A lens on Ladj Ly’s free school for budding African filmmakers

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More than 2,000 miles south of where the Franco-Malian director Ladj Ly earned an Academy Award nomination for the thrilling internationally acclaimed drama, Wretched, is the most recent of the three film schools opened by the director. The Kourtrajmé Film School (Ecole Kourtrajmé), named after the collective Ly co-founded in France, is based in Senegal’s metropolitan capital, Dakar, and centers on a concept of community learning initiated by the director himself – designed to inspire future generations of budding Africans. filmmakers.

Located in the hectic, multi-storey landscape of the Plateau, downtown Dakar, Kourtrajmé Film School is housed inside an art space, known as Agence TRAMES, a artistic and cultural center founded in 2018. It is the third in a family of film schools founded by Ly and co-founder, filmmaker and actor Toumani Sangare – after Montfermeil, in the Paris suburbs, as well as another in the southern city of Marseille.

The school is open to all students, whatever their background or level of studies.

Sangare and his wife Emma are co-directors of the school, and Franco-Senegalese star Omar Si is a mentor. The idea was originally to open the school in Mali, where Sangaré and Ly’s parents are from, but as Sangaré told RFI, security concerns have stalled those plans.

“The school is free, without the prerequisite of having a diploma, specifies Emma Sangaré. “During lessons, they [the students] must be available, and in Dakar. They are selected for their motivation and originality in what they offer.

Whether these students present a different point of view, a very strong character, or a visually compelling method of capturing their story, 14 aspiring screenwriters and 18 aspiring film producers are chosen to work together to produce several short films and a pilot. of the series, for two six-month sessions.

Rising screenwriter Salimata Dieme is part of this year’s class. “The story I want to tell is about a girl who is really into rap music,” she says. OkAfrica. “You see how rap is often rejected by the elite, but the music denounces certain things in society, in particular how the bourgeois live. I want to show the dichotomy between these two worlds. Especially since the parents of this girl [in my story] I don’t want her to get into rap music.

Dieme sees himself in this scenario; she comes from a family that pushed for her professional development outside of the creative realm. Her experience in finance pushed her to look for an opportunity like the Kourtrajmé film school. She hopes that after her time there, she can make her mark on the African film scene.

The young screenwriter Salimata Dieme is one of this year’s students at the Kourtrajmé film school in Dakar.

Photo: Mel Bailey

“Women directors and producers are really missing in our space [in Africa], they are really just behind the scenes; you don’t really see them producing or directing, sometimes you find them writing, but you don’t really see them directing things. Not really the way we should,” she adds.

The Kourtrajmé association, which is French slang for short film, is based on the principle of inspiring a community through creativity and providing young aspiring screenwriters and producers with the tools they need to succeed in the world. cinema, at no cost to them.

During the first half of the year, students take classes that help them with advanced storytelling techniques, including the “big reveal,” used to build tension and act as the film’s pivotal moment. Focused on the importance of community learning, classes are never just work and no play.

Resounding laughter following comedic commentary can be heard from time to time during class, alternating with harsh criticism aimed at questioning specific elements of a storyline or character development.

An image of a class in session at the Kourtrajmu00e9 film school.

The Kourtrajmé association, which is French slang for short film, is based on the principle of inspiring a community through creativity and providing young aspiring screenwriters and producers with the tools they need to succeed in the world of movie theater.

Photo: Mel Bailey

For Sangaré, working in a collective is essential in this industry, so it is natural that the courses take place in this way. “It’s not something you can’t do alone; it’s an area where you pass on to others,” she says. “The films are written, then revised, the dialogues are developed, then passed to the comedian, who adds color and emotion, then rewritten. If you don’t have the ability to work together to leverage each other’s strengths and expertise, to influence your work and make it stronger, then this field is not for you. We encourage students to understand this way of working; listen, and do our best to arm them with the ability to work in this way.”

Over the months, screenwriting students continue to work to structure the living elements of their screenplays by going through different exercises, including identifying a clear goal for their main character. It is hoped that their scripts will then be selected for the next round of creative aspiring producers and directors to work on.

For students like Mamadou, this form of coaching is invaluable. “The most interesting thing I’ve learned so far is that ideas aren’t set in stone,” he says. “Despite all the preconceived ideas I may have about an idea or my project, we can still do better and make it happen in a different way. It helps to bring out the vision, to make it stronger.”

Although the Dakar film school is still very young, opening its doors for the first time on January 17, its directors have already received calls for projects from producers on the part of students.

Image from a press conference with the founders of the Kourtrajme film school in Dakar.

Toumani Sangare (2nd L), director and founder of the Kourtrajme Dakar film school, attends a press conference with his collaborators Modibo Diawara (L), Jean Mze Ahmed (2nd R) and Ladj Ly (R) at the Dakar film school on January 19, 2022.

Photo: Seyllou/AFP via Getty Images

“It’s really encouraging,” says Sangaré. “This means that these students will have a lot of possibilities. Since we are supported by the AFD (French Development Agency) and the INA (National Audiovisual Institute), which allows us to have a status and a positioning in the field, people come to us because they know that we have notoriety.”

Giving students a head start in the industry is a by-product of the school’s network and the support it offers once students have completed their courses. “[We] help their work get sent to festivals, and follow their personal projects to move them forward. It’s really a family so it’s not like after the session is over we don’t talk to them anymore. We will always keep in touch and give them contacts, and also give them the opportunity to pitch to other great producers that they will have the chance to meet; we will not let them continue without any support afterwards,” adds Sangaré.

The concept of collective and accessible learning is appreciated by all parties involved, but being a free school comes at a cost. “All of our funding comes from international donors, and we struggle to find local funding,” explains Sangaré. ” It is a problem. It would be great to find more local funding. We’re so focused on telling the stories of the continent with the people here, and we’re so focused on the local environment, yet no one sees the added value of investing in that… Africa doesn’t seem to want to invest in itself for itself. And this way of working – always looking for foreign investors for donations, is not sustainable; we are here and it is not for nothing.”

Yet classes continue – every day of the week – with exchanges between local teachers and Sangaré herself, in a friendly atmosphere, full of laughter, with well-placed critiques and plenty of space to question ideals. and grow.

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