As the daughter of Sarah Maldoror and Mário Pinto de Andrade, Annouchka de Andrade had the opportunity to spend time with numerous figures of the international revolution in Algiers during her childhood in the 1960s. In this interview, she reminisces about this time using intimate memories of people and events, rather than perpetuating the mythicized narratives of history books.
LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: You were born in 1962 in Moscow, where your mother, Sarah Maldoror, was studying cinema on a scholarship granted to her by Ahmed Sekou Touré’s Guinea. It is probably a very silly question, but how does it feel to be the same age as independent Algeria?
ANNOUCHKA DE ANDRADE: I’m not sure how to answer this question, but what’s for sure is that I feel very close to Algeria. The time we lived there was very special for our family. I grew up at first in Moscow, then Rabat, in Morocco, and then right after in Algeria. I have a lot of memories of it, and I feel like my heart is quite Algerian.
LL: In 1964, your family moved from Rabat to Algiers, and lived there for six years. Do you have any memories of Algiers in these very particular times?
ADA: My memories are mostly intimate ones, because that was the only moment where the entire family was together and happy. That’s why Algeria is so important for me, because we were there together. After that, we lived in Paris but my father, who was wanted by the PIDE (political Portuguese police) and Interpol, could not come to Paris. He did, of course, change his name and nationality but did not stay too long, until 1974, the year of Angolan independence. That’s why the time we spent together in Algeria was really special and warm, and it’s still so essential and structuring for us.
But of course, in a much larger sense, those were important years, and politically very strong and fundamental because Algeria was one the first African countries to support the liberation movements, MPLA (People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola), PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde) and FRELIMO (Front for Liberation of Mozambique). Sékou Touré was in reality the first one to help in 1959, and Mohamed V
Was well, but Ben Bella really made way for all African revolutionaries in the country. It was not only material help but military as well. Everybody was going to Algiers, which was a very strong place where people would know they’d be safe, and they’d have everything at their disposal to think and build their own revolution. This explains how Algeria had a key role in the movement and, of course, that’s why we love Algeria! We can’t minimize Ben Bella’s help, but also Boumédienne, because he continued helping the revolutionaries after 1965.
I also remember my friends Amílcar Cabral, the Cubans and Che Guevara… they’d come to our place for political meetings or to have a drink. I remember the PAIGC and MPLA offices in particular… It was near the Cinemathèque.
LL: And Eldridge Cleaver… What is it like to be a six-year-old child and to be next to him?
ADA: I mean, for me as a child, it was just one of many people who would come visit us at home. All of our parents’ friends were writers, filmmakers, or important revolutionaries, so for me, it was just normal. The only distinct thing I do remember is that Sarah was telling Cleaver when he was coming at our place that he could not take his weapons with him: “Elridge, you got to put down your revolver. I have two daughters and I don’t want them to play or take any risks.”
This had a great impression on me and I think that this is why—I don’t know about my sister—I am so afraid of guns. I’m always trying to keep myself far away from army people.
LL: In an interview you did with Cédric Faucq and François Piron for the beautiful exhibition they curated at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris last year, dedicated to the amazing work of Sarah, I read that you and your sister had been forbidden by your parents to go to Algiers 1969 Pan-African festival. Were you too young for it?
ADA: We were able to attend the festival, but only for daytime events, and we were not allowed to go to the Miriam Makeba concert at night. We really really wanted to go! We woke up during the night, and did not obey our neighbor who was keeping an eye on us, and we decided to wait for our parents in the street. They told us that next time they’ll bring us. Another night of that week, our parents woke us up to go on a ship to welcome the Cuban delegation. We were definitely the youngest there, and some of the musicians offered us drums!
LL: Can you tell us about the forms of solidarity that existed between Algeria and the Angolan struggle for liberation in which your father, Mário Pinto de Andrade, was the key figure we know?
ADA: The Algerian government really helped the movement and their leaders. So the MPLA for Angola, the PAIGC for Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, the FRELIMO for Mozambique… they all had offices in Algiers. Our house was in the neighborhood of Saint-Eugène; now called Bologhine. So we had this huge house there and it was just a gift, you know, from the government. What they gave to the movement was stability, material conditions for political development, as well as military training.
And importantly, they were free: they could meet, plan and organize their strategies for independence.
LL: We talked about Mário’s work, now let’s talk of Sarah’s work while in Algiers. She assisted Gilo Pontecorvo on his canonical Battle of Algiers in 1965, although somehow she did not get credited for it.
ADA: Yes, she was one of the assistants of Gilo Pontecorvo, and she’s not credited at the end of the film. But I have pictures of her working on the shooting, and I have all her pay stubs, so I can tell you exactly which week she worked on it. It was crucial for Sarah to work on this film, as she could see how important a movie it was. Moreover, she said that she learned a lot because she was starting her career as a filmmaker. So she was really happy, and she did not care about not being credited. It was not a problem for her; the most important thing was to have been part of the film.
LL: We talked about Sarah’s work as assistant, but when she was living in Algiers, she also shot two films of her own: Monangambééé in 1969 and Des fusils pour Banta (Guns for Banta) in 1970.
ADA: Yes, Monangambééé is an adaptation of the novel Le complet de Mateus – O fato complete de mateus– complete de Mateus (1961) by José Luandino Vieira, an Angolan writer who, at that time, was in a Portuguese concentration camp in Cape Verde. This is the same author that Sarah adapted again with Sambizanga (The real life of Domingos Xavier) later on in 1972. She worked on Monangambééé with Mário, who had translated the novel into French and published it with Présence africaine. It’s an important movie because it was the first time they worked together. In our archives, we have letters signed by Mário and others by Sarah, looking for help and money from the Algerian government. So this movie is 100% Algerian, but with the help of the Angolan militants who were in Algiers at that time. The film crew was Algerian, but some of the actors were Angolans or from the PAIGC, and of course they were not professional actors. The only professional actor was Mohamed Zinet. He was a very close friend to Sarah; I think they met during the shooting of The Battle of Algiers.
Sarah wanted to say that you can’t win a war without women. She worked a lot on this film, the shooting was hard. She had a clash with an Algerian military officer and had to leave Algeria in 48 hours without finishing the editing. I really hope that I will be able to find the copies of it one day, because so far they are lost.
LL: Did she ever return to Algeria?
ADA: Yes, we went there together in Constantine in 1983 for a film festival in this beautiful city. Director Ahmed Lallem, as well as Djamila Bouhired, and other female militants of the Algerian Revolution were there. It was really moving. And then she went back in 1985, when she made her movie Le Passager du Tassili, for which some parts were filmed in Algiers.
LL: Are there any more memories you would like to share with us?
ADA: As I mentioned earlier, this time in Algiers was the only moment where my family was all together. You know we had this life moving here and there, and my father had to switch nationality and sometimes operate clandestinely. So this had not been easy, but this time in Algeria was truly a very happy moment for my father, my mother, my sister, and myself. And it was a peaceful moment, even though my father was working for the independence of Angola, and we knew that he was regularly receiving awful news from back home.
Again my relation with Algeria is an intimate one. We attended political meetings, but as children, we did not care so much. We did not realize who Elridge Cleaver was, or any of the other friends who were coming at home. I knew for instance that my father was working on the Tricontinental publication, and he would take me to the printer, so I could see the photos, the layout, etc.. My memories are intimate, and based on sensations. I have many
olfactive memories, for example. That’s why Algeria is so important to me. Of course, later on, one rebuilds their own memories based on what they heard and understood then, and some memories, I’m not even sure they’re all real. But what I keep from Algeria is strong and sweet, and it was very formative for me. I had the desire to go back to Algeria later and I went there alone. I wanted to go back and visit the family house again and see our neighbors… And I would like to go back for that.
This is what I wanted to say. I’m sorry because I can’t give you more details or more political facts, because simply I lived this moment as a child and when you are six or eight years old, you don’t have the same capacity for understanding. And of course you know my parents were not telling me “Be careful, this is a hugely important person you’re about to meet!”
We were very happy to speak with him, he always came with candies for my sister and I… he was just a very warm parent-part of the family, not a historical figure. We also had the opportunity to meet Kateb Yacine and Jean Sénac. I really remember the poet Jean Sénac with his long beard, and the walks to his place in La pointe Pescade [now Raïs Hamidou] to meet him… such great memories…
LL: Thank you very much Annouchka; I don’t think that you should apologize. We’re the ones making myths out of these people, and it’s always very important to bring them back to their personhood, as human beings, as friends, as parents, as godfathers…
ADA: To conclude let me thank and quote Cabral himself about the importance of Algiers at that time. He said “Catholics go to the Vatican; Muslims go to Mecca; Revolutionaries go to Algiers.” I will always be grateful to Algerians. ■