Senegalese filmmaker Safi Faye passed away on 22 February at the age of 79. Faye was a groundbreaking figure in African cinema and the first Black woman from sub-Saharan Africa to direct a commercially distributed film. She was also an ethnologist and schoolteacher whose interdisciplinary background shaped her unique approach to filmmaking. After her years as a teacher, she started her career in film by acting in Jean Rouch’s Petit à petit in 1971.
Faye’s films often merged documentary and fiction to provide intimate glimpses into traditional rural communities in Senegal. Her debut feature, Kaddu Beykat [Letter from My Village] (1976), combined interviews with farmers playing themselves to criticize the agricultural policies of the Senegalese government. The film was initially banned in the country but eventually screened internationally. Kaddu Beykat received several awards, including recognition at the FIFEF (Festival International du Film d’Expression Française), FESPACO (Festival Panafricain du Cinéma d’Ouagadougou), and the Berlin Film Festival, as well as the Georges Sadoul Prize in France. Faye’s other films include Fad’jal, Goob na ñu [The Harvest Is In] (1979), and Selbé et tant d’autres [Selbe and So Many Others] (1982). She is recognized today as one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s most prominent directors. Her last film Mossane (1996), a fictional work, won the Un certain regard award at Cannes.