The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.

Safi Faye is a Senegalese filmmaker. She studied ethnology at the École Pratique des Hautes Études, Paris, and has a PhD from the University of Paris. Safi’s first film La Passante (1972), in which she starred, touched on her lonely experience as an African woman living in Paris. Safi has focused on films depicting life in rural Senegal; her first feature film Letter from My Village or News from My Village (1975) was the first film by a sub-Saharan African woman to be commercially distributed. Her last film was called Mossane (1997). Safi shares her views on climate change in Africa and more.

You are known as the first African female film director. Looking back on your career, what are the highlights?

My career is a bit different from most film directors, because all of my films have been about farmers. I’ve always believed that every African comes from the rural world and that is why all my research and writings have been about rural life. A film like Letter from my Village (Kaddu Beykat) is being shown again now, during the COP 21 United Nations conference on climate change. People from all over the world want to see it – 40 years after I made it – because I was already talking about these ecological issues four decades ago. Things have gotten a lot worse since 1975, because of the terrible droughts that we see everywhere.

If we want to save the world, we need to start cultivating again.

Farmers are now caught in a terrible situation because of complications linked to cultivating set-aside areas. It doesn’t help that their children want to become the elite of their countries, which means that choosing a life of farming is beneath them. So we Africans end up importing food from everywhere, including China and the plight of African farmers keeps getting worse. If we want to save the world, we need to start cultivating again; we need to start planting trees again. So many African trees have been cut and so few people respect the environment.

I did a lot of work with the United Nations when I lived in New York for three years with my daughter. When I was there, I focused on publicising the plight of the African female farmer, who might have 12 children, of which six might die.

I also directed films for UNICEF, where I showed the struggles related to farming life because of lack of water. Or a film like Tesito, which came out in 1989, that was about the desperation of the women who farm, with torn hands, in the Casamance region in Senegal.

Those are the films that show my vision of the world and most of my big films were shown at the Cannes Film Festival.

How do you feel about Senegal now?

There is corruption in Senegal, just the way there is corruption all over the world. But at least in Senegal, we talk about corruption; we talk about issues unlike in many African or Arab countries I’ve visited. We accuse people. I feel like Senegal is the most democratic country in West Africa.

When President Obama came to Senegal, he said that Senegal is a free country. This makes us very proud. We talk so much in Senegal. We argue. We discuss issues. All kinds of issues.

Who’s your African of the year?

It would have to be the Tunisian women who are changing the world, who played a big part in the revolution. They are changing mentalities and they are confronting negativity. I went to Dubai because my daughter was living there for a while and I found it impossible to talk with the Emirati.

We were all born animists and this extremist religion thing is out of control.

I went to Algeria and it was impossible for me to even enter a house in Algeria because the husband would refuse to let me in. That is why I admire these Tunisian women, who are also changing our view of religion. We were all born animists and this extremist religion thing is out of control. So in my opinion, women are the solution.

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