An adaptation of Bizet's opera Carmen, Karmen Gei is a musical film version set in contemporary Dakar, the capital of Senegal. Senegalese filmmaker Joseph Gai Ramaka shot the film in 2001 and left the country for France shortly after its release when an Islamic extremist group issued a fatwa threatening his life (In the film an Islamic funeral song is used for a Christian character). Ramaka now lives in New Orleans and will attend the screening at the inaugural Mississippi River 9th Ward Film Festival, an offshoot of the New Orleans Afrikan Film Festival. Preceding the screening is a musical performance by an ensemble of African and New Orleans musicians, fusing traditional West African percussion instruments with a jazz set up. Due to expectations of inclement weather, the screening has been moved several blocks to the 9th Ward community center known as The Village (1001 Charbonnet St.). The performance begins at 6 p.m. Saturday.
In remaking the opera, Ramaka reinterpreted Carmen and added characters. Carmen is a gypsy and there is a notion of class difference in the opera, as the soldier pursuing her is thought to be mingling with lower classes unbound by his social order. The couple's love has more of a lusty overtone. In Karmen, Ramaka has conceived of a free spirit who is perhaps socially marginalized (as a marijuana trader) but her allure is more one of spirit. To Ramaka, that spirit has no concern for what form it takes - so Karmen has both male and female lovers. But she also has a great friend in Old Samba. And Ramaka added Karmen's mother to the story, showing a familial love and also the importance of matriarchal ties in Senegalese culture. He also added Angelique, a prison warden who Karmen seduces in the opening scene. Underscoring the original story's refrain -- "Love is a wild bird you can not tame" -- Angelique falls for Karmen, and releases her from the prison. The film features absolutely vivacious Djeinaba Diop Gai as Karmen, brilliant cinematography, and a blend of African drumming and jazz, and singing in French and Wolof. The film is subtitled in English.