Thierno Souleymane Diallo • Director of The Cemetery of Cinema
“As people say, a tree without roots cannot grow; films are also parts of these roots”
by Marta Bałaga
- The Guinean filmmaker is determined to find a lost movie, 1953’s Mouramani - or maybe even his own childhood
Following its world premiere at Berlin, The Cemetery of Cinema [+see also:
interview: Thierno Souleymane Diallo
film profile] heads to CPH:DOX’s Highlights section, still asking about the whereabouts of 1953’s Mouramani – reportedly, the very first Guinean film ever made. It’s not easy to find what he is looking for, but director Thierno Souleymane Diallo doesn’t give in to frustration, simultaneously sharing his love of cinema with everyone he meets.
Cineuropa: Why did you want to “insert” yourself in the film? You are in almost every scene. This way, it becomes your story as well.
Thierno Souleymane Diallo: “Playing” a character in this film was, first of all, a tribute to Mamadou Touré [the director of Mouramani]. Me carrying this film is one thread of the story; I carry it through my desire to make cinema, through my fear of whether I will succeed in this profession or not. My character, that of a director, is a symbol of all those filmmakers who keep trying to make films as well as they can.
In French, we say: “Arrête ton cinema” [lit. “Stop your cinema”] when someone is making a fuss. I wanted this character to be an example of someone who, in actual fact, doesn’t stop making his cinema.
When did you first hear about that lost film, and why did you become so fixated on finding it? It’s like you are chasing a ghost.
The first time I heard about it was in Niamey, in Niger. Our film history teacher told us that the first film from black francophone Africa was Mouramani and not Afrique-sur-Seine by Mamadou Sarr and Paulin Soumanou Vieyra. From that moment on, I started to look for it.
Everyone had heard of it, but no one had seen it. Yes, it was as if it were a myth. It was important for me to go off on that search, however, to “waste” my time in this way. Also because that’s what I was always told: “Making films is like wasting your time.”
Without going into too many details, you managed to end on a triumphant note, in a way. Even though the original is still gone.
What we do is very symbolic – this way, this tale can still be told. We found out what Mamadou Touré could have filmed back in 1953: it’s a very common story in West Africa. In Guinea, his protagonist is called Mouramani, but in Mali and Burkina Faso, he is known as Sinimori, for example.
It could be said that this whole adventure turned into a comment on people deciding what to save, or deciding whose stories are important or not. Do you see this film as a story of prejudice, and maybe also indifference?
Yes, the film does raise a lot of these questions. It questions what a film actually is, but also what parts of history deserve to be carefully preserved and which don’t. What kind of future will our countries face if all of our archives just disappear one day? As people say, “A tree without roots cannot grow.” Films are also parts of these roots. There is no judgement in The Cemetery of Cinema; no one is being accused personally. What’s important is this collective awareness of the importance of both producing our own images and preserving them.
There is also so much love for cinema shown here – for something that might be disappearing, just like that old film. What does the cinema mean to you, personally? And how did you learn to love it?
Like many people, I discovered cinemas early, at the age of nine. Since then, there has been this magic connection between us. Seeing those dusty reels and those empty rooms, it’s like seeing my childhood memories disappear alongside them. For me, the cinema is, and always has been, a magical place, where we can share all of these intense and exceptional moments together. My past, and also my future, is connected to it.
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