In the 1980s I became an advocate for
African Cinema in the US. I have always felt that the redefinition and
reinvention of cinema from a global Africanist perspective would only
be possible by extending the visual vocabulary and aesthetic literacy
of the audience and developing filmmakers. I had played a part in organizing
a festival of Black American Cinema in Chicago in 1981. Following the
lead of people such as Pearl Bowser and Clyde Taylor, I founded the
Blacklight Festival of World Black Cinema in 1982. It was my pleasure
to meet Djibril during one of my trips to Paris seeking films for the
festival. His film Touki Bouki was legend here in the States by then.
It was also hard to acquire. But it was films like Touki Bouki that
were important to developing another generation of conscious filmmakers
who desired more than the leftovers of Hollywood imagery.
I was very surprised at the elusive answers I got from people in Paris when asking
about Djibril, I met him through the assitance of Claude Gallou and Andree D'Aventur
at ATRIA Productions, I think it was they who eventually arranged a meeting with
him for me. It was my intention to try to bring Djibril to Chicago to screen and
speak about Touki
Bouki but he was developing Ramatou(Hyene) at
I met him again in Burkina Faso at the 1987 FESPACO where he screened
a new print of Touki Bouki. His introduction of the film was trademark
Djibril...in a black floor length bouba he stood before the audience
and explained his efforts. At one point during his speech with a magician's
flair, he revealed a stuffed Hyena......His relentless metaphor of the
mercilessness of humans living like the dreaded scavenger....Now I have
to admit, Djibril had a strong liking for spirits, ethereal and liquid,
and that was a problem. But in the end, all we have are his life's testament
through his work.
I named my youngest son after Djibril,Djibril Avery Webb,
and named Mambety godfather. Ultimately, this is how we gain immortality, the old
fashioned way, through memory of significant deeds...and Djibril's deeds are more
than that....they set a precedent for what a reinvented aesthehic could be like from
the African or African American perspective.
I last saw Djibril at the 50th Cannes Film Festival. It was a brief
meeting. I had always wanted my son to meet Djibril, He has been to
Paris twice but big Djibril was out of town both times. When we met
in Cannes we were in the American Pavillion so I showed him little Djibril's
webpage...we talked about him meeting Djibril that year ....well....that
I anticipate the day when my youngest will watch the films of Djibril Diop Mambety
and tell me what he thinks. Right now he wants to be a basketball player and a scientist..concurently.
His life will be his on....but maybe he will see the value is a cultural legacy and
appreciate or just take pride in being named after such a great man.
I'll have a drink with you Djibril, even though I don't drink...and
some would saw you don't here...but spirit is often greater than flesh...we
are now forced to reckon with your contributions and the fact that maybe
we were not behind you as much as we should have been. The void you
leave must be filled for you have left a road map of how to get to the
spaces you traversed creatively in your films.
See you on the the other side of the river of life.....
Djibril Diop Mambety's Films are available from