Thursday, June 14, 2018

Bye Bye Africa

Director: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Country: France, Chad
Year: 1999
Duration: 1.26
Languages: ar, fr
    In the presence of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun hosted by Satu Kyösola.
    A 35 mm print with English subtitles viewed at the School, Midnight Sun Film Festival (MSFF), Sodankylä, 14 June 2018.

MSFF: "Mockumentary or docudrama? In either case, Bye Bye Africa is a documentary fiction of African reality today. The film is centered on a fictionalized version of Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, a Chadian film director living and studying in France, who returns home after the death of his mother with the intention of shooting a film."

"The essayistic work addresses each friend of the seventh art when Haroun reflects on the controversial position of the cinema in Africa, where movie theatres are left to fall into decay. The story is interspersed with topics such as AIDS, motorcycles, afromusic – and humour: The director tries to explain film making to his father, who – unsurprisingly – doesn’t quite get it: When Haroun mentions Sigmund Freud and cites Jean-Luc Godard, the father asks whether these people are friends of his."

"Roy Armes, the widely recognized film critic and acknowledged authority in African cinema describes Bye Bye Africa in the Variety International Film Guide in 2001 as follows: “The very personal, at times almost home movie style is a direct result of Haroun’s innovative combination of digital shooting and editing, transferred to 35 mm film. More poignantly, showing documentary images of the cinemas in the capital N’djamena, all now destroyed by the civil war, it asks the question: how can one make films for a country where the cinema no longer exists?”" (Timo Malmi)

AA: The regular internet sources call Bye Bye Africa, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's debut feature film, a documentary, but Timo Malmi above nails it by characterizing it as documentary fiction and an essay film. It is also the director's loving memorial to his mother.

The first person essay starts when Haroun, living in France, learns about the death of his mother whom he has not seen in ten years. With financial support his African community he is able to fly to N'djamena, the capital of Chad. Immediately during the taxi drive from the airport we land in the heart of things. Haroun is constantly filming everything with his light video camera. His father tells him frankly that his son's film-making is "blah blah blah" for him. "These films are not made for us. They are for the whites". "If only you would have become a doctor". Yet Haroun's [8 mm?] footage of his mother is proof enough of the importance of film-making. "It is for the memory". The footage is seen in an outdoors screening in temporary cinema circumstances. "In tribute to the one who gave me life".

A central theme is the death of cinema in Africa. The cinema culture in Haroun's youth was vibrant. The beloved cinemas of back then are fondly evoked: Shéhérazade... Now there is only one cinema left in Chad. The civil war 1979-1980 destroyed everything. People see recent films on television via parabolic antennae. We visit the projection room of the single cinema, Le Normandie. The projectors are getting old, the prints are getting worn.

The reactions to Haroun's incessant filming are variable in the extreme. Some men attack Haroun, hit him in the eye and confiscate his camera. "He is stealing our image". Haroun is taken to the hospital because of the bruised eye. Children are fascinated by Haroun and construct toy video cameras. They want to become film-makers.

Isabelle has played a character with AIDS in a film by Haroun. She has suffered enormously because people do not recognize the difference between fiction and reality. There are beautiful images with her. But Isabelle gets furious when Haroun wants to wear a condom. "You, too, think I have AIDS". "Your film killed me. People think I'm ill. Film is stronger than reality. I can't stay here anymore".

Haroun reflects on the dilemma of African cinema. There is no organized distribution of African films. African film-makers cannot reach African audiences.

Bye Bye Africa does not fit into regular categories, but it is a coherent work because of the first person perspective. A vibrant essay on life in Chad and the mission of cinema.

Music is important and beautiful in this movie.

The film is mostly edited from footage shot on video cameras in colour. Haroun himself is shown shooting in black and white. The footage on different formats was transferred to 35 mm.

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