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Sambizanga

Sarah Maldoror holding a strip of film.
December 10, 2021 - 7:30 pm
In-person: 
Annouchka de Andrade, daughter of Sarah Maldoror; Associate Professor Ellen Scott, UCLA Cinema and Media Studies.


Born Sarah Durados in rural, southwestern France to parents of West Indian and French descent, Sarah Maldoror was a multidimensional maker initially drawn to the Parisian theater scene where, in 1956, she co-founded France’s first Black theater troupe in collaboration with other artists of the African diaspora. Half a decade later she pivoted her creative focus to cinema, first studying under Soviet director Mark Donskoy in 1961 before working as assistant director to Gillo Pontecorvo on The Battle of Algiers (1966), a milestone of revolutionary cinema. Claiming that Black artists “are the only ones who should tell our history,” Maldoror—who changed her last name after an inspirational encounter with the 19th century poem, Les Chants de Maldoror—would forge her own visual transmissions of African culture by directing over two dozen films, including documentaries, fiction shorts, and feature-length narrative and television films. On April 13 of last year, 90-year-old filmmaker, theater artist and mother Sarah Maldoror passed away due to complications from the coronavirus. The African diasporic film director has been remembered over the past year in various posthumous celebrations of her life, and her creative force has become a singular subject of collective rediscovery thanks to the frontrunning curatorial sense of feminist film publication Another Gaze coupled with the efforts of Maldoror’s daughter Annouchka de Andrade, who has tirelessly labored to preserve and share her mother’s legacy.

Sambizanga

Angola/France, 1972

When a dock worker in an Angolan port city is arrested for attempting to organize his fellow laborers, his wife, Maria (Elisa Andrade), makes the arduous trek from their small village to plead for his release. His compatriots also mobilize to free him but it is her struggle—and by extension the struggles of all revolutionary women—that forms the core of director and co-writer Sarah Maldoror’s gripping adaptation of José Luandino Vieira’s novella about the events preceding the armed struggle against Portuguese rule beginning in 1961. With her son in tow, Maria travels on foot from one town to the next through an expansive and captivating countryside, binding her individual journey to a vision of national independence. As she’s rebuffed and abused by various colonial officials along the way—intercut with her husband’s interrogation and torture—Maldoror confronts head on the capricious violence and cruetly of the colonial system and the will necessary to overthrow it. It is a system Maldoror knew all too well—her husband and co-writer, Mário Pinto de Andrade, was a leader in the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola—and Maria’s story always feels deeply personal. The Archive is honored to present this new restoration with Maldoror’s daughter Annouchka de Andrade in person to discuss her mother’s career and its continuing influence with UCLA Cinema and Media Studies Associate Professor Ellen Scott.

DCP, color, in Portuguese with English subtitles, 102 min. Director: Sarah Maldoror. Screenwriter: Claude Agostini, Sarah Maldoror, Mário Pinto de Andrade, Maurice Pons. With: Domingos de Oliveira, Elisa Andrade, Jean M'Vondo.

Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and Cineteca di Bologna at L’Image Retrouvée in association with Éditions René Chateau and the family of Sarah Maldoror. Funding provided by the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation. This restoration is part of the African Film Heritage Project, an initiative created by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers and UNESCO—in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna—to help locate, restore and disseminate African cinema.