Sama Rak film in Senegal by a Belgian from the end of the world17/01/2017

Winner of the Culture category of the Belges du Bout du Monde Prize, Lionel Croes only came to Senegal for a few days... 10 years later, he is still living under the same roof with a family of fishermen in Toubab Dialaw, where he was caught in the net. A sociology graduate from Dakar University, the young man simply decided to take some time out. "Sama Rak", this film that he wanted to take out of the cupboard and dust off, is a fictional story about young beggars in our cities. A fictional story about an unlikely encounter and a few comical scenes that allow it to escape the pitfalls of a documentary and give it an amusing touch...


He could have done something quite different with this story which was initially only intended to be a temporary project: the magic of the place, no doubt, a certain guilt about creating a diversion, a prank of fate you might say. But, there are encounters like that, which you experience with that certain special something, which enjoy challenging your beliefs... Or, even, sometimes, that makes you slightly crazy. Forget your old projects and your neat and tidy drawers! About ten years ago, Lionel Croes was just a young Belgian teenager tempted by a short break in Senegal... nothing more. We already know what follows: caught in the net of a kind family of fishermen from Toubab Dialaw, where the Imam of this small village of Petite Côte, a certain Modou Ciss, eagerly played the role of "adoptive father". Ten years later, a secretive word between them, a scarcely concealed laugh, Lionel Croes still lives under the roof of this man and has officially taken up residence there.

 Originally, at the start of this adventure in 2006, Lionel Croes saw himself as an "anthropologist" he says, with a degree in Sociology from Cheikh Anta Diop University (Ucad) and a dissertation to his name on "sexual tourism" in the Senegalese Petite Côte.

 As for his doctorate, (the next logical step), it wasn't so much that he abandoned the idea, but, let's say, more that he simply decided to take his time doing it. A short break which, he admits, had nothing much to do with his own prehistory. But, he accepts it… After seeing the light of day at some point in 2011, the project for this film called "Sama Rak" was very quickly abandoned owing to a "lack of equipment". However, last year, the project was finally brought to life, or taken out of the dusty "cupboard". 

 Today, the film's Belgian-Senegalese team finds itself having to chase after the second half of the budget for an estimated cost of "€50 million", in other words about 30 million CFA. And, although the "main financial contributions" are Belgian, Lionel, who declares that he has not hesitated to knock at the doors of certain Senegalese institutions, even receiving positive responses sometimes, explains that he has also found himself up against a certain administrative sluggishness: the well known letter that gets lost between floors, for example.

 "Talibés", a catch-all word?

 The other side of the story is, no doubt, the fact that the subject of the film itself (young street beggars) remains a rather delicate topic, and, above all, the term "talibés" should not be used: too general, too trite, too unclear... Between true disciples and children in rags, it has to be said that it is still not very clear. In French, "Sama Rak" literally means "my little brother" or "my little sister". And although the film's title necessarily brings to mind a certain popular expression, Lionel Croes wants the words to maintain a certain amount of tenderness beyond the commonly understood meaning. "We are all responsible for these children", he points out between two arguments.

"Sama Rak", a weighty, serious, film? Certainly not. Lionel Croes intended to produce something quite funny in order to hit a nerve among those who go and see the film, which recounts an unlikely encounter between a very privileged white teenager on holiday in the country and an impoverished local child.  In a very comical manner, the film results in each one finding himself "in the shoes" and life of the other. On this subject, the filmmaker tells us that certain stories are sometimes taken from his own life.

And, if the film has managed to escape the pitfalls of a documentary or a "candid camera", it is not by chance: heard too much, too common, or even already seen too often. Planned for February, filming should continue until June 2017, the scheduled delivery date. 

 But the small enterprise could really use a helping hand.

If you are interested in finding out more about the project, here is a 26-minute report presenting Lionel Croes in Senegal?