What made you choose this subject for the film?
You know, there are subjects that you don’t go looking for, they’re just there, right in front of you. When I open my window, we’re by the sea. In Dakar we’re not by the ocean, we’re in the ocean. We can see the sea on both sides and people leave in pirogues from both sides. Leaving by pirogue is easy, but what is it that makes them leave?
There has been a change back home. With 52% of the population under 20 years of age there was real hope. During these twelve years of rule there was about six or seven years of it but then the young people lost hope. They believed they had to get out of there, but getting a visa was difficult, so they went by pirogue. They called them “Mokabi”, which in my language comes from the verb “to bang your head”, or the “Barcas” like Barcelona, or “Barsakh” which means “beyond”. This subject was therefore right in front of me. Young people are always talking about it.
Youssou N’Dour was there for the screening this morning, does that mean you now have support in the government? (Ed: Youssou N’Dour is the new Minister of Culture in Senegal)
Ah yes! Because Youssou has a background in culture. The problem before, and the problem in Africa generally is we don’t take people according to their “area of expertise”. For example, you could be a hunter and you could be made Minister of Culture! You know in twelve years, I think we have had 15 Ministers of Culture in Senegal. It was changing every six months. So today Youssou represents a hope for us… actually no, not even a hope, he represents a reality.
Did you already know him?
We’re friends. We grew up in the same neighborhood. I’ve also made a film about him that hasn’t been released yet. It’s good that he’s here. It’s the first time that I’m at Cannes and part of the competition, and he’s here with me. He came on the trip and we still have things to do together. Now we need to rebuild the cinemas. He’s someone I really like personally and professionally. I know his work by heart and he knows my work by heart. He was supposed to do the music for the film but he told me, “You know, it’s going to take four years if I do the music!” We have the same roots, we believe in the same things, we have the same outlook on the world – we are Senegalese, Africans, with the world.
How do you manage to make films in Africa, to raise the funds especially and to show them?
When people talk of African cinema, they only talk about the fiction films, whereas Africa also makes a lot of documentaries. I went fifteen years without making a fiction film, and during this time I made fifteen documentaries, which took me all over the place. When I have a film to make, I therefore base myself on my documentaries, and as you can’t have cinema without finances, I choose subjects that aren’t going to be expensive. The last documentary I made called “Les techniciens nos cousins” is about mosquitoes and how we live with these “distant relatives”. It’s a very witty film that was selected for the Rotterdam Film Festival. You are always telling a story, even with a documentary, even if it is real. Therefore, to make films in Africa, I believe that you need to refer to documentaries. Up to now finding funds to make films in Africa has been impossible. However, there is newfound hope thanks to an African fund that was recently set up and, with the politicians who are getting involved, we will get there. There are new things coming.
How did you become a filmmaker?
It was through unfortunate circumstances. My father died when I was 14 and as the eldest in the family I had to go out to work. I went to see a friend of my father who was making a film. That was my first job. For my second, I heard a film was being shot with François Truffaut, although I didn’t know who he was, and I went along! I learned very quickly, and started off working in the lighting. I worked my way up very quickly… and then Bertrand Tavernier came along with “Coup de Torchon.”