As he worked, a TV in the background pulsed with the sounds of Nass El Ghiwane, a Moroccan band and the subject of "Trances," a concert movie by Ahmed El Maanouni. Over and over, night after night, the same channel repeated its broadcast, the film's hypnotic rhythms seeping into the New Yorker's soul.
"It's been an obsession of mine," Scorsese has said
. In the years since, he hunted down the band's music, heaped praise on El Maanouni and in 2007 orchestrated a full restoration of the film.
Scorsese is part of a generation that includes George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola: titans of Hollywood who gorged on a diet of foreign cinema. Its influence is telling. Just as the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa filtered down into "Star Wars," Ingmar Bergman's picaresque narratives find a companion in "Apocalypse Now." For Scorsese, African cinema comprised part of his vernacular.
"Trances" was an inspiration behind 1988's "The Last Temptation of Christ," and elsewhere the director has described the "incredible impact" of "La Noire De..." ("Black Girl," 1966) by Ousmane Sembene. First watched in 1969, the Senegalese movie "was unlike anything that I'd ever seen," he recalled
. "It was like a door had opened in the West and it was the first time we could feel a truly African voice in the cinema."
Scorsese took note, but not many heard this African voice, or its contemporaries -- particularly in Africa itself. Part of the problem is distribution, another is politics, say advocates. The result is a generation of cinematic giants left in slumber, and vital pieces of cultural heritage missing.
Now, an international effort including Scorsese is aiming to revive these figures -- and revise what we thought we knew about African cinema.
Lost, missing or hidden away