In 1995 filmmaker and griot Dani Kouyaté won the Golden Stallion – The award for Best First Film at the pan-African film festival FESPACO – for his first feature Keïta! The Heritage of the Griot. He has since made three more feature films in addition to directing for TV and the stage as well as several documentaries, including one about Burkinabé historian, writer and politician Joseph Ki-Zerbo. Kouyaté – son of internationally renowned actor Sotigui Kouyaté (of Little Senegal, Dirty Pretty Things and London River-fame) – grew up and studied film in Burkina Faso and spent several years in Paris where he studied anthropology and film. Today the director, whose latest feature Suns is currently traveling the world, lives in Sweden with his family.
What is your first film memory?
The Charlie Chaplin short films I saw as a kid in the 1970s. There was a film club at the National Cinema Directorate of the Upper Volta (before the country’s name changed to Burkina Faso), where they hosted film screenings for youth every Thursday morning. That’s where I discovered silent film. Later in life, when I was in film school, I got to see most of his feature films. I’m a great fan of his work and today I have all of his films. Chaplin managed to make the whole world laugh and cry, without advanced technique or even dialogue. He reached everyone, and should be an inspiration to today’s filmmakers who are preoccupied with things like lack of resources or what language to shoot our films in.
Why did you decide to become a filmmaker?
There was never a doubt in my mind about what to become. Both my grandfather and my father were griots, who told our people’s history and stories for children. I remember my father, Sotigui Kouyaté practising his calling it from the scene of an amphitheatre. I realised that film could serve the same purpose when it came to keeping our memories alive. I was fortunate to spend my entire childhood on film sets across Burkina with my father. I followed him everywhere and observed him when he was working. He was passionately involved in every aspect of the shoots – casting, wardrobe, direction and even makeup sometimes. He passed on his love for cinema to me. When I left high school, the University of Ouagadougou had just started a film school so I knew exactly what to study.
Which film do you wish you had made and why?
Steven Spielberg’s first film, The Duel, from 1971. Without a big budget or artifices and tricks – just one truck and a car really – he has me spellbound from beginning to end. The film is a testimony to Spielberg’s great storytelling-talent.
Name one of the films on your top-5 list and the reason why it is there.
Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin. Eighty years after its release, it’s more relevant than ever. Watching it today when we are witnessing the signs of the capitalist system falling part, you realise what a visionary he was back then.
Ask yourself any question you think I should have asked and answer it.
Question: If you hadn’t been a filmmaker, what would you have done instead?
I would have been a chef. I love cooking. At home I spend half my time in the kitchen. I love trying out new recipes and inventing new ones. Sometimes I succeed, at other times my kids refuse to eat what I’ve cooked. I don’t mind though – that’s what pasta is for.
Great chefs, like great filmmakers, are in love with the creative process. Both as a director on set and as a chef in the kitchen, there’s sometimes a tendency to forget about the people who are going to consume what is being created. I believe that what makes a film brilliant is as complex and subtle as that, which makes a dish delicious.
Suns (co-directed with Olivier Delahaye) has its London-premiere at the Royal African Society’s Annual Film Festival in London this Sunday, November 2.
Interview translated from French by Katarina Hedrén. Photo credit: Jože Rehberger Ogrin.
*The ‘5 Questions for a Filmmaker …’ series is archived here.