In “Prism,” the directors Rosine Mbakam, An van. Dienderen and Eléonore Yameogo join forces to ask, “Is the very technology of cinema biased?”
In 2015, van. Dienderen made “Lili,” a short film that interrogated cinema’s use of China Girls. That’s the name for the test images — typically of a white woman and a color bar — used since the 1920s for film processing calibrations. “Prism” is the result of van. Dienderen’s invitation to Mbakam and Yameogo to ponder their profession’s culpability with her, via Zoom and apart in their own segments. Their answers are personal, cultural, theoretical. Their pieces speak to each other, concurring but diverging too.
Densely thoughtful, “Prism” has beautiful and poignant moments. In van. Dienderen’s section, a camera tracks through an art school campus to a television studio where it finds a Black woman, a white man and a color bar. In her layered piece, Mbakam questions two of her former film school professors, both white men. She also reconstructs Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s “Portrait de négresse” as a living sculpture in which the model’s gaze meets the camera’s with a steady and gorgeous defiance. In Yameogo’s contribution, the actor Tella Kphomahou interviews Diarra Sourank, a cinematographer, and the French-Senegalese director Sylvestre Amoussou about the challenges faced as Black filmmakers.
While a great deal here is sober, Yameogo’s piece teases a “60-Minutes”-style conceit that provokes and amuses. In it, Kphomahou interviews a camera. As the actor poses questions, smiling wryly, the camera appears to be paying Cyclopean attention to its hot-seat predicament.
Not rated. In French and English with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 18 minutes. In theaters.
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