CFS presents “Guelwaar”

Claire Mitchell

When grappling with ideas that concern human faith and spirituality, an artist may find it difficult to remain unbiased in his/her views. However, the prolific Senegalese writer and filmmaker Ousmane Sembene manages to display the struggles between Christians and Muslims in a non-sectarian way in his 1992 film, “Guelwaar.”

This film, based on actual events, vividly depicts the conflicts that arise after a Christian is accidentally buried in a Muslim cemetery. The body of prominent activist Pierre Henry Thoune, nicknamed “Guelwaar,” is mistakenly switched in the mortuary and buried in a Muslim cemetery.

After Thoune’s family discovers this mishap, they demand to be allowed to retrieve the body for proper burial in a Catholic cemetery.

This seemingly harmless mistake evolves into a major upheaval between the doctrines of both the Catholic and Muslim faiths. The events that transpire after this controversial burial result in an emotional representation of opposition between religions and beliefs.

Yet, in this film, Ousmane Sembene does not allow himself to be limited to the discussion of religious differences between Senegalese Christians and Muslims. Rather, he uses his gift as a storyteller to reveal the social injustices that exist in post-colonial Africa as well. In “Guelwaar,” Sembene refuses to stand idly by and watch as tensions rise between citizens of his own country.

He argues, “I have never tried to please my audience through the embellishment of reality. I am a participant and an observer of my society.”

Sembene has felt that it is his social responsibility to act as a spokesperson for his people by expressing their hopes, fears and experiences through film. This belief has guided him to become a leading voice of all African people.

The perspectives that are articulated in Sembene’s depictions of the African experience demand change in society. However, often times there must be struggle and conflict before change can occur.

In “Guelwaar,” the audience is presented with a struggle between Christians and Muslims that does not merely serve to portray the doctrinal differences of these two religions, but instead to examine the deeper religious issues that have been extant since the colonial era in Africa.

Ousmane Sembene first received international recognition for his film “Noire de…, La” (1966) for which he won the notable Jean Vigo prize.

Throughout his 40-year career as a writer and director, Sembene has created many films that include “Faat Kine,” which the CFS screened last semester.

The second feature in the Cultural Film & Lecture Series’ Spring 2006 roster, “Guelwaar” will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Sat. Feb. 4, at 7 p.m. Sun., Feb. 5 at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. It will be shown in its original languages – Wolof (a Senegalese dialect) and French – with English subtitles. Admission is $3.50 for students with ID and $5 for everyone else. The Monday showing only will feature guest speaker Maghan Kkeita, who will provide an intro to the film and lead a discussion afterward.

For more information call the communication department at x9-4750 on weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or consult the CFS web page: