translationf Slate Afrique article by Claire Diao
Infant prodigy of the Cameroonian cinema, the director Jean-Pierre Bekolo, who is currently editing his lastest movie, advocates for a coalition for the recolonization of Cameroon.
According to Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Obama’s name is Cameroonian. As proof, Jean-Pierre’s name actually is Bekolo Obama.
With the international success of Quartier Mozart (1992), Le Complot d’Aristote (1995), and Les Saignantes (2007), Bekolo has rapidly been regarded as an avant-garde filmmaker, who does not do « African cinema, but cinema in Africa » (according to the French producer Daniel Toscan du Plantier, who awarded Bekolo at the Festival de Cannes in 1992 with the Afrique en Creation Award).
Bekolo has always known how to surprise his audience in the form (photo-novel, video advertising, experimental) and in the substance (the complexity and humor of the people of a poor neighborhood in Quartier Mozart, the quest for an African definition of Cinema in Aristotle’s Plot, the warning against the excesses of the continent in Les Saignantes). Jean-Pierre Bekolo is a visionary who uses cinema as a tool « to reinvent our reality ».
« Cinema must be forward-thinking »
In August 2012, Jean-Pierre Bekolo was at the Film Festival of Locarno (Switzerland), in the framework of the support program by the Open-Door production, with his project Le Président. He felt sorry for the producers, who are “lost, ruled by the dictat of the TV channels and of the institutions”, and who do not have any money to bet on projects.
Nevertheless, he met his German producer, Kristina Konrad from Weltfilm GmbH in Locarno.
“I said to her ‘don’t speak to me if you do not have money’. She asked me: ‘How much ?’. I said an amount, she had half of it, so we started talking.”
Currently being finalized, Le Président is an ambitious feature film mixing documentary and fiction.
Tackling the hopes and contradictions of a people, the movie is based on the departure of the incumbent president a few days before the presidential elections.
Le Président recounts 42 years of the Cameroonian political history, through the succession, the Independence, the Revolution, the murders, the death, the people and the power.
“It is the first time that a movie removes a President. The Cinema always arrives afterwards, to tell us the Arab Spring for example. Where was the Cinema before? The Cinema must be forward-thinking, open new doors and make the revolutions. I do not want to tell people what happened, I want to inspire those who will make it happen”, explains Jean-Pierre Bekolo.
The political topic of Le Président follows from a long journey. The journey of a filmmaker who went to study Semiology in France, who has been a teacher in the USA (University of California, Duke University) and directed his movies in Cameroon. Jean-Pierre Bekolo has even lived in Hollywood (“I had an agent there”), but quickly came back:
“I spent 20 years abroad, and I feel like I missed the memories of the old people who are dying now. I am discovering unknown things about Cameroon’s history, that are not taught, and that I find important to know”.
“The role of the filmmaker is to show. Once people have seen, his work is done, they know what to do. That is why I sometimes write articles, to tell the story of the one who came back to Cameroon one year and a half ago. I write about politics, otherwise people would not even know that I exist. The artist, the filmmaker, it is really … Cinema! I want to spend my energy to be a pioneer, even if it means having some hard time. If the mission is not impossible, I am not interested.”
Deploring a “human catastrophe” that makes people “badly trained and distorted from the point of view of ethical values, exigency and know-how”, Bekolo “tries” to teach Cinema at the Institut des Beaux-Arts in Yaoundé and at the Douala’s University through his methods of “Author’s Learning”.
“How to teach Cinema to students who have not seen movies ? Youtube does not work because of our slow internet connection, we do not have any video library … I met people who did PhD. thesis about movies they have never seen!”
To get over parasitism
Rather pessimistic about his country’s situation, he thinks that the Cameroonians are overwhelmed:
“We have a parasitic view of the State because we did not create it. The whites created it. We chased them away, but to take their place, we pretended that it was nationalism. We started eating what the whites had left us, without trying to recreate. A country is not a cake, because a cake comes to an end. A country is a plantation, you need arms, you need to work. But every body is parasitic, corrupted. We have given our autonomy up for long. Every body is ready to sell to China, to the highest bidder. We are selling every thing, we are even selling out! To have a country should mean being in a power position, and taking the maximum from the collective.”
To escape this situation, Jean-Pierre Bekolo advocates – in a 4 pages non-published article, “Let us acknowledge that we are overwhelmed, the whites must come back!” – the comeback of white people in Africa.
In his text, the director does not defend a new “Françafrique”, but a different way to think the cooperation, the international help and the duty of interference, “from the point of view and the demand of the African peoples, and not from their corrupted elites who are serving foreign interests”.
Since the selfdetermination ideology that was defended at the period of the Independences has been given up in favor of private enrichment, corruption, and plunder of the public goods, Jean-Pierre Bekolo denounces a colonial project that lead, “far beyond its initiators’ forecasts”, to a “poor pilot who took over without a real flight plan”.
Claiming the return to the starting point of this “hypocrite” and “lying” situation, “that is to say to the so-called Independence”, the filmmaker accuses the present elite of “being proud of an almighty State, which it has not created, and which had oppression and exploitation as a goal”.
For a cosmopolitan Africa
Without worshiping the white (“When I say white, it is a mental representation”), Jean-Pierre Bekolo says:
“You can do the experience, go to a public service in Cameroon, go see how people act with a white in 2012”.
An he underlines: “Africa and its traditions are rare in the State machinery, except this group of traditional dance invited to the airport for the presidential trips, a folklore that goes back to the colonial period when the General de Gaulle’s envoys were welcomed this way.”
Putting himself in the place of the people, the filmmaker asks:
“Why postponing the transfer and the development of a know-how which is mastered by others, and which is essential ? Do we have to wait for an epidemic, an earthquake, for the foreigners to turn up? We want them before!”
Jean-Pierre Bekolo advocates for a transnational movement of “coalition for the recolonization of Cameroon, for the country to get out of the “demagogic micro-politics” to head towards “cosmopolitanism”, which is the only way to trace the path for suitable global politics, different from the UN system of collaboration between States: a transnational political coalition carried by the peoples, laying the groundwork for a global democracy.”
This opinion column coming from Cameroon illustrates the “no man’s land” in which the filmmakers of the continent are, eternally in difficulty to make their movies and express themselves.
A lot of people would prefer the filmmakers to remain in their place. But the problem is that this place does not exists.
Political proposal similar to his filmmaker’s reflection, Jean-Pierre Bekolo prefers “ a bit failed but ambitious movie than a perfect movie which keeps to the well-trodden paths”.
Interview conducted by Claire Diao in Edinburg, while attending the Africa in Motion film festival.
Translation into English: AfricAvenir