A tribute to Safi Faye (IN HER OWN WORDS)

27th February 2023

Rest in Power Safi Faye  (November 22, 1943 – February 22, 2023)

A giant of Senegalese and World cinema has sadly left us. Safi Faye, Fadial's daughter, passed away on the night of 22 February 2023. The first woman to lead behind the cameras in Senegal and Black Africa, Safi Faye leaves a powerful and committed work to posterity. From Kaddu Beykat (Letters from My Village), a film censored by Senghor, to Mossane, which she fought to recuperate from "thieving producers", Safi Faye lived her life as a filmmaker to the full. In 2017, as a guest of honour at the Saint-Louis Documentary Film Festival, she gave an interview to the Senegalese daily: Le Quotidien. These are some highlights from the interview.

A long break from cinema

"Mossane was a film written and finished 15 years later. It took me 15 years to write it. I had to rewrite it 7 or 8 times, to perfect it and then look for all the funding. I found the funding. Then everyone said it's a legend, when I invented it all. To get to this stage of inventing new poetic images, I exhausted all the creativity I had. And I'm not someone who can make movies based on someone else's book or work. And it was so long, difficult and depressive. I no longer want to suffer, because Mossane was blocked for seven years in court. French producers had stolen the rights. This pain made me realise that I no longer have pleasure. Until Mossane, everything I did was with pleasure. And for me, the pleasure goes with the creation. And from the moment that I have suffered, that I have been sick, that my health has been questioned, I am afraid to launch myself into great works again. And I also believe that given all the positive reviews of Mossane as a work, it would be random for me to succeed in making another work like this. But I have not stopped making films, because I am in the process of organising and updating all my personal archives. Being a teacher gave me the opportunity to never throw away a piece of paper. Knowing myself, I have archived everything : the photos of my school, high school or teaching years at the Normal School. And during the World Festival of Negro Arts, I was detached from teaching to receive all the Africanist intellectuals that Senghor had invited for this festival. So, I have tons of documents that I am arranging. It’s very hard work, but I like research."

A movie project

"I'm preparing a 45-minute film about me, because I wouldn't like a film to be made about me after my death. I will leave this last document before I die. I don't film, but in my head, a film is maturing. I will do it at my own pace, which is a little slower than when I started. I have no constraints, but it's a lot of work. Americans who have conservation foundations know that I have a collection of documents of personal archives that no one else has. They have just finished working on the archives of Ousmane Sembène. They went all over the world to access it. Whereas I have everything."


Judicial battle around Mossane

“The cameraman of Mossane was the one who had won the Camera d’or with Fassbender [Jürgen Jürges]. He shot the films of the great filmmakers and he liked my writing. He said, "Safi, you can't pay me, but I'll make your film." These are truly unimaginable things that have happened to me. We made the film with fervour and love. And the French grabbed my rights as if it were a commissioned film. But what they didn't know was that as soon as I write a film, I register it with the Society of Authors. And the latter does not forgive like that, that one tries to steal copyrights. It is respected as the law of the books. But I had all the co-producers behind me. We went to court. And the thing is, when it goes to court, it takes 7 years. There are deadlines, summonses, everyone takes a lawyer. It was a legal battle to get my film back. And when it was returned to me, I had just shot it, it had to be edited. As if by chance, I had shot it in 1990 and it was legally returned to me by the National Cinema Center in 1996. I had everyone on my side, but the French were thieves.”

The Cannes film festival

“Cannes only takes the film of the year, made in the year. And for once, Cannes said: “we have never seen a masterpiece like this”, and they selected it. No one believed it. And Senegal was proud. Cannes is not only the biggest festival in the world. And we saw the flag of Senegal floating among all the flags of the world. It was a source of pride for Abdou Diouf. He escorted everyone to Cannes. I forgot my pain and sorrow. Because I was sick and skinny and everything. And success has come. But the success did not come there. It happened since I started filming. Djibril Diop Mambety, I remember, when I was going up the stairs, he took off his scarf and he covered the red carpet with his scarf from bottom to top. This is why I was very affected after the film. I did not sleep all night. I am someone who likes to work in writing and in imagination. I went to the biggest film school. At Louis Lumière, they teach you everything. I chose cinema and photography. Practically all the photos in the film were taken by me during the rehearsal. Practically all my other films have gone to Cannes. Fadial is the first African film selected at Cannes. Kaddu Beykat [Letters from my village] went to Cannes, but not to the official Cannes. At the time of Kaddu Beykat, I submitted it to the fortnight of directors, they did not take it. But at that time, the political parties, the communists, the socialists, at the same time, were also doing their Cannes festival, and so I went to the communist section, so to the newspaper L'Humanité."

Attachment to the Sereer country

“When I first came to France, my parents came to see if my living conditions were positive. Otherwise, my father would have brought me back. After travelling to Mecca, they came to Paris to see. Because they were loving, possessive parents, but they trusted me, and they said to themselves, with me living abroad, all their children would be fine. So, I already had the mission of advising my sisters: “Have you’re A level [baccalaureate] with honours! If you earn it with honours, you will have a scholarship. To do cinema, at that time, you had to live in Europe to be able to make it. There was nothing on television, it was images of France that we were shown. But every year, I am here in Senegal.”

 Kaddu Beykat

“I was the first to dare to address these issues. Because everyone has become city dwellers. And all of them shot their films, not in their village, but in Dakar. All I have is my village, I have everything anchored in my village. And I know that when I shoot, Sembène comes, everyone comes to see in my village. We are all born from the land, we are all peasants. I am the first to have given the floor to the peasants. “Speak, empty your bag!” I told them. Because in them, I found the agronomist, the economist, I found them. They did not go to school, but they analysed the economic situation as well as René Dumont, who was the greatest agronomist in Europe at that time. I had to show it, in their own words."


Message to the young filmmakers

"I am happy to live in their century. Because it's that of the digital. For us, in our time, we touched the film. Everything was manual, it was heavy equipment. They are lucky to be in the time of the digital. All I have to say to them is that they will never be rich with their films. Because all that will remain with the author of a film are the copyrights if the film is registered in the copyright societies. When Youssou Ndour sings, he receives royalties, all over the world, even if his songs play in Japan. This is how it should be for cinema.

Then, you have to try not to do just anything, but to do what they want to do: a story with a beginning and an end. It is their imagination that must guide them. That's why I don't make adaptation films. And I will also tell you to never get discouraged because failure is temporary. If you persevere, you will reach your goal. Success happens, but before that, there are plenty of failures. You have to have the courage to face them and to criticise yourself and try to invent new images. My mother told me: how can you suffer like this and continue? But it's so haunting, a film, that as soon as you finish it and give it to the public, you think of another. For me, it's always been like that. I'm not done. I am working on another film which will be even more difficult."


Author: Mame Woury Thioubou  

Translator: Dr Rama Salla Dieng

Original Source: Le Quotidien