LM : Research and programming are entry points. When you work on the oeuvre of a filmmaker who was unable to make the films he wanted to make (because his artistic vision did not align with the one his country desired, post-independence, and he was obliged to confront social and political realities), you find yourself trying to find his “potential” cinema in his student works, his first attempts. For example, in the case of the impeded Moroccan filmmaker Idriss Karim (who collaborated with the sociologist Paul Pascon on a film that has vanished, Les Enfants du Haouz/The Children of Haouz (1970), it was at the film school in Lodz (Poland) (where he studied in the 1960s and 70s) that we found the traces of what this lost film could have been. And this research also permitted the restitution of a missing history: that of transnational circulations (in particular between Africa and Eastern Europe) and their influences. These circulations also concern Algeria and it policy of co-production, Morocco which welcomed Senegalese films into its film laboratories, without forgetting the role of national ciné-clubs, places for screening of tri-continental films (Africa, Asia, and South America) or international festivals such as Khouribga, Carthage, or the Fespaco.
AA : Yes ! That makes me think of the CAC, the African Committee of Filmmakers. In 1981, Med Hondo, alongside filmmakers such as Haile Gerima or Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, took part in this organization whose mission was to promote African cinema in Africa and to fight against the distribution of Western and European devalued images in cinema. With the other members of the group Med Hondo sought financing for the translation of films in Arabic, organized the first international conference on cinematic production in Africa in 1982, as well as animating networks for intercontinental distributions. Sarraounia was screened in Mozambique, Niger, and Angola. Bicots-Nègres, vos voisins, Soleil Ô, and West Indies were shown in Mauritania. Having access to his archives decentralizes a western vision of cinematic exploitation and this is necessary.
LM : The non-film archives that you have at Ciné-Archives inform us about the circulation of works and allow us to learn a bit more about the way in which Med Hondo wanted to show his films, about his militantism as to including them in the industry of French cinema in order to remove them from the margins, as well as his fight for the development of an industry on the African continent… These archives also allow us to try to understand his desire behind all of these versions, like multiple iterations of a single film…
AA : Yes, it’s sometimes incomplete. For example, in the case of Bicots-Nègres, vos voisins, I know that the 2H40 version was also presented in Belgium at the time because a 35 mm copy is preserved at the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique in Brussels. In the paper archives, I have a document that indicates that the film was distributed as part of a program of films from Mauritania in 1981 and yet I’m not able to say if it was the re-edited version from the early 1980s that was shown.
In any case, in my view the re-editing of this film indicates a desire to re-actualize the discourse and message of the film, to fragment it so that it could circulate again. And in fact Med Hondo made Nous Aurons toute la mort pour dormir/We willl have all death to sleep in 1977, a partisan film that follows the struggle of the Sahraouui people in the Western Sahara; he re-edited the film in 1978, which became Polisario, un peuple en armes/Polisario, a People in Arms, a shorter version, destined for a larger circulation in cinemas.
At Ciné-Archives I have the possibility to digitize 16mm film with our scanner. And so I’ve embarked on the digitization of the 16 mm negatives of Bicots-Nègres, vos voisins, corresponding to the 2H40 version, which was not the final version of the film. Even if the question of the version can be contextualized, the question of sub-titling remains. In the 1974 version, long sequences in Arabic, as well as other languages that I have not yet identified, are not translated in voice over, as opposed to the 1980s version, which is completely translated. In the paper archives at my disposition, I haven’t found any corresponding sub-titles. In consequence, translating these passages would certainly modify the intention of the author. I think that the question of sub-titles must also be asked concerning Djouhra Abouda and Alain Bonamy’s film, Ali in Wonderland (1976).