In Memoriam Rene Vautier (1928-2015)

Curator's Note

With an In Focus dedicated primarily to contemporary and future African film and media practice, it might be judicious to also effect a pause and meditate the past, the colonial past, which, in spite of its seeming remoteness still profoundly structures processes, modes of doing, ways of being, thinking and representing, of figuring Africa on screen.

In this context, a very precocious 21 year-old filmmaker sought to answer the complex question as to how to film Africa from without in a context of colonial dominance with a film entitled Afrique 50 (1950) which posited the following principles: a film always speaks from a position and thus to make a film is to choose one’s camp, and in his case, the camp of the oppressed, by “speaking nearby” (Minh-ha) “about them to you” (Nichols). Indeed to Kipling’s phantasmatic “white man’s burden”, Vautier opposed the very real black/colonized “man’s” burden, affirming the irreducibility of Africa to its use-value and helping foreground the unacceptability of the being-for-otherness of Africa as a cinematic representational project.

Choosing this road less traveled by making such films as Une nation, L’Algerie (1954), L’Algerie en Flammes (1957), J’ai huit ans (1961) (in collaboration with Frantz Fanon), Le Glas (1965) and Avoir vingt ans dans le Aures (1972) among others often came at a very high bodily price for Vautier. Indeed this tall and slim body underwent of multiple physical ordeals including movement restrictions, prison confinement, a bullet in the leg and a fake burial. His devotion to the pursuit of freedom through the cinema turned him arguably into the only living cinematic cyborg, carrying through much of his life an exploded piece of camera lens which penetrated his skull after he was shot at by French paratroopers while shooting a battle between them and Algerian freedom fighters.

This mild-mannered yet strong-willed pacifist who underwent and witnessed unparalleled colonial violence, and who remained throughout his life an uncompromising opponent to censorship from foes and friends alike, recently passed away (January 4, 2015), leaving us with a multiplicity of legacies, the most profound of which being possibly his profound internationalism and vanguardism. His penetrating lucidity gave him a sense of the ineluctable direction of history, convinced that in the end, his side would be made victorious by the verdict of time. In memory of this, the following closing words by a young Algerian cinephile addressed to Vautier in Algerie, Tours et Detours (2007) are most appropriate: “Thank you for the example of brotherhood that you have given… Thank you for being there…” when very few were…

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