Five unmissable films of African cinema


Fierce Visions: Mati Diop and Djibril Diop Mambéty’ presents the works of French–Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop alongside her uncle, Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty. Both auteurs have a unique filmmaking style, pushing the bounds of cinematic language.

Mati Diop began her film career as an actress then later moving into writing and directing. Her recent debut feature Atlantics 2019 was the first film directed by a Black woman to win the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Grand Prix award.

Djibril Diop Mambéty’s two stylish, radical feature films — Touki Bouki 1973 and Hyenas 1992 — are hailed among the greatest triumphs of African cinema.

The free program boasts restored classics alongside films presented in Australia for the first time. Here are five films not to be missed.

Screening this week and upcoming

Atlantics (2009–2019) Ages 12+

When writing her first feature film Atlantics 2019, Mati Diop wanted to explore the impact the treacherous sea voyage between Senegal and Europe had on the African community through a romantic lens. Of this creative process the Diop has said “I hadn’t grown up with any black couple figures worthy of Romeo and Juliet. Through Ada and Souleiman I wanted to relate an impossible love, in the age of rampant capitalism. A love obliterated by injustice, stolen by the ocean”.

Diop’s award-winning first feature film Atlantics 2019 is paired with her short film of the same name. Both combine drama with haunting, supernatural elements which examine these pressures and longings for love, a better life and self-determination.

Production still from Atlantics 2019 / Director: Mati Diop / Image courtesy: mk2 Films

Hyenas (1992) Ages 15+

Accompanied by a fabulous entourage, musicians who announce her arrival and sporting a golden prosthetic leg, Linguere Ramatou (Ami Diakhate) is a force to be reckoned with. As a young woman Ramatou had to leave her village in disgrace, yet now, in her old age she triumphantly returns a rich woman. The self-important men of the town see her arrival as an opportunity to ingratiate themselves in the hope she can rid them of their financial woes. However, Ramatou comes back home not for redemption, instead she’s seeking revenge. Hyenas is writer/director Djibril Diop Mambéty’s masterwork: an incandescent commentary on class, colonialism, power and powerlessness.

Production still from Hyenas 1999 / Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty / Image courtesy: Thelma Film

35 Shots of Rum (2008) Ages 18+

Writer/Director Mati Diop’s first foray into filmmaking was starring for acclaimed French director Claire Denis. Diop’s wonderfully subtle performance in 35 Shots of Rum is complimented beautifully by her co-star and Denis regular Alex Decas who plays her father. A radiant and masterful portrayal of relationships and the build up towards the thresholds we may cross – weddings, funerals, retirement – that shift and remake us.

I know that acting has enormously enriched and rendered more concrete my relationship to writing and to my actors but I cannot precisely explain this relationship. My experience working with Claire Denis on 35 rhums has particularly affected me. I wouldn’t know where what she conveyed to me begins or ends. It’s huge. Mati Diop

Production still from 35 Shots of Rum 2008 / Director: Claire Denis / Image courtesy: Elle Driver

Le Franc (1994) + The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (1999) Ages 15+

Le Franc and The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun are two medium-length films brimming with light and captivating characters which chronicle, with Djibril Diop Mambéty’s signature warmth and gentle comedy, the obstacles they face in daily life. They are the first two films by Mambéty intended as a trilogy about the poor titled ‘Tales of Ordinary People’. Mambéty describes the people he wants to capture in these films as “the only truly consistent, unaffected people in the world, for whom every morning brings the same essential question: how to preserve what is essential to themselves”.

Production still from The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun 1999 / Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty / Image courtesy: Waka Films

Cinema is Magic (2022) Ages 15+

The documentary Cinema is Magic offers a rare insight into the filmmaking process of one of African cinema’s foremost directors – Djibril Diop Mambéty. Featuring an interview with Mambéty alongside clips from his films, the director poetically discusses his deep love of cinema and philosophical approach to life and making art.

Cinema is Magic Portrait of Djibril Diop Mambéty / Image courtesy: Thelma Film

Rosie Hays is Associate Curator, Australian Cinémathèque, QAGOMA

The Australian Cinémathèque
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) is the only Australian art gallery with purpose-built facilities dedicated to film and the moving image. The Australian Cinémathèque at GOMA provides an ongoing program of film and video that you’re unlikely to see elsewhere, offering a rich and diverse experience of the moving image, showcasing the work of influential filmmakers and international cinema, rare 35mm prints, recent restorations and silent films with live musical accompaniment by local musicians or on the Gallery’s Wurlitzer organ originally installed in Brisbane’s Regent Theatre in November 1929.

Featured image: Production still from Le Franc 1994 / Director: Djibril Diop Mambéty / Image courtesy: Waka Films