A modern African epic

October 16, 1991

Produced, written and directed by Med Hondo
With Aï Keïta as Sarraounia and Jean-Roger Milo as Captain Voulet
From the novel by Abdoulaye Mamani
AFI Cinema, Paddington (Sydney) on October 22, 8.30 p.m. and at the State Film Theatre, Melbourne on October 19, 8.30 p.m. and October 24, 8 p.m. as part of the AFI's "Into Africa" season.
Sydney season runs until October 26. Melbourne season runs until October 24.

Sarraounia is an epic film, the inspiring true story of how Queen Sarraounia and the Azna people, almost alone, resisted the vicious advance of French colonialism in Africa at the turn of the century. Her story has been kept alive by Africa's storytellers and musicians.

Med Hondo that allows us to see the European invasion through African eyes. By the film's end, the fallacies spread by the Western film industry have begun to be redressed. The genre that ludicrously portrays handfuls of enlightened, benevolent European gentleman-soldiers forced to stand their ground against wave after wave of ululating savages is dealt a firm blow.

A force of black mercenaries led by Captain Voulet and seven other French officers sets out from the Sudan to conquer central Africa. Voulet, increasingly out of control, unleashes an orgy of bloodletting and plunder as he approaches Sarraounia's territory.

Leaders of the peoples adjacent to the Azna lands attempt to surrender, some offering to ally themselves with the French against Sarraounia, but the French massacre them mercilessly. Sarraounia and the Aznas, joined by people from surrounding lands dissatisfied with their leaders' refusal to unite in resistance, stand their ground.

Sarraounia reminds us that European colonialism did not bring civilisation to Africa but destroyed it with unspeakable cruelty. It adds that unity across nations and religion might have prevented it. A clever and subtle image at the close of the film points out that this remains true today, as Western imperialism continues to ravage the African continent, not by force of arms but through unfair trade and unpayable debts.

Med Hondo, in a 1988 interview, said that African film makers face an important challenge: "European film makers ... show the image of the gentle, smiling African. You know that colonialist image, where everybody is happy, everybody is dancing. We are in a period of the recolonisation of Africa by different means, without armies, without tanks, but through the mind ... African film makers have to think about that ..."

The AFI's "Into Africa" season allows us to see how African film makers are meeting this challenge. The season will include more than 10 feature films, several shorts and even music videos. A must-see will be the early shorts of Burkina Faso's Idressa Ouedraogo (maker of the marvellous Yaaba) as well as his latest feature, Tilaï. There are also films from South Africa, Mali, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Ghana and Cameroon. For program details ring (02) 332 2111 or (03) 651 1490.

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