Ladj Ly, the director of Cannes Jury Prize-winning film Les Miserables, opened Africa’s first free film school this week – in Senegal’s capital Dakar.
The Kourtrajmé School, named after the group he founded in France, offers young people from underprivileged backgrounds the opportunity to train in audiovisual professions.
The Dakar school is the Kourtrajmé family’s third, after Montfermeil, in the Paris suburbs, and another in the southern city of Marseille.
The concept is simple: any student can apply for the selection process, regardless of age or level of education.
Housed in a former office building converted into a cultural center, the school welcomes 14 young Senegalese women and men – seven of each sex – chosen from hundreds of applicants.
The students began their first scriptwriting course on Tuesday, as part of a course that will run for five months in partnership with the French audiovisual agency INA and the French Development Agency (AFD).
Later in June, they will be joined by 18 apprentice directors.
🇸🇳 The Kourtrajmé School opens its doors in Dakar, sponsored by @OmarSy
Ladj Ly and the co-founder of Kourtrajmé, Toumani Sangaré, admit having considered setting up their first educational project in Mali, where their parents are from, but security problems in the country are a stumbling block.
“Senegal has become a real hub for audiovisual production, especially for series,” Sangaré told reporters.
The country has become a popular location for international productions, he says, with access to “quality technicians”, incredible locations and “it’s only five hours by plane from Paris”.
Ly grew up in the poor, multicultural HLM neighborhoods of Monfermeil in the eastern suburbs of Paris, where the Kourtrajmé collective was established in 1995. The name is French slang for short film, or short film.
One of his first projects was to film the violent riots of 2005, expressing anger from the perspective of young people living in the suburbs.
When he opened the first film school in Monfermeil in 2018, Ly was finalizing the editing Les Misérables, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2019. He was also nominated for an Oscar.
But setting up the school in Senegal has not been an easy journey, Ly admits. First, there were many challenges, from fundraising to getting through administrative hoops. Then, of course, there was the Covid outbreak, which brought its own complications.
Ly’s celebrity status helped a bit, he admits, but “trying to open a school for free was really a struggle.”
There was also a run-in with the law in February 2021, when the NGO running the school was investigated on suspicion of money laundering and breach of trust.
Ly and his brother were taken for questioning by the police. Ly says he was the victim of “sabotage” and the investigation is now complete, with a special court still deliberating the final verdict.
“The important thing is that the school exists and we are going to open more,” he said, referring to a future project in Madrid.
Ly and Sangaré also have a number of other creative projects underway across the continent, including in Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.