Programmed by Olivier Barlet
Through the lives of three characters: Jules Cesar, the djembé maker and player, Bouba, the manager of a neighborhood movie salon that also serves as a praying place, and Abbo a public letter writer, Teno skillfully lays out his rich, complex and profound observations on many paradoxes of today’s Africa. One of the many contradictions the director displays is the absence of African films at a time of remarkable technological advances.
The sanctity of places is central in the St Léon district of Ouagadougou near the cathedral and large mosque. And the video-club hall is used as a prayer room in the mornings for the neighbourhood’s Muslim workers… not to mention that there’s something sacred about watching a film together and that inspiration itself is hard to rationalise. This spontaneous documentary that wasn’t pre-scripted is not merely descriptive… Sure, it shows how a djembe is made, but it also captures what it symbolises.
The African people are very good at getting by – economic poverty doesn’t necessarily condemn them to cultural poverty. The heroes of “Sacred Places” don’t need NGOs to tell them what to do. With them, echoing the clarity of the questions asked by Jean-Marie Teno, the film takes on the role of the griot and the questioning shifts to the director: “Who is speaking? And to say what, and to whom?” In short, Teno tells us, these three characters are a metaphor for African filmmaking. Jules embodies sound and skills, Babou image and its constraints, and director Abbo is the writer who hopes to be read. Basically, if the St Léon film club is a sacred place, it’s because people come here for a bit of poetry and, therefore, a break from the hard knocks of life.
Film critic and editor for Africultures