«Identity can be a door to something new»

Juan Manuel Bramuglia and Esteban Tabacznik presents their film, running in the Argentine Competition.
I Am Here (Mangui fi) introduces the life of Ababacar and Mbaye, a couple of Senegalese immigrants living in a Buenos Aires lighted by the other’s perspective. Juan Manuel Bramuglia and Esteban Tabacznik register these young hawkers that, as a couple of 21st century flâneurs, walk the city and question the identity issue, followed by a camera keeps busy shooting the dimension of otherness, the voice and the body of the other. I Am Here (Mangui Fi) casts light on a matter there is not much research about, the phenomenon of the African immigration to Argentina.

How did you became interested in the Senegalese culture and immigration?

The growing African presence in the city aroused our curiosity. First, they try to migrate to Europe or the United States. So we were surprised they were coming here, where it is so hard to make a living and blacks were practically erased from national history.  That curiosity was our first approach.  Then we started attending their religious celebrations and we were shocked by how massive the community is, by their sense of community and by how emotional these celebrations were.  That was when we started meeting with referents of the community. In that sense, the contribution of Boubacar Traoré the Marabout Cheikh Mbacké was crucial to understand certain cultural aspects. Those meetings led us to read about Senegal, revise their history, their music, their cinema and their literature, mostly based on old oral stories.  It was as if we were in a place where one door was the gateway to the next. 
How did you meet Ababacar and Mbaye, the friends who start I Am Here (Mangui fi)?
We met Ababacar in one of the many religious celebrations we attended. We had started shooting with two other guys already but his story caught us. He was very open to Argentine lifestyle and that aroused our curiosity; we wanted to know how he managed to handle two worlds within him, what changes had migration caused in his life and how he perceived himself as regards who he was when he first arrived in here. Actually, Ababacar started by helping us with the production tasks, specially when it came to organizing our trip to Senegal.  It was thanks to him that we met Mbaye, who was visiting his family and friends after spending five years in Argentina. Mbaye was very interested in the project too and after shooting a couple of scenes, we ask him to be one of the movie's protagonists. He didn't think it twice and that was exactly what Ababacar needed to finally accept to participate as an actor. We were attracted by Mbaye's amazing inner force, how outspoken he is and, also, by the fact that he represented a more traditional way of handling immigration. This clashed with Ababacar's testimony, which made us curious about their friendship and allowed us to explore the community's inner debate represented by two men.
Ababacar and Mbaye are the “objects” of the documentary but, at the same time, they are the ones to document our city and its inhabitants. The documented turn the documentarists. How did you develop the point of view?
The formal treatment of the movie is diverse and calls for different documentary modalities to narrate and access certain situations and characters’ aspects, which is what interested us the most. But we think that all of these modalities appeared as a result of a deeper search. Having seen many movies about Africans made by Westerns, we found the fact that they are taken as victims very annoying. That, let’s say, Eurocentric perspective, reduces them to that and labels them as a vehicle to talk about racism or poverty while his inner world is opaqued by these issues. Their voice is only “useful” if it contributes to these matters. Our intention was to get to know him, to get into his world. We also realized this sort of “mise en abyme” as regards the point of view allowed them to talk about themselves in an indirect and less violent way while, at the same time, it was a way of granting them that space they still lack in our society. On the other hand, it was a different way of taking to the screen another aspect of the cultural clash they face when they leave Senegal from a more visceral position.
The community of Senegalese immigrants is getting more and more visible in our urban physiognomy. Do you find it to have any singular characteristic?
A closed and rigid identity that isolates itself is at risk of ending up as a lethal soliloquy.  In that sense, the Senegalese migration is a very particular phenomenon, but is it also in motion thanks to the new generations. Their members usually travel and send money to their families in Senegal with the idea or the fantasy of returning one day as adventurers, after a long journey, to be regarded as men who sacrificed themselves for their people. They leave Senegal but they never stop being there. Now, the new generations start regarding this diaspora as a problem and that's when debate arises, a controversy around the loss of identity and the fear to the change being open to influences and other lifestyles can generate. Considering the terrible plight of slavery, the fact that this debate is actually possible is a mayor lesson. The fact that these matters are actually discussed speaks of how rich the Senegalese culture is and how alive their spirit is, although we suspect it must happen in other communities as well. A singular characteristic of them could be this sort of split identity: on the one hand, the sacrifice and the wait the emigrant has to face, the image of him that his remittances build back in Senegal. On the other hand, our impression is that through migration, they search to choose another path and when they find themselves in such different societies they have a hard time adapting to (societies that don't help them adapt either), they end up trapped in the non-position of the immigrant “who is here thinking of there.”
What was the experience of shooting in Senegal like?
Ababacar's siblings took us in in their house in Dakar and that solidified our bond, made us closer, which allowed us to get to places it would have been very hard for us to visit otherwise.  Abdou, Ababacar's older brother, was our guide in Dakar and reduced the impact of arriving in a completely strange country: he interceded and stopped the Police from arresting us the first day for shooting at the airport one week before Obama’s visit. Being hosted in Ababacar and Mbaye's siblings’ houses allowed us to take part in a more domestic way in their customs and see how much time they devote to hanging out with friends, relatives and neighbors. When we got to Mbaye's house in Touba, located in a recently created neighborhood in the outskirts of the city, we were surprised we were the first white men many kids have ever seen.  Our position as “white men making a film” wasn't always an advantage, though.  In many places we went to shoot, people's first response was to distrust us and their second one, to ask us for money.  Many people thought we were making a film about poverty in Africa which we would use to make money.  “We are a bunch of broke Argentines making a documentary about you and we’re not making money with this; if anything, we're getting into debt.” Mbaye told us something that got us thinking:  “I understand you won't make money with this but you have to understand that is a privilege that you have.” Those words got us thinking what would be the best way of exploiting that privilege.  We think the approach this film presents is a possible response to that question.
Gustavo Toba
Today, Sun 19, 12.00 pm, ALD 3
Today, Sun 19, 10.00 pm, ALD 3
Mon 20, 5.30 pm, ALD 3


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