My Neighbours [Mes Voisins], Med Hondo, France, 1971, digital [16mm], 36 minutes, French and Arabic with English subtitles
Watch the film: My Neighbours can be viewed between 25 March and 27 March via the Essay Film Festival online screening room. LINK HERE.
Live event: Aboubakar Sanogo (Carleton University, Ottawa) will give a live illustrated lecture on the work of Med Hondo, as a complement to the screening of My Neighbours. This event will be chaired by Michael Temple. 29 March 2021, 18.00 – 19.30.
Access the event at 18.00 here: https://eu.bbcollab.com/guest/1e91d71066a64102b234a4482d535817
My Neighbours is a restored fragment of a much longer work by the late Mauritanian filmmaker Med Hondo, Les Bicots-Nègres: Vos Voisins (1974), a film project of which several versions were made and which, according to film scholar Aboubakar Sanogo, could theoretically have been endlessly reworked by Hondo according to changing historical circumstances. That longer film is a wide-ranging, multi-faceted essayistic study of the political and economic ties between France and its former colonies; the contradictory presence of necessary but unwanted immigrant workers in French society; and the potential role that cinema, specifically an African cinema, might play both in making sense of that complex postcolonial reality and potentially in challenging and changing it. The shorter version shown here focuses mainly on the existential situation of immigrant workers in France, their economic exploitation, their poor living conditions, and their lack of social status and even visibility in the eyes of their French ‘neighbours’.
“Les Bicots-Nègres: Vos Voisins, which was co-authored with migrant workers, offers a memorable 21-minute opening sequence of cinematic reflexivity that would be an excellent text for any course on 1970s film theory. The film was conceived as an intervention into the struggle of African immigrants in France, as they experienced labour exploitation, housing and employment discrimination, inhumane living conditions, and calls from the right wing to either drown them or reopen the gas chambers for them. Hondo offers one of his boldest cinematic experiments, in the form of a long essay with multiple endings and durations (one version is three hours long), and eight loosely related sequences. The opening features a very long analytical monologue – a move that foregrounds African oral culture as a legitimate cinematic form – by Senegalese actor Bachir Touré, who stands in front of posters of European and American films and performs an archaeology of the African presence in cinema. Implicating the act of filmmaking and the politics of representation, the sequence pays brilliant homage to Marx, played here by the legendary Tunisian critic and founder of the Carthage Film Festival, Tahar Cheriaa. The monologue concludes with an invitation to destroy the oppressive dimension of Euro-American cinema through a literal burning of the posters (an action which Hondo himself is seen directing in the film), anticipating by almost two decades Public Enemy’s classic song, ‘Burn Hollywood Burn’. The opening of Les Bicots-Nègres: Vos Voisins is in effect Hondo’s cine-manifesto, at once announcing and recapitulating the politics and aesthetics of his work.” (Aboubakar Sanogo, ‘By Any Means Necessary’, Film Comment, May-June 2022, 50-55)
Aboubakar Sanogo is an Associate Professor in Film Studies at Carleton University. His writings have appeared in Cinema Journal, Framework, Moving Image Review & Art Journal, Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice, The Journal of Film Preservation, Sight and Sound and Film Comment, among other publications. Sanogo is currently preparing a monograph and an anthology on the cinema of Med Hondoand completing a manuscript on the history of documentary in Africa in the colonial era.
Sanogo was also instrumental in establishing the African Film Heritage Project (AFHP), an unprecedented partnership project between the Pan African Federation of Film Makers (FEPACI), Martin Scorsese’s The Film Foundation, UNESCO, and the Cineteca di Bologna to preserve and restore fifty African films of historical, cultural and artistic significance. Med Hondo’s Soleil O is the first prototype of this project.
Film Comment: Aboubakar Sanogo, ‘By Any Means Necessary’, May-June 2022, 50-55.
Criterion: Med Hondo’s Rage and Joy
Jumpcut: Working Abroad – Med Hondo interviewed by Mark Reid, March 1986