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The Pirogue

La Pirogue

A beautifully shot film that blends in perfectly with the characteristic sounds of Senegal to deliver a well-crafted melodrama that is compelling to watch.

Even if a screening is sold out, tickets are often available 30 minutes before the start of the film at the box office at each venue.

The Pirogue

  • Director Moussa Touré
  • Producer Eric Névé, Oumar Sy, Adrien Maigne
  • Screenwriter Eric Névé, David Bouchet
  • With Souleymane Seye Ndiaye, Laïty Fall, Malamine Dramé ‘Yalenguen’
  • Senegal-France 2012
  • 87 mins
  • Sales Memento Films International

Retired Senegalese fisherman Baye Laye is persuaded to captain a wooden fishing boat – a pirogue – to lead 30 men and a stowaway woman on a dangerous journey across the seas to Europe for a better life. Initially hesitant, Laye agrees to go, driven by aspirations for his own family. The trip gradually descends into disaster as the pirogue’s human cargo fight for survival against the treacherous conditions of the Atlantic Ocean. The presence of the female stowaway causes some friction among the men, while religious and ethnic differences also complicate matters. A poignant encounter with another helpless pirogue, carrying men desperate for food and water, forces a focus on their other pressing anxieties. The beautifully shot images blend perfectly with the characteristic sounds of Senegal, helping deliver a well-crafted melodrama that is compelling to watch.
Keith Shiri

Director Q&A

How did the film come about?

It was born out of a very simple and apparent observation: in Senegal, each family has at least one member who has headed off in a boat to try their luck in Europe. Our people grow up with the horizon in the distance, but the only way for the younger ones to reach it is by leaving. Half of the population is under 20, and there is no future for them. One day, I discovered that my mechanic – a very young man – had also tried his luck. He got away by boat, but was sent back home two months later. When I met him, we talked about it in great detail and I noted down some of the details of his story, which subsequently served as inspiration for the film.

How did the screenplay start to take shape?

If you count every step, the writing process took us three years to complete. I didn’t want to be credited for the screenplay because the two people who wrote it had genuine objectivity in terms of this story, whereas I didn’t have the necessary distance. [Producer Eric Névé] chose me because I belong to that group of people who know the sea well. I know what those young people are hoping for when they head out towards the horizon, what drives them to leave and what future is waiting for them. He gave me a lot of freedom to make the film the way I wanted, and I was able to infuse the screenplay with that reality. My contribution to the narrative structure was made during the shoot, through the directing.

Some very different people are brought together on the boat.

I wanted the men on the boat to be of different ethnic origins. Senegal is a home to twelve different ethnic groups who cohabit the same land and who get along together very well. They gather together in the presence of the marabout or spiritual leader, who provides a very solid base for this society. It is he who advocates gathering together. When there is any tension, he stands up and finds a solution to re-establish harmonious relations. That is why on the boat, there are Toucouleurs, Wolofs and Guinean Fulas. And each ethnic group has its own way of operating. The Toucouleurs are very religious and spiritual, the Wolofs more individualist and the Fulas form a united collective behind their own chief. As such, the close confines of the boat don’t make it easy for cohabitation. And it is all the more difficult because each person has a very good reason for leaving: one wants to be a soccer star, another a musician, a third only has one leg and is seeking medical treatment, and many others simply want to find material success.

One feels like these men are aware there is a recession in Europe and they know they won’t be finding Eldorado.

That is true, but these young men live on hope and they know that whatever happens, ‘It’s better over there than it is here’. And that’s a terrible thing because it’s there that things start going adrift. ‘It’s Better Than Here’ could even have been the title of the film. When there is no momentum in a country, when not a flicker of hope remains, young people don’t think twice – they set sail at their risk and peril. The pirogue is a metaphor for the country that is going adrift when the horizon has disappeared.
Moussa Touré

Director biography

Born in Senegal in 1958, he began his career as an electrician and assistant director. In 1987, he founded his own Dakar-based production company, Les Films du Crocodile, and shot his first short, following it up in 1992 with his first feature, Toubab-Bi. Though most of his work over the next twenty years has been in documentary, he came up in 1998 with the comedy TGV, which won awards in Namur, Ouagadougou and Los Angeles. In 2011 he was selected as President of the Jury for the Documentary section at the FESPACO Pan-African Cinema Festival of Ouagadougou.


1992 Toubab Bi
1998 TGV
2002 Poussières de ville [doc]
2003 To Zali Ebele [doc]
2004 5x5 [doc]
2005 Nangadef [doc]
2006 Nosaltres [doc]
2008 Les Yeux grands ouverts [doc]
2009 Les Techniciens, nos cousins [doc]
2012 Diola [doc]; La Pirogue

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