Faye, Safi

views updated May 14 2018

FAYE, Safi

Nationality: Senegalese. Born: Dakar, Senegal, 1943. Education: Primary school in Dakar; Normal School in Rufisque, Senegal, Teacher's Certificate, 1962; studied ethnology at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris; trained as a filmmaker at the Louis Lumière Film School, graduated 1974; University of Paris VII, Doctorate in Ethnology, 1979; studied video production in Berlin, 1979–80. Family: Divorced; one daughter: Zeiba. Career: School teacher, 1963–69; actress in Jean Rouch's Petit à petit ou les Lettres Persanes, 1970; actress in her own short film La Passante, 1972; released her first full-length docudrama, Kaddu Beykat, 1975, which spearheaded her subsequent career as ethnologist-filmmaker. Awards: Prize, Festival International du Film de l'Ensemble Francophone (FIFEF), Geneva, 1975; Georges Sadoul Prize, France, 1975; Special Award, 5th Panafrican Film Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Burkina Faso, 1976; FIPRESCI International Film Critics Award, Berlin Film Festival, 1976; Award at the Carthage Film Festival, Tunisia, 1980; Special Prize at the Leipzig Film Festival, Germany, 1982; special tribute at the 20th Festival de Femmes de Créteil, France, 1998. Address: 10, rue Friant, 75014 Paris, France.

Films as Director:


La Passante (The Passerby) (+ ro)


Revanche (Revenge)


Kaddu beykat (The Voice of the Peasant)


Fad'jal; Goob na ñu (The Harvest Is In)


Man Sa Yay (I, Your Mother)


Les âmes au soleil (Souls under the Sun)


Selbé et tant d'autres (Selbe and So Many Others)


3 ans 5 mois (Three years five months)


Ambassades nourricières (Culinary Embassies)


Elsie Haas, femme peintre et cinéaste d'Haiti (Elsie Haas, Haitian Woman Painter and Filmmaker); Racines noires (Black Roots)






By FAYE: articles—

"Safi Faye comme elle se dit," interview with Jean Bernard, in Afrique nouvelle (Paris), 15 October 1975.

"Entretien avec Safi Faye," interview with Françoise Maupin, in Larevue du cinéma, Image et son (Paris), February 1976.

"Safi Faye—une Africaine derrière la caméra," interview with Father Eichenberger, in Unir Cinéma (Saint Louis, Senegal), October-November 1976.

"Entretien avec Safi Faye," interview with Henry Welsh, in JeuneCinéma (Paris), December 1976-January 1977.

"Safi Faye," interview with Catherine Ruelle, in L'Afrique littéraireet artistique (Paris), Third Quarter 1978.

"La Passion selon Safi Faye," interview with Moussa Traoré, in Bingo (Paris), August 1979.

"Four Filmmakers from West Africa," interviews with Angela Martin, in Framework (London), Fall 1979.

"J'aime filmer sur un rythme africain," interview with Marc Mangin, in Droit et Liberté (Paris), March 1980.

"Jean Rouch jugé par six cinéastes d'Afrique noire," interviews with Pierre Haffner, in Cinémaction, First Quarter 1982.

"Safi Faye: Mossane, soit on se soumet, soit on explose," interview with Catherine Demy, in Amina (Paris), July 1996.

"Un film en Afrique, c'est la galère," interview with Alassane Cissé and Madior Fall, in Sud Week-End (Dakar), 12 October 1996.

"Entretien: Safi Faye," interview with Olivier Barlet, in Africultures (Paris), November 1997.

On FAYE: articles—

Beye, Ben Diogaye, "Safi Faye, vedette du film Petit à petit ou lesLettres persanes 1968," in Bingo (Paris), January 1969.

Binet, Jacques, "Cinéma africain," in Afrique contemporaine (Paris), January-February 1976.

Marcorelles, Louis, "Le Prix Georges Sadoul 1975—L'Afrique et le Brésil au palmarès," in Le Monde (Paris), 13 December 1975.

Ghali, Noureddine, "Festival international du film de l'ensemble francophone," in Cinéma 76 (Paris), January 1976.

Binet, Jacques, "Cinéma africain," in Afrique contemporaine (Paris), January-February 1976.

"Les Pasionarias n'étaient pas au rendez-vous," in Jeune Afrique (Paris), 12 March 1976.

Holl, "Kaddu beykat," in Variety (New York), 14 July 1976.

Arbois, Janick, "Lettre paysanne," in Télérama (Paris), 20 October 1976.

Vaugeois, Gérard, "Lettre paysanne," in Ecran 76 (Paris), 15 December 1976.

P, J-L, "Lettre paysanne," in Positif (Paris), December 1976.

Grant, Jacques, "Lettre paysanne, carnet de notes pour la paysannerie africaine," in Cinéma 77 (Paris), January 1977.

Moustapha, Mahama Baba, "Lettre paysanne de Safi Faye," in Cinémarabe (Paris), March-April 1977.

N'Daw, Ali Kheury, "Des paysans bien de chez nous," in Le soleil (Dakar), 12 April 1977.

Beye, Ben Diogaye, "Après le Festival de Royan, une réelle dialectique dans le dialogue des cultures," in Cinéma 77, May 1977.

Bosséno, Christian, "Lettre paysanne," in Revue du Cinéma, Imageet Son, October 1977.

Hoberman, J, "Inside Senegal," in Village Voice (New York), 6 February 1978.

"Fad'jal," in Le Film français (Paris), 4 May 1979.

Taylor, Clyde, "The Screen Scene," in The Black Collegian (New Orleans), May-June 1979.

Mosk, "Fad'jal," in Variety, 6 June 1979.

Martin, Marcel, "Fad'jal," Ecran 79, 15 July 1979.

Courant, Gérard. "Fad'jal," in Cinéma 79, July-August 1979.

Paranagua, Paulo-Antonio, "Fad'jal de Safi Faye (Senegal)," in Positif, July-August 1979.

Sylviane and Marie-Aude, "Un conte visuel qui, à travers des images en écho, transmet l'histoire d'un village," in Des femmes enmouvement, April 1980.

Schissel, Howard, "Africa on Film:The First Feminine View," in The Guardian (London), 9 July 1980.

Bachy, Victor, "Festivals et rencontres: les Journées Cinématographiques de Carthage 1980," in Revue belge ducinéma (Brussels), no. 20, 1981.

Bosséno, Christian, "Paysans," in Cinémaction (Paris), Special Issue, 1982.

Haffner, Pierre, "Sénégal," in Cinémaction (Paris), Special Issue, 1982.

Relich, Mario, "Chronicle of a Student," in West Africa (London), 16 August 1982.

Bassan, Raphael, "Quand nourriture rime avec culture," in Afrique-Asie (Paris), 31 December 1985.

Pfaff, Françoise, "Safi Faye," in Twenty-five Black AfricanFilmmakers, Westport, Connecticut, 1988.

Pfaff Françoise, "Five West African Filmmakers on Their Films," in Issue: A Journal of Opinion (Haverford, Pennsylvania), vol. 20, no. 2, 1992.

Bouzet, Ange-Dominique, "Safi Faye, cinéaste à l'africaine," in Libération (Paris), 15 May 1991.

Amarger, Michel, "Cannes: Five African Filmmakers on the Croisette," in Ecrans d'Afrique (Milan), First Quarter 1996.

Mandelbaum, Jacques, "Mossane," in Le Monde (Paris), 18 May 1996.

Special, Alessandra, "Mossane," in Ecrans d'Afrique (Milan), Second Quarter 1996.

Hurst, Heike, "Mossane," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), Summer 1996.

Sarr, Ibrahima, "Mossane de Safi Faye: La beauté magnifiée," in Lesoleil (Dakar), 9 October 1996.

Amarger, Michel, "Réalisatrices d'Afrique," in AFIFF [Association du Festival International de Films de Femmes] (Créteil), 1998.

Bédarida, Catherine, "A Créteil, le Festival de films de femmes invite les cinémas d'Afrique," in Le Monde (Paris), 3 April 1998.

Bonnet, Sophie, "Légende vivante," in Les Inrockuptibles (Paris), 8 April 1998.

Guichard, Louis, "Mossane de Safi Faye,' in Télérama (Paris), 8 April 1998.

Bouzet, Ange-Dominique, "Mossane, beauté maudite," in Libération (Paris), 8 April 1998.

Baudin Brigitte, "Mossane: la femme africaine selon Safi Faye," in Le Figaro (Paris), 9 April 1998.

* * *

A pioneer woman director in the male-dominated realm of African cinema, Safi Faye is today, with a career spanning more than 25 years, the best-known independent African female filmmaker.

Safi Faye met the French ethnologist and filmmaker Jean Rouch at the 1966 Dakar Festival of Negro Arts. Rouch encouraged Faye to engage in cinema and seemingly triggered her subsequent use of the camera as an investigative and pedagogical tool in ethnographic filmmaking, which, to this date, represents the bulk of her cinematic output.

Faye's first black-and-white short, La Passante (The Passerby, 1972), illustrates the dreams and desires of a French and an African man as they watch a beautiful young African woman walk by. In a 1985 interview in Paris, where she mainly resides, Faye declared: "The female protagonist of La Passante is a foreigner who arouses a certain curiosity among the people of the country in which she is presently residing. She lives in a country where she is neither integrated nor assimilated. She is in Europe but her thoughts are in Africa. I am just like her, I define myself as a passerby."

Faye's first significant film, Kaddu beykat (which means "the voice of the peasant" in Wolof, Senegal's main African language), was made in 1975. Here, her perspective of her own ethnic group, the Serer, is a far cry from the often culturally distant and biased gaze of alien Western observers. Faye gives a voice to largely illiterate Senegalese farmers, who discuss their socioeconomic needs and political problems. Kaddu beykat, initially banned in Senegal, condemns the colonial heritage of peanut monoculture and denounces the government's lack of agricultural diversification to insure the welfare of the rural populace.

Shot in a slow pace, depicting the close intimacy of man and nature and rural ritualistic gestures, Kaddu beykat is a black-and-white feature-length docudrama interpreted by non-professional actors, farmers who were asked to play their own roles. Yet, upon the broader canvas of collective issues, Faye's sympathetic lens also focuses on the fate of a young villager who migrates to Dakar in order to secure the traditional dowry that will enable him to marry. Falling prey to exploitation by urban employers, the young man returns to his deprived, yet morally sounder, pastoral lifestyle.

Released in 1979, Fad'jal (which bears the name of the Serer village of Faye's family) offers another analysis of sociocultural aspects of a Senegalese rural community. Using many of the same techniques (interviews and direct cinema) present in Kaddu beykat, the director shows how collective memory is conveyed by the elders to the younger generations through the oral tradition. She also depicts how old values tend to disappear due to social changes from the migration of farmers to urban centers and foreign lands.

Subsequently, Faye shot a series of documentaries in the same ethnographic vein, mostly commissioned by international organizations and European television, related to conflicting dichotomies between indigenous traditions and socially destabilizing Western mores, an omnipresent theme in African cinema. Some of these films also include the topic of exile and its psychological effects.

Faye's Goob na ñu (The Harvest Is In, 1979) treats agricultural issues, and Man Sa Yay (I, Your Mother, 1980) illustrates the isolation of Senegalese guest workers in Germany. In Les âmes au soleil (Souls under the Sun, 1981), the filmmaker stresses problems related to drought, health, and development and their effect on women and children in remote areas of Africa. Selbé et tant d'autres (Selbe and So Many Others, 1982) depicts the responsibilities of Senegalese village women after their husbands migrate to cities for work. On a more personal note, 3 ans 5 mois (Three Years Five Months, 1979–83) showcases Faye's daughter and depicts how children easily adapt to foreign cultures. Ambassades nourricières (Culinary Embassies, 1984) explores the importance of culinary rites for displaced groups attempting to maintain their primary identity. Interviews with African, Asian, European, Latin American, and Middle-Eastern restaurant owners established in Paris highlight issues surrounding emigration and acculturation. Racines noires (Black Roots, 1985), documents a meeting of writers, painters, and stage and screen actors from Africa and the Black Diaspora in Paris. Through interviews and swift portrayals, Faye deftly delineates their aspirations. Elsie Haas, femme peintre et cinéaste d'Haiti (Elsie Haas, Haitian Woman Painter and Filmmaker 1985) examines the life and career of a noted Diasporic creator living and working in Paris. Tesito (1989) pays tribute to the collective organizational kills of fishermen's wives in Casamance, Senegal, as they dry and sell fish to generate much of their family income.

Faye's film Mossane ("beauty" in the Serer language) was begun in 1990 and finally released in 1996 due to legal problems with the French producers. This film reflects great visual polish and iridescent luminosity, whereas some of her first films were criticized for certain technical deficiencies. Mossane narrates the tale of a young woman of such rare charm and attractiveness that even spirits fall in love with her. Enamored of a young man of modest means, Mossane rebels against the marriage arranged by her parents, who are more sensitive to the monetary benefits of matrimony than to their daughter's happiness. At first appearing to submit to her parents' wishes, Mossane escapes during the marriage ceremony and embarks in a canoe to the middle of a river, where spirits claim her life. With songs of incantation, Faye creates a haunting atmosphere reminiscent of ancient Greek tragedies where the chorus comments on the action, and supernatural beings intervene to determine the fate of humans.

Mossane may mark a turning point, a new artistic direction, in Safi Faye's career. While reflecting her ethnographic interest in witnessing daily domestic activities and animistic religious rites, it is truly a work of fiction, the contemplative style and mythic content of which are drastically different from the realism of her previous works. One wonders whether she will continue with fiction or return to ethnographic film research and documentation.

—Françoise Pfaff

Safi Faye

views updated Jun 11 2018

Safi Faye

Safi Faye (born 1943), the Senegalese filmmaker and ethnologist who made her home in Paris, was the best-known woman filmmaker in sub-Saharan Africa.

Safi Faye was born in 1943 in Fad Jal, Senegal, a village south of Dakar, where she made the ethnographic films that brought her international acclaim. She was educated in Senegal, where she obtained her teacher's certificate at Rufisque normal school. Faye was teaching in Dakar in 1966 when she met Jean Rouch, the foremost French ethnographic filmmaker and father of cinema verité, at FESTAC, the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Cultures. Subsequently she played a role in Rouch's Petit à Petit (1969), and with Rouch's encouragement she studied ethnology at the University of Paris, first earning a diploma in 1977 and then a doctorate in 1979 based on research on the religion of the Serer, her own ethnic group. While in Paris she attended the Louis Lumière Film School and in 1979-1980 she studied video production in Berlin.

Ethnographic Filmmaking

Faye's documentary films on Senegal were related to her training as an ethnologist. She was interested in showing the real problems of people's daily lives from their perspective, an advantage she had as a member of the society she filmed. Although she included some fictional events in her documentary films, such as the love story in Kaddu Beykat, she did not find this contradictory since the fiction was grounded in reality and was typical of the society.

Faye made her first films in France. Revanche (Revenge; 1973), made collectively with other students in Paris, is about a madman who wants to climb the Pont Neuf, a bridge in Paris. She acted in her second film, La Passant (The Passerby; 1972-1975), about an African woman in France, which reflects in part the solitude she felt in Paris at that time. This film has a soundtrack of music and poetry, but no dialogue.

Kaddu Beykat (Peasant Letter; 1975), the first ethnographic film Faye made in Senegal, brought her international attention through film awards at FIFEF (Festival International du Film d'Expression Française), FESPACO (Festival Panafricain du Cinéma d'Ouagadougou), and the Berlin Film Festival and through receipt of the Georges Sadoul Prize in France. It remained her most widely reviewed and analyzed film. Kaddu Beykat, a feature-length film made in black and white, is about Fad Jal, her natal village in Senegal. It follows the slow pace of Serer life, providing an overview of such topics as agriculture, family structure, domestic life, children's games, social gatherings, the migration of young people, and comparisons between the abundance of the past and the scarcity of the present. To investigate economic problems Faye suggested topics for discussion to which the villagers responded, thus providing a discourse between Faye and the villagers reflecting both their views. A fictional love story provides the "organization" for the ethnographic information.

Fad Jal (1979), a feature-length film, and Goob Na Nu (The Harvest Is In; 1979), both in color, also are about Faye's natal village. While Goob Na Nu focuses on agricultural issues, Fad Jal is about life-cycle rituals, especially those of birth and death, which are part of the village's history. It includes reenactments of the past and shows what has been lost due to labor migration and other changes in post-independence Senegal. Faye's three Senegalese documentaries were made in the Serer language.

Other Films

After 1980 Faye's documentary and feature films were on diverse topics and had diverse sponsorship. For example, the United Nations produced Les ames au soleil (Souls Under the Sun; 1980) about the difficult lives of women and children in rural Senegal, with a focus on health and education, while UNICEF sponsored Selbe et tant d'autres (One and So Many Others; 1982) about the daily life of a Senegalese village woman whose husband has gone to work in town. In contrast, Ambassades nourriciers (Cultural Embassies; 1984), made for French television, is about Chinese, Indian, Hungarian, and other ethnic restaurants in Paris and includes interviews with their owners. Man Sa Yay (I Your Mother; 1980), made for German television, combines fiction and documentary in depicting an African student's adjustment to studying at a polytechnic university in West Berlin. The student expresses many of his feelings in letters to his mother. Faye's later fiction film, Mossane (1991), about a beautiful girl betrothed at birth who is in love with a student her own age, was coproduced by television stations in France, Germany, and Great Britain.

Safi Faye was acknowledged as one of the most accomplished women filmmakers in sub-Saharan Africa. However, because she lived and worked in Europe, far more Europeans have seen her films than have Senegalese and other Africans.

Further Reading

Safi Faye has not yet been the subject of a book. Most interviews with Faye and reviews and analyses of her work have been written in French. The most comprehensive discussion in English of her training and analysis of her work is by Françoise Pfaff in Twenty-five Black African Filmmakers (1988). Brief biographical information and a list of her films appear in Keith Shiri's Directory of African Film-Makers and Films (1992).

Martin, Michael T. Cinemas of the Black Diaspora Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. □