DAHOMEY Berlinale Press Conference: Mati Diop and Team Dive into the Film’s Depths

Following the Berlinale 2024 premiere of her sophomore feature DAHOMEY, French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop participated in a press conference for the film moderated by Berlin curator Jacqueline Nsiah.

The film’s Berlinale premiere and press conference served as a critical platform for Diop to delve into the motivations behind the film, the research and filmmaking process, the anticipated impact on audiences, and the broader implications for cultural heritage and identity.

It also provided insights into the reception of the film, the discussions it has sparked regarding colonial history, and the steps forward in the movement for the repatriation of cultural artifacts worldwide.

It’s not essential viewing, but I recommend watching or listening to it in the context of the film as a work that lives at the intersections of art, politics, and history in contemporary cinema, as well as its role in catalyzing social and cultural change.

Here’s a summary of what was said during the hour-long conversation:

Historical Context

  • Diop was thanked for capturing a monumental moment in African history—the return of 26 artifacts to Benin. She highlighted the broader significance of this event, suggesting it resonates across the African continent due to shared histories of colonial plundering. Diop’s response underscored the collective memory and healing this film aims to foster among African nations.

Filmmaking Journey

  • Diop discussed the genesis of her project, rooted in a decade-long exploration of films addressing colonial aftermaths. She detailed the complex journey of gaining permission and navigating the logistical challenges of documenting the artifacts’ repatriation. Her motivation was deeply personal and political, aiming to materialize the intangible violence of colonialism through cinema. The filmmaker articulated a desire to provide a tangible and emotional understanding of colonial histories, making them accessible and emotionally resonant for audiences.

Youth Engagement

  • The film delves into the younger generation’s reaction to the repatriation, highlighting a renewed interest in and connection to their cultural heritage. The discussion revealed that the repatriation sparked curiosity among young people about their lost culture and identity. The film appears to catalyze education and awareness, bridging historical amnesia and fostering a sense of pride and belonging among Benin’s youth.

Cultural and Political Commentary

  • The conversation expanded to the cultural and political dimensions of restitution. Diop and the contributors discussed how the film navigates the symbolic return of stolen artifacts, engaging with themes of identity, colonial violence, and the path toward healing and acknowledgment. The film prompts a broader reflection on the ongoing impacts of colonialism and the significance of repatriating cultural heritage to forge a more inclusive historical narrative.

Language and Representation

  • The choice of language in the film was highlighted as a deliberate commentary on colonial legacies. Diop expressed a nuanced stance on using French, reflecting on how language choice can both reveal and challenge colonial impositions. The discussion pointed to the importance of reclaiming indigenous languages and narratives as an act of resistance and reclamation of identity.

Future of Museums and Education

  • The film sparked debate on the role of museums and educational systems in post-colonial societies. Diop advocated for a reimagining of these institutions to better reflect African perspectives and histories. The dialogue suggested a movement towards educational and cultural spaces that honor and explore the richness of African heritage, beyond the confines of Western paradigms.

Metaphysical Considerations

  • The discussion ventured into metaphysical territory, pondering the essence of identity as encapsulated by the repatriated artifacts. Diop and others reflected on how these objects embody the soul of the Beninese people, suggesting that their significance transcends their physical presence. This point underscored the film’s exploration of identity, heritage, and the deeper connections between people and their cultural artifacts.

Personal and Collective Awakening

  • Diop shared her journey of awakening through the process of making DAHOMEY. She described how confronting and reclaiming one’s history from colonial narratives is a profound and liberating process. The filmmaker emphasized the role of cinema as a powerful tool in this reclamation, capable of challenging dominant narratives and fostering a collective awakening to the realities and ramifications of colonial history.

Each of these points was discussed with a depth of emotion and intellectual rigor, reflecting the film’s ambitious aim to not only document a historic event but to provoke thought, foster healing, and inspire a reevaluation of cultural identity and heritage in the post-colonial context.

Watch the full conference below: