Chances are, you’ve never seen a film from the Republic of Chad. I certainly haven’t. Well, this month the BFI is giving Londoners an opportunity to catch up with the work of the central African country’s best-known feature filmmaker – Mahamat-Saleh Haroun. The 50-year-old director goes for quality, not quantity – he’s only made four full-length films, but three of them are prize-winners, picking up awards from FESPACO (Abouna (2002), for cinematography) and the 63rd Venice International Film Festival (Daratt (2006), which took the Grand Special Jury Prize), not to mention his latest film, A Screaming Man (2010), which won the Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
While Haroun himself lives in France, he has campaigned vociferously for greater investment in African cinema on the continent. His first feature film, Bye Bye Africa (1999), takes a critical look at the state of filmmaking in Africa, and the widespread closure of movie theatres as a result of political turmoil and the popularity of other forms of entertainment like DVDs and video clubs. The Normandy cinema in Chad’s capital N’Djamena, which features in Bye Bye Africa, has miraculously re-opened after 20 years of silence thanks to an injection of funds from the government, and the efforts of Haroun and another Chadian director, Issa Serge Coelo. Their plan is to use this achievement to raise the profile of film and filmmaking, and kick-start the revitalisation of cinema in Chad. Good luck to them, and I look forward to catching some of Haroun’s films in the next few weeks.
The season is on at the BFI from 13th – 30th May – more details here.