Cinéma Numérique Ambulant and Social Change in Francophone West Africa
2015 to 2016
The history of filmmaking in Africa is rooted in the tradition of ethnographic representation of the peoples and cultures of the continent by Europeans. When sound came to film in 1927 or so, the French recognized the power of cinema to work both for and against their interests and took steps to control it. By decree, Africans were forbidden to make films without government permission. At the same time, the French put the medium to work, creating mobile cinema to spread colonialist ideology throughout the regions under their control.
After achieving independence in 1960 Africans began to have their own voice in the production of cinema. Filmmakers such as Ousmane Sembene made films that dealt with the real issues facing their societies. African cinema flourished, but it was a urban phenomenon. The industry collapsed in the early 1980s, as agreements with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank forced the government to withhold its subsidies to the film distribution network. There are now only nine functional theaters in Senegal, where once there were nearly 80.
This project focuses on Cinéma Numérique Ambulant (CNA), a fascinating appropriation of the French idea of mobile cinema. Digital mobile cinema groups have sprung up across West Africa, bringing films directed by Africans, with African actors speaking African languages, to who people may never have seen a film before. In order to finance their work, they also show public service documentaries commissioned by international agencies and non-government organizations. Mobile Cinema units are usually composed of a four-person crew—a driver, a projectionist, an animator, and an administrator—equipped with a truck, a film projector, a portable screen, and an electric generator. The crews travel from village to village screening films in areas where theaters do not exist.
This project will create a one-hour documentary film on cinema in Francophone West Africa, with a special focus on CNA and its impact on malaria prevention, child labor, the schooling of girls, and other issues. The film will explore the local reception and potential social and behavioral change that is associated with CNA projections. It will examine the impact of cinema as a communal experience, at a time when people in resource-rich areas are watching movies-on-demand on their phones and computers and cinema is losing it communal dimension.
Once produced, the film will circulate both online and on the film festival circuit. It will also serve as a comprehensive device for teaching the history of Francophone African cinema from the booming sixties and seventies to its demise in the eighties and its seeming resuscitation with CNA. It will be used in Charles Piot’s course, Introduction to African Studies, to contextualize African cinema in the African and African American Studies program at Duke. Fofana will use it for his African Film Discourse class at Willamette University, as well.