Three mercenaries on the run with a plane full of gold and a dark secret in their past are the starting point for Jean Luc Herbulot’s Senegalese genre-bender “Saloum,” which has its world premiere in the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto Film Festival.
The film centers on the Bangui Hyenas, a mythic trio of mercenaries whose plane is shot down as they’re fleeing a coup in Guinea-Bissau. Transporting a bounty of stolen gold and a kidnapped drug lord, they’re forced to take refuge in a remote and mystical region of Senegal.
But as they lay low in the Saloum Delta waiting to repair and refuel their plane, a mysterious secret from the past emerges, unleashing dark ancestral forces that threaten to consume them all.
“Saloum” is the first production from Lacme Studios, a Dakar-based production company that Herbulot and co-founder Pamela Diop hope will reshape narratives and “create a stronghold for myths and monsters and heroes” on the continent, according to Herbulot.
The writer-director says the studio’s first feature is an attempt to illustrate “how we can make something new that we’re not used to seeing in Africa,” adding: “We’re all quite frustrated about the fact that we don’t have a lot of African heroes on screen.”
Citing films such as Sergio Leone’s Westerns, Akira Kurosawa’s Samurai films, Jean-Pierre Melville’s noirs, and George Miller’s post-apocalyptic actioners as inspiration, Herbulot says he was looking to find a distinctive visual style for his kinetic, genre-shifting supernatural thriller. “We wanted to give the African genre movie a signature,” he says.
“Saloum” was filmed on location in Senegal’s remote Saloum Delta, with what producer Pamela Diop describes as a deeply immersive and collaborative process that involved cast and crew living in the same encampment throughout the five-week shoot. It stars Yann Gael, Roger Sallah, Mentor Ba and Evelyne Ily Juhen.
The film draws heavily on local folklore and spirituality, something that Diop credits with grounding it in the unique character of a region where her family has roots. “We take all of our energy from the Saloum,” she says.
The Congo-born Herbulot was schooled in Paris and spent six years living in Los Angeles. In 2014 he shot his first feature, “Dealer,” which was acquired by Netflix. Three years later he returned to Africa, where he created, directed and served as showrunner on the Dakar-set TV series “Sakho and Mangane.” Produced for Canal Plus Afrique, it would go on to become the first series from French-speaking West Africa to be picked up by Netflix.
In 2019 Herbulot and Diop joined forced to launch Lacme Studios. The duo has a broad slate of nearly 20 projects in development, including a body-swap comedy series set in Ivory Coast and a historical biography about the great Carthaginian general and statesman Hamilcar Barca, and is in post-production on the Senegal-set action thriller “Zero.”
Produced in partnership with Hus Miller of Tableland Pictures, who along with Douglas Jackson shares an executive producing credit on “Saloum,” “Zero” is the first in what is expected to be a number of collaborations between the U.S. producers and Lacme. Herbulot says the partnership is in keeping with the philosophy that spurred he and Diop to launch their production outfit in Senegal.
“It was always about [how to] take something local and transform it to be global,” he says. “We have some strong IPs on our side. Now it’s about finding the right partners and people who want to invest in Africa.”
“And people who want to make movies,” adds Diop.
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