Africa is home to many things; thriving diverse cultures, contemporary art, sustainable and forward-thinking fashion, a rich global film industry, rhythm-diverse music, and people of resilience and strength.

Africa’s boastful film industry and cinema culture are obstinately courtesy of Nollywood, Ghallywood, and Sollywood (South African Film Industry). It’s difficult to compare Nigerian, Ghanaian, and South African film industries to that of other African countries which lack cinema culture let alone a local film industry. Senegal for one is known to have a poor cinema culture, with the country having a total of five cinemas, and the majority of the five struggle to stay open.

The history of cinema in Senegal is sadly uneventful and on the decline. The first Senegalese film, Afrique-sur-Seine, was a 1955 film directed by Paulin Vieyra. However, it wasn’t until after the country’s independence in 1960 that the film industry started gaining some popularity. Directors such as Ousmane Sembène dominated the industry with an influx of short films. The country’s film industry hit its golden age in the 70s, with more directors coming up and using film as a medium to discuss political and post-colonial issues. Filmmakers Safi Faye, Djibril Diop Mambéty, and Ben Diogaye Bèye also became names synonymous with the industry.

Paulin Vieyra

From the 1980s till today, interest in, and commitment to the industry has only dwindled. While a couple of feature films are released each year, there seems to be a sizable amount of short films and documentaries churned out annually. The feature films, which trickle out of the dwindling industry, are remarkable in plot lines and visual storytelling. These films go on to win numerous festival awards and further garner the prefix of “Critically acclaimed”. Here are four critically acclaimed Senegalese movies you as a film lover should get acquainted with.

Atlantiquedir. by Mati Diop

This realist drama follows the story of 17-year-old Ada, who’s in love with Souleiman, a young construction worker. As we would have it, she has been promised to another man, a wealthy suitor who spends most of his time in Italy. Souleiman who is in search of a better life in Spain, though conflicted by the decision, joins his co-workers to leave the country by sea. Days later, a fire ruins Ada’s wedding, and a mysterious fever spreads. Watching this film is like watching a mix of an intriguing European mime and listening to the most spellbinding story you’ve ever heard.

Félicité  – dir. by Alain Gomis

Félicité is a film about a Congolese bar singer – of the same name – who desperately needs money after her 14-year-old son Samo suffers a serious accident. A frantic search through the streets of Kinshasa and the homes of friends and strangers for financial support soon leads her to cross paths with Tabu, one of the regulars in the bar where she performs. While her son’s accident and urgency to raise hospital fees would normally set a race against time in the film world, this film takes a slightly different route to ticking time. The film, like real life, shows that even in times of urgency, life must go on, and we see that in Félicité’s return to work almost immediately.

Saloum – dir. by Jean Luc Herbulot

Jean Luc Herbulot’s crime-horror-fantasy-western hybrid film Saloum, begins in 2003 in Guinea-Bissau. Three mercenaries known as the Bangui Hyenas are on a mission to extract Mexican drug lord, Felix, out of the country during the 2003 coup. Their supposed straightforward mission is met with multiple hiccups as they are forced to hide in the mystical region of Saloum, Senegal. The action-packed scenes, coupled with a score made up of dramatic thumps of African drums are set to keep your heart on edge all through the 80minutes

Hyenas – dir. by Djibril Diop Mambéty

This film is one that demands one’s full attention for a long stretch of time. It’s exceedingly rewarding, yet mentally tasking. Djibril Diop Mambety’s Hyenas, follows the story of Linguere (Ami Diakhate) a former outcast who returns to her African village a rich woman after being exiled three decades earlier for getting pregnant out of wedlock. In order to get revenge on the father of the child, who never owned up to his responsibilities, she makes a proposal to the town. She will help the town financially if the locals agree to execute her baby’s father Dramaan (Mansour Diouf). The performances of the lead cast are more fascinating when realizing both are non-actors. Ami Diakhate was a soup seller in the Dakar market when Mambety discovered her.

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