Thierno Souleymane Diallo presents his first feature film "Au cimetière de la pellicule"

A system needs to be created so that the new generation can access its cultural heritage and be inspired to make their own films.

Guinean director, scriptwriter and producer, Thierno Souleymane Diallo examines the history of his country through his films. His first feature film "Au cimetière de la pellicule", developed with the support of Aide aux Cinémas du Monde in 2019, evokes the essential work of remembering. He spoke to us about his research on "Mouramani" by Mamadou Touré and the important issue of film preservation.

Published on 10/11/2022

5 min

Thierno Souleymane Diallo
© DR

Can you talk about your career as a filmmaker? How did you discover cinema and what are your inspirations? 

When I was 10 years old, I discovered cinema in a darkened room and I was fascinated by the images on the big screen. I remember starting to skip school to go and see films. I continued my studies, but first I did music. At university I went to art school, where I could choose between music, film, drama and fine arts. I chose cinema because, for me, it was a much more complete art form in terms of my desire to say and show things. That's how I got into the Institut Supérieur des Arts de Guinée and obtained a degree in cinema, then a Master's in creative documentary filmmaking, and finally a Master's research degree. I was very much influenced by Indian and American cinema, but my inspiration comes from world cinema, especially from directors such as Abdherramane Sissako, Souleymane Cissé and Cheik Fantamady Camara. 


You specialise in documentary filmmaking. How do you choose the subjects you deal with? 

Initially, I don't choose themes, but rather stories that speak to me, that are around me. I always talk about myself in order to reach out to others. I often select stories that affect me: when the story touches me and I have a place in it, I decide to stage it to tell it to the rest of the world. It's really the story that imposes itself on me, depending on the thoughts, the traumas, but also the questions in order to understand why things happen the way they do and not otherwise. From that starting point, I try to find out how it came about and make a film about it. 


At the start of September, you received the Prix coup de cœur from the Cinémathèque Afrique of the Institut français for "Au cimetière de la pellicule", at Final Cut in Venice during the Venice Film Festival. You are currently finishing the post-production of this first feature documentary. How did this project come about? 

During my Master's degree in Niamey, Niger, I learned that the first film in French-speaking black Africa was "Mouramani". I was intrigued by it and started to research this short film. I could not find answers straight away because, although everyone knew the film, but no one had ever seen it. Then I met Jeanne Cousin, who was working on a film project in Guinea. I gradually realised that I had to find a creative approach to the film, more focused on my own journey. The project therefore evokes what cinema is for me and what cinema is in Guinea, but also, more broadly, cinema in general. The idea was, in the end, to go in search of the film "Mouramani", while at the same time investigating the history of cinema in Guinea, but also what has become of the films and the directors. 


"Au cimetière de la pellicule" received support from Aide aux Cinémas du Monde, co-managed by the Institut français and the CNC, in 2019. Is finding partners and funding the most difficult step for a young filmmaker? 

Certainly, especially since I live in a country where there is no money to make films. Finding partners who make it possible to realise dreams or ideas remains very complex in a country like Guinea or a continent like Africa. To have been chosen for funding from Aide aux Cinémas du Monde is a high level achievement. As I often like to say, it's one of the few doors open to the cinema. At the beginning, many people thought that we would never get Aide aux Cinémas du Monde funding, but I was confident and I told myself that we had to take a chance. Making a film is a machine with many partners working on it, so without resources, it becomes even more complicated. 

Our stories are in these films, our memory too.

In "Au cimetière de la pellicule" you go in search of Mamadou Touré's "Mouramani", a film that disappeared in 1953. You challenge the notion that "Afrique sur Seine", made by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, Jacques Mélo Kane and Mamadou Sarr in Paris in 1955, was the first film from sub-Saharan Africa. Can you tell us more about what you discovered about "Mouramani" and in particular about the shooting conditions at the time? 

Before I began making this film, "Mouramani" was seen as a kind of myth in my country. No one could say what it was, or what it was about. During my research, I found two completely different accounts: one, in French, which explained that "Mouramani" was about the Islamisation of the Mandinka people, and an English version, which summarised the film as a relationship between a dog and its master. I then found a man who confirmed he was certain that Mamadou Touré's film was about a relationship between a dog and its master. I also found that there were three characters in the film and that it was shot in Paris in the Bois de Vincennes. By digging around, I finally discovered that Mamadou Touré, its director, was a 23-year-old student in Paris who wanted to make a completely black film, acted by black people, filmed by black people. 


The question of film preservation is naturally at the heart of this project. Can you suggest any new solutions for safeguarding African film heritage? 

On a personal level, it is difficult to take any real action since it is a question of political and institutional will. Steps must be taken at a national level to be able to recover certain films held in France, whether digitised or not, but also to archive them in our countries. For example, the Cinémathèque Afrique of the Institut français has a lot of Guinean films, whether digitised or not, but they must also be made available in Guinea through media and film libraries. Our stories are in these films, our memory too. A system needs to be created so that the new generation can access its cultural heritage and be inspired to make their own films. 


What are your plans for your next films? Have you had any ideas about what subjects you want to tackle? 

Initially, I would like to show this film all over the world, but especially in Guinea. I would like to show it in schools, in the community, any place where there is a demand. I'm very aware that people don't know much about Guinea's recent history. In particular, we have the impression that our history stops in 1958 with independence and, from that date to the present day, things remain unknown. This makes me want to work on the recent history of Guinea's memory in order to trace a path for the new generation, in which we will be able to see ourselves and what this country will become in future. I have also just recently met some young people who are the same age as me who want to work on awareness projects. There is violence in our neighbourhoods, between the authorities and young people, and young people are gradually understanding that we must be concerned about our children's future. We are currently discussing a film project on this subject. 

The Institut français

Thierno Souleymane Diallo benefited from the support of the Aide aux cinémas du monde in 2019. 

Piloted by the Institut français and the CNC, the Aide aux cinémas du monde aims to make collaboration between film-makers and professionals from around the world more open, more attractive and simpler, with a view to jointly co-producing works that will contribute to promoting cultural diversity. 

Find out more about the Aide aux cinémas du monde 

L'institut français, LAB