As we prepare for Montreal, we wanted to share the story of our very first screening of Grand comme le Baobab in Sinthiou Mbadane, the small Senegalese village where the film takes place. The screening began with local teachers stringing up a bedsheet on the wall of the schoolhouse. Nearly 300 villagers, including the actors and their families, waited patiently for hours as the sun set and the projector — charged with a solar panel — flickered to life. For many of the young children in the audience, this would be the first movie they had ever seen. We held our breath as this was, for us, our most important audience.
From the very first scene, the audience roared with laughter at the exhilaration of seeing their friends, family, and homes captured on screen. Initial excitement gave way to introspective contemplation and even some tears as the story progressed. When the film ended, we were surrounded by darkness. Groups of children gathered around flashlights and lanterns, discussing what they had just seen. A group of mothers came up to us, asking when they could see it again. Most importantly, the actors–our key collaborators, the people whose lives shaped the story of the film–were glowing with pride. They had seen their stories come to life.