The Museo Reina Sofía’s annual summer cinema returns once again, focusing this year on rediscovering a central part of African cinema which, by way of the strength of its fiction, challenges the images with which the West tries to invade it.
As is now customary, the Museo’s film programme leaves behind the film theatre and moves into the open air and the pleasant surroundings of the Sabatini Building Garden. The series is organised in collaboration with the Museo Situado network, a project which connects the institution to the Lavapiés neighbourhood. Moreover, it is the perfect occasion to discover or become reacquainted with beautiful, classic or contemporary works, akin to those novels we finally pick up in the summer after they have spent months gathering dust on the bookshelf. Tying in with previous focal points, which have sought to translate some of the imaginaries that occupy the streets adjacent to the Museo, this year’s gaze settles on films from African countries south of the Sahara, the places of origin of different migrant communities in Lavapiés.
Film production in these countries stretches back to the 1950s, coinciding with the beginnings of independence for some countries making up the region. Naturally, African landscapes, customs and light had been filmed previously ad nauseum, exhausted through a one-toned expression which, as yet another colonial weapon, was detrimental to film-making. Nevertheless, in response, and with an awareness that cinema is possibly one of the most powerful combat tools, films in the region were assembled early on as a cognizant reaction to racism, to the cultural appropriation of exotic beauty and to the backdrop of the adventures of Tarzan and Jane. Contrary to that which governs the heavily quoted phrase by Afro-feminist Audre Lorde (USA, 1934–1992), “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house”, the aim here is in fact to dismantle the master’s house with the master’s tools. The history behind this particular film-making is also the history of the tempestuous, creative and unexpected relationship between cinema and the anti-colonial struggle, for its strategies have been and are as different as they are varied, have been and are related to circumstances in each country, in each era.
The series gets under way with the popular Pan-African ideal in the emancipatory work of Ousmane Sembène (Senegal, 1923–2007), before moving on to the production of imaginaries by Djibril Diop Mambéty (Senegal, 1945-France, 1998) and Safi Faye (Senegal, 1943), and Moustapha Alassane (Niger, 1942–2015), Jean-Marie Teno (Cameroon, 1954), Jean-Pierre Bekolo (Cameroon, 1966), Abderrahmane Sissako (Mali, 1961), Sylvestre Amoussou (Benin, 1964) and Akosua Adoma Owusu (Ghana-USA, 1984), offering a glimpse into the complicated relationship these films have with canonical film genres and with the imperialism of the West’s audiovisual industry.
With the Master’s Tools. Narratives of African Cinema does not attempt to be an exhaustive film series, and could not be so even if it wished. It does not look to map different forms of national film-making or establish an auteur-centred canon. Any film notable for its absence could easily have found a place here, because if anything this series sets out to fill in gaps, enquire about them, and open many others, until the master’s house is dismantled.