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APRIL 16–21

After fighting for France in World War II, working on the Marseilles docks, and becoming a labor activist, Senegal’s Ousmane Sembene seemed ready for a career as a working-class intellectual. He soon began to doubt, however, that his novels were having much impact in Africa. So he turned to making movies (Xala is pictured), first a few shorts and then Black Girl (at 4:15 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and at 8:50 p.m. Monday, April 19). Based on an actual case, this 1966 drama is sub-Saharan cinema’s first major film. It’s the tale of young woman who works happily as a nanny for a French family in Dakar; after she follows her employers to the south of France, she begins to feel trapped, leading to a harrowing kicker. The relationship between his country and its former colonizer is a motif in Sembene’s films, notably two about Senegalese soldiers of World War II: 1971’s Emitai (at 6:45 p.m. Monday, April 19, and Wednesday, April 21) and 1987’s Camp de Thiaroye (at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and at 3:40 p.m. Sunday, April 18). Both films are based on true stories, with the latter offering a particularly devastating climax. Yet Sembene’s critiques have not spared his own people: In 1968’s Mandabi (at 6:45 p.m. Friday, April 16, and Tuesday, April 20), a money order brings out the worst in a man’s friends and relatives, while his latest film, 2000’s Faat Kiné (at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 17, and at 6:40 p.m. Sunday, April 18) skewers the hypocrisies of a more affluent contemporary Dakar. The series opens Friday, April 16, and runs to Wednesday, April 21 (see Showtimes for a full schedule), at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $8.50. (301) 495-6700. (Mark Jenkins)