SPECIAL SECTION | CURATORSHIP BY WALLY FALL
• COSMOPOETICS OF THE (IN)VISIBLE #2 •
Bridges of light above raging seas
Marronage in Cinema:
Bridges of light above raging seas
It is the beginning of last July and the mid-afternoon sun is relentless. While we are discussing with Laure the screening which must take place in a few days on the large square that separates the town hall of Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe) from the Center des Arts (under renovation for 12 years!) Where we are, a brother walks straight towards us with a determined step and, having reached us, greets me warmly. His face is familiar to me, but I don't know how we know each other anymore. Seeing that I am still wondering, he says to me, opening his eyes, like a revelation “No jwenn an lajòl la mann!” (We met in prison mann!). You have no idea how the films you showed us opened my mind!". We are happy to see each other again there, outside, in the bright sun. He also asks me for news of “the brother who has locks and who was always with me”. He thanks me again for the time we spent together and for our sincerity and tells me that what we do is very important, and then he continues on his way on the same decided step without looking back.
This scene happened several weeks ago but when Ana (Siqueira) asked me to write a short text to accompany my program as part of this 23rd FestCurtasBH, I immediately thought of these few lines that I had scribbled the day after the encounter. Between August 2017 and the outbreak of the Covid in our lives in early 2020, we hosted several monthly screenings at the prison in Guadeloupe with incarcerated women and men, with very few interruptions. This action, initiated by David “Dawuud” Cérito, a visual artist who was the cultural coordinator of the prison at the time and who had heard about our work, was one of the most enriching I have had in the programming of films with our collective Cinémawon.
The name of our collective is a contraction of “cinema” and “mawon”, which is a creolization of the spelling of maron with the idea of “marronage”. Our initial idea was to create or revive alternative spaces and circuits to allow films from the Caribbean, Africa or other Afro-diasporic spaces (and made by local filmmakers) to reach audiences that they had hitherto touched very little, if at all. And we had the feeling that these audiences existed but that little effort had been made for these films and these audiences to meet outside the expected channels, even though the internet already offered infinite possibilities as long as we're really getting down to it. Some of us were starting to work on our own films and to participate in the festival selection game and we felt that the films (ours and all the ones we were interested in) had to imperatively have a life outside of these spaces as well in order to that there could be a real dialogue between the filmmakers, their films and our imaginations on the one hand, and between stories that are sometimes distant in geography and in the realities they describe but which often resonate with each other. We thought that bringing together in the same program films from the Caribbean (the whole Caribbean and not just the last French colonies), films from the African continent (the whole continent and not only French-speaking countries) and films from Brazil or Colombia posed a very strong affirmation for us. And that's what we have tried to do from the start, regardless of the context of our projections, whether public or in prison or school.
To quickly situate the particular context of the last French colonies from which we have been operating, it is important to specify that the annual film offer consists of more than 70% of Hollywood blockbusters. Then there are French commercial films and a minimal share for all the rest of world cinema, independent or not. Apart from a few festivals that bring some refreshment every now and then. In Martinique, Guadeloupe and Guyana, a group from Martinique has held a monopoly on cinemas for more than 50 years. In Reunion Island, another French territory in the Indian Ocean, they are not the same actors but the distribution is not very far apart. Suffice to say that we had to explain our approach a lot to our audiences at the penitentiary center who sometimes asked us why we weren't showing real films like the last Fast and Furious. The first time we were asked, I was on my own and the only analogy I found was that we were like manufacturers of fresh juices. We have nothing against those who prefer soft drinks and sodas but we prefer to sell fresh fruit juices that we have made ourselves from fruits grown without chemical fertilizers. Or we sell those of brothers and sisters in whom we recognize ourselves. And then the fact that we make films ourselves must have allowed us to be given the benefit of the doubt and to be listened to anyway.
The work I do at Cinemawon is for me a simple extension of my learning and my practice as a filmmaker. Everything is intimately linked. As a defender of a cinema that points of view and stories place from the outset on the fringes of traditional distribution circuits, I do not yet have the luxury of contenting myself with trying to make films without participating in the necessarily collective effort so that our histories exist and circulate outside strictly capitalist logic. This task is greater than me, than us. And it was never a question for us of simply programming films made by Black people or in which we see Black people. There has always been a very strong requirement in terms of the subject and the political, spiritual, sociological and aesthetic questions that these films pose on the world around us, from our respective spaces. This was ultimately to place our perpectives at the center of our considerations, first for ourselves, even if others continue to confine them to arbitrary margins, whether mercantile or ideological.
In the program that I took a lot of pleasure bringing together here, I tried to choose films that allow us to seize, at least in part, the complexity of our small spaces and that, at the same time, address aesthetic, political or spiritual questions in which I recognize myself at the moment. The only fairly conventional film in the program is the documentary À la Racine by Katia Café-Febrissy. It is also the one that addresses the subject of the biggest ecological, political and health scandal that Guadeloupe and Martinique have known, from the point of view of a single mother and farmer. What I undoubtedly like about each of these films is that none of them seem to encumber themselves excessively with semantic or formal precaution to tell what they want to offer to our senses. And I like this freedom too because it is contagious. In this dialogue between Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion and Togo, nobody takes the same path but each one nevertheless outlines, in a non-negotiable manner, specific forms of approaching our beliefs, new possibilities in a certain way.
The idea has always been to build bridges of light above often raging seas while being firmly anchored in the spaces we occupy. The idea of marronnage and of the quilombo, of the Maron camp as a place of (re)construction, away from the plantation, guides us continuously when we find ourselves at a crossroads, and also the idea of Pan-Africanism when we arrange the bricks to build those same bridges that we want to be two-way with others. I find that the questioning of our beliefs is an aspect of our resistance that remains relatively unexplored cinematographically by Afro-descendants, especially in places where African religions have not survived as is the case in Brazil, Haiti or Cuba. We end up with pieces of several puzzles that have been mixed together and that make it very complicated to try to reconstruct them, when these attempts exist whatsoever. In African cinema, Ousmane Sembène tackled this question head-on, particularly in the films Ceddo (1977) and Emitaï (1971) which were revelations for me. These questions for us are as much a matter of research as of invention. More and more of us are still trying possible combinations of the pieces of the puzzle, continuing to look at what is going on all around. In doing so, we never know in advance what combination could eventually sow the earth, and in the most absolute silence, fertile seeds of uninhibited imaginations and multiplied horizons towards infinity. But isn't that the artist's ultimate task after all?
Wally Fall is a Martinican filmmaker. He is one of the founders of the Cinemawon cinema collective, created in 2016. After many years in Europe (France, UK), he lives in Guadeloupe today. Apart from his personal projects, he leads school workshops and organizes screenings-debates all year round with Cinemawon.
RANDRIAMANANORO, Charlotte Rabesahala. Maronages dans l’océan Indien. Des Bemihimpa de Madagascar aux grands chefs marons de Bourbon-La Réunion. Travaux & documents, Université de La Réunion, Faculté des lettres et des sciences humaines, 2018, Regards croisés sur le patrimoine malgache: transmission et régénération d’un héritage vivant, p.91–111. https://hal.univ-reunion.fr/hal-02267914/document
Author’s note: A few days earlier a group of artists, affiliated for the most part to a new nationalist and autonomist party, began a symbolic occupation of the Center des Arts site to force the public authorities not to leave culture in the works and to integrate them into the decisions that concern them. Our next screening is part of this occupation.
Author’s note: "Maron" is written in French with a single "r" and "marone" with a single "n". This choice is first of all dictated by a patrimonial attitude, since this is how the term is often transcribed in ancient documents contemporary with the phenomenon. Then, it seems important to distinguish it from the fruit and the homonymous color. Finally, we believe that the adoption of a spelling which takes into account the new societal approach of maronage, which values it, is justified (Charlotte Rabesahala Randriamananoro)