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Living Memory: Six Sketches of Mali Today
Directed by Susan Vogel
Produced by Susan Vogel, Samuel Sidibé, Eric Engles & the Musée National du Mali
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LIVING MEMORY is a film about Mali's ancient culture, and this culture's position in the country today. Filmed with a Malian crew, cut to the beat of Malian music, the film offers an alluring mosaic of perspectives.

Home of the ancient empires, this landlocked desert nation is one of the ten poorest countries yet, paradoxically, a rich culture flourishes, and Malian artists are prominent in contemporary Africa.

Samuel Sidibé (Director of the Musée National du Mali), the brilliant Malian cinematographer Racine Keita and Susan Vogel (founder of the Museum for African Art, New York) provide unparalleled access and an insider's vision. The film was made with a commitment to authenticity; actual events are explained by the first hand participants.

The film is constructed in six sketches:

Ritual Arts - At the Chiwara ritual dance in Dyere, where it is performed for farming success, the pulsing energy of the dance contrasts with the small audience and an elegiac statement by the old chief who fears Chiwara will end with his generation.

Culture on Display - Replicas of iconic Malian objects have multiplied in public space as emblems of national pride, and as merchandise for tourists. Meanwhile, the authentic originals stream from their village homes into museums and art collections around the world.

Style - Style is central to Malian culture, and weddings are splendid displays of elegant clothing, henna body decoration, and elaborate gold work. In Timbuktu we meet an outspoken bride prepares for the wedding by visiting woodworkers, goldsmiths, and weavers.

Architecture - In Djenne a thousand men turn out to restore the plaster on the great mosque in a few hours, one of the most spectacular but seldom witnessed events in Mali.

Contemporary Artists - Artists in a dialogue with their heritage. Yaya Coulibaly carves wooden puppets; Alioune Ba photographs timeless activities at the river, a departure from the traditional portraits of Malik Sidibe; and Abdoulaye Konate creates an assemblage alluding to magical amulets.

Music - From a Taureg wedding in the north to Mande hunters in the south, and closing with Salif Keita and his band going full steam at his club in Bamako.

Alternately sensual, ironic, beautiful and humorous, the film exposes tensions in a culture assailed by modernization, Islam and global tourism, yet confident that it will maintain its own distinctive character.

"Beautiful and moving!"—Professor Suzanne MacRae, English Department, Univ. of Arkansas

"Evocative.... [Part of the film is] the story of an architectural monument as love object."—Holland Carter, The New York Times

"Visitors are always struck by the vibrancy of Mali's visual and musical arts, and this film captures this creative excitement and energy. It engages the full sweep of Mali's contemporary artistic production with an exceptional visual and conceptual clarity. The film reveals the power and vitality of those arts which have ancient roots in Malian history, and those forms drawn from the global lexicon, that Malians creatively transform, and proudly claim as their own. A must see film for… students of African art and culture."—Mary Jo Arnoldi, Curator, African Art and Culture, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

"Eloquently describes the power of tradition in contemporary Malian society... Well photographed...the short visual essays also include brief interviews with musicians, artists, and others who are working to preserve the past. Recommended!"—Educational Media Reviews Online

2005 New York African Film Festival
2004 American Anthropological Association Film Festival
2004 African Studies Association Film Festival

53 minutes / Color
English / English subtitles
Release: 2003
Copyright: 2003

For individual consumers (home video)

This DVD is sold for private, home use only.

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For colleges, universities, government agencies, hospitals and corporations

This DVD is sold with a license for institutional use and Public Performance rights.

Subject areas:
Africa, Anthropology, Architecture, Art, Cultural Anthropology, Dance, Geography, Islam, Music, Photography

Related Links:
The Films of Susan Vogel

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