Mati Diop, niece of the late great Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty (director of African cinema classics like Touki Bouki and Hyènes), will make her feature film directorial debut with a project currently titled Fire Next Time, although it’s not at all based on James Baldwin’s famous book of essays (I should note that the author himself got his title from a Bible prophecy recreated in a song of a slave: “God gave Noah the rainbow sign; No more water, the fire next time!”).

The filmmaker is also the daughter of Senegalese jazz musician Wasis Diop, although cinephiles will likely be more familiar with her filmmaker uncle (Mambéty) than her father. Mati did seem to first get the attention of international critics and cinema enthusiasts everywhere with her work as an actress and writer in 2012’s critically-acclaimed crime/drama Simon Killer (as co-scripter and co-star), for which she won the AFI FEST Special Mention for Performance award  (both for writing and acting). Prior to Simon Killer, she starred alongside revered french actor Alex Descas in celebrated French auteur Claire Denis’ acclaimed drama 35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum). She also picked up acclaim and awards for her performance in that film.

In addition to her abilities as an actress and writer, she’s a director who’s been making films since she was 22 (she’s 35 now), when she directed her first film, a short titled, Last Night. Her short film Atlantiques (2009) was screened at numerous film festivals around the world, and won a number of trophies. In total, she’s directed 5 short films (fiction and non-), and acted in 11 films (shorts and features).

Diop’s Fire Next Time tells the story of Ada, a young woman from Dakar, whose fast-paced lifestyle is suddenly disrupted by the sudden disappearance of her lover, Souleiman. Her boyfriend is soon believed to be dead, especially as the bodies of some of his friends start to wash up on a Dakar beach. It’s thought that the youngsters must have gone to sea in one of the many boats (pirogue) that leave Senegal’s shores, crossing the Atlantic to Europe, undertaking the treacherous journey where the passengers believe better lives and prospects are waiting for them in whatever countries they land.

There’s a much longer synopsis, but it gives too much away, so I won’t spoil the film for you. But I read it and immediately thought of fellow Senegales filmmaker Moussa Touré’s La Pirogue (2012), a film we covered on this blog, that highlights the dangerous trips men (most often) take on small boats to foreign lands, seeking better lives for themselves and families; some don’t make it all the way to their destination (the Red Cross estimates that as many as 1000+ people die attempting to make the 900-mile crossing each year). Although the crossing will not be Fire Next Time’s main focus, with the young Ada as the central character. As Mati Diop shares: “This is the legend of the bird that rises from the ashes. Here, the phoenix is a young woman. After devoting a short film to the men who leave by sea, my current interest is in the women who stay behind, the ones who wait for a brother, a lover, a son to come back. Fire Next Time is a Gothic tale of contemporary Africa, telling the story of a latter day Penelope in Dakar. This one cannot while away her time in luxuriant bowers, however, as she awaits his return. She has to escape from a grim destiny and save her life. She has to save her skin, escape from a dark destiny not chosen of her own free will. At the end of this journey of initiation, the adolescent woman finds her lost treasure. Freedom. I’m in.”

As she also states, Fire Next Time is a feature-length follow-up to a previous short film she directed titled Atlantiques, which focused its lens on the men who chance death at sea.

Filming on Fire Next Time is set to kick off in Senegal in March of this year, with local actors playing characters who will speak Wolof, the dominant local language. Diop will direct from a script she co-wrote with Olivier Demangel. The production will shoot for 7 weeks, from March through May 2018 in Dakar, Senegal, with Claire Mathon (nominated for the César Award in 2014 for Stranger by the Lake) serving as DP.

Judith Lou Lévy and Eve Robin are producing for Les Films du Bal, with Arte France Cinéma, Cinekap (Senegal) and Frakas Productions (Belgium) all co-producing.

Canal+, TV5 Monde and Ciné+ have pre-purchased rights to the film – money which helped finance the picture, along with additional funding support from Senegal’s FOPICA fund, La Francophonie’s Image Fund, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and Eurimages.

France’s MK2 is on board to handle international sales.

I’d expect an early 2019 premiere for the film, likely at an international film festival like Berlin in February or Cannes in May of next year.