xaraasi xanne means crossed voices in Soninke, the language spoken by the inhabitants on the banks of the Senegal River, which rises in Mali and meanders between Mauritania and Senegal until it empties into the Atlantic at Saint Louis. From there, from the river, it was said to originate Bouba Toure (Tafacirga, 1948-2022), co-director of the documentary Xaraasi Xanne (2022) which recounts the exemplary story of Somankidi Coura, an agricultural cooperative founded in Mali in 1977 by West African migrant workers living in France. And they returned with the aim of earning a living, caring for their environment and fighting hunger.
The film has been awarded with the III ABOUT Award awarded by the Spanish Agency for Development Cooperation (AECID) to one of the 10 pitches competing in the official section Farsightedness of the 19th edition of the African Film Festival of Tarifa (FCAT). “For his call to face some of the challenges addressed by the 2030 Agenda: environmental crises, the root causes of migration, food sovereignty and, above all, the necessary priority to respect for human rights and dignity” , highlighted the jury.
The work of Bouba Touré and Raphaël Grisey It has also won the recognition for the best documentary work of the Festival, awarded by Casa Africa. “It reflects the past, present and future. It reflects what freedom is like”, valued Lemohang Mosese, director of Lesotho, when announcing the award.
“We wanted to relate different diverse voices that gravitated around the history of the cooperative, of those migrants in France and Bouba’s ancestors. And the voice of the river”, he explains in an interview Raphaël Grisey, director of the footage, recently arrived from Hamburg to the city of Tarifa, while he sleeps off the night trip with a coffee with milk. Touré himself was one of those people who was born French in Africa, went to Europe in the seventies to look for bread and found misery, racism and exploitation, but also struggle. A time that he photographically documented with dedication and has not stopped spreading until his death last January.
That was how Grisey met Touré. “I used to project slides at home when I was a kid.” In his work to show what was happening in homes for immigrants, where there were no decent conditions, as well as the birth of a movement against such degradation, Touré toured the homes of Africans and French, loaded with snapshots of him. The relationship of some mutual friends with Grisey’s mother opened the doors of her home to him. “He had infinite patience to tell his story to his compatriots, but also to middle-class whites like me, who had no knowledge,” recalls the filmmaker.
Touré’s photographic archive is the memory of Xaraasi Xanee, which also includes the reflection on the importance of African agriculture to guarantee food security on the continent. One that was already made by the emigrants of the seventies who returned to found a cooperative to cultivate on a large scale, but with an irrigation system that respects the river and without using heavy machinery that would destroy the habitat. “You have to take care of termites,” sings a female voice in the documentary.
Just as he did with the diaspora in France, Touré became the documentary filmmaker and ambassador of the utopia made a reality by the returnees of Somankidi Coura, in Mali. The feature film has been one of his many ways to spread the positive experience. “We can identify in this tape some factors that challenge poverty reduction (SDG 1), zero hunger (SDG 2), health and well-being (SDG 3), access to clean water (SDG 6), reduction of inequalities (SDG 10) or the achievement of communities in peace (SDG 16)”, estimated Elena González, head of the department of cultural promotion of the AECID, at the closing gala of the FCAT. “The bold use of various audiovisual resources, produced over several years, as well as the use of archive material, provides realism for this unavoidable reflection if we want truly sustainable and global development”, she added.
What we show is that the ancestors already made proposals; for their present, but also for the future”.
“In the Sahel, in the seventies, they had already done an analysis of the situation of hunger and drought. And now it is a current issue, ”says Grisey. In this sense, the UN has been warning of the risk of famine in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa due to the prolonged drought, the effects of which will be rapidly aggravated by the impact of the war in Ukraine on food markets. The conditions of undocumented immigrants in Europe have not changed that much either. Cases of exploitation, human rights violations and undignified treatment still come to light that, as happened then, sometimes end in fatal tragedy.
In such a way that the Somankidi Coura cooperative was an “Afro-futurist” project almost half a century ago, the filmmaker points out. “The context is not the same, but the fight continues. What we show is that the ancestors already made proposals; for their present, but also for the future”. In his subsequent acceptance speech, he would recall that after a listening process of more than 10 years, he was able to understand Bouba and the people who had fought alongside him. “Europe needs to pay more attention to people who have already thought about these issues,” he claims.
The life of the award-winning documentary does not begin and end in Tarifa. Just as Touré took slides to the houses, Grisey wants her legacy to travel to all corners of the planet. Therefore, in addition to planning the projection of Xaraasi Xanee in Africa, Europe and Latin America, he is working on digitizing part of his friend’s extensive photographic archive. “And perhaps create an association to continue their outreach work,” he reveals in Spanish mixed with Portuguese.
“For Boube, the pan-African history was very important to change the destiny of the continent and against the fatality of emigration. The experience of the cooperative shows that they can be organized on an intercontinental basis and without the help of the States”, concludes Grisey.
a special mention
In this third edition of the ACERCA award, the jury has decided to give a special mention to the Haitian film FREDA, by Gessica Géneus. “For showing a portrait of the crossroads at which human beings find themselves in their lives, which are also some of the motivations of the 2030 Agenda: inequalities, lack of opportunities, corruption and abuse of various kinds, triggers of violence”.
“A fundamental value of the film is the use of the Creole language. Language and skin color are shown here as grounds for exclusion. The challenges to improve education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), respect for cultural diversity or peace (SDG 16) are addressed; it also reflects on the responses of each character; some resort to migration, others to violence or skin whitening”, they add.
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