Saturday, June 16, 2007

Sembène & Money

Some preliminary thoughts here on Ousmane Sembène as I gradually get into posting in earnest about his work--because From the Clouds needn't be all about finished products, but about collaborations, labor, criticisms, correction, new ideas. I have still only seen a few films by Sembène, and will see more over the next few weeks, but thus far the two major polarities seem to be sketching themselves out along the backdrop of Senegal's (and Africa's) place and identity in world history and geopolitics--the axes are feminism (or women) and money. The circulation of money from Europe & North America to Africa (and, of course, away from it) is the catalyst and backdrop for Mandabi and it is a kind of background motif in Faat Kiné, where characters make comments about Old and New Africa, "black" (i.e., not European, not "civilized") ways of conducting business, and education or vacations abroad (to France, to Canada). Sembène's cinema is also of course highly supportive of matriarchy--if not as an absolute, then as a materially necessary combatant to patriarchy and all its offensive defense mechanisms. Tradition is important to a lot of these characters, including very sympathetic ones, but they (and hence Sembène) make clear that not all tradition is to be kept blindly, such as the climactic moment with the long-absent fathers in Faat Kiné. Consider also, in Mooladé, that it is a tradition of female togetherness, of solidarity in their roles as daughters/wives/mothers, that allows the women to band together to overcome a tradition of FGM.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Television Is Democracy?

"Freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of conscience are not a thorn in the side of government," Rice told the ministers. "Disagreeing with your government is not unpatriotic and most certainly should not be a crime in any country, especially a democracy."


Television is democracy! The right for corporate airwaves to come into your home is a red-blooded, god-given right, eh?

"RCTV's 3,000 employees ''felt their lives were taken away from them,'' said Pérez Hansen, who has worked at RCTV for 15 of his 35 years. Azuaje, a 42-year-old cameraman, is a 23-year RCTV veteran. Rísquez, his 28-year-old assistant, has worked at RCTV for six years. The 31-year-old Ríos is a 10-year veteran.

''When we say we are a family, it's not just some story,'' Ríos said.

They said RCTV management has promised to continue to pay their salaries and generous benefits. But Ríos says RCTV employees are now being denied personal bank loans because of their uncertain future.

Pérez Hansen admits that during the 2002 coup against Chávez there was an ''informative silence'' -- it did not cover pro-Chávez street marches demanding his return to power -- but the group insists that's only part of the story.

Pérez Hansen and Ríos say they received calls from sources in the security services warning they would be attacked if they tried to cover the pro-Chávez marches. Ríos said she was so frightened she spent the night at a friend's house.

And Pérez Hansen recalls tough editorial decisions. RCTV decided not to air reports of supermarkets being plundered for fear of inciting more violence, he said.

For the moment, the group is enjoying the support of their peers. Ríos says major Latin American TV operations like Argentina's Telefe and Mexico's Televisa have inquired about buying some of their programming.

But its members are aware that, like any news story, the issue could fade from public view, and RCTV's employees will have to face the hard economic reality of a station without a broadcast license."


As per usual, the corporate media presents a story of its own as dispossessed, disenfranchised--suggesting to its readers (Miami residents in this case) what if this left-wing disease were to ever attack your society!? You'd lose your comfortable middle-class job (or, at least, your right to expression--seems you may keep your benefits). RCTV played a participant role in a capitalist coup; as a state leader Chavez seems bound to neutralize a major media organ; would Condi Rice really defend similar actions affecting the Bush Administration? No--but of course this is the difference, as Fox News plays its own participant role in US politics and elections. This is not about freedom of speech; it is a matter of who owns the airwaves. The corporate media and the US government would of course have us believe that corporate ownership and control of the airwaves is "democratic," and that state ownership and control in a strong, successful left-wing state is essentially "totalitarian." Who's actually limiting speech here? Is Chavez using shock troops to violently disperse protests against him? Like police have done against "unwanted" elements in the USA, see video in post below.

Ousmane Sembène


It is with a heavy heart that we note the passing of Ousmane Sembène, the great Sengalese artist: a filmmaker, a writer, a progressive mind. His work was something genuine and special, and his passing is along the same lines of that of Tomás Gutiérrez Alea or Danièle Huillet: we have lost someone whose commitment to great and challenging artistry was rivaled only by a commitment to people and to progressive politics, who seriously bridged gaps between participation with people and aesthetic power and complexity (pioneering artists who were strong and fortunate enough to not be lapdogs of a studio, or art dealers, or any moneyed interests).

From the Clouds will dedicate a short series of posts to Sembène very soon.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


"It would be easier, much easier, for the Portuguese empire to reinstall itself in Brazil than for the Venezuelan government to return the license to the Venezuelan oligarchy."

--Hugo Chávez