DO THE RIGHT THING (Dir. Spike Lee)
It’s the height of summer and the hottest day of the year—a scorching 24-hour period that will change the lives of its residents forever. Over the course of a single day on one block of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy Do or Die neighborhood, the easygoing interactions of a cast of unforgettable characters give way to heated confrontations as tensions rise along racial fault lines—ultimately exploding into violence. Punctuated by the anthemic refrain of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Do the Right Thing is a landmark in American cinema, as politically and emotionally charged and as relevant now as when it first hit the big screen. Restoration courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Contains mature content.
HYENAS (Dir. Djibril Diop Mambéty)
“The hyena is an animal of Africa. Singularly wild. It practically almost never kills. First cousin to the vulture. It knows how to sniff out illness in others. And then is capable of following, for a whole season, a sick lion. From a distance. Across the Sahel. To feast one evening on its corpse. Peacefully.”
—Djibril Diop Mambéty, original Hyenas press materials
Wed, Nov 8 at 7 pm | IULMIA (Wells 048) | FREE tickets
The village of Colobane, devastated by drought and unemployment, sees sudden hope for the future with the arrival of a former citizen, Linguère Ramatou (Ami Diakhate), who left her hometown when still a young woman, but now returns with a great fortune. The grocer Dramaan Drameh (Mansour Diouf), one of Colobane’s leading citizens and Ramatou’s former lover, is selected to lead a welcoming committee, but after a seemingly tender reunion to the two, Ramatou reveals the true depths of her bitterness towards Dramaan Drameh, who impregnated her and denied his responsibility, resulting in her being sent into an uncaring world where she had to turn to prostitution to survive.
She offers the villagers a hard deal: One hundred billion dalasis (Gambian currency) in exchange for the death of Dramaan Drameh. The citizens of Colobane refuse, but as the village is flooded with consumer goods, they are driven deeper and deeper into debt, forcing them to make a hard collective decision. Will it be the money, or Dramaan Drameh’s life?
PRODUCER PIERRE-ALAIN MEIER ON THE RESTORATION:
“Hyenas, shot in 35mm, was developed and color graded in 1991 and 1992 at GTC in Joinville-le-Pont. The last positive copy was struck in 2000, for a special projection at the Festival de Locarno. Since then, with the advent of digital, almost every laboratory has closed their doors. DVDs of the film have been circulating ever since 2006, made from the ancient Betacam, which has softened a bit over time.
I had known for some time that the Hyenas negative was found in a bunker, said to be humid, located in the north of France. As a result of the filming of Adieu l’Afrique, a personal film I made a few years ago in Senegal in homage to Hyenas, I decided to find the negative and restore the movie. If I had to save one film from amongst all my productions before bowing out, that was certainly the one.
Knowing little about the restoration of films, I approached the Éclair Cinema Laboratory at Vanves, and thanks to the support of Pierre Boustouller, director of the Restoration Division; head of the project Florence Paulin; Aude Humblet, responsible for color grading; and Fadoua Isidore-el Ajjourl, responsible for subtitles, among many other collaborators, the film was patiently restored in the course of the year 2017. This work—a negative scan, a complete new color grade, a careful restoration job shot by shot, image by image, including the manufacture of different subtitles (French, German, English, Spanish, Italian)—cost me highs and lows and, with the different DCP products, about €35,000.
On this occasion, I discovered the benefits of restoration work. And I asked myself once again if Djibril, from the sky up above, had also inspired or if those responsible for restoration at Éclair Digital were simply excellent.
NOTES ON CULTURAL CONTEXT
Hyenas is a Wolof-language film. Wolof is the language of the Wolof people, a group of some five-and-a-half million spread across Senegal, the Republic of the Gambia, and Mauritania. Director Djibril Diop Mambéty was a native Wolof speaker, as was Senegal’s other best-known filmmaker, Ousmane Sembène.
[Wolof] is the most widely spoken language in Senegal, spoken by 40% of Senegalese.
The setting of the film, replacing the fictional Swiss village of Güllen in Mambéty’s source material, Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 play The Visit (Der Besuch der alten Dame), is Colobane, Mambéty’s hometown.
By 1990, when Mambéty was shooting Hyenas, the actual Colobane would have been a very far cry from the dusty backwater village depicted in the film—today boasting a population of some 50,000, it has essentially been absorbed into the metropolitan sprawl of Greater Dakar.
While connected to current events, Mambéty was never a didactic political filmmaker. In his intuitive formal boldness, he combined features of both European high modernism, represented by a figure like Dürrenmatt, and African folklore, leading some to label his 1973 Touki Bouki as Africa’s first avant-garde film.
“One could even imagine transforming its main characters into animals, a common feature for African folk tales: the wise lion, the crafty rabbit, the persistent turtle, the pensive elephant. Indeed, the film begins with a herd of elephants, who, at the stroke of one cut, become human beings.”
– Charles Tonderai Mudede, writing of Hyenas and its connection to the folk tradition
N. Frank Ukadike, in his book Black African Cinema, has questioned the application of the Western term “avant-garde” to a singularly African filmmaker like Mambéty. Mambéty, for his part, had this to say about his experimentation in search of an “African film language”:
“One has to choose between engaging in stylistic research or the mere recording of facts. I feel that a filmmaker must go beyond the recording of facts. Moreover, I believe that Africans, in particular, must reinvent cinema. It will be a difficult task because our viewing audience is used to a specific film language, but a choice has to be made: either one is very popular and one talks to people in a simple and plain manner, or else one searches for an African film language that would exclude chattering and focus more on how to make use of visuals and sounds.”
Text and research by Nick Pinkerton.
Nick Pinkerton is a Cincinnati-born, Brooklyn-based writer focused on moving image-based art. His writing has appeared in Film Comment, Sight & Sound,Artforum, Frieze, Reverse Shot, 4 Columns, The Baffler, Harper’s, and the Village Voice, among other venues.
Additional research provided by Amélie Garin-Davet.
Amélie Garin-Davet is the Program Officer, Cinema for the Cultural Services French Embassy in the United States.
BABYLON (Dir. Franco Rosso)
Fri, Nov 4 at 7 pm | IU Cinema | Free, but ticketed
Musician/Actor Brinsley Forde is scheduled to be present.
Initially released in 1980 at Cannes, though not in the U.S. for fear that it would incite racial tension, Rosso’s film follows a dancehall DJ (played by Brinsley Forde, the lead singer of the reggae band Aswad) in South London as he pursues his music and confronts the racism and xenophobia of employers, neighbors, and police in Margaret Thatcher’s England. The upbeat reggae soundtrack is a counterpoint to the unapologetic portrayal of urban life for Caribbean immigrants. Contains mature content, including violence and strong language.
Brinsley Forde is an actor and musician best known as the founding member of the British super Reggae group, Aswad. Aswad was formed in West London in 1974 with Brinsley fronting the original five piece on both vocals and rhythm guitar. The group quickly became recognized among reggae fans for their rich melodies and compelling harmonies, woven over hard rhythm tracks and later inspired horn riffs.
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