Monday, March 12, 2007

Bamako

I’m in London. I went to see Bamako, Abderrahmane Sissako’s latest film, at Curzon Soho. If you’re at all interested in Africa and development, it’s one to watch. The film is set in a sleepy courtyard somewhere in Mali. Beautiful women saunter about, a goat shrieks, bored men listen to the radio outside. A courts is in session, putting the World Bank and the IMF on trial. Through a succession of powerfully eloquent speeches for and against, one is left in doubt about the verdict.

Beyond creating an easy straw-figure victim, the film suggests that the international institutions do not have malign intentions; rather they are merely the means by which the global system of capitalism continues to perpetuate under-development in Africa. Bamako marks such a strong contrast with most Nollywood fare; where one provides a consciousness-raising critique of the conditions of everyday life in Africa, the other merely embellishes an already exaggerated stereotype.

Interestingly, Bamako features a Nigeria pastor (with an RCCG logo in the background), converting desperate Malians. Another memorable moment occurs when the former Minister of Culture talks about the colonial "rape of the imagination".

Perhaps depressingly, Bamako proffers no solutions. This is not, I think, because Sissako does not think there are solutions; merely that the extent of the problem must be fully understood, before the task of finding answers can begin. At least in Mali, thanks to Sissako, there is an honest appreciation of the multi-faceted dimensions of the problems facing Africa. In Nigeria, it is rare to see any form of social or political critique, in the face of a blanket denial of the scale of the problems..

16 comments:

Anonymous,  3:29 pm  

BAMAKO

Hi Jeremy

Do you know where this is going to be screened next?

email at MaeriUG@aol.com

Thanks.

NIGER1.COM 4:44 pm  

BAMAKO NEWS
ON http://www.niger1.com/mali2.html

Talatu-Carmen 6:24 pm  

Jeremy, I can't wait to see Bamako. I've heard great things abou it. But I'm still bemused by your belligerent dismissal of Nollywood and other Nigerian popular culture forms. You don't think those films include political and social critiques in the forms of satirizing the weathy? health and wealth preachers? un-thinking traditional rulers? etc. etc. What is this "already exaggerated stereotype" that you are referring to? Please expand.

Like I've said before I haven't seen enough Nollywood films to give you many specific examples (although most of the Nkem Owoh films that I've seen perform the satirical functions I've outlined above), but I can assure you that there are incisive social (and at times) political critiques going on in Hausa films and novels. The critique might not always lie on the surface, be perfectly self-consistent, or hit you over the head with a message, but if you thoughtfully engage with them you will find plenty of questions that they are exploring in provacative ways. Also, how much do you interact with the Association of Nigerian Authors? If you are interested, please sign onto the jos-ana yahoo listserve. Most of the conversations between the writers on this list-serve involve social and political criticism. A-beg please don't be so quick to dismiss what is going on when it's just that you haven't taken the time to thoroughly research it.

Anonymous,  10:11 pm  

Lets not delude ourselves, Nollywood is on the whole uncritical. I am an avid viewer of the genre and I think it is mindless. I watch it 'cause I find it quite addictive. Perhaps Hausa films might be different, but Nollywood (especially the English speaking ones) is a joke. so stop trying to make it more than it is.

Fred 12:12 am  

Just like Africa, isn't it? Indict nefarious "international bodies" or even better, a "global system of capitalism" for our crimes against ourselves.

Let Africa Sink.

Tufiakwa!

Jeremy 12:25 am  

But what's your point Fred? The rules of global trade are set by the World Trade Organisation, which ensures that African economies cannot compete against Western subsidised goods, at the same time as banning those same economies from supporting their own industries. There's a clear causal link between the failure of the WTO to ratify more equitable global trade rules and the continuing under-development of Africa.

Jeremy 1:04 am  

TC - Nollywood films do sometimes include satirical elements, but only ever in the crudest and laziest forms. Perhaps the hausa versions you know best are a little more sentient, however the Nollywood films of the south bear no trace of awareness of a world beyond Nigeria's shores (please don't mention Osufia in London as a counter), still less of how that wider world is impacting (positively or negatively) on Nigeria. They are simply the effluvia of a collective imagination that has, to quote from Bamako, been raped.

Just as evangelical Christianity in Nigeria can be seen as a insulating reaction against secular modernity, recoiling into a simplified, pre-rational manichean medieval world view, so too can Nollywood be characterised as a confused reaction to the terms of the global present. In both cases, the opportunity for critique are lobotomised before one even begins. There is a gulf of awareness (as well as production values) between francophone and anglophone film in West Africa. Things will change, as Nollywood is superseded by a theatrical-release model and alternative forms of cinema emerge.

Thanks for the ANA-Jos list serve tip!

St Antonym 1:12 am  

Sister Talatu-Carmen,

I agree with Jeremy. Nollywood films are crap. The people who like them like them because the films are crap. The people who refuse to watch them refuse because the films are crap. It's the truth.

I have no problem saying that most American tv is mindless, and I have no problem saying that almost all of Nollywood is mindless stuff that's made to (a) entertain on the most basic level and (b) make a quick buck for the producers.

Doesn't mean they don't have some value in the society. But not the same kind of value that the best filmmakers bring to the societies they are part of. We don't yet have the films that can stand next to our literature or our music.

Let's not applaud rubbish simply because it happens to be Nigerian.

St Antonym 1:14 am  

Sister Talatu-Carmen,

I agree with Jeremy. Nollywood films are crap. The people who like them like them because the films are crap. The people who refuse to watch them refuse because the films are crap. It's the truth.

I have no problem saying that most American tv is mindless, and I have no problem saying that almost all of Nollywood is mindless stuff that's made to (a) entertain on the most basic level and (b) make a quick buck for the producers.

Doesn't mean they don't have some value in the society. But not the same kind of value that the best filmmakers bring to the societies they are part of. We don't yet have the films that can stand next to our literature or our music.

Let's not applaud rubbish simply because it happens to be Nigerian.

Fred 5:17 am  

I will grant you a very limited point, Jeremy, but my point still stands--to paraphrase the old saw about the better mousetrap: produce something the world wants and they will beat a path to your door. The Indians did it, the Chinese certainly did it, even in the face of massive discriminatory trade practices by the West in the Bad Old Days of Communism. Even more important, they managed it perfectly with sound economic principles.

As a rudimentary example, Nigeria has crude oil. One would think that's a no-brainer base from which to grow a stupendous economy, but what has Nigeria's seemingly endless supply of management and leadership dolts do with this amazing natural resource? I could list them, but you've already done such a good job of it, why bother?

I wish you'd make up your mind about what's wrong with Africa: its leaders and its people or the rest of the world.

Anonymous,  3:47 pm  

And here we go again!

I have watched a few really GOOD Nollywood fims, which I mentioned in a similar post.

I guess it's case of different strokes for different folks....

kemi,  7:10 pm  

Jeremy would rather eat maggot infested meat than admit that capitalism is not the root of every problem.

I don't understand how the WTO can "ban" anything. Western countries break the rules all the time, so why don't we? Does the WTO have a police force that will arrest us if we sell rice we're not supposed to?
GIVE ME A BREAK!

You cannot blame the WTO for Africa's failure to trade with herself. We have all sorts of regional organisations that do DIDDLEY SQUAT.

Fred also raises a good point about the mismanagement of oil wealth. Even within the OPEC cartel, Nigeria has failed to capitalize. Is this the WTO's fault?

We need to form our own monopolies, form our own cartels, wield some bargaining power and exercise wise decisions. None of this can be done without better leaders, end of story.

Blaming other people for your problems doesn't get you anywhere and doesn't solve anything.

SOLOMONSYDELLE 6:18 am  

I heard about this film late last year on NPR radio and have been curious. I'm glad you saw it and can verify that it is screen worthy. I'll keep my eyes out for Bamako when it is available stateside. Thanks!

Bitchy 10:28 am  

I'm going to try and see Bamako this week.

You should see "Xala" the Senegalese film showing somewhere near Waterloo I think (I'll check later)on Friday. Time Out Review says its fab.

You're in London? Give Bitchy a buzz... I came back on Saturday! Xx

Wordsbody 11:03 am  

Jeremy--The pastor asking people to praise the Lord in a very "locomotive" way (made me laugh) sounded so convincingly Nigerian. But, turns out he's actually Ghanaian (same difference). I don't remember how I found this out, maybe in Sissako's own discussion of the film. The church & pastor are real, and operate in the Bamako locality where the director filmed. He merely placed his actor (the character, Chaka) in the service - and filmed.

MW

Bitchy 12:52 am  

I watched it, and hated it, as you know. I couldn't tell you everything I hated in a text. I reviewed it on my blog

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