Film and Cinema

International Conservators Resurrect Africa’s First Animated Film

The Nigerien pioneer Moustapha Alassane’s stop-motion film Samba the Great is being showcased in Bologna.

The Moving Image Archiving and Preservation (MIAP) programme executed by New York University and the French Embassy’s Cultural Services in New York have joined forces with the Institut Français to restore a critical part of Niger’s filmmaking history: Samba the Great (1977), a short stop-motion offering that was Africa’s first ever animated film to be produced in colour.

Created and filmed by Moustapha Alassane (1942-2015), a renowned pioneer of populist cinema who made his mark in the 1960s and 70s after Niger gained its independence, the restored version of Samba the Great was screened this week in Bologna, Italy at the Cinema Ritrovato festival.

A blend of cartoon drawings and puppet action narrated in French, it tells the story of a West African princess and a courageous noble who wants to woo her and make her laugh.
Critics have interpreted Alassane’s charming and playful films as a form of political satire in disguise.

Bill Brand, who oversaw the film’s restoration as a professor at the Tisch School of the Arts, said that the film was in a reasonably good condition but had suffered from colour fading, dust and chemical deterioration.
He said that he and his film preservation students used software to mitigate the dust and scratches and that the colour was fixed shot by shot.

New English subtitles were synced to the soundtrack, and modern digital masters of the film were created for screenings.

Samba the Great is on a list of 20 films that are being restored by the Centre National du Cinéma at de l’Image Animée and the Institut Français’s Cinémathèque Afrique in preparation for the Africa 2020 Cultural Season in France.

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