April 2020, startpage

In memory of Sarah Maldoror - MONANGAMBEEE on arsenal 3 and an obituary by Filipa César

arsenal 3 came about because we had to temporarily close arsenal 1 and 2 to prevent the further spread of the Coronavirus. On April 13th, we unfortunately received the sad news that Sarah Maldoror, an outstandingly important filmmaker for so many of us, had passed away at the age of 91 after contracting the virus. Monangambeee is a rallying cry with which the activists of the anti-⁠colonial liberation struggle in Angola convened village meetings. Sarah Maldoror’s first short film of the same name was part of the first edition of the Berlinale Forum in 1971. The print stayed in our archives and was widely distributed. Much later, when it turned out that it had become the only accessible print, we began to really understand archive work as a collaborative process. From 2011-⁠2013 Filipa César participated in our project „Living Archive – archive work as a contemporary artistic and curatorial practice with "Luta ca caba inda“, a project concerned with the remains of a short phase of militant cinema in Guinea-⁠Bissau in the archive of the National Film Institute (INCA – Instituto Nacional de Cinema e Audiovisual). Together with her and in close collaboration with filmmaker Sana na N’Hada, who had been assistant director of Sarah Maldoror’s films, we started our first large digitisation project. Our conversations had a huge impact on the conceptualisation of our own archive as a site for political activism. The film was digitised for the DVD project Specters of Freedom – Cinema and Decolonization, edited by Tobias Hering and Catarina Simão. It was re-⁠screened as part of Berlinale Shorts in 2017 and once again this February in the framework of the 50 anniversary program of Berlinale Forum. We asked Filipa César to write an obituary for Sarah Maldoror which you can read below. Our thoughts are with Sarah’s daughter, Annouchka de Andrade, who generously agreed to include MONANGAMBEEE in our arsenal 3 program. (stss)

THE BASE OF THE VOLCANO
by Filipa César

The first time I saw Sarah Maldoror was at the entrance of the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris in June of 2011. She was waiting for the second part of the conference ‘Les voies de la révolte: cinéma, images et révolutions dans les années 1960-1970’ to begin. Sarah whispered, under her breath, “I don’t understand all the hassle’, and I wondered what her somehow bored expression could mean—I imagined she was thinking something like “these kids want to historicize me, however, neither I nor the struggle is over.” Nor will ever be. A few months earlier I had met one of her cine-comrades, the Guinean filmmaker, Sana na N‘Hada, in Bissau. It was for a day long interview that turned out to be the start of a lifelong conversation. Most of what I know about Sarah Maldoror was channeled by Sana, who told me how he had been the cinematographer of Sarah’s Carnaval na Guiné-Bissau (1980) and the assistant director of her Fogo, île de feu (1979) shot in Cape Verde. About the latter, Sana reminisced about producing the opening scene, shot from the top of the volcano Pico do Fogo. Sarah had refused to climb the highest mountain of the archipelago and had delegated Sana to direct the courageous shooting along the crater. Through various anecdotes like this, Sana made me understand that Sarah, considered the first woman “African” filmmaker, had also been the force behind building a mesh of cinephile relations around transnational militant African cinema in the 60’s and 70’s.

Sarah and her partner, the Angolan poet, Mário Pinto de Andrade, had parallel and intertwined militant paths—he was focussing on politics and she on film. With Amílcar Cabral, he founded the first Center for African Studies in Lisbon in 1951. While Sarah studied cinema in Moscow on a Soviet scholarship (1961-62), at Studio Gorki, Andrade, co-founded the MPLA (O Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola). Sarah’s films were produced alongside the African struggles. In Algiers, one of the main organizational hubs of the liberation movements, Sarah produced her first film, MONANGAMBEEE (1968), collaborated with William Klein in the documentary Festival Panafricain d'Alger (1969) and assisted Gillo Pontecorvo in the production of La Bataille D’Alger (1965). After disagreements with the MPLA, Andrade stepped back from the party. Soon after Angolan Independence, he went into exile in newly liberated Guinea Bissau where he was offered a position as the Minister of Culture and Information by the Government of Luís Cabral. With the young Guinean filmmakers, including Sana na N‘Hada and Flora Gomes, he founded INCA - Instituto Nacional do Cinema and Audiovisual in 1976. Within this context Sarah developed film projects in Guinea and Cape Verde in the late 1970s. It was also through Sarah's connection that Chris Marker went to Bissau in 1979. Contributing to the national cinema project, Marker also produced parts of Sans Soleil (1982) there. Meanwhile, Sarah left several surplus reel of unexposed film in Bissau that Sana promptly repurposed to realize the film Os Dias de Ancono (1978).

On hearing of Sarah’s passing, at dawn on April 15th, Sana na N’Hada wrote:

Dear Filipa,

A memory of Sarah Maldoror.

One day in 1973, in Dakar, when I already knew the filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, with whom we talked in [Guinean] Creole until his death, Sarah took me to his house, near Yoff airport, just like that, without warning the interested party. We spent a good part of the morning talking about the spelling of the Sembène film censored by Senghor. Indeed, the two fought over whether the word Rebel is written Ceddo (according to Ousmane) or Cedo (according to Senghor), a pretext invoked by the latter to censor the film.

From Yoff, Sarah (who wore a PAIGC uniform banned in Senegal) and me, we went straight back to the Daniel Sorano Theater, where Senghor’s minister was going to defend the Senegalese president's point of view. Our outburst at Sorano created (I believe) such a panic that the debate was aborted!

Thanks to Sarah Maldoror, I shook hands with the famous French poet Louis Aragon and that of the not less famous actress, Simone Signoret, companion of the actor Yves Montand and friend of our friend, Chris Marker. Sarah had invited them to view one of her films when I was in Paris in 1978, editing Os Dias de Ancono at Musée de L’homme. Even more: Sarah and her husband, Mário Pinto de Andrade, arranged for me to stay at the Angolan singer, Bonga’s home, in the suburbs of Paris, while he was in Bissau.

All of this to tell you, dear Filipa, how generous and helpful Sarah was and how she wouldn't shy away from almost anything!

Forgive my hallucination, dear Filipa.

A hug,
Sana.

The second and last time I saw Sarah was in Berlin, during the 67. Berlinale in 2017, where Sana and Sarah finally met again after many years. Sarah presented Monangambeee, while Sana and I premiered the collective film Spell Reel. Monangambeee was shot in three weeks near Algiers, with mainly non-actors and with activists from the MPLA. This is the first film made by an Afro-French-Carribean woman, produced as the struggle evolved. She shot one of the most revolutionary and key scenes in the history of militant cinema. Accompanied by the free jazz band, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, in a single frame, the scene condenses anti-colonial struggle, women’s emancipation, colonial ignorance and the resilience of love. A black woman shares uncannily natural gestures of affection and desire with her partner in captivity. The white colonial prison guard polices the exchange of tenderness and misinterprets the manifestations of care as encrypted acts of subversion. Sarah Maldoror not only rehumanises the black bodies but depicts love as an undefeatable weapon, despite all violence.

Claimed by the Corona Virus on April 13th, 2020, Sarah Maldoror lives on through her films and the many memories that will continue to nurture the ongoing struggles and the cine-kinships that accompany them. Her magical cinema is just, and just the tip of the volcano that bears at its base, the deep militant care, vital solidarity and cinephile sisterhood.

Filipa César with Sana na N‘Hada in 24 April 2020