self-imposed leisure reading

Okay, I did it.

I wrote a dissertation prospectus and passed the defense, which means that in order to be crowned DOCTOR, I have but one tiny, little, no-big-deal hoop to jump through called ‘writing a dissertation’…

I also survived the annual meeting of the American Comparative Literature Association in New York City. (ACLANYC2014) These are some things I learned…

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this week in books: histoire du Sénégal

This week was largely devoted to brushing up on my Senegalese history. I’m revising an article – crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s (as well as changing most of my which’s to that’s…good lord did I not go to middle school?) and I realized that while the literary premises were sound, the paper was really lacking context. (And by “I realized” I mean “my adviser – the fiercest editor I’ve ever met – suggested that I needed to put all the literary pish-posh into some kind of cohesive historical framework”…) So I went about kicking myself for the thousandth time since I began working on my ‘dissertation project’ proper for having wasted my intellectual youth coming up with clever ideas instead of cracking open a dang history book, and then I hit the library.

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because it was there…

Hi, how are you today? I’m fine, you know, surviving the sudden blizzard, rocking some Boubacar Traoré, and…oh yeah…wait…not fine at all – eating puréed lentils!!!

Why, you ask?

Gentle reader, (is that phrase trademarked? can I use that?) because I lost my mind for about five minutes and decided that lentil soup was fine, but puréed lentil soup would be better. That it would be creamy and soupy and wintery and delightful.

It is freaking baby food, gentle reader. Baby food.

And if you’re into that kind of thing, I have the recipe for you! But the rest of us will be over here, eating a hot, steaming plate of ANYTHING BUT THAT.

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RIDM Screening 122: Atalaku

Directed by Dieudo Hammadi, Atalaku is set during the latest elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

http://www.imdb.com/video/wab/vi1422763033/

Here’s a quick timeline:

1960: Patrice Lumumba becomes the first Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of Congo (the one that becomes the DRC, not the other one). He is deposed by the president, Joseph Kasa-Vubu, and then eventually placed under house arrest with the military leader Joseph Mobutu (remember him – this is the one Bob Dylan wrote a song about – it’s called “Leopard Skin PillBox Hat” …right…)

1961: Lumumba is brutally assassinated, (there’s a fantastic film about it directed by Raoul Peck if you’re interesting…) and Mobutu beginshis assent into power.

1965-1997: Mobutu (monsieur coup d’etat himself) is in power and becomes the archetype of many African dictatorships to follow…

1996: Laurent Kabila leads Tutsi factions against Hutus in Eastern DRC – thus begins the First Congo War.

1997: Laurent Kabila comes to power after the invasions of the DRC (then Zaire) by Rwanda, defeats Mobutu’s forces. This ends with First Congo War, but we have another one…

1998: Second Congo War, which lasts until 2003 (officially). This involves several nations and effectively rips the enter of Africa apart.

2001: Joseph Kabila succeeds his father in office after the latter’s assassination.

2006: First free elections in 46 years. Kabila wins. (Which is a lot like more of the same thing…)

2011: Another multi-party election…

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RIDM Screening 84: A jamais, pour toujours

Confession: I am basically posting this for good form, because it is a documentary that I saw, and thus feel obligated to include it in the series. (Plus, duh, I like bragging about all these awesome films I’m seeing. Aren’t you tempted to move to Montreal now so you can watch great documentaries and go to jazz festivals and, oh man, just wait ’til you see the book festival coverage I’m going to throw your way…they’re doing a spotlight on Haitian authors this year…I know, right?)

Alexandra Sicotte-Lévesque directed this film, which is confusingly titled “A jamais, pour toujours” in French and “The Longest Kiss” in English. The latter refers to a pronouncement that the Nile River joins (sort of?) Sudan to the newly created South Sudan, in a long goodbye kiss. Which is beautiful. The narration that went along with the film (we never have any idea who is speaking it) is a wonderful poetic reflection on the history of Sudan’s conflicts and the recent secession of South Sudan. Another beautiful thing: the cinematography. The webpage description (and I’m endlessly fascinated by these) describes the film as a “an essential look at an often misunderstood and tragically ignored country.” I would say that for all of the random media flashes we get that loudly proclaim the “genocide” and “chaos” and “cautious optimism” and “tribal clashes” and many other things that you typically hear about African countries in the news, it is, indeed, necessary to stop for a minute and see an intelligent exploration of how people are going about their daily lives in current Sudan and South Sudan. Yes, people are killed, and violence disrupts an entire country, but there are people who live as well. And that seems to be the goal of this film – to show that people continue to live.

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RIDM Screening 69: Ayiti Toma

Focusing on foreign aid (before and after the earthquake), the slave trade and colonialism, and vodou in Haiti, this documentary provides a far-reaching scope of a complex society. If there is one flaw the film suffered from it was the ambitious attempt to cover everything. How can you not try to cover everything when you’re talking about a place that has a history of being so egregiously misunderstood? That misunderstanding was also a focal point of the film, and it seemed as though an appropriate subtitle would have been, “Everything you don’t know about Haiti and by the way we have a lot more than earthquake damage and vodou here but, indeed, we do have a lot of those things as well” or something like this. It was very much a film that knew its audience.

One particularly well done aspect of the film was the wide range of interviews conducted. From vodou priests/priestesses, to Haitian sociologues/economistes, to young kids living in the bad part of town, to the jaded American aid workers (including Sean Penn?), to the cynical but wise (drunken?) fonctionnaire (that guy is everywhere, what is it with that guy?), to historian Laurent Dubois (‘heck yes!’ for those of you who work on Caribbean history). And this is one of the things that they are all both demonstrating and saying, which is (to paraphrase) : “There are an infinite number of viewpoints in/on Haiti – some of them better than others.” And they create a fully-formed, comprehensible picture of current Haiti and how it got there.

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RIDM Screening 30: The Square

This was my first screening so far of the  Rencontres Internationales du Documentaire de Montréal and I can safely say that it was fantastic way to start.

the square

First, a word on the festival:

Since 1998, the RIDM has been bringing filmmakers from Quebec, and from around the world, to the city of Montreal for about a ten-day span to expose their work to eager audiences and also to hold small workshops. While this is my first year attending the RIDM, one of the first things you notice is the collective atmosphere.

Before the beginning of the film, the large audience was greeted by a representative, first apologizing for the director’s absence (apparently this film is in the process of becoming almost unmanageably popular and she was needed elsewhere but was really sad not to make it), and secondly inviting us all to a party. Apparently partying and hanging out with the directors is a big part of the overall experience. Hey, I’m all for that.

Another quick, coup-d’oeil observation is the fantastic selection. While there is an emphasis on Quebecois and Canadian directors, it is truly a worldwide collection of documentaries. Now, obviously, I’m going to hit all the Caribbean and African films so stay tuned.

A pretty big sell for me is that, thanks to funding from the National Film Board of Canada (by the way, USA, what the crap, you don’t have a national film board? This is amazing! Dude, in Canada, the government will FUND your intelligent social commentary in the form of film. Do you even, like, … Canada, do you get how awesome it is to BE YOU???) … okay, like I was saying, thanks to the NFB, students and seniors can attend all matinees for free, y’all. Free. Amazing…

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