In 1952, Ousmane Sembene, a dockworker and fifth-grade dropout from Senegal, began dreaming an impossible dream: to become the storyteller for a new Africa. SEMBENE! tells the unbelievable true story of the "father of African cinema," the self-taught novelist and filmmaker who fought, against enormous odds, a 50-year-long battle to give the voice African stories to Africans. SEMBENE! is told through the experiences of the man who knew him best, colleague and biographer Samba Gadjigo, using rare archival footage and more than 100 hours of exclusive materials. A true-life epic, SEMBENE! follows an ordinary man who transforms himself into a fearless spokesperson for the marginalized, becoming a hero to millions. After a startling fall from grace, can Sembene reinvent himself once more?
Jason Silverman Writer, Director, Producer
Jason is an award-winning film producer (OLYMPIA, Opening Night film, SXSW; Closing Night film, Slamdance; Sundance Channel; SHAMELESS, Best Film, Great Plains Film Festival) and longtime festival director. He has produced large-scale events for the Smithsonian, the Lensic Center for the Arts and the Lannan Foundation, and is a frequent contributor to Wired magazine.
Samba Gadjigo Writer, Director, Producer
Samba is director of the documentary MAKING OF MOOLAADE and is the world’s foremost expert on the life and work of Ousmane Sembene. He is author of Sembene’s official biography, the first volume of which has been published in both French and English. He was born and raised in Senegal and, has taught in the African Studies and French departments at Mount Holyoke for 23 years, and has lectured widely throughout the world on African cinema.
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Festivals & Awards
Sundance Film Festival 2015
To speak of African cinema is to speak the name of Ousmane Sembene. Known as "the father of African film," this was no easy title to bear, as shown in this personal essay about one of the world’s greatest artists.
SEMBENE! takes you from Dakar, Senegal, to the docks of Marseille, France, to New York City. In a career spanning 40 years, Sembene tasted the highs and the lows, only to re-invent himself with a powerful blend of documentary, French New Wave, and Realism, creating films that shocked the sociopolitical power structures of the day. Classics like XALA, BLACK GIRL, and MOOLAADE established his cinematic vision and made him an international emissary who presented the inner lives of his people on film.
Told by those who knew him best and with fascinating archival interviews, SEMBENE! constructs a revealing portrait of a curious, cantankerous, and deeply intellectual artist. Sembene promoted a new vision of Africa, and his films injected that vision into the world. SEMBENE! is a testament to the power of story, highlighting how it can plant a seed of thought that crosses generations. —H.C.
Cannes International Film Festival 2015
A freedom fighter who used stories as weapons: meet Ousmane Sembene, the father of African cinema.
Telluride Film Festival 2015
“Quietly sweeps you away with subtlety and grace.”
“Endlessly fascinating... enormously moving”
-New York Magazine
“The very definition of a labor of love, and the final result shows it.”
“A crucial piece of cinematic history.”
“This richly crafted documentary serves as an enlightening tribute to the filmmaker who tapped into the medium's wide-reaching socio-political potential … makes a convincing case for cinema's ability to transcend mere storytelling.”
The filmmakers of SEMBENE! are working on an educational screening tour that will take the film to Africa and to African Diasporic communities in the U.S. and Europe, and a university screening tour that will engage with academic networks focused on African art, film, and Ousmane Sembene’s work.
Restoration of Sembene’s films is also a central outreach goal. The filmmakers have already partnered with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation to restore Sembene’s first feature, BLACK GIRL, which will have a small theatrical release in 2016. They are working with Janus Films, Criterion Collection and the Sembene Estate to continue the restoration of Sembene’s other films with the hope that he will be elevated to his rightful place as a central figure in world cinema.