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Sembene Ousmane, 84; called leader of filmmaking in Africa

Sembene Ousmane, a Senegalese writer and filmmaker, was regarded as one of the pioneers of African cinema. (file 2005/afp getty images)

DAKAR, Senegal -- Sembene Ousmane, the father of Senegalese cinema and one of the pioneers of the art in Africa, died at his home during the weekend after a long illness. He was 84.

"It's a great loss for Senegal, for Africa, and for cinema," said Tidiane Niangan, the director of a government-run cinematography institute.

A self-educated fisherman, Mr. Ousmane was born in 1923 in the Casamance region of this former French colony. During World War II, he was drafted into the French army before settling in Marseilles, where he worked on the docks, joined the Communist Party, and wrote novels.

Several of his books were critically acclaimed, including "Voltaiques," a volume of short stories published in 1962.

It included the short story "The black girl from . . ." which he turned into a film two years later and which is credited with being sub-Saharan Africa's first feature film.

He made at least 10 movies, including his last film "Moolade," which won a prize at Cannes when it was released in 2004. Like his novels, his films tackled issues from female circumcision to the plight of railroad workers.

"He was equidistant from literature and from cinema," Niangan said. "He was someone who went to the very end of what he sought to do."