After wowing audiences around the globe with her short film - the vibrant, unorthodox musical Saint Louis Blues, which was one of 5 projects selected, financed and produced under the Focus Features Africa First program (she was part of the very first class, announced in 2008) - Senegalese director Dyana Gaye, has made her feature film debut with Des Etoiles (or, in English, Under the Starry Sky), which World Premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this year last September.
It's a project we've been tracking since it was one of 22 selected for the annual Co-production Village, which ran from December 11-13, 2011 at the 3rd Les Arcs European Film Festival. Most recently, it was one of 15 projects selected for the Cannes L’Atelier last year - an initiative which runs during the Cannes Film Festival aimed at finding financing for projects by upcoming directors that are in an advanced state of development.
And there are still other honors bestowed upon the project, as it traveled from one market/conference to the next, raising financing along the way and attracting talent at each stop, culminating in the film's eventual TIFF debut.
Shot in early 2013, the film's synopsis reads:
Over one winter, through the cities of Dakar, Torino and New York, we follow the exiled paths of several interconnected characters. For her husband’s funeral, New Yorker Mame Amy returns to Dakar with her 19-year-old son Thierno, who takes his first ever steps on African soil. Sophie, 24-years-old, leaves Dakar for Torino to join her husband Abdoulaye. He is missing. Abdoulaye has just arrived in New York with his cousin through an organisation of clandestine migrants. As the days go by, their destinies begin to echo one another, through the diversity of the cities they are crossing, somehow all united under the same starry sky.
Its cast includes Souleymane Seye N’Diaye (from fellow Senegalese Moussa Toure's The Pirogue), Babacar M’Baye Fall, Ralph Amoussou, Italian actress Maya Sansa, Mata Gabin, Andreï Zayats and Marième Demba Ly.
Des Etoiles' Gaye co-wrote the script with Cécile Vargaftig.
The film already has distribution in French theatres, via Haut et Court; meanwhile, international sales are being handled by Films Distribution. But no USA pick-up just yet. It hasn't even premiered at any USA film festivals, but I'm sure that's going to change soon, although I can't say when exactly that'll happen. I'm betting it'll be picked up by one or two stateside film festivals - especially the Diaspora festivals.
It's feels like it's been a long journey. I'm excited for this, given what I know of Dyana Gaye's past work.
Below is the film's first official trailer (although it's for the France release, so it's not subtitled in English), which we premiered last month. But first, I stumbled upon this short video interview with Dyana, shot at the Dubai International Film Festival in December 2013, 2 months ago.