1988: Ousmane Sembène’s tribute to the Senegalese Tirailleurs


Cannes Classics revisits the masterpieces of cinema and, and the same time, the historical events that they recount. And so today we are screening Ousmane Sembène’s drama, Camp de Thiaroye, which the father of African cinema co-directed with Thierno Faty Sow. This film can be rediscovered in a restored version, in the presence of Margaret Bodde, the executive director of The Film Foundation.

In 1944 the Thiaroye camp was the theatre of a bloody massacre. The war had not yet ended when the tirailleurs, soldiers who were primarily Senegalese, were demobilised. Having returned to near Dakar, they request their payment, a demand that would be heavily repressed by the French army.

Camp de Thiaroye is the story of a betrayal and an injustice. Thierno Faty Sow and Ousmane Sembène, himself a former tirailleur, depict this tragic episode by taking inspiration from the facts and their own experiences. In 1988, the film was screened at the Venice International Film Festival but its release was banned in France, a symptom of the ambiguous relationship France has long had with this part of its history.

Beyond the Thiaroye massacre, the tirailleurs have continued to inspire cinema. Cannes has been the echo of this with Rachid Bouchareb‘s Indigènes (Days of Glory), screened In Competition in 2008, and, more recently, with Mathieu Vadepied‘s Tirailleurs (Father and Soldier), starring Omar Sy, which opened Un Certain Regard in 2022.

A presentation by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project. Restored with the Hobson/Lucas Family Foundation by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project and Cineteca di Bologna at the L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in association with the Tunisian Ministry of Culture and the Senegalese Ministry of Culture and Historical Heritage. With thanks to Mohammed Challouf.