“The Vanishing” is, as its name would suggest, a documentary film about a disappearance. Not just anyone’s disappearance, this project pitched at Visions du Réel (VdR)’s Industry platform is about the disappearance of the filmmaker’s own mother.
Senegalese director Rama Thiaw won the Fipresci Critics Prize at the 2016 Berlinale for her documentary “The Revolution Won’t Be Televised,” earning her a name for producing politically-conscious documentaries. Now, Thiaw is embarking on her most personal project yet.
Over August 10-15 2012, Thiaw’s mother Mariama flew from Paris to Dakar. She then allegedly traveled to a farm she owned, and then possibly went to Guinea. Nobody knows for certain. Mariama had disappeared, and no-one has heard of her since.
In Oct. 2012, when many of her family members thought that Mariama was just traveling or resting somewhere, Rama Thiaw had a dream, a dream that her mother was gone and would never be coming back to the land of the living.
This dream would be the starting point to her film “The Vanishing,” a visual letter and homage to her mother, confronting issues of racism, colonialism and misogyny to tell the plight of modern Senegalese women.
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29 film projects were chosen to participate in the VdR-Pitching platform, as part of the Swiss festival’s 52nd edition, running on April 15-25 and online for the second consecutive year, though with an on-site elements just added as Switzerland relaxes its health protocols
VdR-Pitching offers filmmakers and producers the opportunity to find funders, distributors and partners to their developing projects.
For “The Vanishing,” Rama Thiaw will be looking for financing and co-producing partners from all countries, especially from Denmark, Canada and Switzerland. She’s especially looking for funders from these countries as award-winning Danish editor Niels Pagh Andersen is working on the film, who gained fame for his editing on “The Act of Killing” and “The Look of Silence” by Joshua Oppenheimer. As for Canada, it’s because they have a “great culture of animation,” a method Thiaw will be using exhaustively to adapt her mother to the screen.
“We already have the talent. Now we’re looking for co-producers to raise funding in these countries,” she said. 12% of financing is currently in place. Shooting is expected to begin in 2022, and the film to be released in late 2023.
“The Vanishing” is produced by Thiaw’s Senegalese company Boul Fallé Images with Yanis Gaye, and co-produced by the French company Films de Force Majeure, that has another film featured at VdR, “Little Palestine, Diary of a Siege,” recently acquired by Lightdox,
Though Thiaw is hoping to make the film’s production as international as possible, she said it was important that Senegal remains the main producing country for copyright reasons. The films of renowned Senegalese directors Djibril Diop Mambéty and Ousmane Sembène, she said, were produced and are now owned by European film companies, preventing Senegal from having its own film institute.
“We want to be the masters of our own cinema,” she said.
Making a documentary film about her own mother’s disappearance is no easy task, which is why Thiaw waited nine years to begin such a project. “I didn’t want to start making this film if I didn’t feel any distance. I’m not doing this for therapy. I’m making a film, so I need to judge my mother as a character,” she said.
Thiaw will be drawing on her multidisciplinary skills to draw her mother’s portrait. Beyond directing, she is also doing animations and illustrations, plus voicing a letter she wrote for her mother. The letter aims to carry the film’s narrative to show the complex life of Mariama, filled with joy and sadness.
“The Vanishing” will retrace Mariama’s life in Senegal, Mauritania, France, Germany and Switzerland, chronicling both her spiritual and political sides. Born in April 1960, on the same month as Senegal’s independence, Mariama was jailed and then expelled from Senegal to France because of her political activism.
Rama Thiaw will be doing interviews with people Mariama knew in every country she lived in, using her mother’s life to tell the story of the free Senegalese women post-colonization – the first-generation of immigrants who moved to Europe and carried the pioneering ideas of Pan-Africanism.
On the notion of ‘vanishing’, Thiaw said that the story is not purely about her mother, but more broadly about “the invisibility of black women.” Making a film on this topic would be a way for Thiaw to “fight against that invisibility.”
“There are six legal inquiries,” Thiaw said regarding her mother’s disappearance, “but none of them have really started, because nobody’s interested in the disappearance of an old, Senegalese common woman… She’s not this blonde teenager in South America or whatever. For me, that says a lot about what lives matter.”