This first North American retrospective of Moustapha Alassane (1942–2015), a pioneer of populist cinema in newly independent Niger in the 1960s and 1970s, is presented in association with La Cinémathèque Afrique de l’Institut français. A fabulist who sheathed the sharp sting of his political satire within playful stories of water genies, pugilistic frogs, cowboys, and brave fishermen, Alassane parodied colonialist attitudes toward black Africans, the corrupt despotism of local officials, and the shallow materialism of Niger’s youth in a series of animated, fictional, and ethnographic films that remain beloved and influential even today. The lure of cinema, with its magical play of shadow and light, inspired Alassane to give up his career as a mechanic and turn toward making art for the masses. His earliest animated films were simple projections of cardboard cutouts, but his work quickly matured, leading to friendships and collaborations with Zalika Souley, one of Africa’s preeminent actresses, and the French documentarian Jean Rouch and the Canadian animator Norman McLaren. Alassane’s films are vital and imaginative records of Nigerien traditions and rituals: his first feature, Aoure (1962), presents the married life of a young Zharma (ethnic Muslim) couple on the banks of the Niger River; his 1973 film Shaki documents the ascension of a Yoruban king and the syncretic intermingling of traditional customs and beliefs with those of Islam and Protestantism.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, with Amélie Garin-Davet, French Embassy in New York. Special thanks to Mathieu Fournet and Véronique Joo’Aisenberg.