Putnam offers documentary film screening and lecture by international filmmaker
The power of film, art, and its affect on society came alive on the silver screen at the Putnam when Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno presented his documentary “Sacred Placed” on Thursday.
The filmmaker said his films were always an exploration of some sort of sociological question he had. “Some of these issues, like the use of water, kept me questioning society. The joy I had making these films, I wanted to relive that, so I kept on making films,” he said. He presented his first film, a thirteen-minute montage documentary which made use of still photography and footage from Cameroon with voice-over narration from two fictional characters engaged in a conflicting conversation.
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“This film is a personal story I wanted to address, but I didn’t have the courage to have it in first person,” Teno said.
His second film was a feature length documentary set in St. Leon, a poor neighborhood in the capital of Ouagadougou in the African country of Burkina-Faso. The film “explores the African role of art and film art in a community,” according to film professor Irina Leimbacher. “Teno is primarily an essay filmmaker whose made over a dozen documentaries, and they are all wonderful and provocative.” Leimbacher said it’s difficult for an African film to get national distribution, let alone international distribution because the system of distribution in Africa is fragile.
More specifically, “Sacred Places” documents the lives of three people living in Ouagadougou—one named Jules Cesar a djembe (an African drum) maker and player, Bouba, the owner and manager of a video club, and Abbo, a 50 year old technician who gave up his job in order to write public letters. Teno weaves the story of each life into each other.
“For the first half of the twentieth century,Africans were presented in films, but not by Africans. I wanted to correct some of those misrepresentations,” Teno said. One man in the film said he liked going to the video-club (a very primitive version of a movie theater) and he liked seeing African films. “We like them because they show what we live,” said the man.
Cesar, the djembe player, said he plays the djembe because he wants to “spread the djembe’s message” and it “helps communicate and gather people.” The owner of the video-club spoke of the difficulties he faces while trying to manage his video-club because he is very dedicated to his film fans who come out to see the films he screens. He charged a nickel for a film showing, but he said it takes about $20 to get a DVD so sometimes he can’t turn enough profit. For him, his video-club provided Bouba with his livelihood.
“The people watch American action films, but they like African films because they address social issues they can’t address because of censorship,” Teno said. “Censorship is so heavy on the written word, I thought it would be easier to show things that weren’t right.” In addition, Teno said, “With people who couldn’t read, I thought images could help them understand. Film is a medium to show and talk about society and it’s a way of countering differing discourse.”
“There’s an incredible amount of reflective gaze on the African cinema,” said Film Department Head Ji Ahn. She said she liked how the film didn’t romanticize the neighborhood in the film and represented it exactly the way it was.
“He has an investigatory drive and uses cinema to explore the questions he has,” said Leimbacher. Mitch Michaud, a sophomore, said he saw the film advertised in the Student Center. “I’ve been fascinated with African cinema lately,” he said. “This film was going forward with modernity but it also kept up with the past. It definitely married those two ideas together.” Michaud also said he liked how the film connected with multiculturalism as well. In the film, Bouba said African films, “tell our stories and our traditions. It’s hard to get African films, but it’s us who are the ones that love film.”Teno reflected on his career as a filmmaker as he said, “What I do is really special.”
Whitney Cyr can be contacted at email@example.com