Tey, a film by Alain Gomis: From Senegal to Haiti, timelessness and spirituality remain the same

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Tey, [Today] a film directed by Alain Gomis which opens  in NYC on Oct 6 at Mist Harlem,  won the Golden Stallion Prize for the best film at the  2013 FESPACO  in Burkina Faso.    The film has now been formally submitted as Senegal’s entry to the 2014 Academy Awards.  Haitian blogger and researcher, Alice Backer tweeted me with details of a discussion on the film between herself, star of the film, Saul Williams, Guetty Félin from Belle Moon Productions [distributors], and Alexandra Salazar of Creatively Speaking On Air. You can listen to the discussion here.

Briefly the synopsis of the film..

In a tradition where death warns its arrival, Tey recounts the journey of one man’s last day on earth. The role is Saul William’s first lead since SLAM, fifteen years ago. Despite scant dialogue, Williams, acclaimed African American poet, writer, musician and performance artist, brilliantly plays Satché — a man determined to bid a transcendent farewell to his community, family, friends, lover, and wife .

Tey is a powerful fairy tale. In a village outside Dakar, the gods, the stars, or destiny, have spoken — Satché must die by the end of the day. A countdown to his transition, it is a reverse journey to birth – a joyous celebration feted by his community, as if he were a saint. Chosen to disappear, Satché soon finds himself set apart from those closest to him, in beautiful scenes that seek to show those elements of friendship, desire, sadness, affection and anger that are usually left unsaid.

Satché’s journey from the U.S. back to his native Senegal mirrors director Alain Gomis’ own personal story. Born in France to a French mother and Senegalese father, Gomis says about Tey: “For me it’s a voyage… The film was shot in Dakar, this city I love, where I come from… I want(ed) to create suspense with simple moments… an adventure, a film about reconciliation with death — it’s a dream of life.” [From Press Statement]

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Alice and I had a brief email exchange where I asked a number of questions on Haiti’s connection  to the film and Senegal as well as her own personal relationship with Senegal in particular and Africa in general.  As a Nigerian living in Haiti, I wanted to know why so many Haitians are working on releasing the film in the US..

SE: Have you observed any connections between the two countries in the film.

AB: There is no difference aesthetically between the streets of Dakar and the Port-au-Prince I grew up in. The hustle and bustle, the colors of the people and of what they surround themselves with, the cement, the layout of the markets, the headscarves of the women are the same.
But much beyond that, the timelessness and spirituality are the same. The notion that there are higher forces beyond humans, whether energies, gods, spirits, the ancestors or nature that we must be in harmony with. Community is almost a character in the film. Gomis conveys well that sense that we have in our African traditions whether on the continent or in Haiti that family and individual must be in harmony. An African or Afrodescendant divorced from his/her root will loose his/her way. Satché bows to the ultimate end because it is foretold by forces greater than him that he knows look out for the whole.  As a result, he and the community both celebrate that prophecy and he is treated like a god. In this film, death, like birth is announced and celebrated. I often hear African Americans use the word “transition” and I suspect that is the reason.

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SE: What is your own personal involvement with the film, I recall sometime ago you were working in  Gabon?

I was tapped to help bring the film to its natural audience because of my personal and professional connections to so many elements of the film. My parents and I are Haitian but my formative years were spent in the Congo before my family moved back to Haiti when I was 5.

So I lived in the Congo before I lived in Haiti. My father was born in Haiti but died in the Congo at 42, having been exiled from Haiti for standing up for the whole.  There is something akin to Satché’s story there. My brother lives in Senegal and through his  Facebook updates, I look at the place every day.  Guetty Félin of Belle Moon Productions may not have known  all that but she and I had met before and she knew that I had covered Francophone African blogs for Global Voices Online and that having been raised in Haiti, I speak French.

Michelle Materre of Creatively Speaking has been a mentor for 20 years. I first met her when she recruited me as an intern on the US distribution of  Raoul Peck’s film Man by the shore. Oh and last but not least, Guetty Félin is Haitian and Michelle Materre and Saul Williams both have Haitian lineage. So anyone’s crystal ball should foresee a screening of this film in Haiti at some point down the line.

The social media campaign I conducted in Gabon during the 2009 presidential elections marked my first return to the continent of Africa since leaving it at 5. Africa never leaves me. How could it? It’s in my DNA.

Behind the scenes of TEY - Director Alain Gomis with lead actor Saul Williams.

Behind the scenes of TEY – Director Alain Gomis with lead actor Saul Williams.

The connections Alice makes between Haiti and Senegal are familiar. Haiti is possibly the only country in the African Diaspora that continues a visibly strong spiritual, cultural, religious, linguistic relationship with the continent. On my first visit to Haiti in 2007, I was struck and emotionally moved by how similar it was to Nigeria, to Lagos or, in terms of size, to Port Harcourt. The streets, the market, the movement of people,  everyone doing something with so much colour and vibrancy.   I still see and feel these everyday as I walk and tap tap myself  around Port-au-Prince and other cities.    But the relationship goes much further and deeper into our common historic roots. As Alice says, Haiti is in Africa and at least [I could safely say] West Africa is in Haiti, through body language, drum rhythms, voudou dance and the way voudou is embedded in the history and everyday life even for those who profess to be christian. Its so much part of the reality in the same way that indigenous religions, gods, spirits and ‘majik’ are in Nigeria.

TEY-Today Trailer for US release.. from Guetty Felin on Vimeo.

 

The U.S. Premiere of Tey will be held  in NYC at MIST Harlem–Oct 6-13th:  Other events are as follows:
Multi-Award-Winning Film TEY (Today) by Alain Gomis Starring Saul Williams (Slam) Launches its U.S. Theatrical Run
on Sunday, October 6th!
Red Carpet Premiere with Director and Stars in the Heart of Little Senegal

For more details and contacts

Commercial screenings: Guetty Felin Bellemoonproductions AT gmail.com

Educational Screenings: Alain Kasanda apkas AT hotmail.com

Community screenings: Natalie Teter natalie.tey AT bellemoonproductions.com

Screeners, press screenings and interviews: Steffan Horowitz Steffan.tey AT bellemoonproductions.com

Media related issues NY: Michelle Materre & Alice Backer: films  AT creativelyspeaking.tv

Phone contact: 415-375-0670 or 415-935-7013