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As soon as I became aware that Med Hondo was making a new film, I went to visit him on set to have an interview with him. For cinephiles, there’s no need for an introduction, for this Mauritanian film-maker is appreciated and followed by those who love cinema; he is admired for the quality of his images and the interesting themes he tackles, and Med Hondo lacks neither sincerity nor humour.

Moune de Rivel: Excuse me Med, to bother you during your work, but I couldn’t reach you otherwise.

Med Hondo: You were right to come here, Moune, I never know what time of day I finish. Sometimes I leave the studio at three in the morning, and I come back very early.

Tell us about Daniel Boukmans play, "Les négriers", that you are currently working on and whose script, adaptation and staging are yours. Youre now working on the mix of this film; what does mix mean?

MH: Moune, how come you don’t know what mix means? It’s about mixing sounds, noise and music with the images; it’s the final stage where everything comes together on a single reel.

I asked that question, for not everyone knows about film technique.

MH: It would be television’s role to explain all that. But what is essential for African audiences you are addressing, Moune, is to know what cinema is, what images are, and the part which these peoples play in these images, and how African film can be a means of transmitting their story, their social, cultural and political identity.  If at a later stage, audiences could be taught that cinema is made in this and that way, that would be all the better, but they must still develop a point of view on cinema and its future on their own.

Med Hondo, what does cinema mean to you?

MH: Speaking in the abstract and in so far as it is not a myth in historical reality, cinema is cinema for everyone, but I don’t trust it.

Youre suspicious of it, but why?

MH: They claim that cinema is international. I can take this statement as fact, but when I dig a little deeper, I realise that it is not so international after all. In that type of cinema, there is an almost radical absence of a history which would interest me as an African: the history of my country, Mauritania; of the African continent, my continent; and by extension, of Black people in general. It is critical that the information we give about these peoples be as accurate as possible, for cinema is the most perceptible image to everyone, and well, there, and especially there, we’ve been totally absent. Whenever an African or a West Indian director makes a film, this film is rarely seen in his native land first and foremost and not at all in the West. Here, we have inequality in terms of possibilities and inequality in terms of exchanges.

They claim that cinema is international. I can take this statement as fact, but when I dig a little deeper, I realise that it is not so international after all.

Do you think that all African film-makers face this problem?

MH: Certainly, and given this reality: what kind of films should a film-maker from the Third World make, and what kinds of films can he make? Even those who want to make what are referred to as “hassle-free films”, a thriller, a love story, or what- ever, so as to have a chance to be programmed in their home countries and on the world market, even such film-makers can’t find the means to produce and distribute their films.

Why dont they find the help they need?

MH: Because those who have the monopoly over production and broadcasting, be they Europeans, Americans or from elsewhere, make the films themselves instead of us. Why would you want that they give us money to do it?

However, it is essential that authentic African cinema evolves in the context of its artistic and commercial reality. There is an audience who likes this style of cinema and who go out of their way to watch it in film clubs or in art- house cinemas.

MH: Film-goers, yes, those who are open to others. But our cinema won’t prevail just because there are some African films screened in small film theatres. I stress the importance of recognising the merits of those who program them in their theatres, but that doesn’t solve our problems. You see, Moune, the films we receive in Africa are screened in all our theatres, so, why then are our films only screened in small venues? For example, there are many Africans and West Indians in the Latin Quarter, or in the Clichy district; they might be interested in watching our films. It wouldn’t be a bad idea that we be provided with a circuit of several movie theatres in a capital such as Paris.

Med Hondo, are you Mauritanian?

MH: Yes, Moune, and you’re wondering why I made a film about the history of the Antilles and the Caribbean?

It would be interesting to know why...

MH: Because nowadays all West Indians and Africans can claim that they share an ancestor, and from that point of view, WEST INDIESimposes its story on us.

Do you know the West Indies?

MH: I’ve been living in France for several years, where I’ve come to know some West Indians.
I learned something of their history. I visited the West Indies to discover that the West Indies have a full-blown historical past. These people, whose origins are multinational, are descendants of different ethnic groups, who have had different languages, different dialects, and have invented a language, Creole, which they spread throughout the Caribbean to better understand each other; they stood up for themselves so as to keep their individual identities.

In which historical period have you set WEST INDIES?

MH: Across four centuries, and on an island in the Caribbean. It could be Martinique, Guadeloupe or another island.

Did you have trouble finding Black actors?

MH: That wasn’t the problem we encountered during filming; there are excellent Black artists, actors, singers and other crew members. My problem was to raise funding. I have to strive for five, let’s say seven years, and despite the assistance I received from Algerian television, I had a hard time convincing those principally interested, Africans and West Indians, to produce this kind of film.

Med, your film is now in its terminal phase. I hope you will have the satisfaction of encountering the audience you want for a cinema that is truly African.

Moune de Rivel (1918-2014) was a musician, singer, actress, and painter.

Translation: John Barrett

Originally Published as:
Moune de Rivel: “Un Mauritanien tourne l’histoire des Antilles. Med Hondo parle de son film” in Bingo319, 1979, 35–36.

Further Reading:
Marie-Hélène Gutberlet, Brigitta Kuster (ed.) "1970—2018 Interviews with Med Hondo”, Berlin: Archive books, 2020.

Marie-Hélène Gutberlet, Brigitta Kuster (ed.): “Das Kino von Med Hondo – Deutsche und französische Originaltexte, 1970–2020“, Berlin: Archive books, 2020.

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