As Tambay so rightly said last month when the New York Film Festival, which opened last Friday, announced that it would present a brand new restoration of Ousmane Sembene’s "Black Girl" (HERE) that the film is "rich with symbolism and complexities that are essentially reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism – a recurrent theme you’ll find in much of Sembène’s work, as well as commentary on the untapped strength and abilities of African women."
What starts out as a deceptively simple story about a young Senegalese woman, Diouana (played by Thérèse M’Bisine Diop), who works as nanny for a couple and whose hopes of an exciting life in France are dashed when her white employers expect her to work as their servant, transcends its premise to become an uncompromising and powerful portrait of the everlasting and tragic consequences of colonialism.
Though it was not Sembene’s first film, it was the film that brought him into the international spotlight as an important filmmaker, as well has heralding the emergence of an African cinema that was mostly unknown.
And now just in time with the NYFF screening, as well as the London Film Festival screening in October, of the restored version, comes news that BFI Home Video will release "Black Girl" in a duel Blu-ray and standard DVD package on October 19.
But even more special is that, also included with Black Girl, and for the first time on Blu-ray or maybe even standard DVD for that matter, will be Sembene’s first film, 1963’s "Borom Serrat," which is credited as the first film made by an African filmmaker. However that claim needs a little history lesson – if you don’t mind.
One can argue that the first film actually made by an African filmmaker was the short "C’etait il y a quatre ans" (That Was Four Years Ago) a short film made by the Beninese/Senegalese film director and historian Paulin Soumanou Vieyra in 1954, which he followed up with "Afrique-sur-Seine," another short film in 1955. But both of those films were made in Paris, while "Borom Serrat" was the film first to be made in Africa by a black African filmmaker.
Though again, there were Egyptian commercial films made during the 1950’s by Egyptian filmmakers and Egypt is in Africa right? So talk about splitting hairs.
But regardless, "Borom Serrat" was Sembene’s first film, which displayed a remarkable talent and a bold indication of the great films to come, and which is an "allegorical" tale exploring poverty and inequality as it charts a day in the life of a hard-up cart driver in Dakar, whose good deeds are rewarded with great injustice.
On the BFI DVD, both films will be presented in new 4K restoration, and among the extras also included will be theatrical and alternative color-sequence versions of "Black Girl," as well as "Snatches of a Conversation" with actress M’Bissine Thérèse Diop, the documentary "The Making of African Cinema," on the work of Sembene, and an illustrated chronology of the director’s life in film.
However, there is a catch; and that of course is that the BFI DVD, being a British release, means that it will be a locked region "B" disc; so unless you have a mutil-region DVD player, you will not be able to play it on your regular domestic (American) DVD blu-ray or standard player.
Hopefully Criterion, or another similar DVD label that regularly releases classic foreign films here in the States, will release it sometime next year.