One of the most important figures in African film, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra is a name that deserves to be better known. After directing the first substantial film by a French-speaking sub-Saharan African, Afrique sur Seine, in 1955, Vieyra went on to become the first African admitted to study at the Institut des hautes études cinématographiques and a founding member of The Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers and the PanAfrican Film Festival. In addition to making his own films, he also served as a mentor and production manager for filmmakers like Ousmane Sembène, Djibril Diop Mambéty, and Ababacar Samb Makaram, and he took on the role of historian to ensure that the history of African cinema wasn’t forgotten.
When he was appointed the first director of the Senegalese Office for Radio Broadcasting and Television and the Science and Information Technology Research Centre, Vieyra used his position to champion African films during a time of British and French colonialism that wanted to distribute propaganda rather than give visibility to African artistry. With his governmental role, doctoral work (he received his doctorate from Université de Paris I in 1982), filmmaking, and writing — he published film criticism and wrote one of the first histories of African cinema, Le cinéma africain, des origines à 1973 — Vieyra became a pioneer whose tireless work changed and enriched cinematic history.
In 2021, IU’s Black Film Center & Archive was the lucky recipient of the Paulin S. Vieyra Collection, a massive donation of papers and other materials made by Vieyra’s youngest son, Stéphane. To celebrate this exciting occasion, the BFC&A and IU Cinema have partnered this month for the Paulin Vieyra, Pioneer of African Cinema: Filmmaker, Producer, and Historian series, which will include rarely screened short films by Vieyra and a virtual conversation on the filmmaker that is sure to be both delightful and incredibly informative.
In this excerpt from the most recent episode of IU Cinema’s A Place for Film podcast, host David Carter gives some more background information on Vieyra that you can listen to below:
Curious to know more about Vieyra? Check out the following resources:
- Back in 2019, the Black Film Center & Archive held a symposium on the filmmaker that hosted various scholars, critics, and librarians. Former BFC&A director Terri Francis and IU professor Vincent Bouchard discussed the event on WFHB’s radio show Bring It On!, which can be listened to on the show’s website.
- For our French-speaking readers (or those efficient with Google Translate!), there is an entire website dedicated to Vieyra and his work.
- To learn more about the donation of Vieyra’s papers, read this press release from The Media School.
- The BFC&A published a few different articles that are all excellent reading:
- Vincent Bouchard discussed his work on the collection in this 2021 article.
Curated by Terri Francis, the Paulin Vieyra, Pioneer of African Cinema: Filmmaker, Producer, and Historian series includes a shorts program screened at IU Cinema on February 8 and a virtual conversation on Vieyra between Terri Francis and Vincent Bouchard on February 10. The shorts program is also available virtually in the IU Cinema Virtual Screening Room until February 11, but please note it is only accessible to those registered for the February 10 virtual conversation.