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GFF24: The Cemetery of Cinema



The Cemetery of Cinema

Dir: Thierno Souleymane Diallo


Thierno Souleymane Diallo is embarking on a quest, an adventure to find a lost treasure which happens to be Mouramani, the first film made in French-speaking Africa. The trouble with the hunt for Mamadou Touré‘s 1953 film is that little is known about it. Diallo knows that it is 23 minutes long and he has two different synopses for it, alas he struggles to find anyone who has even seen the film, let alone uncover a surviving print.


He journeys across Guinea in a t-shirt and jeans, with bare feet, camera in hand and microphone strapped to his back. He plays the roles not only of director and star, but also that of a cinematographic cartographer, historian, and activist. He and his barebones crew document abandoned cinemas with reels turning to ash and witness the absence in the collective experience of cinema in 21st century life. To address this they screen some of their own footage to a community which pulls in a great audience. Why has this collective space vanished? Quickly we are drawn into the politics of authoritarianism, the quashing of the arts, and colonialism, Guinea does not have access to its own filmic history, and presently does not fund filmmakers enough to cultivate a rich national cinema.


In one particularly affecting scene Diallo arrives at a school and teaches a class on filmmaking. He distributes wooden cameras, a lesson he has taken from an anecdote of Dutch documentary maker Joris Ivens. He encourages the skill of seeing and hearing, editing, and relaying what one has captured. A student tells that they shot a film of happy sheep, another tells that a group blocked them from filming (despite the camera obviously being a piece of wood). The importance of the work in art, the practice, no matter the lack of resources.


After Diallo ascertains that Mouramani likely does not exist in Guinea he adorns a suit and sets sail for Paris (one of a few nods to Djibril Diop Mambéty’s Touki Bouki). When he arrives in France he finds that Western cinema culture may be better preserved than in Guinea, but is in a precarious position itself. He arrives at La Clef, “the last community cinema in Paris”, a cinema being occupied by a group of cinephile activists, projecting films to keep the space alive despite the building’s owner continually trying to sell the venue. Furthermore, a visit to a cinema archive uncovers more rotting film reels despite the hard work of archivists. Inevitably, time leads to decay, but we must fight to preserve our history.


The Cemetery of Cinema may document at length the tragedies that have befallen the cinema of Guinea, but there is little pessimism here. In fact, it reads more as a passionate call for revival. Diallo’s enthusiasm and energy and drive are infectious, and will likely have audiences rushing out to pick up a camera and create. We must be curious.

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