Xaraasi Xanne – Crossing Voices

Raphaël Grisey, Bouba Touré

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Xaraasi Xanne – Crossing Voices
In Production
Estimated 90'

A film by Raphaël Grisey and Bouba Touré
Currently in production, release in 2020

(Write rgrisey dot gmail dot com for password
to link of a 63min short raw cut version)

Synopsis

Using rare cinematic, photographic and sound archives, Crossing Voices recounts the exemplary adventure of Somankidi Coura, an agricultural cooperative created in Mali in 1977 by western African immigrant workers living in workers’ residences in France. The story of this improbable, utopic return to the homeland follows a winding path that travels through the ecological challenges and conflicts on the African continent from the 1970s to the present day. To tell this story, Bouba Touré, one of its principal actors, returns to the heart of his personal archives. They document peasant struggles in France and Mali as well as following the personal stories of migrant workers over many decades. Furthermore, the film is a story of transmission, kinship and cinematographic geographies. It is the story of Bouba Touré with filmmaker Raphaël Grisey, who became Bouba’s spiritual son, but it also chronicles Bouba’s relationship with militant filmmakers such as Sidney Sokhona, Safi Faye or Med Hondo. Throughout the film, voices come to accompany Bouba and bring forth the narrative of a forgotten memory leading towards the future.

Over the course of the film, different voices enter the sound-scape to accompany Bouba Touré’s voice; they bring the tale of a forgotten memory toward a possible future sung by an electronic griot storyteller.

Introduction

In the mid 1970s, a group of activists from the western African diaspora, hailing from agricultural backgrounds and living in Paris in workers’ residences, decide to turn their backs on factory work in order to train with French farmers in the Champagne region. Their objective is to create an agricultural cooperative in a country in the Sahel region of western Africa. In December 1976 the group founds the agricultural cooperative “Somankidi Coura” in the Kayes region of Mali, a country of massive emigration. Concurrently the director Sidney Sokona makes a film on the subject, Safrana ou le droit à la parole (1978). In this work of fiction, the photographer Bouba Touré plays the role of himself. Later he will become a film projectionist and his political activism will also lead him to produce a significant number of photographs and videos which bear witness to his life as an immigrant and to the conflicts he has traversed and accompanied. Thirty years after Sokhona, Raphaël Grisey begins a new cinematic collaboration with Touré, as a gesture of transmission of an archive and a history at risk of disappearing. From this collaboration will emerge the video Cooperative (2008, Raphaël Grisey) and Bouba Touré’s short film Bouba Touré, 58 rue Trousseau, 75011, Paris, France, in which the filmmaker transforms his apartment into a living archive. The film  “Xaraasi Xanne – Crossing Voices” follows the artistic and militant trajectory of Bouba Touré and attempts to assemble all the pieces of the history of the Cooperative in order to speak of its present and to imagine a future that would be supported by avant-garde African ecological practices, finally unshackled from the heavy weight of colonial history.

Directors’ note

The historical, political and ecological contexts presented in “Xaraasi Xanne – Crossing Voices” are extremely rich. The film moves from the 1970s to the present day in order to show how certain visionary gestures of yesteryear, sometimes utopic, find their echoes in situations we experience today, in particular the effects of a major climate crisis.

Collecting the stories

We know each other since Raphaël Grisey was a child; Bouba Touré was a friend of his family. Bouba Touré has played an important role in the vocation of Raphaël Grisey as a filmmaker. At first indirectly, by the militant imagination he transported with him, with his badges commemorating struggles in Africa. And then in a more concrete way when we began to collaborate together years later, around the personal archives of Bouba Touré and the history of the Somankidi Coura Cooperative.

But despite our great complicity, we needed a certain amount of time to find the right form for the film Crossing Voices and the appropriate way to assemble the personal materials from Bouba’s life and their echoes with a larger history. We spent a long period studying the archives he accumulated over the years before selecting the elements that seemed the most remarkable to us, whether they were videos or photographs from his archives. Bouba is a bulimic of documentation, a malady that accompanies him still today. This bulimia has become a precious “mania” and a unique treasure at the moment of reconstructing the history of unappreciated periods, recounted from the perspective of the immigrants themselves. We also reviewed our own cinematic fellowship, which has steadily developed over the years. From all these elements, we would like to make a polyphonic film.

By creating a montage of these materials, proceeding from so many different sources, time periods and recording methods, we hope to give voice to different perspectives—Bouba’s perspective, my own, that of the founders of the cooperative, of the militant African filmmakers and those of the diaspora, of movements of solidarity with the “French” farmers and from the radical left of those times, of audiovisual medias and even down to the perspective of the termites who enabled the construction of the cooperative’s irrigation channels.

And so we began to write an initial structure based on interviews with Bouba and other protagonists of the fights of the immigrant workers or of the Somankiki Coura cooperative. This first stream of voices is the backbone of the film, it links the different archival images. It is a subjective account, traversed by reminiscences that inform certain archives and move beyond them via the movement of speech—in the same way a rare image moves beyond commentary about it when it suddenly emerges in a new context. The film proposes to reconstitute the account of historical, political, but also cinematic alliances, by associating the images of several generations of filmmakers and militants, like Med Hondo, Sidney Sokhona, Safi Faye or Bouba Touré, who think of cinema and the production of images as a tool for advancing the fight and of affirmation for the immigrants, men and women, in France—but also for those who wish to reconstruct a new agricultural model in formerly colonized countries.

And so Crossing Voices tells the individual story of Bouba Touré and the history of the Somankidi Coura cooperative even as it moves beyond them. The film leads them toward an epic form while maintaining a critical eye on the farmers’ movements from the 1970s and the movements of immigrant workers from the former French colonies in Africa.

Voice fabrics

If from the position as a white French artist of Raphaël Grisey, he did not see himself recounting on his own this history of African immigration, its utopias and its impasses, Bouba was clear about wanting the film to make the interweaving of their two voices audible, and for it to show the place Raphaël Grisey occupied in the exhumation of archives which, without his filmmaker’s curiosity and friendly insistence, would have remained at the back of a drawer. Their relationship, like their different points of view, needed to be translated into a cinematic form just as much as the debt of Raphaël Grisey owes to Bouba Touré, and Bouba Touré owes to other voices, images, and thoughts. The film is thus guided by Bouba Touré’s voice, which accompanies the viewer on the path of a memory.  Like the memory, the narrator has multiple facets: witness, filmmaker, actor playing his own role and film projectionist. Around his empathetic and powerful voice, other voices are heard, human and non-human, documentary voices and fictional voices, voices from the past and from a possible future, progressively transforming this journey back in time into a political and ecological fable.

The characters / the voices

Bouba Touré
The character of “Bouba Touré” accompanies the viewer and takes care of him/her. They travel back together in time. Bouba Touré is a welcoming character, a storyteller of magical dimensions, whose tales, reminiscences and apparitions on, in, and throughout the archives constitute the principal storyline of the film. Many of Bouba Touré’s videos were filmed with his own commentaries, stories and remarks recorded live. For him, the act of filming generates speech, which we will use in our writing process. We will follow the flux and lines of convergence of this voice, which is presented in the films of Sidney Sokhona—Bouba plays one of the principal roles in Safrana ou le Droit à la Parole—in the images and interviews I have made with him over the years, in his own photographic and video archive and, finally, in the off-camera voice narrating the film. It is with this off-camera narration that Bouba’s speech will progressively become an epic voice, the voice of several invisible generations: African sharpshooters, the individuals who would be successively known as immigrant workers, undocumented workers and refugees, farmers of the past and the future. The voice of an emerging “Us”, of a community seeking its form and its image.

Bouba Touré’s voice will be placed more and more in dialogue and (sometimes) in friction with the voices and images of other founding members. Bathily Bakhoré, Siré Soumaré, Ladji Niangané, Ousmane Sinaré, Fode Moussa Diaby, Fabourama Sissoko, Banaly Camara, Balla Diallo, Karamba Touré, Moussa Coulibaly, Goundo Kamissokho Niakhaté and Seydou Traoré are present in Bouba Touré’s photographic and video archives and those of Raphaël Grisey (2006-2018), in the 8mm films of the cooperative shot by Monique Janson (1977-1979) and in two films, Il ritorno al Fleuve and La Radio Rurale au Sahel, made by Gaocooperazione in the 1980s.

Raphaël Grisey
As mentioned earlier, finding his place in the film has required a long period of adjustments. A significant part of the images used will come from his personal archives and the visual notes he made in the company of Bouba during their travels in France, Mali, England, Germany, and elsewhere—film shoots in the cooperatives, at Parisian demonstrations or at film projections, debates, exhibitions. he will also appear in scenes in conversation with Bouba, with other founding members of the cooperative, with Sidney Sokhona and Catherine Ruelle. But the heart of his presence will be found in his research, digitization and translation work, accomplished alongside Bouba, taking on the role of translator/transmitter from one world to another, but also the role of Touré’s heir, in this mission of establishing links between different epochs and geographies. Their relationship will offer a way to reveal the challenges of transmitting the cooperative’s history while they simultaneously observe its transformations—with the transference of tools of production to younger generations, the significant investment of rural women today and all the questions these developments create for the founding members.

Sidney Sokhona
We would like to use excerpts from Safrana ou le droit à la Parole and from Nationalité: immigré in our film. In this way, a third voice will emerge, that of Sidney Sokhona with his oppositional point of view concerning the fight of African immigrant workers in France in the 1970s and regarding certain forms of solidarity operational at the time—and which in some situations are quite topical today. Sidney Sokhona produced many interviews on the subject of his films (Cahiers du Cinéma with Serge Daney, Cinéaction with Catherine Ruelle, radio archives from INA), from which excerpts could be used, for example from the interview I made with him in 2017. The meeting of Bouba Touré and Sidney Soknona and their subsequent collaborations will also be evoked by the off-camera voice in the film.

The radiophonic griot
The radio griot is a griot voice, a musical voice capable of singing of current events and fictions in the agricultural milieu, as well as recounting the history of the old ways. Its language will be composed of a blend of Fulani, Bambara and Soninké. This voice finds its matter and vocabulary in climatic data (rainfall, water, air quality sensors, acidic soil indicators, biochemical modulations of termites and bacteria which control the regenerative cycles of soil, etc…) and the demands of farmers. This contemporary griot finds its place in the long tradition of oral transmission of knowledge and lore and in continuity with the rural radio of Kaye, a radio station “for farmers, made by farmers”, created in 1983. Like the Somankidi Coura cooperative and URCAK (the Regional Union of Farming Cooperatives in Kayes), this radio station still exists today and continues to participate in the development of food-producing agriculture in the Senegal River region and serves as an echo chamber for the airing of environmental problems.

While the film plunges its roots into the cooperative’s archives, the radio griot projects the agricultural enterprise into the future, showing how much the Somankidi Coura approach was and remains visionary against neo-colonial white elephant development projects.

Non-human voices
At the crossroads of several cultures, we would like imbue this film with an animistic dimension. Far from any idea of folklore, it is rather a question of emphasizing how many non-human forms are invested, both in the North and the South, with a powerful vitality and a capacity for storytelling. On the one hand the archives, documents that suddenly take on a life of their own, on the other, certain beings, elements or materials, such as the termite nests, rainwater and river water, pumps and seeds, which are considered as characters/actors/engines in their own right within the history of the cooperative. The soil in termite nests has served in the construction of the first irrigation channels in the cooperative. The usefulness of their “eco-systemic” service, which regenerates soils, has long been recognized in traditional methods of farming and has been confirmed by recent scientific research. Water has been the essential element permitting the installation of the collective in these lands. It is an indispensable figure. The fuel pump, on the other hand, is an ambiguous character, which has permitted irrigation but today creates an insidious dependence to the carbon system. And finally seeds are the very agents of the cooperative’s survival. They are at the core of an essential political struggles for biodiversity and alimentary self-sufficiency in the region and in the world.

These non-human “protagonists” have been partially documented by Bouba Touré, by French farmers and by Raphael Grisey at different periods and via different media (black and white and color photographs, 8mm film, video). They also appear in the INA and Pathé archives on rural life in France and in Africa, in particular concerning the drought in the Sahel from 1973-74 and the 1976 drought in France, two moments that presaged future climatic imbalance and underscored the interdependency of humans and non-humans in environmental challenges. These include in part images of the famine in the Sahel, the earth cracked and dry, carcasses of livestock and dying bodies, which motivated the creation of the cooperative. For the group, it was imperative to show another image of Africa and, most importantly, to look at things differently, in order to establish a distance from pessimistic and colonial representations.

Editing process

Archival dialogue
Concerning the montage of the film, we would like to let the materials speak for and by themselves, have them create a dialogue amongst themselves before associating them with the off-camera voice or the radio griot. We are inspired by Thomas Heisse’s Material, Glauber Rocha’s A idade da Terra or the recent productions of Kidlat Tahimik, for these films often let the material “express itself” and find its documentary and sensitive amplitude on its own.

The archives form narrative arcs in the same way the off-camera voice does. We have constituted ensembles, following different criteria that range from the support (video, film, texts, photos, audio), to length (immersive quality in a story, a filmed situation), to authors (point of view in and over the story), to their thematics and method of filming (Bouba Touré’s rushes in direct cinema, the fictional staging of Sidney Sokhona’s film, 8mm films with no sound, the different manners of presentation for Bouba Touré’s photos).

The definitive scenario for the off-camera voice and the songs for the radio griot will be written in function with the assemblage of archival materials, like the paths of agile navigators who understand the currents and movements of oceans, who accompany them and make use of their force. We will prioritize the musical dimension of these archival juxtapositions and the free associations that the voices will then guide the viewer through.

Our approach to these materials will not be chronological; assemblage of archival elements and the off-camera voice will be determined by resonance, reminiscences and invocations, allowing us to play with ideas of palimpsest and interweaving of time frames, places, and points of view. For the photographic archives, we would like to work with different modes of apparitions. Certain filmed archives could be treated in slow motion, others could be repeated.

Montage in spiral and memory
Xaraasi Xanne – Crossing Voices is a film about memory. It tries both to reveal phantom images of forgotten events and to explore the very structure of the memorial act, which is linked to our non-linear perception of spaces and time. Our editing will follow this sinuous path. The film begins in the 1970s, moves through to our current time and speculates about a possible future. Its structure has the form of a spiral. It advances in time without hesitating to use the repetition of certain sequences, which acquire new meaning as the years slip past.

Bouba Touré’s voice will serve as a guide for the viewer on this journey through time, which takes on an epic dimension, inspired by the cyclical time of the traditional African tale in particular. The film will move back and forth between the material of different eras and geographies. We would like to consider the archives through the prism of their musical quality in order to imbue our montage with a sense of ritornello, associating repetitions and modulations.

Satellite imaging
Satellite imaging and aerial photography from the Google Earth System of Geographic Information. The Google Earth System of Geographic Information permits the production of vectorial traveling shots the length of the Senegal River and the ability to use satellite images or aerial photographs taken at different periods between 1966 and 2015 during different seasons. The vectorial traveling shots on the river enable a grand scale vision of the intensive agriculture and infrastructures (dams), flooding and de-flooding of the river, the network of irrigated permacultures and gardens. These cold and forensic images, their plunging perspective replaying the perspective and extractivist aesthetic of colonial capitalism on the land and nature, will take on in the film the emotions produced by the stories. We will use these images both for their descriptive and graphic qualities, but also to evoke the violence suggested by their very production. They will allow us to underscore the speculative stories of the radio griot or those of Bouba Touré and the other protagonists.

Producer

Spectre Production, Weltfilm GmbH

Language of Production

Soninké, French, Bambara

Subtitles

English

Production Location

France, Germany, Mali

Work Presentations

All Works