Sarah Maldoror Retrospective | Programme

Known predominantly for the most militant dimension of her cinema, associated with the struggles against colonialism, Sarah Maldoror (1929-2020) is the author of a multifaceted oeuvre, determinant to the affirmation of a black culture, that, remaining mostly unknown, assumes particular relevance in the Portuguese context, for its connection to our colonial past. Hence the importance of this first almost complete retrospective of her work.

Daughter of a Guadeloupean father and French mother, Sarah Ducados was born in the South of France and adopted the pseudonym Maldoror in homage to Lautréamont, the author of Les Chants de Maldoror. Before dedicating herself to cinema, she co-founded Les Griots in 1956, the first Parisian theatre company composed exclusively of black actors, and it was at the core of the magazine Présence Africaine that she met Mário Pinto de Andrade, Angolan poet and founder of MPLA, whom she would marry, and the writer Aimé Césaire, who would become pivotal for her work. Motivated by Chris Marker, with whom she later collaborated, she studied cinema in Moscow and from there went on to Algiers, where she was assistant director in fundamental titles in anti-colonial cinema, such as Festival Panafricain d’Alger (1969), by William Klein.

Maldoror directed her first and best-known fictions then. Openly denouncing the violence of the Portuguese colonial system with unusual sensibility, Monangambée (1969) and Sambizanga (1973) fall under that lineage. Des Fusils pour Banta (1970), a feature film considered lost, and the documentaries she directed in Cape Verde and Guinea-Bissau, after their respective independences, complete a cycle.

The voice, the writing and the figure of Aimé Césaire span all of Maldoror’s body of work, as do other poets (and politicians) determinant to the affirmation of Blackness, the cultural, political and social movement that promoted a black culture associated with anti-colonialism, marxism and Pan-Africanism, to which Maldoror’s cinema gives expression. The Colombian artist Ana Mercedes Hoyos ends the extensive gallery of artists of different areas that Maldoror portrayed through the decades, such as René Depestre, Wifredo Lam, Miró or Louis Aragon.

From her first films to the many portraits of artists, or the reports and fictions she directed for television, we encounter a great coherence of themes and shapes, a political poetry that undoes cultural settings crystalised on behalf of a freedom of surrealist inspiration, in which she criticises racism and questions the history of slavery and colonialism, the role of women, or the possibilities of art. A cinema practice as a means of poetic research that materialises in a work of transnational vocation, and continuous effort of cultural resistance.

Joana Ascensão (Cinemateca Portuguesa)