Directed by Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo

Release Year: 2015
Running Time: 86
Color Type: Color and B&W
Country: U.S., Senegal
Language: English, French, Wolof
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Screening Info
Ousmane Sembene

Editor Samba Gadjigo
Directed by Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo

In 1952, Ousmane Sembene, a dockworker and fifth-grade dropout from Senegal, began dreaming an impossible dream: to become the storyteller for a new Africa. SEMBENE! tells the unbelievable true story of the father of African cinema, the self- taught novelist and filmmaker who fought, against enormous odds, a 50-year battle to return African stories to Africans. SEMBENE! is told through the experiences of the man who knew him best, colleague and biographer Samba Gadjigo, using rare archival footage and more than 100 hours of exclusive materials. A true-life epic, SEMBENE! follows an ordinary man who transforms himself into a fearless spokesperson for the marginalized, becoming a hero to millions. After a startling fall from grace, can Sembene reinvent himself once more?

Educational Reviews

"Serving up a real portrait of the man and artist—not posthumous myth-building—this is highly recommended." Editor’s Choice**** - Video Librarian

"Sembène was many things: school dropout, mason, dockworker, soldier, trade unionist, short story writer, novelist, filmmaker, and above all, a dreamer who had faith in the capacity of human beings to change their lives and the world to enhance their humanity. In all his works, he saw himself as giving voice to the voiceless. His belief in the struggle and change as the constant theme in nature, society, and thought was central to the totality of his life and work. This comes through in this great cinematic narrative. The documentary opens a window into the soul of the man and his work. The images are unforgettable, and Samba's own voice and passion for Sembène and his work is touching. I urge that the documentary be seen in all educational institutions in Africa and the world. It is great work of art in its own right." - Ngügï wa Thiong'o, Kenyan novelist, winner, National Book Critics Circle Award

"A beautifully made, perfectly told story of an extraordinary life, in all of its grey shadings. SEMBENE! is both heartfelt and rigorous. I was captivated throughout, and in tears by the end." Paul Barnes, editor/producer, The Roosevelts, Unforgivable Blackness; editor, The Civil War, Jazz, Thin Blue Line

"SEMBENE! was a complete revelation to me. It's like an enormous lost world suddenly comes to life. Africa springs to life. This is a colossally important film." - Laurie Anderson

"Superb. The Senegalese author, activist and filmmaker was the most important sub-Saharan African artist of his generation, and one of the greatest directors in the history of world cinema. A rare biographical portrait fully worthy of its remarkable subject." - Scott Foundas

"To me, Ousmane Sembène is not just one of the most important cultural figures in modern Africa, he's one of the most fearless media activists of our time. Sembène used his camera to fight for Africa and for the world's voiceless. Sembène never stopped fighting until his last breath. He wrote books and made films against the longest of odds. Many are great works of art, and will be eternal classics. Because Sembène's story is so important, I expected Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman's film to be interesting. What I didn't expect is how much it would truly touch me. Without neglecting any of the history, they have made a biography that reminds the power and legacy of Sembène's life vision and work. Sembène was just one man, but he fought a battle that impacted millions of us, including me. SEMBENE! is an invaluable tribute to a true hero, and an essential chapter in the history of Africa, of the world, and of storytelling." - Danny Glover

"Whenever I encountered Sembène's films, I always left the theater haunted, because he showed an Africa that in America seemed hidden behind years of Tarzan movies and movies about autocratic African war lords. There was more to Africa than starving children and UN aid. Sembène allowed you to see the place in all its beauty and, yes, horror. Moreover his craftsmanship and thematic boldness as a black filmmaker would only be matched in America by Spike Lee, Charles Burnett and few others. He critiqued corrupt national leaders, religious fanaticism of several faiths, deep-seated African misogyny and the destruction of traditional culture. The new documentary SEMBENE!, co-directed by scholar and official Sembène biographer Samba Gadjigo and veteran film producer and programmer Jason Silverman, is an essential introduction to a world-class filmmaker." - Nelson George

"Animated by precious archival footage and high production values, SEMBENE! is not a mere homage to the founder of African cinema. Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman, to their credit, do not shy away from the blemishes on their subject's character. The result is a thoughtful survey of this legendary artist and his contributions to culture of decolonization." - Christopher L. Miller, Yale University

Critical Acclaim

"An enormously moving portrait of the profound way that art can transform those who come in contact with it." -Bilge Ebiri, New York Magazine/Vulture

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