Self-Conscious Francophone Sub-Saharan African Cinema

Keefe, Anna, French - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Levine, Alison, Department of French Language and Literatures, University of Virginia

Self-Conscious Francophone Sub-Saharan African Cinema brings together films by francophone sub-Saharan African directors that are, in varying degrees, about cinema. I use the term self-conscious cinema to define a mode of representation, strategy, or device through which the films in this project's corpus display awareness of themselves as films, and awareness of their place within a broad landscape of filmmaking. The films in this study display consciousness of cinema as an art form, as a way to demonstrate their affinities with directors and film styles worldwide, and as a powerful tool with which to approach pertinent, even urgent, socio-political issues, as well as issues in African cinema. I develop the notion of self-conscious cinema through close readings of films by directors as diverse in style as Ousmane Sembène, Djibril Diop Mambéty, José Zéka Laplaine, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, and Jean-Marie Teno. In analyzing such films (the majority of which were released from the mid-1990s onward), I mobilize aspects of film theory, film history, and knowledge of certain material factors such as production, distribution, and exhibition, in order to understand the larger implications of the kind of self-conscious filmmaking this corpus typifies. By focusing on new cinematic affinities in African films, and contemporary directors' collective efforts at advancing African cinema aesthetically and conceptually, this project works to gain a more thorough understanding of the place from which francophone sub-Saharan African cinema emerged, and the directions it is now taking.

Chapter One examines the prevalence of references to Charlie Chaplin and the silent mode over the course of francophone sub-Saharan African filmmaking. Directors from different generations and nationalities allude to Chaplin's work and the silent mode through thematic, stylistic, or structural elements in their films, through which they stake a claim to a world cinema heritage. Chapter Two analyzes Jean-Pierre Bekolo's Les Saignantes (2005) and Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda's Juju Factory (2007), two fiction films that deploy a similar narrative and aesthetic strategy of enacting the process of making a film as a way to subvert or overcome certain types of authoritative discourse. This strategy, I argue, articulates a new political film language in African cinema. Chapter Three examines Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's semi-documentary Bye Bye Africa (1999), and Jean-Marie Teno's documentary Lieux Saints (2009), and their questioning of African filmmaking and spectatorship. Both films put into practice a mode of representation that seeks to resolve the very issues that they name, and in this sense their films are reminiscent of performative documentary according to Stella Bruzzi's approach to the mode. Redefining the future of African cinema inevitably entails reflecting on the filmmaker's role and, as I argue, each filmmaker displays an acute awareness of this, and suggests a new role for the African filmmaker.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Francophone African cinema, African cinema, film, self-reflexivity, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Jean-Marie Teno, Charlie Chaplin, intertextuality, documentary, aesthetics, African cinema new wave
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