Looking Back, Looking Forward: 20 Years of the New York African Film Festival

Looking Back Looking ForwardTo commemorate twenty years of the New York African Film Festival, over thirty of the
continent’s most vibrant cinematic voices reflect upon the reasons that led them to dedicate their lives to filmmaking and the new challenges and opportunities for African cinema in the future. The filmmakers’ words reveal their own unique experiences and help us discover the richness and singularity of Africa’s cinematic history, illuminating new trends in contemporary African cinema and emphasizing the role of the African filmmaker as a cultural and political mediator in our highly interconnected world.
The directors’ insights are accompanied by detailed biographies and filmographies, as well as in-depth essays by filmmakers Férid Boughedir, Osvalde Lewat, and Femi Odugbemi, and renowned film programmer Richard Peña. The publication also has been honored with a statement from distinguished filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako. Together, they create an intergenerational audiovisual map of the continent.
Featuring contributions from Ahmad Abdalla, Moussa Sène Absa, Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Faouzi Bensaïdi, Isabelle Boni-Claverie, Cheick Fantamady Camara, Yara Costa, Daouda Coulibaly, Yemane I. Demissie, Angèle Diabang, Andrew Dosunmu, Jihan El-Tahri, Taghreed Elsanhouri, Hawa Essuman, David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga, Alain Gomis, Wanjiru Kairu, Mama Keïta, Tunde Kelani, Judy Kibinge, Ekwa Msangi-Omari, Djo Tunda wa Munga, Jean Odoutan, Akosua Adoma Owusu, Xoliswa Sithole, Lonesome Solo, Charlie Vundla, and Zelalem Woldemariam.
As has been our goal throughout the two decades of the New York African Film Festival,
we are giving a privileged space to the newest voices from the continent and the diaspora
to celebrate more than fifty years of African cinema while continuing to look toward
the future.
With the support of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, we are proud to
present this unique complement to the two volumes of our landmark anthology series
Through African Eyes.

2014 New York African Film Festival Program Guide

The following program guide lists the features and shorts scheduled to screen at the 2014 New York African Film Festival. This guide begins with information on our Opening Night Reception Exhibition and on our special co-presentation of “Coeur de Lion” with the United Nations’ Department of Public Information. The line-up is then organized alphabetically, and each film or program of films is followed by its showtime and a trailer (if there is an available trailer).

ART SHOW: DIGITAL AFRICA WEDNESDAY, MAY 7 – TUESDAY, MAY 13

Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery – Free & Open to the Public

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Digital Africa features the works of Congolese and American photographers. The first portion, Congolese Dreams, showcases the works of acclaimed photographer Baudouin Mouanda and a collective of artists, acting as a companion to Philippe Cordey’s short film of the same name, which will screen during the festival. The exhibition will also feature Adama Delphine Fawundu’s stunning portraits capturing the residents of Tivoli Towers in Crown Heights, Brooklyn – home to more than 350 families, who are mostly of African descent – as well as portraits of young musician-activists from Nigeria and the U.S.

 

SPECIAL SCREENING AT THE UNITED NATIONS (WEDNESDAY, MAY 14, 6:30PM):

LION HEART (COEUR DE LION)

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Boubacar Diallo, Burkina Faso, 2007, 90min.

A lion wreaks havoc when it attacks the village livestock. Several people disappear. Samba manages to kill the lion and discovers that the chief’s advisor is involved in slave-trafficking.

RSVP required before May 12:  http://bit.ly/1hwFBxx; Info: gerardl@un.org

Co-presented by the UN Remembrance program of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade and the International Organization of La Francophonie.

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2014 NYAFF FILMS

A LOT LIKE YOU

Eliaichi Kimaro, Tanzania/USA, 2011, 80min.

Eliaichi Kimaro is a mixed-race, first-generation American with a Tanzanian father and Korean mother. When her retired father moves back to Tanzania, Eliaichi begins to examine the intricate fabric of her multi-racial identity.

May 18, 4:00pm

 

ANGANO, ANGANO

César Paes & Marie Clémence Paes, Madagascar/France, 1989, 64min.

This pioneering work of ethnographic filmmaking takes oral tradition itself as its central character. Passing down the wisdom of the ancestors through myths and folktales, venerable storytellers recount the founding myths of Malagasy culture.

May 24 at 2:00pm, 7:00pm

 

AYA OF YOP CITY (Animation) 

Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie,

Côte d’Ivoire/France, 2013, 85min.

Tracking the adventures of a 19-year-old girl living in in the neighborhood of Yopougon, a working-class suburb of Abidjan, the film offers up an intriguing snapshot of West African life in the 1970s, with a fanciful vintage soundtrack to boot.

May 8, 4:30pm; May 11, 9:00pm 

 

B FOR BOY (NY PREMIERE)

Chika Anadu, Nigeria, 2013, 118min.

A contemporary drama set in Nigeria about one woman’s desperate need for a male child. The film explores the discrimination of women in the name of culture and religion.

May 18, 7:00 PM

 

BASTARDS (US PREMIERE)

Deborah Perkin, Morocco/UK, 2013, 93min.

At 14, Rabha El Haimer was an illiterate child bride. Ten years later, she is a single mother, fighting to legalize her sham marriage and secure a future for her illegitimate daughter. Bastards follows Rabha’s fight from the slums to the high courts.

May 9, 4:00pm; May 12, 6:00pm (Q&A with Deborah Perkin) 

 

BELEH (NY PREMIERE)

Eka Christa Assam, Cameroon, 2013, 30min.

Ekema’s hard and uncompromising attitude toward his very pregnant wife, Joffi, is quickly revised when he has to spend an entire day in her shoes..

May 9, 4:00pm; May 12, 6:00pm (Q&A with Deborah Perkin) 

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BONESHAKER

Frances Bodomo, Ghana/USA, 2012, 12min.

Boneshaker follows a Ghanaian immigrant family taking a road trip to a Pentecostal church in Louisiana to cure their problem child. Starring Oscar-nominee Quvenzhané Wallis.

May 24, 4:30pm, 9pm

 

BURN IT UP DJASSA

Lonesome Solo, Côte d’Ivoire, 2012, 70min.

After the deaths of his parents, Tony makes a living selling cigarettes. Looking for easy money, he turns to gambling and is dragged further into the seedy underworld of Wassakara.

May 26, 4:30pm, 9:00pm

 

CASSA, CASSA (US PREMIERE)

Elodie Lefebvre, Senegal, 2013, 51min.

Germaine Acogny, a leading figure in contemporary African dance and the founder of the Ecole des Sables in Senegal, brings together 35 choreographers of African descent for two weeks of invigorating creative exchange.

May 24, 4:30pm, 9pm

Cassa Lena Blou danse

THE CHILD OF THE SUN (US PREMIERE)

Taieb Louhichi, Tunisia, 2014, 78min.

After an evening at a nightclub and an early morning swim, three young people sneak into a villa, where they unexpectedly meet the mysterious owner.

May 23, 4:30pm, 9:15pm

Childofthesun

COLUMBITE TANTALITE (NY PREMIERE)

Chiwetel Ejiofor, UK, 2013, 12min.

Chiwetel Ejiofor’s short film explores the western exploitation of Africa’s most coveted minerals as well as the DRC’s reconciliation process with its history and identity.

Columbite Tantalite

CONFUSION NA WA (NY PREMIERE)

Kenneth Gyang, Nigeria, 2013, 105min.

When a cellphone is found by two opportunists, they decide to blackmail the owner. Their scheme sets in motion an unintended chain of events.

May 7, 7:30pm (Q&A with Kenneth Gyang); May 10, 9:15pm (Q&A with Kenneth Gyang)

 

CULTURAL HEALING COMMUNITY CINEMA PROJECT – SUDAN (US PREMIERE)

The Cultural Healing project trained Sudanese journalism students, civil society representatives and young people to make short documentary films that expressed their cultures and traditions.

May 17th, 4:00pm

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ABUNA

Mudzamil, Sudan, 2013, 11min.

A touching tribute to Ami Abdalseed, the caretaker and cook for the Red Sea High-School for Boys. A generation of students fondly recollect their memories of Abdalseed.

COMING SOON

Mustafa Jawhar & Hind Elsheikh,

Sudan, 2013, 16min.

The film tells the story of an abandoned cinema in Kosti, a town in the White Nile State. The filmmakers and the whole town pay tribute to the cinema they remember.

THE CRYING SEA

Aladin Reyhan & Hashim Fath Alrahman,

Sudan, 2013, 12min.

The Crying Sea celebrates the gift of the Red Sea to the city of Port Sudan and makes an urgent plea to its citizens to wake up to the consequences of sea pollution.

NILE DRUMS

Mohamed Abdalaziem, (aka Fox),

Sudan, 2013, 14min.

This film follows a Southern Sudanese musician as he bids a prolonged and bittersweet farewell to Khartoum, the city in which he grew up, before his repatriation to South Sudan.

ONLY A CHILD

Eltahir Daoud, Sudan, 2013, 10min.

The story of a young boy who has given up his schooling so his brothers can continue with their education.

TAYBA

Maha Abdalmoniem, Sudan, 2013, 11min.

An intimate portrait of the filmmaker’s aunt as she, from the repose of old age, recollects how she overcame the stigma of divorce and forged life on her own.

TRAIN OF LONGING

Najwa Yassin, Sudan, 2013, 11min.

Atbara was once known as the city of iron and steel, with a railway that made it one of the most cosmopolitan and prosperous corners of Sudan. This film tells the tale of how the coming of railway changed a city and its population.

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CURSE OF AN ADDICT (US PREMIERE)

Lovinsa Kavuma, Zanzibar/Tanzania, 2013, 25min.

Seif, a young Muslim heroin addict, believes he is cursed. In a battle to be freed from his addiction, Seif seeks help from a sheikh.

May 18, 4:00pm

 

FAISAL GOES WEST (NY PREMIERE)

Bentley Brown, Sudan/USA, 2013, 34min.

A family moves from Sudan to the U.S. in search of a better life, but they soon discover they must weather the economic crisis.

May 24, 4:30pm, 9pm

 

FELIX (NY PREMIERE)

Roberta Durrant, South Africa, 2013, 97min.

The young Felix Xaba dreams of becoming a saxophonist like his late father, but his mother thinks jazz is the devil’s music. When Felix gets a scholarship to an elite private school, he defies his mother and begins preparations for the school jazz concert.

May 25, 2:00pm

 

FUELLING POVERTY

Ishaya Bako, Nigeria, 2012, 28min.

An artistic depiction of the failings of fuel subsidy management in Nigeria, Fuelling Poverty graphically captures the various contours of the fuel subsidy debate and offers a rallying cry for change in Nigeria by the Occupy Nigeria movement.

May 26, 4:30pm, 9:00pm

 

GRIGRIS (NY PREMIERE)

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad/France, 2013, 101min.

Despite a bum leg, Grigris has hopes of becoming a professional dancer. His dreams are tested when his stepfather falls critically ill and he’s forced to risk his future by smuggling oil to pay the hospital bills.

May 8, 8:45pm; May 12, 3:45pm

 

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN (NY PREMIERE)

Biyi Bandele, Nigeria/UK, 2013, 111min.

Based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s bestselling novel, Half of a Yellow Sun is set during the Nigerian-Biafran war in the 1960s, and follows two middle class Nigerian twins as their settled lives are torn apart by the conflict.

May 9, 7:00pm (Q&A with Biyi Bandele and some cast members)

 

IT’S US (NI SI SI) (US PREMIERE)

Nick Reding, Kenya, 2013, 88min.

It’s Us portrays a typical Kenyan community: a harmonious muddle of tribes, intermarriages, and extended families who place no stock in which tribe their neighbor comes from. Then one day, rumors begin to spread and suddenly mistrust takes hold.

May 8, 6:00pm (Q&A with Nick Reding); May 12, 1:45pm

 

THE LAST SONG BEFORE THE WAR

Kiley Kraskouskas, Mali/USA, 2012, 90min.

Last Song Before the War captures the inspiring rise and uncertain future of Mali’s annual Festival in the Desert and subtly reveals the challenges and triumphs of creating an artistic event under such challenging economic and political circumstances.

May 16, 7:00pm

 

LEGENDS OF MADAGASCAR

Haminiaina Ratovoarivony, Madagascar, 2012, 93min.

Jim and his friends Bob and Dylan, travel to see Jim’s father, who is seriously ill. Charu, a young woman, joins them, awakening the interest of the three boys and converting the trip into a kind of initiatory journey showing the challenges faced by Madagascar’s youth.

May 23 at 2:00pm, 7:00pm

 

LIVING FUNERAL (ΝΥ PREMIERE)

Udoka Oyeka, Nigeria, 2013, 21min.

Set against the backdrop of delusional stability, a young girl in the last days of her life battling with breast cancer, arranges a farewell for her family to help ease their pain; a celebration of life… A living funeral.

 

MINERS SHOT DOWN (US PREMIERE)

Rehad Desai, South Africa, 2014, 85min.

In August 2012, mineworkers in one of South Africa’s biggest platinum mines began a strike for better wages. Six days later, the police used live ammunition to brutally suppress the strike, killing 34 and injuring many more. What emerges is the country’s first post-colonial massacre.

May 15, 7:00pm (Q&A via Skype with Rehad Desai)

 

MUGABE: VILLAIN OR HERO?

Roy Agyemang, Zimbabwe/UK, 2012, 116min.

Mugabe: Villain or Hero? explores the reality behind the headlines with unprecedented access to Mugabe and his entourage. This film raises serious issues about the relationship between African leaders and the West in the fight for African resources.

May 7, 2:00pm; May 11, 6:15pm

 

NAIROBI HALF LIFE

David Tosh Gitonga, Kenya, 2012, 96min.

Mwas is a young aspiring actor who moves from his home village to Nairobi to make it big. But as he moves toward his dream of taking center stage, he finds himself drawn into a world of small-time crooks and deceit.

May 25, 4:30, 9:00pm

 

NEW AFRICAN SHORTS:

May 8, 2:00pm; May 11, 3:30pm  (Q&A with Iquo B. Essien, Akosua Adoma Owusu, Ekwa Msangi-Omari, Kenya, Frances Bodomo and Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) 

AFRONAUTS

Frances Bodomo, Ghana/USA, 2014, 15min.

On July 16 1969, America prepares to launch Apollo 11. Thousands of miles away, the Zambia Space Academy hopes to beat America to the moon.

AISSA’S STORY (US PREMIERE)

Iquo B. Essien, Nigeria/USA, 2013, 15min.

An African immigrant housekeeper and single mother must decide whether to move on with her life or fight when the case against her assaulter is dismissed.

BAUDOUIN MOUANDA: CONGOLESE DREAMS   (US PREMIERE)

Philippe Cordey, Congo, 2012, 25min.

Photographer Baudouin Mouanda explores beauty in unlikely places – by asking women to pose in the same white wedding dress in different locations – from rubbish dumps to crowded trains.

KUHANI (NY PREMIERE)

Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, Uganda, 2013, 7min.

An experimental short inspired by a Ugandan priest’s open letter to the Church in response to the country’s recently passed Anti Homosexuality Act.

KuhaniPoster

KWAKU ANANSE (NY PREMIERE)

Akosua Adoma Owusu, Ghana/Mexico/USA, 2013, 26min.

The traditional West African fable of Kwaku Ananse is combined with the story of a young outsider named Nyan Koronhwea attending her estranged father’s funeral. Overwhelmed by the procession, she escapes into the spirit world in search of her father.

SOKO SONKO (THE MARKET KING) (US PREMIERE)

Ekwa Msangi-Omari, Kenya/USA, 2014, 22min.

When her mom gets sick, Kibibi’s dad takes her to the market to get her hair braided before school. Soko Sonko is a hilarious, fish-out-of-water journey, about a well-intentioned dad who goes where no man has gone before…

Writer-Director-EKWA-MSANGI-OMARI

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NINAH’S DOWRY (ΝΥ PREMIERE)

Victor Viyuoh, Cameron, 2012, 95min.

Co-presented by Human Rights Watch Film Festival

Ninah, a mother of three, is stuck in an abusive relationship with no hope of change. Her family lives off her meager earnings, but she decides to run away.

May 9, 2:00pm; May 13, 6:30pm

 

OF GOOD REPORT (ΝΥ PREMIERE)

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka, South Africa, 2013, 109min.

Schoolteacher Parker Sithole arrives in a rural village with no local connections. He begins an illicit affair with one of his new pupils, 16-year-old Nolitha, which proves to be a disastrous development for both.

May 10, 6:30pm (Q&A with Jahmil XT Qubeka); May 12, 9:00pm (Q&A with Jahmil XT Qubeka) 

 

THE PROMISE

Akin Okunrinboye, Nigeria/USA, 2013, 6min.

Kemi has been with Femi for five years now. She is tired of waiting, especially since the relationship does not seem to be going anywhere. It’s the New Year, and it is time for progress.

May 25, 4:30, 9:00pm

thepromise

 

RÊVE KAKUDJI

Ibbe Daniëls & Koen Vidal, Congo/Belgium, 2013, 73min.

Ever since Serge Kakudji heard the sounds of opera for the first time as a young boy on Congolese television, he has dreamt to make it to the top of the classical opera world.

May 17, 7:30 PM

 

SARRAOUNIA 

Med Hondo, Burkina Faso/Mauritania/France, 1986, 120min.

A young warrior queen of the Azna tribe uses her mastery of traditional martial arts and pharmacology to defend her people from an attack by a neighbouring tribe. But the real trial of strength comes when she is faced with the conquering French army.

May 13, 9:00pm 

 

SODIQ (NY PREMIERE)

Adeyemi Michael, Nigeria/ UK, 2013, 44min.

How does a boy with the aspirations of becoming a doctor find himself on trial for murder?

May 17, 7:30pm

 

SOMETHING NECESSARY (NY PREMIERE)

Judy Kibinge, Kenya/Germany, 2013, 85min.

An intimate moment in the life of Anne, a woman struggling to rebuild her life after Kenya’s post-election violence of 2008 which claimed the life of her husband, the health of her son, and left her isolated farm in ruins.

May 25, 7:00pm

 

WHEN THE STARS MEET THE SEA

Raymond Rajaonarivelo, Madagascar, 1996, 85min.

A poetic exploration of traditional and modern concepts of freedom set within the landscapes of Madagascar.

May 26, 2:00pm, 7:00pm

 

WINTER OF DISCONTENT (US PREMIERE)

Ibrahim El Batout, Egypt, 2012, 96min.

Co-presented by 3rd i NY and Alwan for the Arts

Set against the backdrop of the 2011 protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, director Ibrahim El Batout takes us on a raw, moving journey into the lives of an activist, a journalist, and a state security officer.

May 7, 4:30pm; May 11, 1:00pm

 

WOODEN HANDS (US PREMIERE)

Kaouther Ben Hania, Tunisia, 2013, 23min.

Co-presented by 3rd i NY and Alwan for the Arts

Five-year-old Amira lives with her mother in a small apartment in Tunis. On the day that she’s supposed to return to school, Amira finds nothing better to do than to attach her hand to a chair with superglue…

May 7, 4:30pm; May 11, 1:00pm

2014 New York African Film Festival Tickets

The 21st New York African Film Festival’s main venues are Film Society of Lincoln Center, Maysles Cinema Institute, and BAMcinématek. The following information will direct you to the relevant sales portal for every venue and its address. We look forward to welcoming you to this year’s festival!

For more information on the films scheduled at the 2014 New York African Film Festival, check out our program guide by clicking here.

OPENING NIGHT RECEPTION AND FESTIVAL CELEBRATION:

NYAFF Tickets for the Opening Night Reception and Film on May 7 are $50.00. You can buy your Opening Night Reception and Screening tickets by clicking here.

Please note that the “Half of a Yellow Sun” tickets have SOLD OUT until further notice. At this time, we invite you to sign up on the waiting list for our May 9 Festival Celebration Party and Film by clicking here.

We will update our patrons on Thursday, April 24th, 2014. Thank you for your support!

FILM SOCIETY OF LINCOLN CENTER:

General Admission $13, Students & Seniors (62+) $9, FSLC members $8.

Online: http://filmlinc.com/african

In Person: Film Society box offices.

Discount packages start at $30 for the General Public; $24 for students and seniors (62+); 3+ films packages start at $21 for Film Society members.

Address(es): Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th St., and the Elinor Bunin

Munroe Film Center, 144 West 65th St.,  between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave., upper level. 

MAYSLES CINEMA:

Suggested donation: $10. Visit www.mayslesfilms.com or call 212 582 6050.

Address: 343 Lenox Avenue, between 127th & 128th Streets.

BAMCINÉMATEK:

Tickets: $13 per screening for adults; $9 for seniors 65 and over, children under

twelve, and students 25 and under with valid I.D. Monday–Thursday, except holidays; $7 for BAM Cinema Club members.

Buy online: www.bam.org/BAMcinématek

By phone at 718-777-FILM

Address: BAM Rose Cinemas, 30 Lafayette Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11217

For more information please e-mail AFF at nyaff@erols.com or call 212-352-1720 

New Looks: The Rise of African Women Filmmakers

In this article, I draw on my experience not only as a researcher and teacher of African film, but also as an African film programmer and film festival director over the past ten years, from 2001 to 2011. The article thus shifts between descriptive and prescriptive registers; at turns analytical, it also takes on the tone of a feminist manifesto at times. I draw on the approach of discourse analysis, offering critique of three of the (male-authored) films that were screened as part of the Africa-related film programme at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), to suggest what is potentially lost through a lack of attention to African and African diaspora women’s filmmaking, in both the scholarly and programming realms. The article can thus be considered as, on the one hand, a gender-based analysis of three recent, celebrated films by and about Africans, and, on the other hand, as a justification of why I made the decision to make ‘African Women Filmmakers’ a focus of my programming of the festival Film Africa 2011 (see www.filmafrica.org.uk). I do not address the structural and institutional barriers here, as these are yet to be properly studied.

A Male-authored, Feminist Cinema?

It is an understatement to call the body of work generally termed ‘African Cinema’ profoundly feminist. From the earliest days of non-commercial, expressive, African-authored film production on the continent in the 1960s, to the present moment, there has been a consistent stream of films that focus on strong women characters, powerful and positive matriarchal cultures, and a critique of tyrannical, patriarchal cultures – whether colonial, neo-colonial or postcolonial. The feminist basis to much ‘African Cinema’ is one of its most remarkable, common features – and a feature that has not been highlightedand discussed sufficiently in African film scholarship, which is still relatively impoverished when it comes to gender analysis (see, however, Dovey 2009, Ellerson 2000, Garritano forthcoming, Magogodi 2003, McCluskey 2009, Murphy 2000, Ouzgane 2011, Tcheuyap 2005, and Thackway 2003). While the idea of an ‘African Cinema’ is a myth – it is now generally acknowledged that there are multiple African cinemas (Barlet 2000) – it is, nevertheless, important to recognise how rare it is in the history of cinema that filmmakers from a particular region have collectively paid such attention to upholding the value of women and to critiquing patriarchy. When watching African films such as Borom Sarret (dir. Sembene, 1963), Black Girl (dir. Sembene, 1966), Emitai (dir. Sembene, 1971), Sambizanga (dir. Maldoror, 1972), Ceddo (dir. Sembene, 1976), Sarraounia (dir. Hondo, 1986), A World Apart (dir. Menges, 1988), Finzan (dir. Sissoko, 1989), Flame (dir. Sinclair, 1996), Fools (dir. Suleman, 1997), Taafe Fanga (dir. Drabo, 1997), Karmen Geï (dir. Ramaka, 2001), Sia, le rêve du python (dir. Kouyaté, 2001), Kare Kare Zvako (dir. Dangarembga, 2002), Moolaadé (dir. Sembene, 2004), and U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (dir. Dornford-May, 2005) – to name only a few of relevance from the canon – one begins to sense how differently African directors (or those who have lived for long periods in Africa and worked with Africans) have tended to centre women in their films compared to, for example, French directors. Jean-Luc Godard once said that cinema revolves around two atavistic imageries and imaginaries: war and women’s beauty. Women’s beauty may be featured in certain African films (such as Karmen Geï and U-Carmen eKhayelitsha) but the kind of voyeuristic, pleasure-driven male gaze identified by Laura Mulvey thirty years ago (Mulvey, 1975) and used as a tool of critical analysis by countless feminist film critics to date has simply not been present in most African films – at least until recently, with the advent of Nollywood and its spin-offs across the continent (see Garritano, forthcoming, for the first sustained critique of gender representations in African video film).

The female characters in the classic African films listed above are unconventional, rounded, sometimes idiosyncratic, sometimes fighters – in the broadest, most positive sense of the word: they are women prepared to go out to work to support their husbands and families (for example, the wife of the cart driver in Borom Sarret, who – when her husband comes home empty-handed – leaves their compound in search of work); they are women willing to stand up for their beliefs and convictions (for example, the women in Emitai, who resist the French army attempting to forcefully recruit their husbands to fight in World War II; and Maria, in Sambizanga, who walks for days to find her husband, Domingo, who has gone missing in the Angolan Liberation War); they are women unafraid to engage in political combat or to critique patriarchy and corruption (for example, Queen Sarraounia in Sarraounia, a historical figure who bravely fought against the French colonial forces, and who is celebrated in West Africa for the sensitive and compassionate way in which she treated Africans from tribes other than her own; Karmen in Karmen Geï, who critiques government and police corruption in contemporary Senegal; Collé in Moolaadé, who risks her life by protecting young girls who do not wish to be circumcised); they are women who – if they have no other choice – courageously sacrifice themselves to save their children and communities (the mother in Kare Kare Zvako, who – in the face of her husband’s greed at a time of drought, remains resilient and courageous), or to make a statement (Diouana in Black Girl, who chooses to commit suicide rather than resign herself to the bondage in which she is held by her white French employers in Antibes); they are women who claim ownership of their own sexuality and power (the women in Taafe Fanga, who make use of their power when one day they are magically transformed into the men of the village; U-Carmen in U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, who invests in her sense of self even in the face of abuse by men; Karmen in Karmen Geï, who is luminous in her polysexuality). They are women who speak out, stand up, and even take up arms when they see necessary. They are not always easy to characterise as ‘positive’ or as straightforward ‘heroines’; but the creation of perfect women has never, of course, been the aim of feminism. The aim of feminism has been to establish the humanity of women – women’s fundamental equality to men where human rights are concerned (as Gloria Steinem has noted, in this vein, feminism is much more a celebration of women’s differences from one another than their similarities, since the ultimate goal of feminism is to have women recognised as unique individuals rather than as part of a stereotyped group).

As I have begun to suggest, then, the record of African male filmmakers is astonishing when it comes to the representation of women. Furthermore, African male filmmakers have long engaged in stringent critiques and censures of patriarchy by parodying men and ‘masculine’ antics in their films (see Tcheuyap 2010 for some discussion of this trend). In this sense, they would seem to have worked in concert with African male writers, who have tended to (self-critically) represent men – across generations, social and ethnic and class groups, and races – as problematically mired in destructive cycles of violence, often initiated through the impotence occasioned by colonial violence, but also integrated into contemporary cultures in Africa. The recent edited collection, Men in African Film & Fiction (Ouzgane, 2011), reveals the startling prevalence with which African male writers have taken it upon themselves to challenge the dominance, arrogance, and violence of their own gender group. Both tendencies on the part of African male filmmakers and writers – to celebrate women and to critique men – can be considered part of a broader, progressive postcolonial trend of self-critique by African artists, a trend that I have analysed in depth elsewhere (see Dovey 2009).

Given the overwhelming feminist approach by many African male filmmakers, how does one begin to offer valid or useful critique of the relative absence, historically, of female-authored perspectives in the African film oeuvre without becoming obstructed by identity politics? Such a critique would probably best be grounded in a thick description, arising out of several deep ethnographic studies, of the institutional and structural constraints to women entering and remaining within the film industry, within Africa and internationally. What it is possible to emphasise, even in the dearth of such studies, is that Africa is no exception when it comes to the relative lack of a female presence in the most glamorous and important jobs in the industry. There are many women involved in film administration, in the running of film festivals, and working as actresses, but there are far fewer working as film producers and directors. Distributors such as Women Make Movies (http:// www.wmm.com/) and film festivals such as Birds Eye View (http://www. birds-eye-view.co.uk/) exist in some of the most populous and cosmopolitan global centres – New York and London respectively – precisely to rectify the significant gender imbalances that one finds across all aspects of the film industry, globally; according to the Birds Eye View festival organisers, women make up less than 10% of film directors and less than 15% of screenwriters internationally (http://www.birds-eye-view.co.uk/198/about-us/about-us. html). Specific, ethnographic studies of various African film and media organisations and institutions are urgently needed to begin to understand why it is that, in the African context, African women have not enjoyed a sustained presence.

In the absence of more thoroughgoing studies, what can be said in general terms is that filmmaking in Africa in the postcolonial period has been dominated by men, with very few women directors emerging – particularly in the realm of feature-length fiction filmmaking – until recently. Most of the films listed above – which could be characterised as feminist – were made by male, not female, directors. Many of the great women directors who emerged on the continent in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s – such as Sarah Maldoror, Safi Faye, and Anne Mungai – have made very few films. Those that they have made have not been widely screened, and sometimes do not exist in modern, digital formats. For example, Sarah Maldoror’s film Sambizanga (1972), which was the first feature-length fiction film to be made in Africa by a woman, exists on one, sole, 35mm copy with French subtitles. When we screened this print at the festival Film Africa 2011 in London, we needed to simultaneously project English subtitles on to the print, which is also not in a very good condition. One wonders, under such circumstances, why a film such as Sambizanga has not been deemed worthy of restoration by, for instance, Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation (which recently restored Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety’s classic film, Touki Bouki [1973]) or the Cineteca di Bologna in Italy (which, in the past few years, took on the task of restoring the first anti-apartheid film, Lionel Rogosin’s Come Back Africa [1959]). A film such as Sambizanga should, quite simply, be available. Made at the height of the Angolan liberation war, by a woman who had worked on films such as The Battle of Algiers (dir. Pontecorvo, 1966) and been involved in liberation movements across the continent, the film is a treasure of human history not only because of its artistic and creative merits but also because of the significant events that had to be confronted in, and were incorporated into, its production. Analysis of why it has been so difficult for leading female filmmakers such as Sarah Maldoror and Safi Faye to make as many films as their male counterparts requires critical attention if we are to write a comprehensive feminist critique of the history of filmmaking in Africa.

At the same time, studies are needed to explain the more encouraging, positive recent developments when it comes to gender equality in the African screen media industries – such as the interesting fact that women are at the forefront of the contemporary rebirth of filmmaking in Kenya, where young female directors such as Hawa Essuman, Wanuri Kahiu, Judy Kibinge, Ekwa Msangi-Omari, and Zipporah Nyaruri have been the pioneers of this movement. In general, a shift appears to have occurred in the past decade that has seen many new, dynamic African and African diaspora women filmmakers appear on the screen media scene, such as (and including those above): Yaba Badoe (Ghana/UK); Jihan El-Tahri (Egypt); Osvalde Lewat (Cameroon/France); Branwen Okpakwo (Nigeria/Germany); Zina Saro-Wiwa (Nigeria/UK); Akosua Adoma Owusu (US/Ghana); Caroline and Agnes Kamya (Uganda); Rungano Nyoni (Zambia/UK); Ariane Astrid Atodji (Cameroon); Minky Schlesinger (South Africa); Khetiwe Ngcobo (South Africa); Sara Blecher (South Africa); Fanta Regina Nacro (Burkina Faso); Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe); Dyana Gaye (Senegal); Omelga Mthiyane (South Africa); Peace Anyiam-Fiberesima (Nigeria). The fact that a Facebook group called ‘I’m African. I’m a Woman. I Make Films’ has recently been started also seems to suggest that African women are now taking control over their own representation (in both senses of the word). It is the work of many of these African women directors that I have programmed for Film Africa 2011, in acknowledgement of this exciting flourishing of female directors on the continent and in the diaspora, and also to combat some of the ongoing problems inherent in certain male-authored visions of (African) women, which I discuss in the next section of this article.

What factors have led to this rise in African women making movies? Why have major international film festivals –such as Cannes 2008 – finally started paying attention to these directors? ( A number of African women were invited to participate in a special focus on women directors there by the French organisation Cinémas du Sud).

What Women (Don’t) Want: Representations of Women in the Toronto International Film Festival’s African/Black Programme It is with the assumption that it is easier to analyse problematic rather than positive gender representations that this next, analytical section of this article proceeds. This is because, as I have pointed out above, it is not homages to African women that feminists seek as much as a natural acceptance of women’s humanity, in all its facets. It is far easier to point out when this humanity is not being respected than when it is being summoned, for in the latter case it becomes unremarkable.

Most scholars of African screen media agree that the representations of women in many African video films, and particularly those made in the Ghanaian and southern Nigerian video film industries, are highly problematic (CODESRIA conference at FESPACO 2011). Carmela Garritano (forthcoming) has done extensive research on the representation of women in Ghanaian film which, I hope, will set the scene for further, probing research into the representation of women in popular, mass screen media across Africa. While such research is urgent, my own concern here is not with such popular African expression but rather with the insidious representations of women that creep into films that would seem to self-consciously fashion themselves as artistic, avant-garde, theoretically informed, intellectual, and even feminist, and which circulate in that largely “closed-loop”, elite environment of prominent international film festivals (see Ogbechie 2010).1

I do not have the space here to adequately theorise the kind of spectator produced at such film festivals, or the way that a specific kind of cinematic ‘taste’ is often peddled and reinforced at such events (see Bourdieu 1984). The construction and place of audiences within filmic worlds and contexts is central to my current research and will be the focus of my next book, which aims to analyse (international and African) film festivals and their relationships to African films, filmmakers, and audiences. But I do want to acknowledge that there is a kind of tacit contract established between filmmakers and audiences at renowned film festivals (such as the Toronto International Film Festival, Cannes, and Rotterdam) that recognises similarity in class background and educational level. Most of the filmmakers and audiences are well versed in cinema and can speak in sophisticated, analytical ways about it. The filmmakers who attend such festivals to show their work would thus seem to invite the kind of critique that I am going to offer, as would the programmers.

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), often cited as the most important film festival both in industry, artistic, and audience terms, currently employs nineteen film programmers to select the roughly three hundred films that make up its annual programme. Of these three hundred or so films, in 2011, about twenty films had some relationship to Africa (through having an African director, African setting, or African characters). For films with Africa- related content to occupy approximately seven percent of the programme is a relatively positive statistic where a major international film festival is concerned, given the general lack of interest in African cinema by the global film industry. TIFF is rather unusual in this respect, largely due to the fact that its co-director and the person responsible for TIFF’s programming vision is Cameron Bailey, who has a background in and passion for African and black cinema. Although Africa is no longer one of Bailey’s programming regions (he now focuses on the US, UK, Europe, and Asia), seven of the forty films he programmed for TIFF 2011 had some relationship to African and black culture. TIFF also employs a specialised African and Middle Eastern film programmer, Rasha Salti; at TIFF 2011, ten of Salti’s fourteen selected films had an African focus.

While the attention to African and black cinema at TIFF is to be highly lauded, and the 2011 programme of Africa- and black-related films was on the whole impressive and progressive, a gender analysis of three of the male-authored films screened can help to give a sense of what may be lost on the front of gender equality in representational terms by privileging male-authored works about Africa, Africans, and black identity, and what may be gained through more gender balance in screenwriting and directorial perspectives in the industry when it comes to African and black identity. I do not have the space to engage in a comprehensive, close analysis of these films here; my interest is more in giving a sense of the collective impression the viewer gains of contemporary gender relationships, and representations, through them.

There are two important points to be made before I begin my analysis. First, none of the films which I am going to critique was made by a sub- Saharan African male director, and – given my overview of the feminist perspective of many sub-Saharan African male filmmakers above – this would seem significant. Related to this point is the fact that Rasha Salti is Lebanese and is much more versed in Middle Eastern cinema than African cinema. The second point relates to who, beyond TIFF, is likely to have access to and watch the films I discuss below. It is important to note that each international film festival has a particular identity, and that TIFF prides itself on being an audience festival (Bailey 2011) – open to the public (as long as people can afford the high price of the tickets, and are prepared to wait in very long queues for them). Most significantly, sales agents and distributors closely monitor audience reactions during screenings at TIFF because the festival is considered a litmus test for which films are likely to play well to a global audience and therefore which films to pick up for mainstream distribution.

Dark Girls (dir. Bill Duke and D. Channsin Berry, USA, 2011), Death for Sale (dir. Faouzi Bensaidi, Morocco, 2011), and The Invader (dir. Nicolas Provost, Belgium, 2011) are all well-made, entertaining films with – on the whole – significant aesthetic and ethical value. Dark Girls, made by veteran director Bill Duke in collaboration with first-time director D. Channsin Berry, is a documentary that deals with the phenomenon of what the filmmakers call ‘colorism’ – prejudice within a generally demarcated ‘racial’ group against those with darker skin tone.2 Death for Sale is a moody, Moroccan film noir, set in the impoverished seaside town of Tetouan, that focuses on three young male friends – Malik, Allal, and Soufiane – who are attempting to escape their poverty; the film is the third feature by rising Moroccan director Faouzi Bensaidi.3 The Invader marks a stunning debut feature film by the young Belgian director Nicolas Provost; it stars the up-and-coming Burkinabé actor Issaka Sawadogo as Amadou, an African migrant to Belgium, and his relationship to a wealthy white woman, Agnès.4 And yet, all three of these films – as important as they are – embody, to some extent, problems that one can associate with a long history of the stereotyping of women in cinema, as identified and analysed by Mulvey in 1975.

The website for the film Dark Girls calls it ‘the story of color, gender, and race’ (my emphasis; http://officialdarkgirlsmovie.com/); the indefinite pronoun ‘a’ would have been a more appropriate marker, acknowledging what Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi has called the ‘danger of a single story’ (http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_ of_a_single_story.html). By emphasising their own subjective approach to the topic, the male filmmakers might have cleared themselves of the possible critique that one could level against this film, which is that it partly participates in the very thing that it attempts to critique: prejudice against people based on their appearance (and, in this case, specifically skin hue). For, in its valuable critique of the shocking bias against women of darker skin tone – not only by people outside of their ‘racial’ group, but also from within it – the filmmakers unwittingly end up emphasising the (stereotyped) connection between women and physical appearance. In their Third Cinema-like attempt to encourage women of darker skin tone to (re)claim their beauty – the film ends with the militant injunction ‘Dark girls rise!’ – the filmmakers, in some moments, would seem to suggest that the most significant problem that a woman can encounter in her lifetime is to be deemed unattractive by men.

The film lays bare the problematic of colourism and also the great pressures on women of all skin tones to live up to a (generally media-produced) notion of beauty. In terms of the problematic of colourism, the film focuses in particular on the extent to which African American men (seemingly) reject choosing African American women as their long-term partners, which has led to the (perhaps) concerning statistic that 41.9% of African American women in the US have never been married as opposed to 20% of white women in the US. (There may, of course, be other factors at play that enable one to view this as a statistic not of victimhood but of agency).5 In terms of the pressures on all women to conform to a particular aesthetic ideal, the film cites a Dove survey that points out that 75% of women experience self-loathing related to their appearance at some point in their lives. While these statistics can ignite important discussions, the assumption that arises from the conflation of these statistics within the film, it must be acknowledged, is somewhat problematic: the assumption is that women are victims (darker-skinned women are not in charge of their relationship destiny, but are rejected by men; women are victims of a false consciousness imbued by media stereotypes surrounding female beauty).

This representation of women as passive rather than active in their fate is reinforced through several revealing comments by men and women in interviews throughout the film. ‘The darker the fruit, the sweeter the juice’ is a refrain that arises in the film via the voices of both men and women. While, on the one hand, the inclusion of and emphasis on this refrain would seem to be a well-meaning attempt by the filmmakers to encourage darker- skinned women to feel more positive about themselves, it can – on the other hand – be read in a more sinister light, in its obvious association between women and food to be consumed. In one of the interviews in the film, a young African American man takes this metaphor even further, arguing that darker-skinned women are ‘more organic’ than lighter-skinned women and, since he personally prefers darker-skinned women, he must therefore be ‘vegetarian’. While this statement appears rather harmless – and, in fact, made the audience at TIFF 2011 laugh – it does make the viewer ponder, afterwards, what the more general significance of this comment is within the entire film. The placement of the comment reveals no scepticism on the part of the filmmakers; rather, it forms part of one strand of the film – a politicised strand that urges darker-skinned women to feel better about themselves. Darker-skinned women watching the film are thus asked to appreciate this young man’s comment as an assurance that there are some men out there – even African American men! – who in fact prefer women like themselves.

However, at the same time, all female viewers of the film are asked to accept hearing themselves spoken about as food to be consumed. Perhaps I am more sensitive than I should be on this point, but such metaphors conjure in me memories of other films made by African directors that critique the use of these very metaphors, particularly in South Africa – the country that I come from, and which has one of the highest rates of abuse of women by men. In South African director Lovinsa Kavuma’s film Rape for who I Am (2005), which deals with ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians in the country, a father justifies raping his daughter with the following saying: ‘If I grow a peach tree, I should be allowed to eat the peaches off it.’ And in leading South African filmmakers Ramadan Suleman and Bhekizizwe Peterson’s film Fools (1997), the male discursive practice of linking women to food to be consumed is suggested as one of the justifications used by men to rape women, and is severely critiqued.

The films Death for Sale and The Invader, as fiction rather than documentary films, are problematic in their treatment of gender in a slightly different way. Whereas Dark Girls, in its (commendable) attempt to critique colour prejudice, ends up contradictorily emphasising the importance of women judging themselves based on their physical attractiveness, Death for Sale and The Invader rehearse stereotypes on the level of characterisation and narrative. In both cases, the blow to the directors’ otherwise profoundly complex representations of gender arises in the final sequence of the film, as a kind of atavistic return to the male suspicion that women are both the access to everything valuable in the world (and access to Life itself), and inaccessible in that they are not to be trusted. Death for Sale is, until its final moment, a very moving – even heart- wrenching – tale of how young people living in small-town Morocco, with few financial resources and no employment opportunities, are trying to make lives for themselves. The romantic relationship between Malik and Dounia, a prostitute with whom he falls in love, is given the central and overarching place in the film; Malik and Dounia’s innocent love for one another appears to be the one reprieve in an otherwise sad and compromised world governed by police corruption and the oppression of the poor by the wealthy. This relationship is also the catalyst for much of the conflict in the film, however.

The film’s opening scene involves one long continuous shot of the three young male friends and partners in crime – Malik, Allal and Soufiane – wandering down a street, arms affectionately thrown around each other, talking and laughing. In one of the following sequences, Malik notices Dounia standing at a look-out point and is struck by her beauty. They fall in love, and start a relationship. Much of the film’s narrative from here on revolves around Malik and his male friends’ scheming as to how they can make some money to escape their situation; and Allal and Soufiane’s jealousy that Dounia is depriving them of more time with Malik. Allal frequently warns Malik that Dounia, being a ‘whore’, will betray him. One night Malik returns to the room he shares with Dounia and finds Allal there; Dounia is in the bathroom, crying. Allal tells Malik that Dounia agreed to sleep with him for money and leaves. When Dounia emerges from the bathroom, however, she tells Malik that Allal raped her. As a spectator made to see Malik and Dounia’s love as the redemption for the desperation surrounding them, and to desire their escape from this context, one willingly believes Dounia. At the end of film, Malik and his male friends embark on the robbery of a jewellery store that will give them their freedom; both Allal and Soufiane are shot dead. Malik escapes the police with the jewellery and manages to reach the bus station where he has planned to meet Dounia and from where the two will flee to happier pastures. It is with delight that the spectator witnesses Malik’s escape and anticipates the film’s happy ending, with love winning out over police brutality and social repression. But then the blow comes. When Malik and Dounia meet at the station, Dounia suggests that it is dangerous to carry the jewellery in a bag; she says that she should hide it on her body. Malik agrees and Dounia races to the women’s bathroom. When Malik finally realises that something is wrong, it is too late. He enters the women’s bathroom and sees the jewellery bag lying on the ground, empty. Dounia has betrayed him. The final shot of the film shows Malik return to the look-out point where he first spotted Dounia. The camera follows Malik but then continues tilting and tilting until it shows Malik upside down, his world turned topsy turvy – not by what one expected – the poverty of his town, the police corruption and violence, the social injustice, but by a woman – and, furthermore, a prostitute. This final shot of the film is directly opposed to its opening, in which one is reminded of Malik’s closeness to these two, male friends. The implicit suggestion is that his male friends would not have betrayed him; he made the wrong choice by falling in love with a ‘whore’. Most worryingly, one is left – after Dounia’s betrayal of Malik – wondering whether she in fact told him the truth when she said that Allal raped her. We are thus confronted with a rehearsal of the oldest stereotype of women in the book: the ‘whore’ who cannot be believed or trusted.

As is well known, the other side of the coin of this stereotype is the woman as perfect, intact, virgin territory; the woman as Myth and Motherland; the woman as openness, innocence, and access (see Stratton 1994). This is the stereotype of the woman that Nicolas Provost takes up, plays with, and complicates in The Invader – until the final moment in the film, in which he compromises the complexity of his gender representations. The film’s opening sequence is bound to become legendary; the first shot is an overhead close-up of a very white, naked woman’s body, focusing on her vagina. The shot tilts down then pulls out to show the woman, who we then learn is lying on a nudist beach, rise and walk confidently towards the water. She gazes intently at something. The director cuts to show us what she is gazing at. It is two black men in the waves, one flailing, the other heaving, trying to help the other. The one who is trying to help is bare-chested, and undeniably beautiful. It is clear that he and his friend are illegal immigrants who have swum to European shores from wherever their boat deposited or abandoned them. The director cuts back to the striking white woman; her expression is one of wonder and desire. One assumes that the gaze of the camera is now conflated with the gaze of the beautiful black man in the waves. The camera looks slightly up at the white woman via a low shot. She is not only desiring but powerful. She is the threshold to Fortress Europe.

The viewer soon realises that the film’s opening sequence is a preamble, almost imaginary. We do not see the striking white woman again. However, she becomes replaced, in the main narrative of the film with another arresting, white woman: Agnès, an extremely wealthy woman whose exact profession remains unclear, but who it is subtly suggested is a patron of the arts. Amadou (the black man we see in the opening sequence of the film) meets Agnès accidentally, after he wanders in to an open lecture from the street. At this point in the film we have seen Amadou’s cherished, sickly friend disappear and his attendant anger at his boss (who smuggled Amadou and his friend into Belgium) for doing nothing to help his friend when he was ill. Amadou destroys his boss’s car, then heads out on to the streets of Brussels. After their meeting, Agnès tries to set Amadou up with a gay male friend of hers who is attracted to him; but Amadou only has eyes for Agnès. Eventually Agnès gives in to Amadou’s persistent attentions and they share a night of passion in an apartment that she owns (kept precisely for conducting extra-marital affairs with different men, we later learn). The scene is visually astonishing in the way that the colour palette of celluloid enhances the difference in Amadou and Agnès’ skin and hair tone: she is as white and blonde as he is black and dark-haired. They are both beautiful in a conventional way. However, the scene of their lovemaking has something sterile about it. With Agnès holding herself up against the floor-to-ceiling glass wall of her high- rise apartment, and Amadou and Agnès not looking at each other, there is no tenderness or softness in the experience. It is glassy,transparent and superficial. One feels that the sequence is shot from Agnès’ perspective that it is she who is approaching the experience in this way. This is confirmed in a later scene, when Amadou observes her ferrying a different man into the car park of the apartment building. Amadou, in contrast, appears to develop real feelings for Agnès. The smouldering intensity of the way he looks at her does not seem opportunistic; the narrative does not appear to be developing, at this point, into a story of how a black African man and illegal migrant to Europe attempts to use a wealthy, white, European woman to gain access to European resources. It seems to be a narrative about (one-way) love and desire in spite of huge discrepancies in wealth and social class. Amadou most probably loves Agnès and is using all that he has – his physical beauty, and his charm – just as anyone would do to try to win her affection.l The moment when Agnès discovers Amadou’s real situation is painfully intense and one can almost empathise with Amadou’s descent into despair and fury after Agnès’ rejection of him. These are complex characters and the profound individuality and uniqueness of the story sets it apart from many other contemporary films about African migrants living in, or trying to come to, Europe.

It is only in the final sequence of the film that Amadou and Agnès devolve into stereotypes. In a semi-imaginary scene, Amadou walks naked into Agnès’ bedroom. He stops and stares at Agnès, who lies sleeping beside her (also sleeping) husband. This scene reminds the viewer of the opening scene of the film, in which the naked white woman on the beach stares at Amadou with desire and power. While one remains sympathetic towards Amadou and his outsider position within the clean, glassy, inaccessible world around him, it’s as if the filmmaker has after a compelling film lazily (or excessively) resorted to an ending that is as opaque as it is stereotyped. One finds, in this ending, the conventional ‘auteur’ tendency not to want to even try to explain what has happened in lieu of elusiveness and intrigue. One also finds, however, the predictability of a certain type of representation of women; we are confronted with a reversal that repeats the longstanding, tenacious narrative that associates women with land with territory to be conquered, with the ‘nation’ itself. The (feminised) black Africa that white colonisers wanted to ‘penetrate’ is converted here into the white woman representing Europe both the barrier to entry and the best means of access. While the film might be attempting to offer a postcolonial critique of this conflation between (black and white) women’s bodies and the nation, the fact that Nicolas Provost has emphasised in interviews and Q&As that the film’s opening credit sequence image (a beautiful, doubled image of cars moving through a tunnel that resembles the Stargate sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey) represents both Amadou’s passage towards Europe and the vagina, does make one question whether the stereotype is not being activated rather than critiqued.

Conclusion: The Other Half

While one would certainly not want to argue that all men fall into sub- conscious sexist patterns when representing women, or that all women inevitably make films that treat women as human beings (there are plenty of examples to the contrary in both cases), there is an ongoing need to remain alert to the ways in which (heterosexual) male desire for women might filter into male-authored films and compromise otherwise progressive representations of women. What is at issue here is not characterisation in and of itself. There is no inherent problem with a male director making a film about dark-skinned women’s sad desire to try to lighten their skin; about a prostitute in a small Moroccan town; about how a black African migrant desires a white European woman. The problems arise in the unwitting contradictions in a film’s message (Dark Girls); in the repetition of the age- old narrative of female deceit trumping even the deceit of the state (Death for Sale); and in the (postcolonial) reversal of the sexist (colonial) myth that women’s bodies can stand in for geographical territory that men will ultimately conquer or attempt to conquer (The Invader). The fact that all three of the films analysed in this article are extremely complex, and have feminist elements, makes these problems all the more sinister, and all the more in need of separating out and analysing. The so-called ‘post-feminist’ era in which we are living thrives precisely on such contradictions, feeding women – on the one hand – with messages of liberating themselves from being shackled to an emphasis on physical appearance and sex appeal, and – on the other hand – with messages that suggest to women that their chief asset will always be their physical appearance and sex appeal. While feminists such as Catherine Lumby have convincingly argued that modern women should feel justified in claiming ownership over their physicality and sexuality, too much relative emphasis on the superficialities of physical appearance will surely encourage anti-intellectualism in the younger female generation.

While sub-Saharan African male directors, as I have argued above, have tended to offer progressive, feminist representations of African women, it appears that male directors from other contexts have not necessarily learnt from their sub-Saharan African counterparts. There is constantly the danger of monolithic male views of (African) women – what Adichie calls ‘a single story’ – presiding. Furthermore, one simply cannot have a heterogeneous view of the African continent and its diaspora if fifty percent of its population does not have a cinematic voice. As I have argued above, it is nearly impossible to articulate the characteristics of a ‘positive’ representation of African women; however, in conclusion, I do want to say that I hope that the collective impact on audiences (however ‘elite’ these audiences may be) of the films by African and African diaspora women that I have selected for Film Africa 2011 is an understanding of how much more varied and diverse a perspective we gain of Africa when the films of its women are included. A third of the films that we showed at Film Africa 2011 were written and/or directed by women, not as an act of charity or affirmative action, but as a real reflection of the great rise of African female filmmaking talent, on and beyond the continent.

Notably, very few of the films made by African and diaspora women that I watched in my programming for Film Africa 2011 focus directly on ‘women’s issues’. Rather, what one appears to find here is something similar to what is happening more generally in the field of African filmmaking, as South African director Teddy Mattera alluded to, when he said at the 2007 New York African Film Festival: ‘We have been the object of the gaze. We don’t want to return the gaze, we want to look elsewhere.’ While some recent films by African and African diaspora women filmmakers that were screened at Film Africa 2011 – such as the experimental, alt-Nollywood films of Zina Saro-Wiwa, The Deliverance of Comfort and Phyllis (2010), and Yaba Badoe’s The Witches of Gambaga (2010) – offer important, urgent feminist critique, others – such as Salem Mekuria’s Square Stories (2010), Akosua Adoma Owusu’s Drexciya (2011), Nadia El Fani’s Lenin’s Children (2007), Rungano Nyoni,’s Mwansa the Great (2011), Sara Blecher’s Surfing Soweto (2011), and Wanuri Kahiu’s Pumzi (2009) – display a different kind of confidence, the confidence that seems to say ‘Don’t make assumptions about what or who I am, or what kind of film I want to make.’ Many of the films focus on male protagonists (for example, Square Stories, Lenin’s Children, Mwansa the Great, and Surfing Soweto), something which would seem to suggest that these female directors (whether consciously or not) position themselves as ‘nego feminists’. Nigerian feminist scholar and activist Obioma Nnaemeka coined this phrase to refer to ‘a feminism of negotiation’ and a ‘no-ego feminism’ in which women do not see men as the other but as the necessary other half to any conceptualisation of what it means to be human (2004). Similarly, the Senegalese director Joseph Gaï Ramaka has posed a provocative question about the nature of ways in which people (and especially filmmakers) look at other people: ‘is it to be the Other as what [she] is and whom I am going to dissect or, alternatively, the Other in so far as I feel an affinity with [her] and [she] with me?’ (quoted in Barlet 2000: 9). While African male directors have, on the whole, upheld the value of women in their films, contemporary African women directors are giving us a ‘new look’ in African cinema – one that suggests an affinity between filmmaker and subject and which is rooted in the profound respect for each human individual that is necessary to overcoming the scourges of racism and sexism.

Endnotes

1. I would like to thank Neal MacInnes for introducing me to Ogbechie’s work.

2. Bill Duke has long been involved in the US television and film industries, as an actor and director. He is best known for his direction of some episodes of the television series Hill Street Blues and Miami Vice in the 1980s. In the 1990s he directed crime dramas such as A Rage in Harlem (1991), and comedies such as Sister Act 2 (1993). Notably, he mentors young African Americans in the film business.

3. Faouzi Bensaïdi is a middle-aged Moroccan filmmaker, actor, and installation artist. His entry into the international film circuit occurred in 2003, when his film A Thousand Months screened in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at the Cannes Film Festival. The film does not appear to have had a wide mainstream release or to have attracted much critical attention, and Bensaïdi did not make another feature film until Death for Sale premiered at TIFF 2011.

4. Nicolas Provost is a middle-aged Belgian filmmaker and installation artist who spent ten years living in Norway. He trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium, and calls his work ‘a reflection on the grammar of cinema and

the relation between visual art and the cinematic experience.’ The Invader, which he calls ‘a social thriller about an anti-heroic illegal immigrant and his struggle for economic and emotional survival in the new world’, is his debut feature film (see http://www.nicolasprovost.com/#/bios).

5. See the work of feminist legal scholar Angela Onwuachi-Willig for comprehensive engagement with the racial politics surrounding love, romantic relationships, and marriage. In her work more generally, Onwuachi-Willig challenges, from a critical race perspective, ‘the accepted notion that whiteness is pure and blackness is impure’ (2007: 2454). She highlights the fact that ‘Among racial and ethnic minorities, Blacks have the lowest rate of intermarriage with Whites’ (2007: 2456) and that ‘even in 2005, the historical process of the United States disallows biracial individuals, who may be just as much white as they are black, to claim that they are white, while fully allowing them to assert a black identity’ (2007: 2453). In other work (2009) she critiques the ‘invisibility’ of and implicit discrimination against multiracial couples in US law. Collectively her work provides a clear picture of continuing institutional racism against Blacks in the US context (and just how much of an institution ‘whiteness’ itself is); she thereby provides telling clues as to why ‘colorism’ exists and why African American women, in particular, might find themselves excluded from the institution of marriage more than women of other racial identities.

References

Bailey, C. 2010. Interview with author at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Barlet, O. 2000. African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze. Trans. Chris Turner. London and New York: Zed Books.

Bourdieu, P. 1984. Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. London: Routledge.

Dovey, L. 2009. African Film and Literature: Adapting Violence to the Screen. New York: Columbia UP. Chapters 2, 3, and 8.

Ellerson, B. 2000. Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film, Video and Television. Trenton: World Press.

Garritano, C. forthcoming. African Video Movies and Global Desires: A Ghanaian History.

Magogodi, K.2003. ‘Sexuality, Power, and the Black Body in Mapantsula and Fools,’ in I. Balseiro and N. Masilela, eds, To Change Reels: Film and Film Culture in South Africa. Detroit: Wayne State UP. 187-200.

McCluskey, A. T., ed. 2009. The devil you dance with: film culture in the new South Africa. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P.

Mulvey, L.1975. ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.’ Rpt in Leo Braudy and Marhsall Cohen, eds, Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, fifth edition, New York/Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999, 833-844.

Murphy, D. 2000. Sembene: Imagining Alternatives in Film and Fiction. Oxford: James Currey. Chapter 5, 124-150.

Nnaemeka, O. 2004. ‘Nego Feminism: Theorizing, Practicing, and Pruning Africa’s Way.’ Signs 29.2 (Winter): 357-385.

Ogbechie, S. 2010. ‘The Curator as Culture Broker: A Critique of the Curatorial Regime of Okwui Enwezor in the Discourse of Contemporary African Art’. Africa South Art Initiative: Artists’ Forum. Available at: http://www.asai.co.za/forum.php?id=79 [Accessed 8 January, 2012]

Onwuachi-Willig, A. 2007. ‘A Beautiful Lie: Exploring Rhinelander v. Rhinelander as a Formative Lesson on Race, Identity, Marriage, and Family.’ California Law Review 95: 2393-2458.

Onwuachi-Willig, A. with J. Willig-Onwuachi 2009. ‘A House Divided: The Invisibility of the Multiracial Family’. Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 231 (44.1).

Ouzgane, L., ed. 2011. Men in African Film & Fiction. Oxford: James Currey. Stratton, F.1994. Contemporary African Literature and the Politics of Gender.

London/New York: Routledge.

Tcheuyap, A. 2005. ‘African Cinema and Representations of (Homo)Sexuality,’ in Flora Veit-Wild and Dirk Naguschewski, eds, Body, Sexuality, and Gender: Versions and Subversions in African Literatures 1. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi.

Tcheuyap, A. 2010. ‘Comedy of Power, Power of Comedy: Strategic Transformations in African Cinemas.’ Journal of African Cultural Studies 22.1 (June): 25-40.

Thackway, M. 2003. Africa Shoots Back: Alternative Perspectives in sub-Saharan Francophone Film. Oxford: James Currey. 147-178.

Mirror, Mirror on the Screen: A Story about Africa in Cinema

The car glided to a stop.  At least, that was how Dikeogu felt. Entering the lush “gated community”, squinting at what seemed like set-after-set of a very lavish budget Hollywood production and a reel of disorienting scenarios playing in his head, seemed like an out-of-body experience. An ornate fountain, at the center of the drive-way, adds a soothing, ethereal soundtrack, from the spouts and tinkles of water around an angel, with an enchanting poise and exquisite wings spread like a ballerina. Three gentle taps on the passenger-side window rouse him out of his reverie. He had not noticed Kathy get out of the car and walk around to him. Through the glass, he reads her lips which were saying, ‘We are here . . . !’  Stifling his embarrassment with an uneasy smile, he opens the door, nearly stumbling out.

Dikeogu, “from Africa”, had come on this visit at the insistence of Kathy and her grandparents, Grand Pa Sam, or GPS, as she affectionately refers to him, and Grand Dame Penelope, or GDP, her grandmother’s nickname. He had wondered about the “Grand Dame” moniker but Kathy laughed it off, saying that people think she has “an aristocratic bearing.” Kathy let out, too, that as a child, she was called TLC which, variously, stood for ‘The Loving Child’, ‘Tender Loving Child’, or, after her given name, ‘The Loving Catherine’. In her in late teens, however, she “opted for Kathy, as a preamble to a needful declaration of independence.” Her earnestness made Dikeogu giggle. According to her, both grandparents, retired physicians, “met during their Peace Corps years, fell in love with Africa and each other or, vice versa.” She has never been sure which love came first but it helped, though, that both share a passion for “Africa movies.”

GPS had been deliberately vague about this invitation and Dikeogu accepted it with a foreboding sense of adventure. As they walk up to the front-door, Kathy flashes him a reassuring smile. ‘Now, remember, just be your self.’ She pauses, looks him over gently, taps on the door and, without waiting, opens it. Inside, the delicate fragrance of fresh flowers fills the room and in a corner, next to a large-screen TV, a genial sixty-something-year-old man rises to greet them, from a handcrafted armchair, so meticulously accented with African motifs that it looks like a throne. He hugs Kathy who gently kisses him on both cheeks. They exchange brief affectionate looks, as he ruffles her hair tenderly, before stepping up.

‘Welcome…,’ he said, extending his hand.

‘Thank you…,’ Dikeogu replied, slightly flinching at the firm shake.

Kathy looks on, wrestling feebly with relief and apprehension. Silence. Leaning, and feigning confidentiality, GPS whispered into Kathy’s ears, before leading her out of earshot, and gently closing the door behind them. They exchange curious looks, and he nods beyond the door.

‘What about him,’ Kathy asks.

‘You’re not pregnant or anything…?’

‘Grand Pa, stop!’

‘Just asking’

‘Again, we are classmates. Law students with a passion for social justice… Nothing more!’

GPS thinks that over for a moment, then, tilting his head in an awkward gesture of penitence, smiles and nods.

‘Got it’

‘Don’t forget,’ she smirks, mischievously. ‘Now, where’s Grand Ma?’

‘Stepped out…’

‘But she knew we were coming’

‘Something came up. Well, you know her… Never would pass up a cause for Africa’

‘Hmmm…,’ slightly rolling her eyes. ‘Malaria, Meningitis, Malnutrition…’

GPS’ forefinger across his lips, promptly, shut her up.

Alone, Dikeogu did a quick but scrupulous survey of the living room. He noticed that GPS had been reading a tourist magazine, with a special edition on Africa. Around the room, contemporary African art, sculpture, painting, masques, conceptual pieces, jockeyed for space with an eclectic collection of curious, clay and wooden objets d’art that the aura felt like a cross between a museum and a hip ‘post-colonial’ gallery.

It was early evening by the time GPS had finished regaling them with reminiscences “about life in the bush”, including advice, before his departure for the Peace Corps service, from “well-meaning people” some of which, even then, he thought were crazy. Others, “more circumspect”, advised against nationalists, communists, carnivorous cockroaches, reptiles and hepatitis. His mother only wished he would bring home an African princess. Neither the fears nor romantic wishes came true. Even then, his mother never stopped calling GDP “her African princess”.

As they drive out, Kathy asks, ‘So, where are we going?’

‘To Africa’, GPS replies, calmly.

‘Seriously’

‘Just wait and see’

They pull up at an exclusive country club where the valet, dressed in faux Royal uniform, ushers them into the lobby, with affected courtesy. Very briefly, Dikeogu considers affecting an RP British accent, which he heard that Americans were deferential to, but settles for going with the flow, as if used to the atmosphere and lifestyle, since birth. Golden-toned background music, flowers, props, refreshments, and such opulent attention to detail! He saunters over to the bar and emerging with a full wine glass in hand, joins Kathy who is looking at a big film foster, spotlighted near a theater entrance.

Dikeogu glances around surreptitiously, before pinching himself. GPS is chatting so casually with people Dikeogu had only seen on TV, in newspapers and magazines. Kathy and Dikeogu exchange meaningful glances as it dawns on them, that they are at an exclusive preview soiree. It dawns on him, even more, that Kathy, ever so modest on campus, comes from a background of the type referred to as “old money”. He takes a closer look at the poster and winces. In it, a latex-gloved hand leads a forlorn African child away from a background of absolute havoc. Kathy shuffles her feet, uncomfortably, as they read the tag line: Somewhere in the depths of Africa, a relief mission goes wrong, awfully wrong.

After the screening, they had dinner in a private booth, and, as they drove away, GPS let out a chuckle.

‘What’s so funny, Grand Pa?’

‘Things, here and there, they got wrong in the film’

‘And, that’s funny?’

‘I was a consultant for the film’

‘You…?’

‘Hey, I know Africa’

‘Don’t be too sure’, Dikeogu cuts in, to the relief of Kathy who falls silent, there after.

‘I have lived over there, and know Africa’

‘Which Africa, or, rather, whose Africa do you know so well?’

‘I am nearly seventy and was there, perhaps, before your dad was born’

‘Fair enough’

‘So, what is the problem?’

‘These types of films… Their exotic and abject Africa’

‘But it was filmed on location…’

‘And marked with stamps of authenticity’, Dikeogu interrupts, sarcastically.

‘I wouldn’t quite put it that way’.

‘Let me put it this way, then… African cinema will have its say, some day’

‘No doubt… The correct quote, though, is: “History will one day have its say”’

‘That, too. Knew Lumumba…?

‘That was from a farewell letter to his wife, Pauline’

‘Know who killed him…?

GPS stares ahead, without further words. Fleeting lights and shadows of the road complicate discerning his thoughts or emotions. They drive in silence for what seems like eternity. Dikeogu digs deeper into his seat convinced he would be tossed out, any moment. As if on a cue, Kathy’s nervous cough breaks the silence. GPS clears his throat and, without any hint of bitterness, says, nodding to Dikeogu, ‘OK… I see your point’.

As they headed back to campus, later, Dikeogu made a mental note to include a copy of Binyavanga Wainaina’s How to Write about Africa in his thank-you card to GPS and GDP.

That night, in bed, GPS tossed and turned so much that GDP, ordinarily a gentle soul, was forced to rouse him. Awakened, he turned to her, with puzzlement in his eyes.

‘Who are you?’

‘Funny…,’ raising her brows. ‘Very funny’

‘Hey…,’ passing a hand over his eyes. ‘What’s your name?’

‘Princess… The African Princess… Who else?’

‘That rings a bell…’

‘How loud?’

GDP watches him, closely. For a while, he does not move. Then, he tweaked his nose, sighs, and tries, unsuccessfully, to disguise his embarrassment.

‘Oh, forget it’

‘What was that all about, then…?,’ lifting her hand to touch his cheek, gently. After a while, he clears his throat but says nothing. He appears quite rattled. She notices his hands begin to clench, then taps him on a shoulder. He shrugs and, following a deep breath, speaks…

‘As dreams go, we were in New York, at the New York African Film Festival, and had just watched this documentary, by a young African woman, titled: Please, Wait Here.’

He stops, abruptly, staring at the ceiling. GDP waits expectantly, becoming increasingly impatient at the suspense. Instinctively, she looks at the ceiling, studying it as if for clues, before taking his hand.

‘Are you OK…?’

‘I can’t talk about this easily… The dehumanizing experiences of Africans at airport immigration posts, around the world’

‘Security, contrabands, human trafficking, perhaps…?’

‘Think again’.

‘Hmmm…,’ GDP replied, pensively rubbing her lower chins.

‘In one scene, a pregnant African professor, invited as the keynote speaker of a prestigious scholarly conference, recounts how she was subjected to invasive and unnecessary cavity searches’

‘No way…!’

Pulling GDP closer, GPS tells of how the director’s wit and engaging demeanor, during the question-and-answer session, reminds him of Lupita Nyong’o accepting the Oscar for her work in 12 Years a Slave. Pooling resources for the documentary, without any government support, even had, according to her, “the hooks and twists of a situation comedy”. For example, some government officials, “the sympathetic ones, cited priorities and offered only moral support”. Other responses ranged from hostility, indifference, to concerns about how the film will affect “international relations”. The latter, she said, drawing laughter from the audience, was euphemism for foreign aid, largely, from the West. Even then, she turned down “Trojan gifts from certain NGOs, advocacy groups, donor agencies, to maintain artistic integrity and creative autonomy”. Amidst the spirited exchanges between the director and audience, a lock turned in the heart of an elderly, Black woman. Her arthritic conditions were perceptible as she walked to the microphone, set near the podium, for comments and questions. Very calmly, she waited her turn and, between emotional gulps, pledged to finance the director’s next project, whatever it may be, and bankroll the festival’s next edition, without strings. The eclectic audience was so stunned one could have heard a pin drop. Then, the applause roared…

‘And, that was when you woke me up.’

Their eyes meet and linger. Hers are moist with tears and, soon after, his.

Not Nollywood: An Interview with Nigerian Filmmaker Tunde Kelani

Tunde Kelani is a seasoned Nigerian filmmaker wrapping up his sixteenth film, Dazzling Mirage.On the film’s website Mainframe Movies, his production company founded in 1991, promotes this as a “movie and a movement.”

This is not Nollywood. Observers, scholars, and critics usually describe Nollywood as everything but “cinema.” For some critics, it’s all absence except for its productivity: “third largest cinema in the world!” And it’s true, Nollywood doesn’t have the educational, mobilizing, historically, and culturally thick practice that Kelani brings to each and every production on his YouTube page you can see clips from his musical Arugba and click to check out other work. That is what always sets him apart. As does his independence from the production schemes that are Nollywood.*

Kelani just visited Indiana University for the workshop “Digital Paradox: Piracy, Ownership, and the Constraints of African Screen Media,” on October 18, 2013, part of the larger New Media and Literary Initiatives in Africa project (full disclosure, I am part of the collective and Sean Jacobs, AIAC heavy, once participated). Maami, an adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s play, screened on Oct. 17 (we reviewed it here, before it ran at the Lincoln Center’s AFF in 2012). Kelani, affectionately known by filmmakers and writers as TK, kindly sat down to speak with me after the event.

Kelani got his start in photography as a teenager, cut his teeth in television (as a cameraman), and studied film at the London International Film School in the 1970s. Deeply imbued in Yoruba oral literature and theater, a passionate cinema goer in his youth (Lawrence of ArabiaThe Ten CommandmentsBen Hur, and Westerns), Kelani’s mentors came from theater, literature, and film – Frances Oladele, Wole Soyinke, Kola Ogunmola, Duro Ladipo, Oyin Adejobi, and Ola Balogun. All of this shaped his filmmaking practice.

In the 1970s, Kelani worked as the BBC TV correspondent and in Nigerian TV. “It was like being on a big film set,” so monumental and dramatic were the historical changes and events of the time. For Reuters he traveled to Ethiopia to cover the drought and to Zimbabwe three times to cover independence there.

In the early 1990s filmmakers adopted video technologies in the wake of economic crisis. Traveling theater took a backstage to film at this moment as films could travel in place of large companies. Kelani started Mainframe Movies as a production company so he could produce films and not just lend technical support. Having emerged from the world of theater and literature, adaptations of books and plays for cinema are the core of Kelani’s filmmaking practice and through them he celebrates writers and their work to what he sees as a public that reads less and less.

Dazzling Mirage is a love story adapted from a novel, Kelani tells me. “Nigeria is the epicenter of sickle cell disorder in the world…..Every year 150,000 children are born with the disorder in Nigeria and half of them will die before the age of 5. Perhaps what we can do is draw more attention to the disorder.” The film tells the story of a couple – both of them hospital employees who choose not to have children because they have sickle cell – who adopt a child whose mother died during childbirth. At the age of 2 they learn the girl has sickle cell. The film is about the girl’s struggle to have a normal life with career, love, and family.

The Nigerian government does not treat sickle cell as a priority because it is not a communicable disease. “If that is the case then I knew that we are all ignorant and that we needed more information and awareness about sickle cell disorder.” Hence, the film. “We turned the film itself into some kind of a movement. We have a slogan that says let’s be sickle smart. It means to know your genotype, to go for genetic counseling, to help us all make informed choices.”

Listen to TK talking about the trajectory of adapting the novel by Yinka Egbokhare (with whom he speaks in this clip) for the screen, here.

Unfortunately, 75% of the way through the film, they ran out of funds. Always keen to try out new technologies and innovative social media, TK has turned to crowd sourcing. Here’s the indiegogo site: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dazzling-mirage

“We need the audience absolutely. Perhaps it’s like a tripod: the medium itself, the makers, and the audience. We have to find synergy. We have to find new ways of funding films.”

Even if Kelani’s work is not Nollywood, he does embrace new technologies, which have also been characteristic of Nollywood. Here are some thoughts on new digital technologies and filmmaking on the continent, from this seasoned veteran who is still on the cutting edge:

“We don’t have excuses anymore in Africa. By the new digital technologies we have the tools to tell our own stories. The difference was the chemical process of celluloid films was a medium of exclusion. There was no way we could control the means of production. But the reverse is the case in this era where with a modest investment we could actually own the means of production and use that to let us be heard. So what is done is giving us a voice. So that’s the purpose of everyone talking about the negative effect of Nollywood. There was a time when only a few people could read and write in the world and you wanted something written you had to go to someone who could write. But today everyone can buy a pen, a biro…. So Nollywood is like finding out you have a voice, today everyone has a voice, so there’s a lot of shouting! But it’s better than being silent. It’s a powerful force that cannot be negotiated. So suddenly we have assets, we have a voice and we are supposed to use it to come from local into global….Africans are blessed that this is a knowledge era but more importantly this is an era of the fusion of all media and we are going to play.”

* I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing work being done by scholars, filmmakers, and organizers who attended this workshop:

Moradewun Adejunmobi, UC-Davis
Akin Adesokan, Indiana University
Mahen Bonetti, African Film Festival
Jonathan Haynes, Long Island University

It all began in Khouribga: the 15th Festival du Cinéma Africain de Khouribga

“An African film is a miracle, like the rain.”
– Youssef Ait Hamou

“’No wind is favorable to a sailor who does not know what port he is headed for.’”
– Seneca, quoted by Nour-Eddine Saïl

I first heard of Khouribga, located inland an hour south of Casablanca, while reading Fouad Laroui’s hilarious novel Méfiez-vous des parachutistes(1) about his brief time as an engineer in the city of phosphate. It was the discovery of that mineral in 1923 that encouraged authorities of the French Protectorate to settle there. The colonists rapidly developed mines, and today Khouribga remains a world exporter of phosphate.

In their Khouribga enclave, the French inaugurated, in 1934, a film club that would be the first not just in Morocco, but on the continent too: Khouribga is the cradle of African film. (2) If Morocco, like the rest of the Africa, has recently been hard hit by the decimation of its film theatres, (3) we still should not underestimate the ongoing social and educational function played by those film clubs.

Writing in the aftermath of World War 2, André Bazin, one of their staunchest supporters, presciently foresaw the crucial role they would play:

It is possible that in twenty years, future historians will consider that one of the most important events of film, since 1944, will have been the propagation of the film clubs. […] The recent development of the film clubs in France has assumed a different magnitude from what they were before the war. (4)

[…] Today, we are in the presence of a truly popular institution that may very well influence the quality of film production. (5)

Bazin was speaking about France, but it’s well known he occasionally animated film debates in the Maghreb too.

The clubs’ many dividends included the burgeoning of film festivals, and the Khouribga African Film Festival (FCAK) was Morocco’s very first. It was founded in 1977, during the golden age of the film club movement, in the revolutionary spirit that gave birth first to the Journées cinématographiques de Carthage in Tunisia in 1966 and then to FESPACO (6) (Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ougadougou) in Burkina Faso in 1969. Since 2004, the FCAK has been run by a Foundation, with Nour-Eddine Saïl as its President and Lahoussaine N’doufi its Executive Director. Like so many of the country’s leaders, N’doufi and Saïl, who directs the Centre Cinématographique Marocain (CCM), began their careers in the Moroccan film clubs.

Presiding over the festival, Saïl reiterated his remarks made last January at the National Film Festival in Tangier: “Morocco, we must not forget, exists in Africa.” In addition, he emphasised Morocco’s longstanding commitment to stimulating film production on the continent, noting that African directors, like Ousmane Sembène, have regularly edited their films at the CCM. For years held intermittently, the FCAK is now established as an annual event, attracting some of the biggest names in contemporary African cinema.

This year’s FCAK paid tribute to the Mauritanian filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissako. Four of my students accompanied me, and since they had never had the opportunity to see his work, I only regret that the homage didn’t include a screening of his magisterial Bamako (2006). Accepting the award, Sissako observed that Mali, his second homeland, (7) is currently going through difficult times and that the cinema is a “universal family”.

The festival began with a panel discussion, moderated by Saïl, on the future of film in Africa, with representatives from Tunisia (Mohamed Nejib Ayed, a producer and film critic), Senegal (Ababacar Diop, a journalist and critic), and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Balufu Bakupa Kanyinda, a filmmaker, critic, and poet). With the exception of Antarctica, Africa was the last continent to develop film production, and activity there remains undeveloped. Its production centres form a peripheral triangle, with Egypt (30 films a year) and Morocco (now up to 25 film annually) at the base, and South Africa (12 films per year) forming the apex. But sadly, within this triangle, the rest of Africa produces no more than fifteen feature films per year. Someone mentioned the mind-boggling Nigerian example, where 900 films are made annually, but hastily added that in that plethora of images, there is not a single film. (8) Nour-Eddine Saïl touted the Moroccan “miracle”, which is due to the French-derived system of advances on receipts, adding that Morocco is proud to be a model for other African countries; as director of the CCM, he continues to follow the policies set in place by his predecessor, Souheil Ben Barka. Nejib Ayed acknowledged that Tunisia is inspired by the Moroccan experience; currently, the two countries are envisaging co-productions. It was Balufu Kanyinda who struck the most militant note on the panel: “We were colonised by the cinema. We must decolonise ourselves with the cinema.”

African film is often divided up into North vs South (Maghrebin film vs Sub-Saharan film) and into Francophone vs non-Francophone film. The FCAK, however, ignores such distinctions, and twelve feature-length films from eleven different countries competed this year for the Ousmane Sembène Grand Prix. The Moroccan film critic and blogger Mohamed Dahane headed the jury. The official selection included two Moroccan entries:Andalousie, mon amour and Mort à vendre.Andalousie, mon amour Mohamed Nadef

Based on Omar Saghi’s screenplay,Andalousie, mon amour is the first feature-length film by actor-director Mohamed Nadef, who also stars. Two friends in northern Morocco, Saïd and Amine, dream of immigrating to Spain, for lack of opportunities at home. It’s an important societal theme that Nadef treats as a comedy. And it works. The two friends get separated in their crossover attempt; Saïd mistakenly thinks he makes it to Spain, and Amin happily returns home to pursue his new love interest. Cross cutting between their different experiences, the film focuses on the corruption endemic to Moroccan society, while the dream of a better life on the other side of the Mediterranean remains well out of reach. During the debate, several audience members expressed disbelief as well as discontent at Nadef’s portrayal of a small-town teacher, who augments his salary by drug trafficking. Nour-Eddine Saïl countered that the teacher’s many contradictions are simply representative of the average Moroccan. When criticised for having performed in his own film, Nadef legitimately spoke of his desire to also be in front of the camera. (9) Expertly filmed by the doyen of Moroccan directors of photography, Kamal Derkaoui, (10) Andalousie, mon amour won a special mention for its cinematography. Incontestably the audience favourite, it garnered the prize for best direction.

Nadef’s film intimates the role of Andalusia in the imaginary of many Moroccans in their search for origins. In 1492, Spain expulsed its non-Catholic population; it’s a key date, of course, for Americans too. My immigrant ancestors, however, are closer in time (they emigrated from Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries), and I have a hard time understanding that sense of nostalgia for a paradise lost so long ago. I’m reminded, though, of meeting a woman, in Paris, several years ago at the Barbès-Rochechouart market whose Jewish family was exiled at the same time as the Arabs: she too spoke with incredible longing for Andalusia.

With the fall of the city of Grenada and the ensuing Spanish, Christian Reconquista, Arabs and Jews fled to North Africa: many of them settled in Tetouan, featured in Faouzi Bensaïdi’s Mort à vendre. If Bensaïdi is not interested in the city’s Andalusian roots per se, he has nonetheless created an urban portrait so strong that the city becomes a central character in his film. Nestled against the Rif mountains and situated on the Mediterranean, Tetouan tops my list of places to visit in the kingdom. (11) Bensaïdi’s family moved there when he was three; his memory, he told us, began in Tetouan.

Mort à vendre tells the story of three down-on-their-luck friends – Malik, Soufiane and Allal – who prepare the heist of a jewelry shop. Still living at home, the main character, Malik (Fehd Benchemsi), detests his stepfather. Visually stunning, Mort à vendre is characterised by sequence shots that envelop the characters in their environment, a rare practice in current filmmaking. I also loved the way the characters are framed against the mountains. The next day, when I commented on his stylistic choices in the Q&A, Bensmaïl acknowledged that as a filmmaker he remains firmly anchored in the previous century.

In addition, the frontal shots, to which Bensmaïl is also partial, lend his film a theatrical feel. In one of my favourite scenes, Malik is watching television in the foreground, while his stepfather rants about his good-for-nothing stepson in the background. Suddenly, a brawl breaks out between them over the television set; the centre of action shifts to the middle-ground as the two men struggle over the large box, evoking Delacroix’s painting of Jacob Wrestling with the Angel. It’s a very funny scene.

Malik’s mission with his male friends ultimately takes a back seat to his interest in a prostitute, appropriately named Dounia: in Arabic, the name means “worldly”, meaning the temporal world as opposed to the eternal one, and as such connotes something low and base. (12) At one point, Malik is framed behind bars, a strong visual clue to his personal stalemate. He’s the protagonist, but the film also features an important ensemble cast with Bensaidi’s companion, Nezha Rahile, playing Malik’s sister and Bensaïdi himself (the director originally trained as an actor) playing a tough-guy cop.

The actors in Bensaïdi’s film are all very strong and in the Q&A, Rahile emphasised the difficulty of speaking about acting, of verbally expressing the alchemy of an actor’s art. Strangely, the film came up empty-handed in the awards, but no matter: Faouzi Bensaïdi’s third feature is further proof, if proof were needed, of his own talent and the current vitality of Moroccan cinema. Mort à vendrehas just been chosen to represent Morocco in the foreign film competition for the 2013 Oscars. (13)

The other popular film in this year’s line-up (and undoubtedly the biggest budget, with its lion and CGI) came from Gabon: Henri-Josef Koumba’s Le Collier du Makoko that was five years in the making. It’s an adventure story à la Indiana Jones of a queen, played by the popular singer Patience Dabany, who is also the mother of the current Gabonese president; she wants to recover an ancestral necklace that she believes will restore peace and prosperity to her country. Her story is interwoven with that of an African ecologist, who is working to reintroduce lions in his country, and a circus orphan, who has been separated from his beloved lion. The French actress, Hélène de Fougerolles, stars as a journalist covering the scientist, played by the Cameroon actor Eriq Ebouaney, while Philippe Mory plays the boy’s grandfather. Mory deserves special mention here: a founding father of Gabonese cinema, he was the first African to play the principal role in a French film, Michel Drach’s 1959 On n’enterre pas le dimanche, for which he won the 1960 Louis Delluc prize. (14)

The scenery in Le Collier du Makoko is breathtaking, the screenplay well written, and the actors all excellent, but the closing clinch between the blonde, French journalist and the African preservationist felt all wrong. That embrace, a little forced, conjures up Africa’s relationship to la Françafrique, and reminds me of the awkward turn of a foot and the bad cut, for which Serge Daney demolished Jean-Jacques Annaud’s L’Amant. (15)

The film’s story – the search for a sacred necklace – sparked an animated debate the next morning. How can Africa repatriate its many cultural goods, pilfered during the colonial period, including filmed images? Because of my own background as a museum administrator, it’s a subject of keen interest to me. The Senegalese critic, Ababacar Diop, and Clément Tapsoba of FESPACO agreed that in an ideal world, Africa would someday be able to recuperate its lost possessions but to do so, it had also to prepare itself, physically as well as psychologically.(16)

One of my favourite films in this year’s festival was by the acclaimed Tunisian director Ridha Behi. (17) Premiering last year at the Toronto Film Festival, Always Brando won the prize for best screenplay at Khouribga. It’s the true story of the filmmaker’s discovery, a decade ago, of a Tunisian youth resembling the young Marlon Brando. Wanting to make a film with him and Brando, Behi contacted the aging American actor, who invited him to Mulholland Drive. Brando signed on for the film, but then his untimely death in 2004 derailed the project, until Behi, realising that themonstre sacré was just a pretext, decided to rewrite the film. The final movie navigates between fiction and documentary. In the first, a gay actor, James, playing in an American movie being shot in Tunisia, discovers Anis, a Brando look-alike. James has the production company offer Anis a small role, and then, after seducing him, tries to entice him to Hollywood, allegedly in the hope of making it big time. The film’s other narrative strand consists of Behi’s meta-cinematic reflections on Brando as a human rights activist, and on the meaning of a Hollywood-mega star to a marginalised audience in the Magreb.

Behi shot the film in Kairouan, his hometown, which seems to be the Ouarzazate of Tunisia: Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is just one of the many films shot in Kairouan. For a Moroccan audience, Always Brandoreadily evokes Daoud Aoulad-Syad’s En attendant Pasolini (2007), shot in Ouarzazate, that similarly treats the issue of film extras in a third world context. It also brings to mind Rabii El Jawhari’s documentary The Silence’s Echo, for its poignant interview with the young Moroccan, who shot Cate Blanchett’s character in Babel. Having attended the film’s premiere at Cannes with Blanchett, the boy tragically assumed a career would follow. Already in his first feature, Soleil des hyènes (1979), Behi, who studied with Jean Rouch and earned a doctorate in sociology in Paris, dealt with the problematic results of tourism in Morocco and Tunisia. The filmmaker beganAlways Brando in the wake of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, courtesy of George W. Bush; not surprisingly, the final film is imbued with a strong anti-yankee attitude, countered only by Marlon Brando, who symbolises another kind of American.

During the Q&A, I asked the filmmaker if his own Pygmalion role in Anis’ life wasn’t comparable to that of the predatory, American actor. He candidly admitted that the real-life Anis had not fared well after making the movie; he, too, had confused his on- and off-screen personae. Currently, he is serving out a prison term. The critic for the Huffington Post mistakenly calls the film “a heartwarming story that could easily be that of Mohamed Bouazizi or any of the heroes of the Arab Spring.” (18)Heartwarming story? Behi’s film is more a heartbreaking, cautionary tale to young Africans on the perils of the West. Ironically, the recent political developments in the Arab world have softened Behi’s political views: “Between a Western tourist and a Salafist [an ultra-conservative Muslim],” he told us, “there would be a greater chance for dialogue . . . with the tourist.”

In one of the debates, Baba Diop noted that this year’s crop of films represent a major advance over previous years, because several films featured strong female protagonists, something of a novelty in African film. (However, the festival featured only one film by a female director, Fatima Zohra Zamoun’s Combien tu m’aimes[Algeria, 2011], which unfortunately I missed.) There was Pierre Yaméogo’s Bayiri, La Patrie(Burkina Faso) that tells the exodus of Biba, a young woman from Burkina Faso separated from her mother and living in a village in the Ivory Coast. For the director, the film provides a “veritable description of life in a refugee camp where international aid always arrives too late.” The rape scene is not easy to forget: the soldier restrains Biba in a guillotine-like contraption that allows him to violate her, while shielding him from her gaze. Bayiri, La Patrie was awarded the festival’s Osmane Sembène prize.

Toiles d’araignées, from Mali, another film featuring a female protagonist, took its director, Ibrahima Touré, seven years to complete. Mariama (Viviane Sidibé) refuses to follow her father’s wishes to marry a much older man with three wives. Years ago, American feminists took as their rallying cry, “The personal is political”, in an effort to get their menfolk to do more housework. In Mali and much of Africa, the personal is inescapably political, particularly for women. The Ivorian filmmaker Roger Gnoan M’Bala, who was also honoured at this year’s FCAK, reminds us why this is so:

[In Africa,] the father’s authority is normally exercised, not only on children, but also on women and wives, and belongs to a tradition. This is the reality; this is how it is. There is no psychological dimension to it. What is more perceived here as a problem, is the refusal of children to submit to the rule, which is condemned as rebellion. [. . .] (19)

Mariama’s insistence on marrying her sweetheart is thus seen as a political act. She is thrown into jail with terrible conditions, where she encounters Yoro, a politician and fierce opponent of the military regime.

In fact, Yoro’s story is based on the eponymous, autobiographical novel by Ibrahima Ly, a young math professor, who was imprisoned during Mali’s leaden years in the 1970s for a tract denouncing the junta. (20) Notwithstanding the veracity of Yoro/Ly’s account, his story was considerably less well developed than Mariama’s (her character also exists in the novel). Ibrahima Touré purposefully didn’t centre the film on Yoro, for fear of reprisals.

The title’s image – spiders’ webs – suggests being ensnared in a web that one can’t escape. The closing shot is a dramatic freeze-frame on Mariama; she’s been inextricably caught in the patriarchal, societal web, as she runs for her life. It’s a brave film and I appreciate its depiction of an everyday reality, unfortunately still familiar to too many African women.

The youngest filmmaker and one of the most promising in this year’s lineup (at Tribeca in 2011, he won for Best Emerging Director) was Kivu Ruhorahoza from Rwanda. Shot by the Australian director of photography, Ari Wegner, and entirely self-financed, his film, Grey Matter, has been hailed as the first Rwandan feature film. Ruhorahoza is quick to point out that other films preceded his, but those other films are the equivalent of Nigerian productions, made on the fly: “They are written, shot, and edited in less than two months, and shot with handycams and directly released on DVDs or VCDs, with titles like The Consequences of Sin andA Man’s True Worth is Demonstrated in Adversity.”(21) Interestingly, Grey Matter begins by distinguishing itself from such moralising films.

A young director, Balthazar wants to make a film treating the traumatic memory of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, when Hutu extremists killed 800,000 Tutsis, as the culmination of a long-standing animosity between the two ethnic groups. His request for funding is denied, because the government prefers backing straightforward, didactic films on topics like HIV prevention and gender-based violence, like the Rwandan films regularly made for a mass market.

Despite this setback, Balthazar decides to move ahead with his project. This narrative frame then gives way to the film-within-the film entitled “The Cockroach Cycle”, where we first encounter a former Hutu soldier in an asylum who “rapes” a cockroach (a scene that Balthazar had earlier prepared us for). In the lead-up to the 1994 massacre, Kivu told us, the Tutsis were represented by the Tutus in the media as cockroaches to be exterminated, “Operation Insecticide”. The film also presents a twenty-something brother and sister, Tutsis, whose parents were violently murdered in the bloodbath. Clearly disturbed, Yvan has difficulty eating and sleeping, and never takes off his helmet. From his sister, Mary, we learn that his wounds are psychological rather than physical (“You don’t have any scars. You were in Belgium. You weren’t even here during the war,” she tells him), but no less real for that. One audience member querulously interrogated the filmmaker on the dramaturgic meaning of Yvan’s omnipresent helmet: Was it, he wondered, meant to protect Yvan’s brain (grey matter)? Yvan wears it, Ruhorahoza told us, because he thinks he’s been hurt in the head with a machete.

For this viewer, though, the film’s title refers less to the protagonist’s mental faculties and more to the nebulous, grey zone of human relations in pre- and post-war Rwanda. Mary, for instance, is forced into granting sexual favours to a psychiatrist in return for medical treatment for her brother. As for his headgear, Yvan wears it less for protection and more because it makes him look like a giant insect, thus visually emphasising his empathy with the victims and perhaps too assuaging his feelings of guilt for not having been there. Grey Matter was awarded a special jury prize.

The Senegalese entry, Alain Gomis’ Aujourd’hui (Today), which premiered in Berlin in February, received a lot of attention; its producer, Oumar Sall hopes that it will help jump start Senegalese production, which has been floundering since Sembène’s death in 2007.

According to Gomis, “Aujourd’hui is the kind of tale that takes place in an imaginary society in which death comes looking for someone. The film starts when he [the protagonist] opens his eyes and ends when they close.” (22) Initially, I thought Aujourd’hui would be an African remake of Agnès Varda’s Cléo de 5 à 7 (1962). The pace is purposefully slow and dialogue kept to a minimum: after immigrating to the U.S. for fifteen years, Satché (played by the American musician and poet, Saul Williams, who lives in Paris), returns to Dakar. On his last day alive, he meets several people, before finally heading home to his wife and children.

Varda’s Cléo undergoes a physical as well as spiritual transformation, almost in real time, as she comes face-to-face with her mortality; Satché’s meanderings, on the other hand, offer little narrative resolution. Cleo’s metamorphosis from a frivolous, petulant yé-yé singer to an adult facing a stark truth is entirely credible, while Satché flits from encounter to encounter. His imminent demise never comes alive for me, no doubt because he’s a kind of nowhere man. Besides the beautiful cinematography by Crystel Fournier (Youssef Ait Hamou wonderfully noted that the actors seem to be sculpted by the light, adding that sculpture is the African art, par excellence), what I remember most about the film is the wife’s anger. Aujourd’hui’s real subject is not Satché’s death at the end of the day, but rather his no-man’s status as a bi-national.

Some critics believe that an artist has only one or perhaps two themes, which over a lifetime he or she succeeds in constantly retelling. Such a reading appears valid for Alain Gomis. He grew up in Paris with a French mother and Senegalese father, and his work to date reflects on the in-betweenness of his dual nationality. Remarks, for instance, that he made in a 2003 interview provide insight into his current film:

There is no intention to be French or Senegalese. My ways of being are very Senegalese, and the way my characters behave shows a background closer to Africa. […] What I want to bring to the screen is the basic conflict you face when you are an outsider. Living somewhere but coming from somewhere else. […]

Actually, creating this character was a way for me to understand my own situation. […] I grew up with that idea of that far away, magical, extraordinary land called Senegal, to where I would go back. Emigrants come and plan to stay five years, ten years, or plan to go back when they stop working. They are continually dreaming of this return. They never think that the longer they stay, the more difficult it will be to go back. And it turns out to be an obstacle to living a full life where you are. […] And this becomes a problem for me because it is like running away from myself at the time. That is how I lived. (23)

Cleo’s death is concretely imagined (she fears she has cancer and in the closing scene, her doctor confirms the diagnosis), while Satché’s death remains metaphorical. His former girlfriend tells him: “You’re going to die, but you haven’t ever lived.” Straddling life on two continents, Gomis suggests, is already a form of dying.

In addition to the screening of new African films and their press conferences the following morning, the Khouribga Festival distinguishes itself by a series of Midnight debates. One of these nocturnal discussions was dedicated to the Moroccan film journalCiné Mag. It was founded in 2006 by a generous Moroccan cinephile. If the review is currently suspended for insufficient funding, the passion for discussing and debating films, judging from my own experiences these past two years, is very much alive in the country. Perhaps Ciné Mag should now consider becoming an online film journal, like Senses of Cinema? Baba Diop sadly noted that Senegal currently has not one film journal. Paraphrasing Henri Langlois who maintained that a film had to be screened in order to exist, Diop added that films must be discussed and written about, otherwise they become invisible. The discussion lingered at length on the French New Wave and film journals like Cahiers du cinéma andPositif, but at least one participant, Clément Tapsoba from Fespaco, wondered if an African film critic really needed to be citing the old Eurocentric models. He certainly has a point, but if we agree with Abderrahmane Sissako, who studied in Moscow where he discovered an affinity for Russian literature, that the cinema is a universal family, then a young film director or critic in Ougagdougou or Dakar or Douala or Timbuktu or Ouarzazate should have the ability – or rather, let’s call it the right – to dialogue with the best minds and talents wherever, regardless of nationality.

The role of the film critic was also intensely debated. Evoking Roland Barthes, Youssef Ait Hamou one of the most engaged among the Moroccan critics, asked us if we were we a “mille fleurs” or an “apricot” critic? (24) The latter searches out the essential core of a work of art, while the former prefers entertaining a work of art in a polysemic plurality. Ait Hamou also reminded us of a simple and yet crucial fact that bears repeating: “An African film is a miracle, like the rain.” It took five years to make Le Collier de Makoko, seven for Les Toiles d’Araginées, while Ridha Behi averages between five to six years between films. Someone commented thatAlways Brando felt like a “testament film”: Behi responded that having made just seven films in forty years, every one for him was a “testament film”. As for Sissako, he told us his career choice represents a permanent, ongoing sacrifice for his family.

One final remark: I realise that the FCAK only programs feature-length films. Still, I regret that the Moroccan short, Inch’allah, which I saw last January in the National Film Festival, wasn’t included. A film about reverse immigration where a young Frenchman struggles as a clandestine worker in Morocco, it would have stimulated debate in a festival of African film.

The late-night sessions closed with a tribute to Ousmane Sembène that featured a screening of Christine Delorme’s moving documentary, Ousmane Sembène: tout à la fois(2011). Although she finished the film last year, her footage dates from twenty years before, shortly after Sembène finished shooting Guelwaar (1992)It’s a valuable document, because Sembène rarely allowed himself to be filmed and because what he says therein is pertinent, reminding us of the fundamentals of African film.

It was in a Moroccan film club, in 1970, that Nour-Eddine Saïl first encountered the Senegalese filmmaker; at the time, Sembène was already an important reference in Africa. Saïl called him a “great conscience”. From its inception, the Festival du Cinéma Africain de Khouribga was tied to Sembène’s ideas, which explains why the festival’s Grand Prix is named after him. Nour-Eddine Saïl, an erstwhile philosophy professor, is a muscular speaker and his paraphrase of Seneca, at 1:00 am, brought me to full attention: “No wind is favorable to a sailor who does not know what port he is headed for.” “ Sembène,” he told us, “was someone who always knew the port.”

Festival du Cinéma Africain de Khouribga
30 June – 7 July 2012

First published in Senses of Cinema, no. 64 (September 2012)

http://festivalkhouribga.com/site/

 

Endnotes

  1. Paris: Julliard, 1999. I highly recommend Laroui’s two most recent novels: Une année chez les français, which was in the running for the 2010 Prix Goncourt, and La vieille dame du riad (2012).
  2. Maman Abdoul-Razag, the Secretary General of the Centre National de la cinématographie in Niger, in an interview with the MAP, “Le Maroc est le berceau du 7e art africain,” Le Matin, 4 July 2012.http://www.lematin.ma/journal/-/168632.html [Last consulted 16 August 2012].
  3. Morocco numbers 65 screens, while in Burkina Faso, for instance, there are just ten. Gabon currently has no cinemas: they have all been reconverted into places of worship. The cities of Bamako and Dakar each have one screen.
  4. André Bazin, “Le movement des ciné-clubs en France depuis la Libération,” Doc Education Populaire,1948, p. 7. Unless otherwise noted, translations from the French are my own. My warm thanks to Dudley Andrew for making available to me the Bazin archives at Yale University.
  5. André Bazin, “L’Ecran et le monde: Où en sont les ciné clubs,” Parisien libéré, 5 July 1946, no. 588.
  6. Morocco has thrice won the top award at FESPACO, most recently in 2011 for Mohamed Mouftakir’sPégase, in 2001 for Nabil Ayouch’s Ali Zaoua, and in 1973 for Souheil Ben Barka’s Les Mille et une mains. 
  7. Born in Kiffa, Mauritania, in 1961, Sissako grew up in Mali, his father’s homeland.
  8. Film production in Nigeria, popularly known as Nollywood, is in fact up to 1,500 films a year and at least some scholars are taking its activities seriously. See: Pierre Barrot (ed.), Nollywood: The Video Phenomenon in Nigeria, Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2008 (first published in French, L’Harmattan 2005).
  9. Nadef reminds me of the friend of Nana’s pimp in Godard’s Vivre sa vie, who plays the clown for her when she is bored.
  10. After studying in film school at Lodz in Poland, Derkaoui trained under Vadim Yuso, Tarkovsky’s renowned cameraman, at the VGIK school in Russia. Derkaoui has won many awards.
  11. S. Afoulous, “Tetouan: the most Andalusian of Moroccan Cities,” Royal Air Maroc Magazine, no. 174 (July – August 2012), pp. 108 – 118. With photos by Younes Chahyd.
  12. See: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=482824 [Accessed on 16 July 2012].
  13. MAP, “Mort à vendre de Faouzi Bensaïdi représente le Maroc aux Oscars 2013,” Au fait Maroc, 9 August 2012: http://www.aufaitmaroc.com/actualites/culture/2012/8/9/mort-a-vendre-de-faouzi-bensaidi-represente-le-maroc-aux-oscars-2013_186991.html [Last consulted 23 August 2012].
  14. Guy Désiré Yameogo, “Meeting with Philippe Mory, the Founding Father of Gabonese Cinema,”http://www.fespaco-bf.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=110:allo-ouaga-ici-amiens&catid=46:actualites&Itemid=68&lang=en [Accessed July 20, 2012].
  15. Serge Daney, “Falling Out of Love,” available online at:http://home.earthlink.net/~steevee/Daney_lover.html [Accessed on 1 August 2012]. First published inLibération (1992); First published in English in Sight & Sound (1992).
  16. For an up-to-date account of pillaging in Africa, see: Holland Cotter, “Imperiled Legacy for African Art,”New York Times, 2 August 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/05/arts/design/african-art-is-under-threat-in-djenne-djenno.html?adxnnl=1&pagewanted=all&adxnnlx=1344348158-Sz6f91Ma9UFX3nqZ35QFAw
  17. Behi shot Soleil des hyènes in Morocco, with the help of Souheil Ben Barka and presented it at the Quinzaine des réalisateurs in 1977.
  18. Nina Rothe, “Ridha Behi’s Always Brando at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival: Spellbinding,” Huffington Post,2 November 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/e-nina-rothe/ridha-behis-always-brando_b_1069166.html?utm_hp_ref=email_share [Accessed July 24, 2012].
  19. Roger Gnoan M’Bala with Dan Talbot, “I prefer the idea of a debate,” Through African Eyes: Dialogues with the Directors (eds), Mahen Bonetti and Preranna Reddy, New York: 10th African Film Festival, 2003, p. 65.
  20. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985.
  21. Email from the filmmaker, dated 27 July 2012.
  22. Gomis quoted in Tambay A. Obenson’s “Cannes 2012 – Wide Management Picks up Alain Gomis’Aujourd’hui and Patrick-Ian Polk’s The Skinny,” http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/cannes-2012-wide-management-picks-up-alain-gomis-aujourdhui-patrik-ian-polks-the-skinny#.UAiCAkSqSwM[Accessed July 15, 2012].
  23. Alain Gomis with Jonathan Demme, “It happened to my brother,” Through African Eyes: Dialogues with the Directors, op. cit., p. 103.
  24. Ait Hamou cited a conference that Barthes delivered in Rabat in 1970.

“Moi et Mon Blanc” Review

This is a fast-paced comedy of errors cocaine caper; a humorous fast-paced, quick-witted tale of the collision and embrace of two cultures and the absurdity of caste, class and cash.  With aspiration and determination as the impulsive incentive, two parking lot attendants in France bumble across mega euro dollars and a large cache of cocaine. The multi-racial pair, ex-patriot Mamadi, a newly anointed doctorial student from Burkina Faso and a young Parisian with wanderlust, are forced to flee the City of Lights, with the dope dealers in hell-hound pursuit. In madcap cultural transference, director S. Pierre Yameogo makes a satirical comment on the entrenchment of cash, class and universal. Throughout, the bonds of goodwill prevail in a thriller where the brother from the Motherland, meets a cohort and true dejavu soul brother in a nomad from the West.

The Woman in Contemporary African Cinema: Protagonism and Representation

“Clearly, African cinema, too, like African political leadership, cannot hope to advance without the presence of women on the scene…. Sembène was considered a significant feminist…  But even his films will not be satisfactory… until we have affirmative action in Africa to include women in politics, in classrooms, in film schools, and in every other sector of life.” (Diawara, 2010: 161).  With the foregoing words, halfway through his most recent book, African Film:  New Forms of Aesthetics and Politics, Manthia Diawara addresses, with the requisite degree of grace and political correctness, one of the most glaring deficiencies in the cinematic production of the continent:  the continuing inequality between men and women.  It seems probable that, in the final moments of editing and proofreading the text, the numerical scarcity of female directors analyzed, or at least mentioned, compelled the author to insert, by way of a mea culpa, a few paragraphs indicting a critical status quo that has yet to accord women their proper place.  The numbers do not lie:  of the 31 films selected by Diawara for the African Film series sponsored by Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, which resulted in the publication of Diawara’s book and its accompanying DVD, only four were directed by women, and one can hardly fail to notice the paucity of analysis these receive in comparison to the detailed attention given to the woks of Ousmane Sembène, Abderrahmane Sissako, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, and Moussa Sené Absa.  It can be argued that the proportion is representative of African film production as a whole; nevertheless, the gap in Diawara’s study, and his subsequent apology in extremis, speak unmistakably of the reality of women in African cinema today:  a constant quest for recognition that arrives, if ever, on the heels of that of their male counterparts, less as a result of their own achievements than of the ascendancy of politics promoting the broad recognition of minorities as a principle in itself, which in their generality want for the kinds of theoretical and critical analyses necessary to rectify women’s subordinate position.  The skepticism generally warranted toward avowed efforts to recognize women’s equality is particularly justified in the case of cinema, where the tendency of such normally emphasizes the links between their production and traditionally feminine themes such as education, health, childhood, the fight for equality, and so forth, all of which impedes the possibility of their being considered as cineastes, on par with, and to be critiqued in the same way as, their male contemporaries.  As a final excuse, many critics and film theorists, stressing the greater necessity of giving due legitimacy to African film within the wider world of film studies, deem an analysis of the situation of its female directors a secondary issue, to be dealt with in time.  Yet it is reasonable to ask whether the legitimacy of African film as such can be established on the basis of a distorted image of its nature, let alone whether it is ethically or esthetically justifiable to postpone a conscious reckoning with the real place of women in African cinema.

Any attempt at vindication of said place must begin with an esthetics equally applicable to male and female filmmakers and must dispense with the notion of alleged feminine virtues to be contrasted with masculine ones.  For this task, the perspectives of occidental feminism are problematic and perhaps inadequate, to the extent that this discourse has never entirely extricated itself from a broader philosophical tradition linked to colonialism (Sohat, 1993:  42).  In the words of Melissa Thackway:  “[T]he dominant male/subjugated female psychoanalytical paradigm may inadequately describe or actually mask the oppression of women in other cultures whose condition is often equally affected by other factors, such as ethnic origin, class, sexual preference or history” (Thackway, 2003: 148).  It is even contended, among certain African feminists, that the oppression of women in Africa is a relatively recent phenomenon, arriving on the continent with the respective proselytizers of Christianity, Islam, and capitalism, which suppressed native matrilineal traditions in which women were accorded great respect and power.  Distinction of gender roles is evident neither in the traditional pre-colonial narratives nor in the liberation movements of the various African nations; thus, the situation of the African woman cannot be equated with that of the western, but may be better described as an “equality of difference,” in the words of the Cameroonian writer Calixthe Beyala, among others.  In any case, an indictment of those prejudices that sustain the subaltern position of women, be they native or imposed from without, must take as its basis the testimony of these women themselves, and the fundamental task is less one of fabricating critical perspectives than of opening up spaces in which their voices can be heard.

The paradoxical situation of the woman in African film

Among specialists, there has been a growing acknowledgement of the essential role women have played in African cinema since its origins.  Nevertheless, international recognition has been lacking until quite recently.   The reasons are various:  inequality of access to education, and, in consequence, reduced possibilities for entry into the labor market; the precariousness of film production in Africa in general; the vagaries of western tastes, which have tended to push women aside in favor of, on the one hand, purveyors of blockbusters and on the other, a handful of auteurs, generally male, who direct from the artistic and geographical periphery and whose presence in the international film scene lends artistic gravity to a basically banal enterprise; and finally, the preeminence granted to directors of full-length fiction films, because of which an enormous array of talented women working as producers, scriptwriters, actresses, technicians, documentarians, and festival organizers has been overlooked.  That it should only be possible to trace the work of a half-dozen female directors in the secondary literature concerning African cinema confirms the continuing bias, in the west, toward film and toward a politique des auteurs which, despite its artistic pretensions, should be understood less as a promotion of creative independence and more as a commercial strategy involving the conversion of recognized directors into commodities.  Even as digital technologies have permitted a democratization of access to the process of filmmaking, the enduring distinction between high and low art, with the implicit relegation of video and digital to the latter, has impeded a critical appreciation of numerous areas of production in which women are more active, particularly the short and medium length documentary pieces, often made for television, which form a refuge for many female directors hoping to move on to more ambitious full-length fictional productions.  Likewise, in genres such as melodrama, animation, and science fiction, normally accorded lesser consideration, women have produced works of great note which, if they have attracted relatively little critical attention, have nonetheless had a greater impact on their viewing audience than the more highly regarded cinema d’auteur.  To give these works their due is not to advance a minority-studies approach to African cinema, but rather to give a fuller and more realistic picture to the audio-visual production of a continent whose output has too often been reduced to the works of a coterie of grands hommes exhibited in film festivals where, once again, women have gained very little traction.

This is particularly important insofar as the profusion of African film festivals that has arisen in the previous decade has proven to be one of the few viable avenues for the distribution of these works, especially given the shuttering of cinemas across the continent, at times for political reasons and at times for economic ones.  The pressure, often subconscious, to conform to the expectations of the Western cinephiles and critics whose role is essential to these festivals, has been denominated “festivality” by the critic and director Férid Boughedir, and is the subject of important work by the Ivorian professor Mahomed Bamba (Meleiro:  77-104).

The African woman has found herself in an ambivalent position:  lauded on the one hand, as symbol and even subject, in the works of the Senegalese pioneers Ousmane Sembène and Djibril Diop Mambety and of the Malinese Souleymane Cissé; on the other, disparaged in terms of her actual production.  This is illustrated clearly by an examination of the two most important African film festivals celebrated on the continent, celebrated every two years in Carthage and Ouagadougou.  The grand prizes for both events are named for mythical female figures—the goddess Tanit and the princess Yennenga, mythic, pan-African symbols of strength and valor, whose ideal character is echoed in the utopian strains of the first African filmmakers in their quest to construct an imaginary for the newly liberated nations.  This only serves to underscore the relative absence of female prize-winners.  In Carthage, Sarah Maldoror—from Guadalupe, but African with respect to her motivation and themes—won the Tanit d’or in 1972 for Sambizanga; more than two decades passed before the prize was awarded to a woman again, this time to Moufida Tlatli for Les silences du palais.  Safi Faye’s Tanit de bronze for 1980’s Fal ‘jal seems almost incidental.  And yet, few as these concessions are, they are triumphs in comparison with the disdain evident at FESPACO:  not once has a women proven deserving of the Étalon d’or.  Safi Faye did merit Special Mention in 1976 for Lettre paysanne and, in 2001, in the 17th installment, Fanta Régina Nacro was awarded Best Short, for Bintou, following this up with Best Script in 2005 for La Nuit de la Vérité.  The possibility of change is discernible in the most recent two installments:  in 2009 the documentary awards were swept by three female directors, Leila Kilani (Nos lieux interdits), Jihan el-Tahri (Behind the Rainbow), and Osvalde Lewat (Bad Business), and in FESPACO in 2011 women won in several important categories:  The Oumadou Ganda prize for first feature went to Sarah Bouyain for Notre étrangère; Best Documentary to Jane Murago-Munene for Monica Wangu Wamwere; and the Special Jury Prize was granted to the short film Tabou by the Tunisian Meriem Rivelli.

It is nevertheless important, without aspersing the accomplishments of these directors and the significance of their awards, to make note of the recent criticism leveled at FESPACO by Mahamat Saleh-Haroun and Jean-Marie Teno, among others.  Since its early days, the festival has been marked by disorganization and unpredictability; these traits have grown more salient as it has been forced to compete with similar events both inside and outside of Africa, many of them with better resources than those available in Burkina Faso.  Yet this alone does not explain adequately these directors’ promised absence from future installments of the festival.  Is it not rather a case of brighter shores beckoning, and of women, once more, taking over positions no longer of interest to their male colleagues?  If not, how should one explain the triumphant debut of Un home qui crie in Cannes?

In time, it is to be hoped, there will evolve genuinely African resources for the production, distribution, and exhibition of African cinema within the continent; until that time, the industry largely depends on film festivals for its survival.  Here again, the influence of women, though little documented, has been decisive, particularly in Europe and North America; meriting particular mention in this connection are Mahen Bonetti, director of the African Film Festival in New York; Alessandra Speciale, since 1991 artistic director of Milan’s African film festival and chief editor of Écrans d’afrique; the numerous contributions of women working with Vues d’Afrique in Montreal; and the work of Mane Cisneros and Marion Berger in the Festival de cine africano in Tarifa (Spain).

Women’s search for a place in African cinema and cinema criticism

Although still minuscule by scholarly standards, the body of work concerning the representation of women in African cinema has experienced a veritable explosion since the 1990s, above all in Europe and North America.  It may speak of a certain feminine solidarity that the majority of research concerning this theme have been brought to fruition by women (Thackway, 2003; Coletti, 2001; Ellerson, 2000; Foster, 1996).  In earlier general studies, the names of the groundbreaking directors Safi Faye and Sarah Maldoror were often to be found alongside those of their male compeers; later, they would be joined by Anne-Laure Folly and Fanta Regina Nacro (Diawara, 1992; Ukadike, 2002; Pfaff, 2004; Murphy and Williams, 2007; Armes, 2007; Arensburg, 2010).  This remains inadequate.  Underlining the still-pending necessity of according proper place to female directors, without lapsing into the vitiated paternalism represented by third world feminism, Kenneth Harrow, in his indispensable “Women with Open Eyes, Women of Stone and Hammers:  Western Filmmaking and African Feminist Filmmaking Practice” emphasizes the necessity of a truly subversive idiom to the transcendence of those masculine conventions—part of a still regnant ethnographic discourse irreversibly vitiated by eurocentrism—still present in much of women’s contemporary production.  A cinema of opposition cannot be called such if its adoption of putative women’s themes is subjugated to the perennial authoritarian gaze, the cardinal characteristic of which is the erection of a hermetic symbolic order codifying the distance between the creator and the reality represented.  We should look rather to the destabilizing effects of soundtrack, the fragmentation of the image sequence, or even to the inclusion of the director as an active participant, stripped of neutrality, in her own work, as the most fruitful avenues for any oppositional cinema hoping to challenge the tyranny of the western cinematographic language.  It is in this connection that Harrow decries the “strong current of African feminist filmmaking, from Safi Faye to Sarah Maldoror to Anne-Laure Folly, that reaffirms its own mainstream cultural norms by adopting a cinema of vérité, of truth, of one truthness, of representation […]  women joining the exclusive male club, not disrupting the established order […] adopting mainstream anthropological film practices and presuppositions” (Harrow, 1999:  23).   Harrow’s indictment, while astute, required qualification:  first, as it smacks of an ivory-tower elitism that disparages traditionally minor genres as a mode of mass-indoctrination unsuited to deeper analysis; second, as it ignores the constant compromises and negotiations that form the very fabric of the filmmaking enterprise.  If the works of the directors in question do not represent radical formal or thematic ruptures, their tenacity no doubt laid the groundwork for the much more daring works on offer today.  Furthermore, it is impossible to ignore the economic and political realities in thrall to which, for many female directors, documentary and television have proven more practicable options.

It is rewarding to consider the careers of these female directors alongside those of female writers, though with a necessary caveat:  the individual nature of literary production has allowed it to achieve a level of innovation and subversion to which cinema, because of its complex and cooperative character, has only arrived later.  When the first books by African female authors began to appear in the 1970s, their works served as a corrective to the image of women put forth by male authors for nearly half a century—an image of a largely symbolic nature, integrated into a generalized discourse concerning African liberation from the yoke of imperialism, “tied above all,” as Coletti has noted, “to the myth of the mother and to the exaltation and veneration of feminine fecundity” (2001: 31).  “Mother Africa” served as the hallmark of an idealized past, her beauty, selflessness, and bravery of a utopian character.  It was through autobiography, in the 1970s, and later in works of variegated structure, that women reclaimed their voice; not rejecting the above-mentioned virtues, but integrating them into narratives with women at the center, rather than the periphery, and blending the formal aspects of oral tradition with a new critical consciousness.  It is at this point that one can speak of the “new, uniquely feminine African novel, signifying a powerful transformation under the sign of subversion” (Cazenave, 1996:  334).

Woman as symbol in the production of male directors

African cinema arose with the wave of independence, beginning as a (re)construction of the history, culture, and identities that had suffered under the yoke of colonialism.  The medium’s didactic possibilities appealed to many writers frustrated by the enormous prevalence of illiteracy in their home countries, and the early films are thus inflected with a literary sensibility strongly influenced by oral traditions.  At this time, art served to define the specificity of national cultures and as an indictment of inequality, corruption, and social injustice, and women were present as types, symbolizing heroines or victims, or else confined to their own spaces—the courtyard or reunions for traditional celebrations—but in any case, deprived of their own voices, save for the occasional ruptures of traditional music and dance that stray into a more ambiguous cinematographic territory.  Though Ousmane Sembène, Djibril Diop Mambety, Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Med Hondo, and Adama Drabo have indeed presented more complete representations of women in their works, they cannot be said to have freed themselves entirely from the notion of woman as archetype.  It is only later, in the production of Abderrahmane Sissako, Moussa Sené Absa, Jean-Marie Teno, Joseph Gaï Ramaka, and Jean-Pierre Bekolo, among others, that the complex task of rendering flesh and blood characters, multidimensional in terms of their motivations, is taken up with seriousness.  It would be excessive to list the numerous recent efforts to broaden and enrich the image of women in contemporary African cinema, but the following examples should be mentioned:  Madame Brouette (Moussa Sené Absa, 2003), Nha Fala (Flora Gomes, 2002), and Karmen Gei (Joseph Gaï Ramaka, 2001) and U-Carmen (Mark Dornford-May, 2005), both adaptations of Bizet’s opera Carmen.  In all of these, women are unarguable protagonists.  Still, the themes they extrapolate, by means of musical and melodrama, represent a departure from the situation of the contemporary woman in Africa.  Their identification of women with the voice and particularly with music represents a reemergence of the idealization of the feminine seen in earlier films, though at present the more current themes of urban reality are stressed.  The innovation of these films lies not in their still stereotypical understanding of women, nor in their visual representation of them; it is rather in terms of form, of the new possibilities that the increased emphasis on music in them presents.  They offer a vibrant alternative to the previous wave of cinema, largely characterized the exaltation of the rural, of traditions and their recuperation, and of a specific kind of narration, slow and measured, based in oral conventions in which silence and speech were equally stressed.  If melodrama and the musical have yet to present us with images of women completely in the round, their form—dynamic, irreverent, and entertaining, combining elements of satire, drama, puns, and the carnivalesque—holds promise of doing so.

The layered portraits of women in the works of the Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety deserve their own mention.  Abandoning the socio-political slant endemic to many directors, Mambety works to characterize women in terms of their problems, dreams, and ambitions.  Anta, with her dreams of emigrating to Europe in Touki-Bouki (1974), Ramatou in Hyène (1974), and the hope of salvation for the continent embodied in the young girls in the unfinished trilogy Le Franc (1994) and La petite vendeuse de soleil (1999), lead the viewer to question inherited commonplaces about Africa and about the role of women therein.  Stories about, of, and with women, resistant to easy categorization, they point the way to a truly subversive African cinema.

Women by women:  the revolution from within

In the struggle to give authentic voice to women constantly subjugated to the symbolic enterprises of their male peers, female writers and directors from the seventies onward have made great use of the autobiographical.  The Senegalese Safi Faye, considered the mother of African cinema, is a paradigmatic case here. Her examination of the feminine collective is at once militant, subjective, and poetic, her style “firmly rooted in the narrative traditions of the people she films, situating her work and gaze centrally within the communities whose voice she prioritizes” (Thackway, 2003: 151). In her films, which blend elements of fiction, documentary, and ethnography, she is present both as witness and agent, and they have a markedly subjective character.  In this way, she transcends the objectifying gaze implicit in the cinéma vérité  techniques of her mentor Jean Rouch.  By the inclusion of personal letters and songs related to her personal history, Faye offers an image of the woman as subject, physically and temporally dynamic (Kaddu Beykat (1975) and Fad’jal (1979).

In the 1990s, the lawyer and activist Anne-Laure Folly (Togo) established herself as a director of critical social documentaries focusing on women.  Femmes aux yeux ouverts (1994), in which the female subjects look the spectator directly in the eye, is a provocative response to the accustomed occidental tendency to objectify black bodies.  If here, the authority ceded to the female witnesses and their words represents an authentic female presence, it is too compromised by the classical mode of presentation to be considered a truly oppositional cinema.  Folly goes further in Les Oubliées (1996):  her voice-over, highly subjective, displaces the implicit neutrality of the traditional documentary, the position of power it suggests, and in this way, perhaps, its very raison d’être.

The recuperation of female subjectivity lies also at the center of the series of short films released over the past two decades by Burkina Faso’s Fanta Regina Nacro.  Characteristic of her style is the employment of strategies derived from oral narrative in the examination of contemporary situations.  Examining the conflict between the traditional and the modern and the role of women in national identity, they evince overt pedagogic intentions free of the condescension normally endemic to didactic art.  Her consideration of arranged marriage, prostitution, and survival in African cities is imbued with appeals for feminine solidarity that reach their apogee in 2004’s La Nuit de la Vérité, a symbolic tale of ethnic reconciliation.  Similar strain are evident in the work of Sarah Maldoror, whose career now spans nearly five decades and whose Sambizaga (1972), an account of Angola’s war for independence, won official recognition in both Carthage and Berlin.

The future:  women multifaceted and elusive

Searching for a defining principle of African cinema in the 90s, the American critic Mbye Cham states:  “The evolution of southern Africa, the politics of cinema in the new South Africa, co-productions taking place among various countries, the search for new themes… These are a few of the opportunities of African cinema” (1998: 124).  In the absence of unified policies of production and distribution throughout the continent, present-day works continue to be characterized by a “mixing of genres and formats, a diversity of lengths, and a reliance on documentary” (Coletti, 2001:  194).  If it is the case that within these confines, women have tested the boundaries of African cinema, their transition from documentary and the autobiographical into full-length fictional features remains of the greatest importance.  In addition to the films previously mentioned, Wanjiru Kinyanjui’s The Battle of Sacred Tree (1995) is exemplary:  the story of a free spirit—not a vaunted heroine or timeless goddess, but a brave feminist who transgresses social conventions, abandoning her abusive husband—is characteristic of a growing tendency to present the conflicts faced by contemporary African women in a fictional idiom.  Humor, melodrama, feminine complicity in both its generous and self-serving aspects, as well as Islam, Christianity, and native traditions are presented in a manner both fluid and attentive.  It is this receptivity toward new themes, and a consequent liberation of female perspectives to encompass not only the feminine, but the world as a whole, that characterizes women’s film production in Africa in the twenty-first century; a concomitant process has been the revaluation of traditionally minor genres such as melodrama, telefilms, musicals, comic, and soap operas—integral aspects of a popular urban culture in which the African imaginary is increasingly dominated by online music video and Nigeria’s rampantly successful video/film industry.

The “cultural cross-pollination, the self-conscious appropriation of the occidental idiom and the hybridization of diverse artistic forms” (Coletti, 2001:  195) evident at the end of the previous century have continued to grow in the past ten years, giving rise to such works as Wanuri Kahiu’s science fiction short Pumzi (Kenya, 2010), Jenna Basso’s incisive and personal vision of Zimbabwe at the hands of Robert Mugabe’s notorious 5th brigade The Tunnel (2010), and the Tunisian Raja Amari’s full-length Dohawa (2009), a story of violent and unclassifiable female bodies, locked in a claustrophobic interchange of screams and sighs—a kind of film that years ago could scarcely have been imagined.  We are witness here to a revolution in narrative strategies that employs previously underrated popular genres to create artworks of great quality, transmitting their messages in an authentically African language.

In closing, we should devote special attention to Pumzi, the short film directed by the Kenyan Wanuri Kanhiu after 2008’s successful From a Whisper.  A loose adaptation of Logan’s Run, it offers a plea for help from a continent in the stranglehold of ecological devastation and the seed (literally and metaphorically) of a future in which women and ecological awareness rescue the planet from extinction.  The film is in no way hampered by the limited resources with which it was produced—the acting is captivating, and the brilliant repertory of audiovisual techniques employed reveal a director of broad culture and initiative and free of ideological and esthetic compromises.

Conclusions and proposals

The variety of techniques and approaches to film in use in the present day impedes overarching judgments.  Women’s increasing esteem and importance within the world of cinema has led to a diversity of intentions and perspectives; moreover, the character of global culture is such that the lines separating Africa from the West are no longer so clear as before.  In their fertile imaginary, encompassing a nameless desert in post-apocalyptic Africa, a claustrophobic mansion in Tunis, through the subversive possibilities of satire, of musical, of the personal essay in film, women are forming part of the movement of Afropolitanism proposed by the Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe, which conceives of the inauguration of a new African civil society, stripped of essentialisms, hidden inferiorities, and patron-client vassalage, where the artist goes hand-in-hand with the statesman.

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The 21st New York African Film Festival Statement

“REVOLUTION AND LIBERATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE”

In Africa and its diaspora, revolution is not always synonymous with the overthrowing of a government or a head of state. It is also the relentless search for liberation of the body and the mind that has characterized the history of African people through the years. Arising as a chain of movements led mostly by the youth and women, revolution is a force against unfair systems, an impulse for the people to follow their own dreams, and a shared experience of empowerment.  In the Digital Age, the struggle for liberation has found a resilient ally in technology, which has exerted multiplier effects in and outside the continent.

This is the core of the 21st New York African Film Festival: the experience of revolution and liberation in and from Africa in the twenty-first century. All of the films featured will tackle the path to liberation or the feeling of freedom itself:  its impact, its agents, but first and foremost its visual splendor.

Under this heading, this month-long multi-venue event will present a unique selection of contemporary and classic African films, running the gamut from features, shorts, and documentaries to experimental films, along with supplementary educational programs. Filmmakers and actors will also attend the screenings and Q&A sessions.

LINCOLN CENTER (MAY 7 – 13)

OC Ukeje stars in the Opening Night film "Confusion Na Wa", by Kenneth Gyang.
OC Ukeje stars in the Opening Night film “Confusion Na Wa”, by Kenneth Gyang.

This year, Nigeria celebrates the centenary of its unification. To mark this special occasion, the 2014 NYAFF will highlight films that have been produced, inspired by, and made in Nollywood, Africa’s largest movie industry. We are proud to present our NYC audience with the winners of last year’s “African Oscars” (AMAA); Kenneth Niang’s frenetic dark comedy Confusion Na Wa and the poetical short Kwaku Ananse by Akosua Adoma Owusu, an adaptation of a mythological tale from Ghana about wisdom and belonging. We will also premiere Biyi Bandele’s highly anticipated film Half of a Yellow Sun, a rendition of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-selling book about the Biafran war, a movie that glows thanks to the leading performances of Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose and Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The animated film adaptation of the acclaimed comic series Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie is not just an ode to young romance in West African cultures, but a nod to animation is at its golden age, encompassing every region of the world, including Africa. Victor Viyouh, Ninah’s Dowry carries in its poignant story of women empowerment the elements of a revolution. Cannes award-winner Mahamat-Saleh Haroun comes back to NYC with his latest movie Grigris, a story of love and solidarity between two outcasts in the backdrop of present-day Chad. Narratives of struggles and liberation from all around Africa and the diaspora round out the program, expanding the festival’s human scope: the incisive documentary Mugabe: Villain or Hero? by Roy Agyemang; Ibrahim El Batout’s feature Winter of Discontent, about the traumatic emotional and physical wounds of Egypt’s repressive system; and the Kenyan moral fable It’s Us (Ni Si Si), which stresses the need of forgiveness and comprehension of the other, complete the program.

Our shorts program is a fresh selection devoted to the richness and experimental elements of the genre and its special ability to convey this year’s festival theme. Young filmmakers use a wide range of approaches from sci-fi (Afronauts) to social melodrama (Aissa’s Story and Kuhani), with a special focus on comedy (Soko Sonko, Wooden Hands and Beleh) to reflect upon a wide spectrum of pressing contemporary issues.

To honor the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s independence, we will feature the controversial neo-noir Of Good Report by Jahmil XT Qubeka, which is exemplary of the vigor of South Africa’s present-day film industry. One of the most poignant epics of revolution and liberation ever filmed on the continent, Med Hondo’s masterpiece Sarraounia, winner of the first prize at FESPACO, will be the crowning jewel to close the festival.

MAYSLES CINEMA (MAY 15 – 18)

"Sodiq", a documentary by Adeyemi Michael
“Sodiq”, a documentary by Adeyemi Michael

We have put together this wide-ranging and penetrating program as an audiovisual allegory of the power and relentless effort of African people to overcome crisis and oppression. Built around the embodiment of the male figure as a vivid force to overcome crisis, we are delighted to introduce Rehad Desai’s striking new work Miners Shot Down to NYC audiences. Recent winner of the Camera Justitia Award at the Movies that Matter Festival, Desai’s documentary follows the developments that lead to the biggest use of force by security forces of post-colonial South Africa: the Marikana Massacre of a group of striking miners in August 2012.

The session devoted to the Cultural Healing Project Short Documentary Films gathers seven shorts reflecting on the challenges and opportunities faced by Sudan. This creative peace-building project sprouts from British-Sudanese filmmaker Taghreed Elsanhouri’s proposal that a group of auteurs film the story that mattered most to them in their communities, encouraging them to express through film their cultures and traditions.

Shorts and documentaries about men and women confronting personal, social, economic, and political limitations compose this compelling selection: the struggles of an addict in Zanzibar to defeat his dependence in the short Curse of an Addict; the desperation of a woman unable to conceive a male heir in chauvinistic present-day Nigeria in the feature film B for Boy by Chika Anadu; Eliaichi Kimaro’s quest to understand his complex identity as a young Tanzanian-Korean in the US in A Lot Like You; and the different hurdles standing between a young Congolese tenor and his dream (Rêve Kakudji); a child aspiring to be a doctor subjected to a trial for murder (Sodiq); and a heterogeneous group of people plunging into the uncertain future of Mali’s annual Festival in the Desert in The Last Song Before the War.

BAM Cinématek (MAY 23 – 26)

"Legends of Madagascar", by Haminiaina Ratovoarivony
“Legends of Madagascar”, by Haminiaina Ratovoarivony

Madagascar will be in the spotlight of the festival’s BAM run, with a carefully selected
group of movies that best represent the history of the country. Angano, Angano (1989) by the tandem César Paes & Marie Clémence, and When the Stars Meet the Sea (1996) by pioneer Raymond Rajaonarivelo will be screened alongside the recent road movie Legends of Madagascar (2012) by Haminiaina Ratovoarivony.

Beyond Madagascar, we will screen other films from across the continent. From Kenya we have Something Necessary, Judy Kibinge’s insightful reflection on the effects of the war in Kenya, as well as the tragicomedy Nairobi Half Life (2012) by David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga’. Based in Ivory Coast, Lonesome Solo’s Burn It Up Djassa (2012, Ivory Coast) blends together action and music in one of the most successful examples of contemporary African noir, and acclaimed Tunisian filmmaker Taieb Louhichi presents a touching story of love and longing in The Child of the Sun (2013).

Cassa, Cassa (2013), a revealing documentary about contemporary African dance by Elodie Lefebvre, and the fast-paced Fuelling Poverty (2012) by Ishaya Baku, which exposes gasoline fraud in Nigeria, show how documentary can serve as an X-ray of present-day realities in Africa.