Yëngël Gësëm - Wrestling with Hope

21 June, 2016 by Mark Hann

In spring 2015, GLOBALSPORT member Mark Hann teamed up with Senegalese filmmaker Mamadou Khouma Gueye with the goal of making a film about the hopes, desires, and lives of aspiring athletes in Senegal. The collaboration resulted in the ethnographic documentary "Yëngël Gësëm - Wrestling with hope", which recently premiered in Dakar and Amsterdam. The Wolof title literally translates as 'shake and stir', and comes from a popular chant encouraging wrestlers to take the initiative in grappling with their adversaries. Here, it also refers to the courage and determination shown by young athletes as they attempt to beat the odds and seize the opportunity of a professional sports career.

Yëngël Gësëm

Struggling to find the steady employment needed to start a family and achieve financial independence, young Senegalese men are increasingly becoming “entrepreneurs of the self” – exploiting their own physical capital in order to succeed as athletes. The explosive commercial re-emergence of traditional Senegalese wrestling (lamb ji), along with the allure of the global football industry, has traced a new model of masculine success. The film follows the aspiring young wrestler Ama Diop as he prepares for a fight, navigating between training, mystical rituals, and family obligations. Between hope, conviction, and hard work, Ama’s trajectory highlights the tensions that emerge in the daily lives of men on the verge of adulthood, in a sport on the brink of professionalization, in a society on the margins of the global economy.

On May 28, 2016, the film was premiered in Guinaw Rails, a poverty-stricken suburb of Dakar notable for environmental devastation in the form of flooding. As the setting for most of the film, Guinaw Rails was the obvious choice to hold the first screening. With the assistance of Cinécyclo - a bicycle powered mobile cinema - a screen was set up on a sandy football pitch. The response from the local community was enthusiastic, with over 150 people turning up - including a number of the film's protagonists. The additional programme included a traditional bakk dance by the wrestlers featured in the film, drumming from the group who provide much of the film's soundtrack, and speeches by two of the film's stars.

This was followed on June 16 with the European premiere at the Anthropology department of the University of Amsterdam. Moderated by Professor Peter Geschiere, and in the presence of both filmmakers, "Yëngël Gësëm" was screened to an audience of over 50 students, staff members, and guests, followed by a lively discussion. The event was accompanied by a mini photo exhibition on Senegalese wrestling, and those present were invited to try a traditional Senegalese yassa.

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