the film feels as though it’s been made from love. The black and white clips add to the aesthetic and the documentary goes a long way to highlighting the impact Sembène had on the world, and on Africa.

Sembène! will be shown at Broadway cinema on October 11th at 6.30pm in presence of co-director Samba Gadjigo, personal friend and official biographer of Ousmane Sembène, who will take part in a Q&A. He will be taking part in a symposium organised on the works of Ousmane Sembène and Senegalese cinema on the same day at the University of Nottingham.

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Emily Harbottle

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