LAWRENCE — When he was a child in Senegal, Mamadou Dia would listen to his grandmother's stories. Now a filmmaker, he tells the stories of his native Africa. This fall he’ll be the first Visiting Interdisciplinary Scholar at the University of Kansas’ Hall Center for the Humanities and help scholars of all kinds take their stories to the world.
A former journalist, Dia has drawn acclaim as a filmmaker. His latest effort, “Samedi Cinema,” has gained international recognition and was selected for the Venice Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Festival International du Film Francophone de Namur and others. During his fellowship at KU he’ll work with faculty, staff and students to take their ideas, stories and findings from the page to the digital, visual world. While one might not consider a dissertation or journal article the genesis of a film, any story can be told in a visual way.
“We don’t always realize these kinds of stories can be told visually in a digital space,” Dia said of academic stories. “We’ll talk about how to take a story from an idea or narrative setting to a visual one.”
We live in an era where nearly all aspects of our lives can be quickly and easily shared via technology. Given the sheer amount of information a person can find every day it is necessary to find ways to make one’s story stand out, reach people it might miss otherwise and to make it more robust for those who might naturally be interested. Dia said he plans to work with academics to help them realize ways to share their work digitally, be it through a brief video summary of their work, an immersive, interactive digital representation or something in between.
Having worked as a video journalist for more than eight years across the African continent for a variety of news agencies and international donors, Dia said that background is informative in his films and can serve others as well.
“I think journalism is a great form of training to learn how to communicate artistically in many ways,” he said. “I have to look at the facts of a story and think about what and who my audience is. This is what I see in the world, and I try to always think about how I can connect with that audience to share a story they understand and can connect with.”
Dia’s background is in film, documentary and fiction, but his expertise will be of value to scholars in a number of disciplines.
“The Hall Center is thrilled that Mamadou Dia has agreed to be our first visiting interdisciplinary fellow. Dia’s weeklong residency at KU will enable him to share a filmmaker’s perspective on a variety of humanities topics that are of interest to faculty, graduate students and undergraduates in African & African-American studies, film & media studies, French, Francophone & Italian studies and more,” said Marta Caminero-Santangelo, interim director of the Hall Center for the Humanities. “This ongoing fellowship program, made possible with generous support from the Hall Family Foundation, allows us to foster interdisciplinary conversations that continue all year long and to build a robust community of KU scholars who are consistently thinking, speaking and working across departments.”
Ultimately, collaboration can help both artists and experts tell their best possible stories.
“Academics are often experts in a content area, and that expertise can help the public go deeper and learn more about a topic,” Dia said. “Artists often think about a topic in broader terms without having the deeper understanding of the meaning. Together, they can produce something that has an emotional connection for both and is also informative. For me, as an artist and creator, to be able to share that with these scholars and to be able to learn from them and help tell their stories is very exciting.”
Video Credit: Mamad Dia. Above, a trailer for "Samedi Cinema," a short film by Senegalese director Mamadou Dia. Dia will be the first Hall Center for the Humanities Visiting Interdisciplinary Scholar, working with academics of various disciplines to turn their work into digital stories.