Documentary feature “Omar Blondin Diop”, a film selected for the 27th Fespaco, looks back on the tragic fate of the young revolutionary in the Senghor years. A strong memorial film by Senegalese director Djeydi Djigo, who enters the arena of big players.
Par Dounia Ben Mohamed
Omar Blondin Diop, an emblematic figure of the protest that challenged President Léopold Sédar Senghor in the years following independence, was a brilliant Senegalese intellectual who went through France’s école Normale Supérieure. A lover of French culture while abhorring its colonial history, he developed a revolutionary activism that led to his expulsion from France, followed by a tragic death in Senegal, in circumstances that remain controversial to this day. The socio-political consequences of his death, however, led President Senghor to soften his policy towards his opponents.
Nearly five decades after his death in May 1973, the unhappy fate of this free spirit continues to resonate with younger generations, as evidenced by Senegalese filmmaker Djeydi Djigo’s film, “Omar Blondin Diop” which is featured at this year’s Ouagadougou Pan-African Festival of Cinema and Television (Fespaco). Born in Dakar, the future filmmaker studied economics in France, at INSEEC Paris before branching out to the SAE Institute, a recognized training center for audiovisual and media professions.
«As a young student in Paris, far from my homeland, I experienced an identity crisis that led mé to research the political history of my country and my continent »
A committed filmmaker, Djeydi Djigo then quickly turned to “historical documentary”, his favorite genre. “As a young student in Paris, far from my homeland, I experienced an identity crisis that led mé to research the political history of my country and my continent,” says the young writer, now 29 years old. “This quest translated into watching several hours of documentaries. I discovered the history of the Congo, from the assassination of Lumumba to the fall of Mobutu. I was lulled by the revolutionary litanies of Thomas Sankara, by the epic of Nelson Mandela and other stories of modern Africa. In doing so, I noticed́ that all the documentaries I had watched were European productions. As if Africa refused to tell its own story. I then made the decision to make documentaries, which would be the result of my own research,” recalls the Senegalese filmmaker.
Embodying an African sensitivity capable of narrating its own past
From this desire to embody an African sensitivity capable of narrating its own past was born the concept of “Etoiles Noires”, a 12-minute documentary series, retracing the life of a major historical figure of the African continent, and financed thanks to a partnership with the German Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. At the same time, Djeydi Djigo is working on many other audiovisual productions-music videos, advertising and institutional films- while developing the draft of his first feature-length documentary (80 minutes), “Omar Blondin Diop”.
48 years after the death of the dissident at the Fort d’Estrées, the current historical museum on the island of Goree- off the coast of Dakar (Senegal)-which was then used as a civil prison for unruly inmates, the director revisits the life and tragic circumstances of the death of this young revolutionary in the Senghor years. An unpublished investigation, nourished by the exceptional testimonies of Omar Blondin’s brothers, the family’s lawyer, the chief investigating judge of Senegal, Omar Blondin’s old friends in France…
Introducing a great story of the 20th century
“We are young Africans who tell an African tragedy, [that of] Omar Blondin Diop, a complex character little known to the general public,” says Djeydi Djigo, who hopes that “through this documentary, many young people on the continent, but also throughout the world, will be able to discover a great story of the 20th century.”
The documentary winner of the Fonds des Images Francophones is co-produced by Sol Invictus – the production company of Djeydi Djigo in Senegal -, the French company Élever la Voix Films and DIFFA West Africa in Côte d’Ivoire. It is one of 14 films from Senegal, the guest of honor, to be included in the selection of the 27th edition of Fespaco. A recognition for the young director from the country of Teranga, who enters the arena of big players. “Omar Blondin Diop” will be presented from October 16 to 23, in the Panorama selection of Fespaco, which brings together feature-length fiction and documentary films, pending meeting the French public.
« An episode fitting into the slow and difficult decolonization of Senegal »
“I learnt the story of Omar Blondin Diop through the Senegalese director and producer Djeydi Djigo. It was a tragedy, but also a state affair, because the circumstances of Omar Blondin’s death in prison remained hidden for more than 40 years,” says Eric Vernière, director of the production company Élever la Voix Films. “It is an episode in the recent history of Senegal that fits into the slow and difficult decolonization of the country, which Djeydi wants to unveil, and that it seems exciting to us to co-produce and also to get it to the French public, “concludes the producer. As if to recall the troubled nature of this dark history, now brought out of the darkness of memory.