Sylvestre Amoussou: The African storm - a continent under influence
Flashmag: Sylvestre Amoussou we are very delighted to have you as the guest star for the December -January issue of Flashmag, the time of this interview our rostrum is yours, so tell us before the cinema what were you doing and how did you Finally arrived to the movie industry?
Sylvestre Amoussou: Originally from Benin I have been in France for more than 30 years as everybody first I studied I have a bachelor degree in law of business, I started with the theater it's on the board That I have equipped myself for this trade.
We discovered you in 1988 with Black Mic Mac2 a film directed by Marco Pauly, released in 1988 after Black Mic mac 1 directed by Thomas Gilou and released in April 1986, Black Mic Mac 2 will be successful but without doing better than the first one. it’s true you did not have a big part in this film, but if it was necessary to say something about the production of this film was it not risky to make a sequel so fast?
No black mic 2 did not live up to the first, the directors thought that it was necessary to capitalize on the success of the first. it was the first time that somebody showed the positive Africa on the big screen and at that time, it had created a total craze.
A few years later especially in 1994 you will play next to Gérard Depardieu and Vanessa Paradis in a film by Jean Becker, “Elisa “for you what was it a step further?
It is always good to play in big productions, but for me it was a small role. I stayed on the shoot 2 or 3 days, you know when we live in Europe we have the rent to pay so it is important to take the roles to work. However, the main part of my incomes is the theater that I made them, because in the theater one can play several months or even years and necessarily as a professional of the shows in France you gain a status that allows you to live decently, to better dedicate yourself to the job.
From 1997 you start making movies yourself why? You had resentment in the dictates of the roles written by the others?
Yes, I was tired of being in the small role of gangster, marabout, in brief, roles that perpetrated stereotyping against Africans. It was necessary for me to take this freedom to express my art better and give another image of who we really are, we cannot continue to hope to be depicted on a better day, if we leave others do it at our Place, others who legitimately or not, always think of having the best role in history. Africa needs to show its own heroes.
Reclaiming one's image before returning it to the world is your motto
Don’t you think that since the capital that finances independent cinema and big production houses are not always controlled by Africans or afro descendants it is difficult to show the image that one would like to show money Tending to influence art?
Africans are not yet aware that we are in a war of images, which is why it is important to show another face of Africa to the world, although it is not always easy because of the Means that are often limited we try get there nevertheless.
In effect money is the nerve of war, there are several organizations in the West that help African filmmakers, but these are often looking at the content of the films. if you make into the African miserabilism you have a better chance, to be supported by these peoples, of course in regards to the subjects that I treat, I’m totally excluded of this channel...
It is important to find other funding channels. For example, when I want to realize my films, I go into contact with Africans and souls of goodwill, I contact people here in Europe and I also traveled to Africa during my most recent projects. I met several people who were concerned about this project. It is not easy, to heart valiant nothing impossible, one must never discourage.
It’s needless to say that, when you agree to take funding of a certain category, the latter will often try to dictate the line to follow, you will be asked to rewrite your script to change this or that and at the end the project that comes out does not resemble you anymore and No longer belongs to you.
The majority of those who have contributed so far in my projects were people who were not in the field of cinema. They are patrons who believed that they had to give me a boost that's all, the bulk of my funding came from Africa. It was touching to see that even those who were not opulent tried to contribute in their own way.
What do you think you should do to compensate for this lack of funding for Afro cinema?
Should we rely on production costs that are increasingly diminishing with the new cheap technologies, or we must communitize African cinema to bring Africans to support their cinema first?
It is important to rely on the technological advance that allows films to be made at costs that were impossible barely 10 years ago, but at the same time it is necessary to bring the cinema to the population it is important to make a participatory cinema. I plan in the future to organize film caravans going from city to city across the continent, to screen films. Instead of simply hoping that people come to the cinema, we must rather make cinema come to them.
Speaking of the market of the production of films some think that it is now necessary to produce in Africa, films for Africans since most films produced in the West are for a western market which white in majority?
As I said earlier, it is time for us to tell our story ourselves. It is time for us to have our own heroes ... while international institutions like the IMF and the World Bank impose investment priorities on our governments in Africa, which are Obliged to sacrifice culture, because almost all movie theater disappeared in sub-Saharan Africa, it is important to rethink our choices. I for example now think of working with town halls on the continent, as well as local private companies. I would gladly offer an advertising space in the posters to compensate. In short, in a difficult context we must reinvent ourselves because we cannot yield to letting go our culture which is us, if it dies we are the ones who will die.
In your second feature un pas en avant les dessous de la corruption (a step forward the underneath of corruption) you castigate the harmful climate of corruption. However, some think that it is the misery that is the mother of all the vices and that there are no corrupt peoples Without corruptors, with the deterioration of the terms of the North-South trade, and the underdevelopment that it generates could one really hope better? Don’t you find that the wrongs are shared between those who seem to point the finger at African corruption from the West while they help to despoil the continent, and those who are trying to get by Unorthodox methods because of the unfavorable conjuncture?
Yes, in the film precisely I speak about it. I do not care too much about the small civil servant or the man on the street, I explain the mechanisms of corruption on a large scale, it is important for people to understand What it is really. When we talk about debt and development aid, many people do not know; Both here in Europe and in Africa, that even before certain funds arrive on the continent they have already been diverted partly in the West, and of course when the rest arrive in Africa the senior officials finish nibbling the cake and in the end, there is nothing left. Primo projects are not realized and two countries are indebted without taking advantage of investments that are non-existent, or often incomplete, because money has flown into tax havens, and local populations at the end, have eyes, only to weep. Many have not been happy of my showing, this face of corruption; because in the imagination of many, in relation to the power of the image of the Western media, when we talk about corruption in Africa we think only of the Corruption by the Africans with the embezzlement of funds which the press sometimes echoes, though, it is a much more complex system.
You are an independent filmmaker something that resembles the priesthood especially when you seem to be sailing against the tide I cannot be pessimistic but many people living in this world where the unreasonableness of perverse capitalism seems to have become the norm would raise the question of Why in an economic context so difficult for the black diaspora in the West as for the Africans on the continent, you seem to persist?
It is never easy and it is necessary to make its way. And as I said above, it is important that we tell our story ourselves, and this goes with disadvantages; Because this is not politically correct for some. This should not dig up but rather urge us to continue and often the more the task is arduous the more adventure is worth living because there is more to say.
How do you define yourself? A visionary filmmaker, a committed filmmaker, or a reformist filmmaker?
Oh well! It’s up to you, or the beholder, you can define me as you feel…. I am a bit of all that. But, I would say that I try in my approach to question the consciences.
The African Storm is your 7th and 3rd feature film, as a director. One has the impression that this time you put your finger on a point that should change the situation, I would say before having the African paradise one should have thought about how to achieve it by economic autonomy? How was the production of this film from the synopsis to the imaging?
I spend more than ten years on this film I took the time to investigate everywhere, in both Africa and the West beyond my daily life it was necessary to describe things as close as possible to the reality, even if it remains a fiction. The African storm, a continent under influence, shows how the African countries are headed, yet it tries once more to upset the norms established by the dark side of the circles of political power, showing what would happen if An African president refused to be a blessed yes-yes of the West?
The shooting was done for over a month in Benin, if the recording phase of the images is finished we still have much to do regarding post production and distribution.
You seem to support in the film theme, the idea that without economic independence any African progress is impossible? At a time when Africa has the means to take its independence in a context where the influence of the mechanisms defined by the Western powers, defines the future of the African populations, it seems that the Crisis are not crises that should be transient, but rather a system of perpetual exploitation that governs the north-south relations. How to get out of this vicious circle?
We must already realize that things are not what they seem to be, because so many Africans still live in lies, and it is up to people like us to tell them the truths that are sometimes not pleasant to hear, awareness is the first step. We must already recognize that if things go so bad, it is because there is a problem somewhere and of course identify this problem and find adequate solutions is the key. Unfortunately, given the current configuration of governance in Africa, I do not see any African head of state in the south of the Sahara that really stands out, because it also requires a State willingness to give impetus to the reforms that are necessary, it is aberrant that Africa continues to subsidize the West with mafia mechanisms like the CFA franc or debts managed by the IMF and others. It is also necessary to educate the African populations so that they change their extraverted mentality. When one sees, what is happening in the Mediterranean Sea one can only be shocked by the damage of Western propaganda in Africa. The West is not a paradise and if life down there seems pleasing, it is simply because they exploit Africa which has nothing to envy to anyone from the point of view of wealth. If Africans take their destiny in hand, they will far surpass others.
Those who work in the media have often investigated the nebula France Afrique, it seems like you have released a realistic film about the corridor swirl of power in Africa. Nobody has worried you?
The film I made is a work of fiction and I am not one of those who are easily intimidated, it is a fiction but a realistic fiction.
What were your greatest difficulties to realize it, and now that the film is in the post production stage how is it going? When can we hope to watch it in theaters, very soon?
Although the film is in post-production, we continue to accept contributions that would facilitate its release in theater in the coming months we have already received several requests for the dubbing of this film in English before the premiere. The enthusiasm towards this film is real and very encouraging.
At the end of this interview do you have a special word to the public?
Stay tuned with the African storm - a continent under influence, a film that challenges us all. The official website of the film is www.lorageafricainlefilm.com we are waiting for your support
Sylvestre Amoussou Flashmag and its readers thank you for this cordial and open talk, good continuation.
L'orage africain- african storm video excerpts
Interview by Hubert Marlin