REASSEMBLAGE, From the Firelight to the Screen is the first film by Trinh T. Minh-ha and co- produced with French Jean Paul Bourdier. A forty minutes long motion picture, filmed on a 16mm color film in 1981 in Senegal and released one year later, in 1982.
This film, as the rest of Trinh T. Minh-ha‘s body of work, is at the field of many disciplines and questions them in endlessness ways. What is filming? What is the place of the filmmaker? What is or should be an ethnographic documentary? Her first work is breaking with the conventional codes of the ethnographic documentaries of that time, in the first minutes of the film the soundtrack turns off for a moment to let her announces in her clearly spoken voice: “I do not intend to speak about, just speak near by“. But more widely, she also openly questions society and our perception of reality, “Reality is delicate” she says, our “habit of imposing a meaning to every single sign” is also criticized.
Reassemblage opens on the following sentence: “Scarcely twenty years were enough to make two billion people define themselves as underdeveloped.“, in 1982 twenty years is also the approximate amount of time since when most African countries became independent (above others, 1960 for Cameron, Togo, Mali, Senegal, … 1962 for Algeria, Rwanda…), Reassemblage is a film produced in a newly post-colonial Africa.
“A film about what?” “A film about Senegal.“, Trinh T. Minh-ha asks but also answers the questions the viewers could have, this way she establish a direct contact with the ones who watch her film. More precisely this film focus on women in a rural Senegal in 1981, and Trinh reports the words some of those women have told her, but also the questions she has asked them, in those interrogations she sometimes plays with the imagination and cliché that the western world had on the African continent.
Trinh T. Minh-ha’s critical thinking and the demonstration made of it in Reassemblage is so potent, that almost each moment of this film can lead the viewers to doubts, discussions but also create new visions on different subjects.
Within the year, the film became a classic of experimental ethnography and in 2012 it’s thirty years since Reassemblage had been released! But even though many years have passed since she produced that film and spoke those words, Trinh T. Minh-ha’s critical essaying is still powerful to many contemporary viewers, and provokes undoubtedly as much interrogations, sure different, as it did in 1982.
About Trinh T. Minh-ha (from Wikipedia) :
Born 1952 in Hanoi, French Indochina. Trained as a musical composer, she is also an independent filmmaker, writer, academic, composer, feminist and post-colonial theorist. She has been teaching
in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley since 1994 and in the Department of Rhetoric since 1997. She has also taught at Harvard, Smith, Cornell, San Francisco State University , the University of Illinois, Ochanomizu University in Japan, and the National Conservatory of Music in Senegal.