Paulin Soumanou Vieyra (January 31, 1925 – November 4, 1987). Special thanks to Cathy Chamorey who took this brilliant photograph of Vieyra in Paris in the editing room where Paulin was working on his feature : En résidence surveillée in 1980.  Used courtesy Stéphane Vieyra.

Who is Paulin Vieyra?

Paulin Soumanou Vieyra was a pioneer of African cinemas during the decolonization era of the 1960s. Born in Benin, he is best known as a Senegalese producer, filmmaker, and historian as well as Ousmane Sembène’s production manager.

See an overview of Vieyra’s career with film clips in the above video. Courtesy PSVFilms.

Vieyra’s multidisciplinary career as a filmmaker, producer, and scholar is central to West African film history. In 1955, Vieyra directed the first substantial film by a French-speaking sub-Saharan African, Afrique sur Seine. This 21-minute, 16mm black-and-white fiction film with Marpessa Dawn, star of Black Orpheus (1959), was co-directed by aspiring filmmakers Jacques Melo Kane and Mamadou Sarr and shot by Robert Caristan.This quartet became known as The African Cinema Group. Vieyra was the first African admitted to study at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques (IDHEC, now known as La Fémis).

In 1955, Vieyra directed the first substantial film by a French-speaking sub-Saharan African, Afrique sur Seine.

Vieyra went on to serve as a mentor and production manager for Senegalese filmmakers including Ousmane Sembène and Ababacar Samb Makaram, and he was a founding member of film institutions that have an enduring impact today, particularly The Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) and the Pan-African Film Festival (FESPACO). Vieyra organized equipmentand personnel for Sembène’s Borom Sarret (1963), the first of many transformative films by Sembène. Vieyra produced Le Mandat (1968), Taaw (1970), Xala (1974), and Ceddo (1977). Vieyra wrote Sembène into film history with Sembène Ousmane cinéaste : première période, 1962-1971 and Le cinéma au Sénégal.

What is Vieyra’s significance to film history?

Vieyra returned to Dakar, Senegal from France, in the late 1950s, staying through the 1960s, where he took on a supervisory role at the Actualités Sénégalaises, the newsreel agency. Léopold Sédar Senghor, the first president of independent Senegal, had appointed Vieyra as the first director of the Senegalese Office for Radio Broadcasting and Television and the Science and Information Technology Research Centre to organize the media office in charge of news production, educational movie screenings, and state funding of film production and education.

Vieyra’s position was crucial because, under colonialism many European powers perceived cinema as a threat, leading them to impose strict limits on the production and distribution of African films, such as the Laval Decree of 1934 which effectively forced the creation of Afrique sur Seine in Paris. The British and French administrations had both developed systems of screening films in the colonized nations, often for propaganda purposes and the lieutenant governor had to authorize filming in the area. In reality this meant that Africans were barred from filming in Africa.

“In 1955, while a small group of Africans and Europeans discussed cinema in the smoke-filled rooms of Europe, no one paid them any attention. In wanting and in working for the advent of an African Cinema, at the time, they fought for independence in their own way, since it was never in doubt that only the national sovereignty of African nations allowed the cinematographic expression of an authentic African reality.”

Paulin Vieyra, Le cinéma africain, des origines à 1973,

When did Vieyra live and work?

During the 1960s process of decolonization, Vieyra worked to reclaim and nurture African cinema through his governmental role, his personal filmmaking, and his doctoral work as well as through his support of other African filmmakers and of African film in general. As Senegalese television developed, he took a leadership role which he retained until his departure in 1975 from his position in the government. He continued to make films, including his only feature-length film En residénce surveillée [Under House Arrest], which he filmed while working on his dissertation on African cinema. He promoted African film through his published criticism. He collaborated with the notable cultural magazine and publisher Présence Africaineand in 1975 published one of the first histories of African cinema, Le cinéma africain, des origines à 1973. He received his doctorate from Université de Paris I in 1981.

How is Vieyra connected to Sembène?

In issue 170 (2004) of Présence Africaine, Sembène recalled the impact that Vieyra and their friendship had upon his own career and on that of others:
“… I went home to Senegal, where I found Paulin S. Vieyra in the role of the head of the cinema bureau. Every week, with his team of cameramen, he prepared newsreels… [and] gave cinematography courses to… Georges Caristan who would be mydirector of photography… I made it known to Paulin S. Vieyra my intention to go learn to make films. His response was direct:‘That’s good; I’m here’” (21).

“Without the existence of my strong and deep ties to Paulin S. Vieyra, would I have made films?”

Ousmane Sembène

Homage to Paulin Vieyra

What is Vieyra’s legacy today?

Due to the hard work of Vieyra’s son Stéphane, his crucial and fascinating films are available to view today and his photographs and unpublished manuscripts have been held in storage. Stéphane Vieyra has overseen the digitization of his father’s films and provided access to them through international screenings. Lamb (1963), l’Envers du décor (1981) and une Nation est née (1961) had their American premieres at the 2018 edition of the African Film Festival in New York. Lamb was an Official Selection at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival in the Classics category, and it was shown alongside Afrique sur Seine at the 2019 edition of the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO). The recent publication of “In Translation: Paulin Soumanou Vieyra” by Mélissa Gélinas in the Spring 2019 issue of the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies indicates a resurgence of interest in this pioneering figure among film and media scholars. Stéphane Vieyra is scheduled to be present for post-film discussions September 5 and 6. See below for screening times. All screenings held at IULMIA Wells 048.


Workshop at IU Bloomington

Paulin Vieyra: Pioneer of African Cinemas, Filmmaker, Producer and Historian Workshop gathers a variety of thinkers to discuss Paulin Vieyra’s legacy. Over two days scholars, critics, archivists, and librarians convene to learn the scope and condition of Vieyra’s papers and audiovisual media.

In celebration of Vieyra’s career, we are hosting three screenings, free and open to the public. Come one, come all. Venez nombreux!

Vieyra Screenings

Sept 5 & 6

Thursday, September 5

5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. | Film Screening | IU Libraries Moving Image Archives Screening Room (Wells Library 048)

  • Afrique sur Seine (1955, 21 min.), J.M. Kane, M. Sarr, Paulin Vieyra
  • Une nation est née [A Nation Is Born] (1961, 25 min.), Paulin Vieyra
  • Lamb (1963, 18 min.), Paulin Vieyra
  • L’envers Du Décor [Behind the Scenes] (1981, 16 min.), Paulin Vieyra
  • Mol (1966, 27 min.), Paulin Vieyra

Friday, September 6

11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. | Film Screening | IU Libraries Moving Image Archives Screening Room (Wells Library 048)

  • En Residence Surveillée [Under House Arrest] (1981, 102 min.), Paulin Vieyra

4:30 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. | Film Screening | IU Libraries Moving Image Archives Screening Room (Wells Library 048)

  • L’envers Du Décor [Behind the Scenes] (1981, 16 min.), Paulin Vieyra
  • Ceddo (1977, 112 min.), Ousmane Sembène

See an overview of Vieyra’s career with film clips in the above video. Courtesy PSVFilms.

This Black Film Center/Archive event is made possible through the support of the College Arts and Humanities Institute (CAHI), the Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), the Department of French and Italian (FRIT), the Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs (DEMA), the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive Screening Room, the Lilly Library and the African Studies Program (ASP) at Indiana University.

BFC/A Events This Past Semester

Contact: || 1320 E. 10th Street Wells 044, Bloomington, IN, 47405

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