Date: Wed, 27 Nov 1996 16:43:25 +0200
Subject: Interview with Djibril Diop Mambety-SAFF 93
Dear Anny Wynchank,
Following is an interview that was carried out for Africa Film & TV
Magazine during South African Film Festival 1993. Hope you will find it
useful and interesting.
Africa Film & TV
Box 6109, Harare
Djibril Diop Mambety, director of the award winning Hyenas which played to
packed audiences at the recent Southern African Film Festival, talks with
Rachel Rawlins about his art, god and the World Bank.
INTERVIEWER: Just tell me your name and your occupation and how you'd like
to be described.
DJIBRIL: My name is Djibril. My first name is Djibril. Djibril is Gabriel,
like the angel. If I have to describe myself I can say that I am just a
history of a dream.
INTERVIEWER: A history of a dream. What do you mean by that?
DJIBRIL: All my life is a dream. All my friends too.
INTERVIEWER: So you're a maker of dreams.
DJIBRIL: Kind of.
INTERVIEWER: Hyenas has been very popular here. I understand that at the
opening of the Festival you stood up and said that it is about the World
Bank. Tell me about that.
DJIBRIL: Its earned millions many millions. It takes place in a poor
city, amongst poor people and what I'm saying is : if you want money one of
you will have to be killed. The World Bank and it's International Monetary
Fund did the same......with the poor South of the world. They tell the
African people "we know that you're poor but you have too many peoples
working and you don't have enough money to pay them so you have to kill
some of them. Then we can give you money. You have to clean up your
economy. kill enough people and we will give you money."
INTERVIEWER: So you think that the people of Africa have accepted this and
that they are killing their own people because of the World Bank's money?
DJIBRIL: Yes, it's mathematics. Kill and the money will be here
INTERVIEWER: In the beginning of the film and at the end there are scenes
of elephants which don't really appear anywhere else. Is there any
significance to this?
DJIBRIL: You know in the beginning I kill them. You have elephants going
away with the wind. They are the time. They are the life going on, and
between the elephants at the beginning and the elephants at the end, you
have the kingdom of Hyenas. Hyenas are not the time, elephants are the
time and during that time Hyenas like you and I will try to survive. You
know the Hyena is a terrible animal. He is able to follow a lion, a sick
lion during all seasons. And during the lion's last days it comes down and
jumps on him and eats him, eats the lion peacefully. That is the life of
the World Bank. They know we are sick and poor and we have some dignity.
But they can wait, wait for the last days when you say OK, I know my
dignity is meat. I want to survive. Please take my dignity and kill me
with your money.
INTERVIEWER: To me the hero gained dignity through his sacrifice. He had
no dignity at the beginning but he gained dignity because he came to terms
with his fate and accepted it with dignity. So are you saying that this is
a positive aspect of the African condition - a sacrifice that has to be
made? Are you saying that it is inevitable that the world bank comes in and
demands this and people have to pay that price?
DJIBRIL: You know the world bank is just a picture. If the west leaves
Africans alone, their money and the profit will stay the same strong force.
But you know Africans are also like the world bank. Hyenas, please,
hyenas. It's the money. They're the same slaves to money and that's
perhaps a heritage from the west.
INTERVIEWER: So is there no hope? You have elephants at the end which
seems to imply that there is some kind of standard, some kind of hope.
DJIBRIL: There is some kind of hope. Hyenas are frightened and elephants
follow the wind. They follow the wind and follow the life.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you make this film, apart from the fact that it was a
story that had to be told? Are you hoping that your audience will learn
something from it or act on it? Is it a didactic film in any way? Do you
want to change anything with it?
DJIBRIL: My last hope is that my children become elephants away from
Hyenas. For me a film should be a bomb, a bomb of emotion like a rush -
not a joy for forgetting reality, but a joy for opening your sweet dream
for the reality.
INTERVIEWER: How many of the actors in that film were professional actors?
DJIBRIL: I can't say. (pause). Three are professionals. No more. You know
why? Myself, I am actor. I came from the theatre to the cinema. I never
learnt cinema in any schools. That's why I like working with non-
professionals. The difference between professionals and non- professionals
is a professional learns about his character in order to play it, but a
non-professional plays with his own person, his own soul, his present soul
and tries to make do with it. That's why they are more truthful to their
material. They are nearer life than a professional.
INTERVIEWER: How long did it take you to get the quality of performance
that you got from your actors? Did you train them? You must have had to
work substantially with them in order to get that quality of performance.
DJIBRIL: I Just asked them who they wanted to play or which character
they wanted to be. Most of them knew their characters because all these
people in the story came from bars, from townships, like the one in the
film. They live with Hyenas, and I am sure that in the darkness of the
world they also dream of being elephants.
INTERVIEWER: Do you think that African film is a specific sort of animal?
Is it different from Hollywood? You've made an extraordinary film in terms
of the power - the kind of mythological power of the story - and also the
quality of the photography. Do you think that the African continent has
something in particular to offer ?
DJIBRIL: African film makers I am sure are able to reinvent the cinema.
Cinema is a young invention we are now in the year 1993 and the cinema will
have it's first centenary in '95. It's still a very young invention.
Africa can rediscover that moment of the invention of cinema. Birds know
what god is like. They are nearer than Hyenas to god. They are like some
kind of elephant whose wings flow in the wind and African Film makers can
be birds for reinventing the seventh art. We are perhaps poor in money but
so rich by situation and hope.
INTERVIEWER: So what is it about Hyenas that is reinventing the cinema?
What is it that is like a bird about Hyenas?
DJIBRIL: Birds are the next step. Lets follow birds - birds are our
dreams - and reinvent cinema
INTERVIEWER: Why did you move from theatre to film to express your dreams?
DJIBRIL: Cinema can reach more people than theatre. I prefer theatre to
making films, but I lost my own theatre many years ago. In 68 I left the
national theatre to make my first film "Contrast City" in 1969. From that
time I haven't made many films. I must just wait for when the dream is ready
to take off. I waited for that moment, my life's dream, your dream.
INTERVIEWER: But to me you are not putting theatre onto film. You are very
definitely using film in an innovative way, by exploiting the medium to its
DJIBRIL: Theatre is theatre. Film is film. As I said, film is a very
young invention and I have to follow how others are making films. I am
free with pictures. Every time I make a film I want to reinvent film. When
I make films I want to make sure that there exists this sense of
reinvention and this is very difficult to do. I prefer walking like a
elephant rather than making films like a Hyena.
INTERVIEWER: What about the films that you've seen here in Harare? Do you
think that there are people that are making films just for the sake of
making films.... who are making films like Hyenas in Africa?
DJIBRIL: You know I don't often go to the cinema. Personally, I prefer
films in the eyes of younger filmmakers - for myself it's better than
going to see films.