Moufida Tlatli

Biography: Moufida Tlatli was born and raised in Tunisia in a tradition-oriented family. It was in high school, thanks to her philosophy teacher, who ran a film club, that she developed a taste for the cinema. After graduating from the IDHEC film school in 1968, in the editing department, she went back to live in Tunisia in 1972. Her name appears on the credits of some of the most important Arab film from 1970 to 1990.

Moufida Tlatli is one of a rare breed: an Arab woman film director. She first came to international attention in 1994 when her first film, The Silences of the Palace, won prizes at the Cannes Film Festival’s Golden Camera, the Golden Tanit of Carthage, British Film Institute Awards’ Sutherland Trophy, Toronto Film Festival’s International Critics’ Award and Istanbul International Film Festival’s Golden Tulip. Her second film, The Season of Men, was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival and has extended her reputation as a rare instance of a strong female voice in Arab cinema.

Following the downfall of president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 she was appointed Minister of Culture in the provisional government.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
The Silence of the Palace (1995).

Filmography:
The Silence of the Palace (1994);
The Season of Men (2000);
Nadia and Sarra (2004).

Leslie Tô

Biography: A Burkinabé-American filmmaker based in New York, Leslie Tô’s first short film, Redefinition, was shot in Harlem and addresses the universal issue of cultural hybridity with a particular focus on the experience of the African Diaspora. She has since made two other short films which are being used with Redefinition to form a compilation called “What Does the Beginning of Pan-Africanism Feel Like?” She currently works in Cultural Acquisitions for Link TV, a non-commercial satellite television station that features a mixture of documentaries, international news, and cultural programs from around the world.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
Redefinition (2007).

Filmography:
Redefinition (2006).

Drissa Touré

Biography: Drissa Touré was born in Banfora, Burkina Faso, in 1952. Although Touré studied film technique at ATRIA in Paris, he is largely a self-taught filmmaker. He directed several short films, including Nasabule, which powerfully depicts the disruption of rural life by “modern improvements.” Laada, his first feature film, premiered at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival to great critical acclaim and garnered the 1991 Ercidan Prize at FESPACO in Ouagadougou.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
Laada (1994);
Haramuya (1997).

Filmography:
Laada (1991);
Haramuya (1996).

Apolline Traoré

Biography: Apolline Traoré was born in 1976 in Burkina Faso. She studied film at Emerson College in Boston. Her first short film, The Price of Ignorance won the Prix du Jury at the Pan African Film Festival in Ouagadougou. She also wrote and directed a television series of 20 episodes called Monia et Rama in 2002.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
Kounandi (2005).

Filmography:
The Price of Ignorance (2000);
Kounandi (2003);
Sous la clarté de la lune (2004);
Moi Zaphira (2013).

Mahama Johnson Traoré

atxl Mahama Johnson TraoreBiography: Traoré was born in 1942 at Dakar. The son of a businessman, Traoré studied in Senegal, Mali and France to be an electrical engineer. In Paris he quit his studies to follow a passion for film. There he enrolled in the Conservatoire libre du cinéma français, an avant-garde school inspired by current German and Italian cinema and the theoretical approaches of the French ORTF. Traoré became one of the premier filmmakers of the post-independence generation, associated with artists such as Sembene Ousmane. Traoré made a number of Wolof language films with strong social messages from the late 1960s to the early 1980s.

Traoré was one of the founders in 1969 of the prestigious Pan-African Cinema Festival FESPACO, and the Carthage Film Festival. From 1975 to 1983 he was secretary general of the Pan-African Federation of Film-makers (Fédération panafricaine des cinéastes FEPACI). From 1983 to 1985 he was Director of the Société nationale de production cinématographique du Sénégal (SNPC). In all these offices he played a prominent role in the relations between African states and filmmakers.

He was also founder, editor, and publisher from 2008 of the PanAfrican arts magazine, Cahiers d’Afrique. Active with FESPACO and film making up until his death, in 2009 he was made Chevalier de l’Ordre des arts, des lettres et de la communication by the government of Burkina Faso. In July 2009, he served as a Jury Member at the Second Festival culturel panafricain d’Alger (PANAF).

[Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahama_Johnson_Traor%C3%A9]

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
Njangaan (2002).

Filmography:
Diankha-bi (1969);
L’Enfer des innocents (1969);
Diègue-Bi (1970);
L’Étudiant africain face aux mutations (1971);
L’Exode rural (1971);
Lambaye (1972);
Reou-taax (1972);
Garga M’Bossé (1974);
Njangaan (1974);
Sarax si (1980);
La médecine traditionnelle (1982).

Nissi Joanny Traoré

Biography: Nissi Joanny Traoré was born in Takaledougou, Burkina Faso in 1952 and is a graduate of the INCA in Paris. He has taught cinematographic techniques in Burkina Faso and is presently National Director of Cinematographic production in Burkina Faso. His first two feature films, The Other School (1985) and Sababu (1992), both won prizes at the international festivals.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
Sababu (1994).

Filmography:
The Other School (1985);
Sababu (1992).

Issa Traoré de Brahima

Biography: Issa Traoré de Brahima was born in 1962 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast. He enrolled at the African Institute of Cinematic Studies in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, where he obtained a cinematographic creation degree in 1985, and thereafter he went to Paris to obtain his university diploma. Between 1986 and 1991 he was an assistant on several short films, after which he was co-director on Bilakoro and the director of Gombélé. After training himself in script writing he wrote several screenplays. He has also been assistant director on several films, including Dani Kouyaté’s Keïta! L’Héritage du Griot, J. Mrozowski’s La Revanche de Lucie, and Issaka Konaté’s Souko, le cinematographe en carton.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
Gombélé (1996).

Filmography:
Bilakoro (1989);
Gombélé (1994);
Boubou l’intrus (1998);
La rencontre (2001);
Afrique réseau 2000 (2001);
Siraba, la grande voie (2001);
Femmes du Sahel (2004);
Le Monde Est un Ballet (2006).

Fanney Tsimong

Biography: Fanney Tsimong began, at 15, as a dancer and has since worked as a choreographer and music event manager/promoter for Brenda Fassie and Janet Jackson, among others. He received the Vuka 2003 Raw Talent award and a scholarship to AFDA. He has directed and produced a number of short films. Most recently he conceived of and directed the series (26 hour-long episodes) Intimate Connectionz for SABC 1.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
…Silenced (2006).

Filmography:
…Silenced (2005);
Black Beulahs (2005);
Beautiful Contradictions (2008);
Secret (2012).

Jann Turner

Biography: Jann Turner is a South African film director, novelist, television director and screenwriter. She is best known for directing the 2009 film White Wedding, her feature film directorial debut. Born to parents Rick Turner and Barbara Hubbard. Her father was a banned anti-apartheid academic, who was killed in front of her when she was thirteen years old. Three months after her father’s death, Hubbard fled to Britain with her children, after a threats of being banned. Turner completed her education in Britain and the United States, graduating from Oxford University and Tisch School of the Arts, respectively. Turner has directed episodes on many television series and she is also a novelist, having authored the novels Heartland, Southern Cross and Home Is Where You Find It.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
White Wedding (2010, 2015).

Filmography:
Hard Copy (2005);
White Wedding (2009);
Paradise Stop (2011).

Adze Ugah

Biography: Adze Ugah was educated in Nigeria at the National Film Institute, Jos and graduated with a distinction in Motion Picture Production. In 2001 he wrote, produced and directed his first video feature, VIYA, which earned him a Nigerian National Film and Video Censors Board award. He later attended the South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance (AFDA) and majored in Motion Picture Directing and Scriptwriting. He currently lives in Gauteng where he works on television dramas for South African Television.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
The Burning Man (2009).

Filmography:
The Burning Man (2008);
Gog’Helen (2012).

Patricia van Heerden

Biography: Patricia Van Heerden grew up on a cattle farm in the Northern Cape of South Africa. She completed her Bachelors’ degrees in social science and teaching at the University of Cape Town, and she completed her Masters in history and documentary film. Now she is currently working to finish a Ph.D. at New York University. She went on to co-direct A Woman’s Place, screened on PBS stations across America, India and South Africa. She has taught history and film at New York University, as well as the University of the Witwatersrand.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
A Woman’s Place (2000).

Filmography:
A Woman’s Place (1998).

Remi Vaughan-Richards

Biography: Remi is vibrant and versatile director covering commercials, documentary and drama. She has recently directed an award winning docu-drama, One Small Step featured in the New York African Film Festival and went on tour in the USA; Scent of the Streets, a documentary on Area Girls for BBC News as well as the groundbreaking 52 part TV Drama Wetin Dey for BBC World Service Trust in Nigeria. Her career began in 1990 in the Art Department working on films such as Judge Dredd (1995) , and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999). In 1995, she became a respected storyboard artist, visualizing the action, camera and mood for her clients such as the BBC and 51st State (2001). Since 2000, her skills and experience have added an extra dimension to her work as a director. Remi’s mission is to create a slate of cutting edge feature films and documentaries that will focus a sharp lens onto contemporary Africa.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
One Small Step (2010);
Faaji Agba (2016).

Filmography:
Get the Picture (2004);
One Small Step (2010);
Faaji Agba (2015).

Fernando Vendrell

Biography: A graduate in Film Production of the Lisbon Film School in 1995, Fernando Vendrell worked for several years as an assistant director before he established his own Lisbon-based production company, David & Golias in 1992. Since then, he has developed new film projects as a producer, director and screenwriter.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
Fintar o Destino (2000).

Filmography:
Fintar o Destino (1998);
O Jogo da Glória (2001);
14 de Fevereiro (2002);
Almirante Reis (2002);
Light Drops (O Gotejar da Luz) (2002);
As Minhas Férias (2004);
Pele (2005).

François Verster

Biography: François Verster, a South African director, has been working successfully in film for the last 10 years, winning several international prizes. Verster was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, on February 12, 1969. Verster has a wide background in writing, music, academia and film. After studying in Cape Town he worked with Barenholtz Productions in New York and on the crew of various independent features. In 1998 Verster formed Undercurrent Film and Television, a Cape Town-based company that aims to produce quality documentary programs for local as well as international markets. Its projects deal primarily with human issues, and take innovative (and usually character-led) approaches to social and historical concerns.

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
A Lion’s Trail (2004);
The Mother’s House (2006).

Filmography:
Pavement Aristocrats (1998);
The Story of “Mbube” (1999);
The Man who would kill Kitchener (1999);
The Granite War (2000);
Guilty (2001);
A Lion’s Trail (2002);
When the War is Over (2002);
The Mother’s House (2005);
Sea Point Days (2008).

MAX and MONA Review

 Max and Mona is a post-apartheid South African comedy. Set in and around the country’s industrial capital Johannesburg, it revolves around young Max Bua (Mpho Lovingo), the village mourner of a small, provincial town who, despite inheriting his grandfather’s unique talent for making people cry at funerals, wants to pursue a medical degree in the big city.

The problem is, he is (accidentally) saddled with the village’s sacred goat (Mona), and some nasty debts incurred by Max’s colorful but not terribly responsible Uncle Norman (played by the late Jerry Mofokeng in his last role). Between trying to safeguard the goat, and keeping his uncle safe from gangsters trying to collect on their chits (as well as from Norman’s own lack of judgment), Max is forced to temporarily abandon his medical ambitions and use his talent as a professional mourner at township (and occasionally suburban) funerals.

What follows makes life in the township and in Johannesburg’s inner city (abandoned by high-end businesses and whites) come alive on screen, as Max’s new and lucrative business puts him in cahoots with a cadaverous white funeral director and his transvestite mortician son, as well as an attractive neighbor of Uncle Norman’s.

First-time director Teddy Mattera (son of the acclaimed poet Don) has said that one of his reasons for making the film was the dearth of comedy made by and geared towards the majority black population. “The comedy in this country has always been made by white people where they laugh at black people…So I thought it would be a challenge to write a story where we would be laughing at ourselves.” What Mattera has achieved is a gentle comedy that finds laughs in tears, mixing the profane, the sacred, and the fantastical to create a feel-good fable.

[ Sean Jacobs  byline ]

 Sean Jacobs is assistant professor of communication studies and Afro American and African Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is a native of South Africa.

 

A Matter of Style

Among the noteworthy films featured this year at the New York African Film Festival at Lincoln Center was George Amponsah and Cosima Spender’s documentary, The Importance of Being Elegant, which examines the Congolese subculture centered around the worship of clothes (kitende) known as la Société des ambianceurs et personnes élégantes (the Society of Revelers and Elegant People), or in short, la Sape.  The film follows internationally renowned Congolese soukous musician Papa Wemba (né Jules Shungu Wembadio Pene Kikumba) and his coterie of expatriate Congolese supporters in Paris and Brussels shortly after his release on bail in 2003 on charges of importing 350 illegal immigrants (at a little over US$4000 per person) to pose as members of his band.  Beset with legal fees and an impending criminal trial, Papa Wemba records a new album and prepares to launch an extravagant concert in Paris to try to piece his life back together and uphold his central position in the expatriate Congolese community. In the meantime, young immigrant Congolese in Paris and Brussels who embrace the sapeur lifestyle, ‘battle’ each other for the title of “Parisien”—the equivalent of an exceedingly stylish man—by flashing their labels in ritual dances in night clubs and mounting challenges through preening displays of label versus label.  They also pay an exorbitant price for a “dedication” or the singing of their names by Wemba into his new album.

As the quintessential king of the sapeurs, Papa Wemba found commercial success in the 1970s through the innovative style of fusing traditional Congolese rumba with Western pop and rock influences.  His new found critical acclaim became his ticket out of his native Zaire.  Along with a number of other Lingala musical superstars, Papa Wemba started a new life abroad in Paris, touring Japan and the US via Europe with Peter Gabriel, and returning home to Kinshasa occasionally to perform for his doting fans.  Dressed in expensive designer labels, Papa Wemba elevated style to a form of religion, replete with high priests, archbishops, popes, and even saints (in this case, Cavalli, Versace,  Gautier, Burberry, Comme des Garçons, Yamamoto, Miyake, and Watanabe).  His worship of designer labels (or griffes) and the musical lyrics which praise them, entice impoverished Congolese young men to take the oneiric pilgrimage to France and Belgium to acquire designer clothes, and eventually to return home with the hopes of an improved social standing. The turbulent political and socio-economic history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo with its widespread poverty and 5.4 million excess deaths from the Second Congo War, sets a brutally sardonic backdrop for these young men who desire to escape from the harsh realities of Kinshasa only to end up enduring an increasingly harsh existence when they reach the streets of Château Rouge in Paris or the district of Ixelles in Brussels.  Often without the legal documents to stay in the country, the sapeurs beg, steal, and hustle (although the specifics of these illicit activities remain ambiguous in the film) for money to be able to afford the designer clothes to keep up with Papa Wemba’s fashion ideology. In the documentary, one such sapeur named the “Archbishop” attempts to establish a name for himself in the Parisian Sape scene only to later come to the realization that the extravagant and flamboyant lifestyle has been nothing more than an illusion.

Watching this documentary, it’s unavoidable to draw parallels to the image of ‘bling-bling’ culture propagated by new school hip-hop.  The projection of cool by emulating the conspicuous consumption of elites, and the impersonation of success and fashionability, rather than the projection of a sense of depravation are traits shared by both subcultures.  Indeed, Amponsah and Spender seem more inclined to portray the phenomenon of la Sape in a similar vein to the glorification of material excess found in hip -hop culture.  The inherent paradoxes of poor, unemployed urban youths who hustle to be able to wear designer duds or footage of Papa Wemba trying on garish fur coats by Cavalli, all seem to confirm this.  Yet, la Sape has a history that is far older than this documentary suggests.  Originating in Congo-Brazzaville in the 1930s, the movement’s inspiration (though often disputed) draws reference from the archetypal dandies of modernity as well as Western films of the 1940s and 1950s, especially those of mobster, black and white thrillers, and the Three Musketeers.  The sapeurs of Brazzaville were mainly composed of lower middle-class young men, high school drop outs, and later, disenfranchised youths.  Observing a strict three color rule, their austere elegance became a method to cope with colonialist hegemony and assimilation policies, as well as a way of subversion and resistance.  In addition, the acronym “la Sape” plays on the French term for clothing and points to the fascination with their colonizers.   The sapeurs of Brazzaville preached a conservative style that focused on cleanliness and abstinence from using hard drugs.  Through the cultivation of clothes, they sought to define their social distinctiveness while deriving pleasure in admiring themselves, somewhat akin to what Pierre Bourdieu has called a ‘strategy of self-representation’.  Fashion became a symbolic gesture of reclaiming power in times of economic deprivation and attempts at political dominance.  In some instances, it proved a man could be a master of his own fate.  Some authors have remarked that the sapeurs concealed their social failure through the presentation of self and the transformation of it into an apparent victory.

The outward display of self was an important aspect of colonial society.  Sapeurs understood how crucial it was to assert (affirmer) oneself and make an elaborate entrance (débarquer).  Even the sapeur’s walk was an individualized form of art.  Young men would taunt the crowd with their diffidence and then saunter the length of the stage, head held high, shoulders rolling, displaying their clothes.  The spread of la Sape across the river to Zaire in the 1970s went in tandem with the explosion of lingala music on the international scene.  It was driven by urban elites who had been abroad, who could distinguish their Yamamoto from their Montana, and knew an unstructured jackets from a deconstructed suit.  As bands began to sign recording contracts in France and Belgium, they would often return home to Kinshasa with suitcases filled with designer labels.  Fans of rival bands competed with each other to see who looked the coolest.  Similar to other movements that derived their distinctive looks through their association with popular music (e.g. Mods, Punks, and New Romantics), the sapeurs during the post-colonial era re-appropriated big-name European designers and absorbed it into their own inimitable style.  The sapeurs in Kinshasa were more flamboyant and exaggerated in their style than their brothers in Brazzaville, fashioning themselves in vibrant prints and exuberant layers of colors.   At the same time, from the late 1970s onward, the economic crisis that rocked Zaire meant that few men could affirm their masculinity through consumption. During the Mobutu years, anything associated with Western culture was outlawed in a state-sponsored drive for “authenticity”.  The abacost became the official uniform mandated by the Mobutu regime, the origin of the word derived from the French saying for “down with the suit” (à bas le costume).  Moreover, foreign music was banned from the local radio stations, propelling Papa Wemba and his band to seek out a musical language that was neither derivative nor tradition-bound.  His embrace of la Sape was also a direct (albeit unwittingly) political reaction to authoritarian dictates over public appearance.  The movement of la Sape was distinctly “inauthentic” since it provided the opportunity to subvert the established modes and reject accepted norms.

For the exception of the absence of the history of la Sape, The Importance of Being Elegant provides a fascinating glimpse at a socio-cultural phenomenon that is more than three decades old.

Interview with Jean-Marie Teno

Born in 1954 in Famleng, Cameroon, Jean-Marie Teno studied communication at the University of Valenciennes.  Since graduating in 1984 with a degree in filmmaking, he has been living and working in France.  Directing both documentary and fiction, Teno frequently shoots his films himself, often in the reflexive and provocative style of the first-person narrative.  Rooted in post-colonial experience, Teno’s cinematic essays interrogate societal issues facing contemporary Africa, tackling topics such as censorship, emigration, human rights and the impact of globalization on the developing world, as well as polygamy and the status of women.  The pervasive nature of corruption within society and resistance to injustice are persistent themes in much of his work. With his latest film, The Colonial Misunderstanding (2004), Teno presents a sharp critique of the role of nineteenth-century German missionaries in the colonial conquest of Africa.  Horst Rutsch spoke with Jean-Marie Teno in the course of the eleventh edition of the African Film Festival in New York on 23 April 2005.

Horst Rutsch is writer and editor of the UN Chronicle magazine published in New York (http://un.org/chronicle).

Interview:

Horst Rutsch: Let us start with the title of your film, The Colonial Misunderstanding.[1] To me, the core idea—or more specifically, the core sentiment of the film—is stated there: that one should fight injustice in order to make charity unnecessary.

Jean-Marie Teno: Yes.

HR: First of all, what made you want to make this film? What made you choose to do this subject, involving German missionary history?

JMT: Why I made this film was really something of a long process. I’ve been making films questioning the situation in Cameroon, questioning the relationship between Africa and Europe, questioning the vision that people had of Africa. It was always very difficult for me to address colonialism while living in Europe. Because whenever you address colonialism as an African, people start saying, “Oh, that’s a very difficult subject. You don’t want to talk about it.” So I asked how I could really address this issue and have people sit and be able to listen to what I have to say. My idea was really to talk about people that Europeans could identify with, and hence the missionaries. Almost every family in Europe has a missionary in their family. So when I was in Germany in the year 2000 showing my previous film A Trip to the Country,[2] I went to the Wuppertal mission[3]. The film started there and I showed my film in front of many missionaries and former missionaries who were living in Germany. I was very impressed by their attitude towards history and their critical attitude towards what happened in Africa and what their predecessors did there. That really encouraged me to go and look into the archives and use the missionaries as a thread to try to tell this story from an African perspective.

HR: So the film essentially started in 2000?

JMT: The idea of the film started at that moment, yes.

HR: How much research was involved?

JMT: It was a long period of research because I had to make many trips to the archives, look in them, and read many books dealing with the topic. I watched some films but there were not many. There were some films made by the missionaries. It was a long and extended period of archival study. Also, I was after certain images that I couldn’t find.

HR: Of what significance was the choice of Germany? One aspect of it is that Germany’s colonial history is shorter than others’ so it’s more “manageable,” in a sense. It’s also something that didn’t continue into the present day; this is a contrast to, say, French and English colonial histories.

JMT: Why Germany? Since Germany had one of the shortest colonial histories, Germans are perhaps more open to talking about it. It was just a small period in their history. Also, the things that happened in Germany are just so deep and so heavy. But they are talking about it. So this may be one of the reasons why talking about the colonial history is not such a big deal. Also, since the war, the events of 1935,[4] and the Holocaust,[5] Germans have been looking at their history and there are many discussions about it. There is a big sense of historical consciousness in Germany. So, many historians went back and said, “Well, we should go and see what happened during the colonial period because things happened that no one really wants to talk about.” People also found similarities between the colonial language and the language that led to the Holocaust.

So again, why Germany? Due to these historical facts, Germans are really very special in Europe. Really, theirs is the only country that can commemorate the one hundredth year of a genocide that they committed in Africa. Last year [in 2004], there were exhibitions everywhere, there were conferences, and there was even one theme evening on television dealing with this issue. So people really talked about it in Germany. And that helped me a lot. Living in France, it’s so difficult to even talk about colonialism. People always seem to say, “Oh, these things are the past. We have to look ahead and not look at what happened because that’s very painful both for you and for us. It’s too depressing.”

HR: It’s still buried in France as a consciousness.

JMT: Yes, it’s buried and no one talks about this part of history in France.

HR: To me, your film is a very lucid lesson in history. One key moment in this history of African colonialism, of course, is the Berlin Conference.[6] The defining moment for present-day Africa was, in a sense, settled a hundred and twenty years ago in Berlin at the conference of 1884-85. You have incorporated this aspect into the film. You shot inside the red town hall—“Rote Rathaus” as it’s called in German—the actual venue where the conference took place. What was that like? You clearly bring to the fore the idea of this unified, planned assault on Africa by the colonial powers. The systematic dividing-up of the country was something the individual rulers in Africa weren’t prepared for at that time. How do you gauge the significance of that conference?

JMT: Well, the significance of this conference is that it was really a key moment in history and people have always been somewhat unaware of it. However, many professors in Africa knew, saw, and studied the importance of the moment. Yet while they were studying, it didn’t seem to interest anybody else. So Kangué Ewané[7] went and really read through the conference—the whole conference—

HR:  The minutes of the conference….

JMT:  Reading the minutes of the conference, you can clearly understand how the whole strategy was put together and what roles were deflected to the missionaries and to education to make those lootings somewhat permanent. And even having Africans participate and contribute to the destruction of their own country. Even today, for the older Africans who fought for real liberation, it has just been a succession of failures, one after the other. Even though we’ve achieved what you call “independence,”[8] those who really fought for it, who wanted to challenge and change the whole system that was putting Africa under such pressure, were all defeated, killed, or put into exile. So we are still living today in the same Berlin-Conference era. You can see this even in terms of the exchanges between Europe and Africa.

Each and every time, the talk is always about the aid, the development aid. This is a very inappropriate name, actually. Consider when the Eastern countries—the Eastern European countries—were not at the same level as the Western countries. The West decided to help them so that they could improve the quality of their lives. The kind of conditions that they gave to these countries by lending money (like the Marshall Plan[9] that America gave to Europe) has nothing in common with what they do for Africa. It’s almost like every single penny that they put in Africa is making Africa poorer and poorer every day. People know that, everybody knows that. It’s almost like the whole world doesn’t care and Africans are left to become harmless leaders who are not there democratically and who don’t represent the interests of the vast majority of people. Instead, they favor their own interests and the interests of their families.

We are in a terrible situation; more and more people are dying in Africa. It’s such a frustrating, frustrating situation. Everybody knows, but nobody does anything about it! You have these wonderful discourses, and of course, you can see that some—a few—are doing well, yet the vast majority remains in a terrible state. If we don’t leave this era of 1884 at one point, things are not going to improve. In the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world, all these institutions like the IMF and the World Bank have to change their whole mentality. That’s one of the reasons I made this film. We even have an African as the Secretary-General of the UN.[10]  But we haven’t seen much change.

HR: This is really the moment where one should fight injustice in order to make charity unnecessary.

JMT: Yes.

HR: There is still the relevance of looking at the past because the current situation has not changed, or hasn’t changed to the degree that it could. You mentioned the United Nations, so let me bring that in a bit. On the one hand, after World War II, the so-called decolonization process was handled through the UN, and it is generally considered a success story. This is because of the peaceful “unraveling,” so to speak, of colonialism from what it was before. Which role do you see for the UN? Would you see the UN as being part of the process, as you said, of bringing in something similar to a Marshall Plan?

JMT: Well, the UN is supposed to be the fair referee of what is happening around the world. So at one point or so, the UN should really not let the strong dictate the rules to the weak, thereby making them weaker every day. Of course, this is the case even when we look at recent history; for instance, what happened in Iraq. We are still living in the situation where “right is might”, the right of the stronger. I don’t know if I am putting it correctly: “La raison du plus fort.”[11] The UN is supposed to be there to go against that. The real test of the UN is whether it is powerful enough, at some point, to really start listening to other people and not let the economic forces pull all the strings from behind. In other words, control the whole thing and let a whole continent die. I mean, it’s almost like fifty years ago; things were bad, things have improved, and we started with a program of development aid. Fifty years later, it’s almost like we went from poverty to misery in so many places.

So how come we cannot improve things in Africa? You have structured groups, people who work everywhere in the world, but how come they are not managing to change things so that people don’t become poorer and poorer everyday? The UN has a hold, but is there really any political will to address this issue? Okay, there’s enough now for everybody on this planet to live on. Why is it not possible to allow people in the south to live decently from the fruit of their work, of their labor? I don’t know if I’m making this clear . . . (laughs).

HR: It is a difficult question.

JMT: It is a very difficult question.

HR: Maybe this is also what makes your looking at the missionaries interesting because theirs was a well-intentioned mission. Yet as someone in the film says, “the missionaries and the colonizers are one.” They worked hand in hand and often not really being aware of their role. This is something that your film makes clear. The good intentions that are used and the misunderstandings which follow are why the film is aptly titled Colonial Misunderstanding. It’s a misunderstanding of their role and also of the people they’re interacting with; it’s a double misunderstanding.

JMT: It’s a double misunderstanding. It’s a very heavy misunderstanding because it puts everybody in a very uncomfortable situation. You have some moments like during the Namibian war[12]. There was this German missionary who was willing to help his Herero people as much as himself but who finally betrayed them and almost made them lose the war. Who knows whether he was conscious of it or not? I am not going to judge that. And later, the same thing when they were in the bush, when they kept gathering these people saying, “We are going to gather you to try to save you.” And then finally when they were putting together concentration camps. In Europe at that time, the mission was to organize, to ask people to give clothes, to give things so that they could come and help the Hereros who were in the concentration camps. They were bringing these camp people blankets and everything to make the agony longer and sometimes to preach the gospel at the same time. I want the movie to address these deep conflicts that can be inside of people.

HR: Yes, a double-consciousness: being part of one and yet being aligned with another.

JMT: Yes.

HR: We should talk some more about the film. Your film goes back to the 1830s, so it predates the Berlin Conference by over fifty years. It is situated at a moment of pre- or early history; that is, at the opening of the colonial venture, so to speak.

JMT: Yes, the missionary preceded the colonialist for almost sixty to eighty years on the continent, or even sometimes one hundred years in some places.

HR: Right. There are also similarities with other colonial experiences. Say, for instance, in India where you have the missionary projects, the trade, and then the military-governmental intervention that came along with them. So the film, even though it is about Africa, is more about the logic of colonialism and what was set up. This is what is so striking, at least to me. Were you interested at all in other colonial experiences, or is this applicability more or less just a by-product of the intensity of your work here?

JMT: Colonialism is colonialism, from the people who wrote about it to the whole way it functions. Someone leaves his home and goes somewhere and decides to take control of a people, their land, and their resources. Colonialism functions exactly the same everywhere, actually. For me, it was important to deal with this logic. Also, there’s one thing that struck me, even in the news today: people start—and continue—to talk about colonialism in some parts the world. I was really shocked. I asked myself, “Is Africa part of humanity?” because if Africa was a part of humanity, how could people today be talking about colonialism in, say, Palestine? You still have the colonialist who goes to places and just colonizes space. It’s such a heavy word, you know. And we use it just like it was nothing. It’s almost like what happened in Africa never even existed. So that was also one of the reasons I made this film. I listen to the radio everyday and I’m really—I feel frustrated because I want to say, “Look, you cannot use the word just like that.” Now people have managed to make it sound like “Oh, it’s just a simple thing.” Going to other people’s lands, just building a house and deciding, “This is our home now”—how can that be acceptable? How can that be possible?

What if suddenly someone came into the US and just put a flag down and said, “This is my home.” What would Americans do? They would not even allow it to exist. For me, dealing with colonialism was really kind of generic; you saw the same thing happening in the US with the Indians, and even now when you look at what has happened in Iraq. This had some similarities with the colonial experience, at least to me. You have an army just going there, occupying, and saying they’re going to make a government and elections. They are going to leave the country with a government, but a government totally under control like what we have in Africa. Nowadays, we’re not going to have the religious thing.

There is specificity to the colonialism in Africa. They destroyed education and religion. Even the possibility of challenging this whole process remains difficult. That’s why the professor [Kangué Ewané] says that he can forgive people for having taken his land but he cannot forgive them for having touched his brain, having touched his soul, and his culture and truth.

Culture was touched deeply by his thinking. It was especially striking in the seventies. Many people, namely many African intellectuals, referred to Africans as “they.” Having been educated, they didn’t even look at themselves as being Africans anymore. That’s the extent of this kind of brainwashing. Of course, now all things are starting to change, but I’m not really sure that those who are in control and in power have made this journey mentally. Referring to their own people as if they were a “they” is the same mentality the colonialists used to consider the subject peoples. Ils avaient beaucoup de mépris.[13] I don’t know how to say this word in English. Mépris. Disparate.[14] They despise their own people, they despise their own culture, they despise—

HR: They deny it, in a sense.

JMT: They deny it and also look down on it. They look down on their people and say that this culture doesn’t even exist unless they can use it at one point. It’s sad, but it’s my blood—my angry black blood, you know.

HR: It’s interesting to talk about style because as passionate as you are as a filmmaker, as a documentary filmmaker, you are also very non-judgmental. You don’t enter into the picture; you let your subjects speak for themselves and you let it play out in front of the camera.

JMT: Yes.

HR: This is a very effective way of bringing out nuances instead of trying to label everything. What it does is create passionate discussions following the screenings. I’ve seen it often with this kind of style. American audiences react in an almost unfriendly way to it because they’re not used to this kind of impersonal, non-judgmental documentary style.

JMT (laughs): They’re not used to people not telling them what is good and what is bad. The good guy has some nice aspects, but suddenly you realize that he also has a dark side. Yes, the source of life is not always completely one-sided. The motivation for me to address these kinds of issues is that they are very complicated. I was making this film so that Europeans could look at it and see what we went through. It would be so hard if I just stood there saying, “I’m an African and I’m going to tell you what you did to us.” Maybe no one would listen then. I just have to let things unfold so that people can see from different perspectives and see the whole complexity. This situation was complex and history also is complex.

HR: Let’s talk a little about your career as a documentary filmmaker. It stretches back now some twenty years. Last year, at the African Film Festival, I also saw Alex’s Wedding[15] which to me was a very disturbing film. Again, you withheld your judgment and let the subjects speak out. It was an indictment of injustice, a power differential between men and women that is all the more powerful because it was not clearly marked from the beginning.

JMT: Yes.

HR: If I remember correctly, that was nearly a spontaneous project.

JMT: It was a totally spontaneous project, actually. I had just finished A Trip to the Country and one of the characters in the film asked me to go and videotape his wedding. I kept saying to him, no, I’m not going to do that, but he insisted. He wanted me to go and film his wedding. Finally, I accepted and I went there. On the road, I realized he was going to take his second wife and I said, “Okay….” I went and I started filming and it was really very striking for me to see how unhappy these two women were. This unhappiness was the thread. That day—that day was supposed to be a day of hope and joy, but it turned out to be such a sad day. I hope that they found joy later in their lives, but for me also, it was a very disturbing film to shoot. While I was shooting, I was not paying so much attention to these aspects; I was just seeing these two characters. After I had shot everything and started editing, I saw how sad these women were and what the situation was. At the same time, I wanted to keep this film vigorous, very simple, and a wedding film. Then, just at the final moment, I would say what was deep in [the female characters’] heart.

What was amazing was when I showed the film in FESPACO in Ouagadougou[16] two years ago, some people who were polygamists said to me, “I like the film very much, but why did you have to put that last sentence?”  (Laughs.)  And I said, “Well….” They said, “No, it was good until that moment.” The women who went to see the film also liked it. It is amazing how people can go into a film and just get to what they want and not see the entirety. The last sentence disturbed them, and that was—

HR: It reminded them of their blind spot.

JMT: Yes.

HR: That was one of the most striking films that I saw last year. Your most ambitious project before The Colonial Misunderstanding was Afrique, je te plumerai.[17]

JMT: Oh, the others also—

HR: Yes, I know, but what I’m saying is that in terms of subject matter, it just ties into The Colonial Misunderstanding perhaps more than the others.

JMT: Have you seen Vacances au pays, yet?

HR: No, I haven’t seen it.

JMT: Globally, my work from Afrique, je te plumerai looked at colonial history, trying to see what was really happening during that colonial moment—

HR: The fleecing of Africa.

JMT: Yes, the fleecing of Africa. When I finished this film, I wanted to talk about the consequences of this situation and how people existed during—and still manage now—in the very oppressive society that they inherited after independence. It’s still an oppressive society. So I made a short film called Head in the Clouds[18] that dealt with the informal sector, how people were trying to find ways to survive. After that film, I did another called Clando[19] and this was a fiction that dealt with the attitudes of people who studied, were well-off, and were educated. It looked at their lack of involvement in changing society and its political system. Because they were doing well, they just kept thinking, “Well, maybe things will change by themselves. We don’t have to hurry them.” Of course, the system was doing worse. It was harming not only the poorest (who were becoming even poorer), but also the middle class (who also became poorer). Apart from a small elite who benefits and has been getting so rich, the vast majority of people who wait for things to change for themselves realize that things never change for themselves. Things can only get worse by not committing, by not getting involved in really bringing some change into the environment and the neighborhood. One has to get involved in local politics so that there will be more transparency in everything that is happening. So Clando examined these people who just thought things could change by themselves. Things never change, and one day, they will come and get you. For whatever reason, suddenly you will realize what kind of society we really live in.

After Clando, I did another film called Chef![20] which questioned the whole attitude of authority. We live in a society where there is hierarchy at every moment. You have in the global society, social hierarchy: you have the head of state and you have the ministers. You go into an office and you need to have the chief in the office be the one responsible. You go everywhere and there’s always a chief. When you put someone at the door to open it, because he has the power to open it, he becomes a chief and behaves like one. If he does not open the door, you cannot get into your hotel or your room. He creates that need for you. He can thus get money from you to do the regular job that he’s already being paid to perform. And so, the sense of collective interest just disappears because everyone at every position is trying to see how he can secure something for himself. He’s using the service he’s supposed to provide for the collectivity (because he’s being paid) as a means of getting more money. That corruption is at every single level. You go to the post office where you’re supposed to give one dollar and get your stamp. Someone will say that to be in line, you need to give ten cents first to be able to access your cashier. So everybody is organizing his own corruption scheme.

HR: Right.

JMT: So society starts functioning at such a level of destruction. In the home also, you have the husband as the head of the family oppressing the whole. For me, that’s the issue and the question in Chef!: how can we function as a society if a sense of collective interest has totally disappeared?

HR: There is no good faith. Bad faith involves getting as much out as quickly as possible.

JMT: As possible. It reminded me of one essay that I read from a French guy from the 18th century, Étienne de la Boétie,[21] who wrote this incredible book called Discours de la Servitude VolontaireDiscourse on Voluntary Servitude—about how people accept, worship, identify with, and duplicate the attitudes of a tyrant. What they are doing is a kind of tyranny. One individual is oppressing you and in turn, you oppress other people behind you. So everybody exercises what he has, a kind of leverage over people. He uses it to oppress, and only those who can pay have access to services. So the society as a whole becomes very dysfunctional. If we decided to change the whole thing, we could keep the moment worthwhile, but instead of doing that, everybody is asking, “What is my leverage? Where can I have some power here in this system so that I can—”

HR: —squeeze out something of it.

JMT: Yes. So that’s the kind of corrupt society that comes out of these systems where there is no freedom of speech or sense of common interest. The one at the top is getting richer and richer, the one in the middle is getting richer and richer, and then there is the one for whom everything goes according to this small story: the boss sends his minister to the bank to collect one million francs—or one million dollars. When he gets to the bank, he’ll collect two million dollars. And the guy in the bank is going to put in his record that he took away two million five hundred thousand dollars to the head of state to keep some for himself. And at every level, everyone becomes—

HR: Everyone is skimming.

JMT: Skimming something. And in the end, you know, the whole country is just—they take all this and what do they do? They buy big cars because they have no roads that are made for everybody. They build houses and high fences, putting people with guns to protect them behind these walls, creating a kind of prison for themselves and letting the rest of the population suffer. It’s a very strange system.

HR: Very. Yes.

JMT: And with Vacances au pays, having seen all that, I asked myself, “What is the idea of modernity that we inherited in our whole educational system?” So Vacances au pays is a kind of journey. I start from my school where I studied. When I was there, we all used to say, “Everything coming from Europe is great.” What you have locally, if it comes from Europe, is “modern”; what you have locally that is not is “archive” and has to disappear. And it will disappear anyway. So we grew up with this whole idea. After thirty years, I do this same trip from my school to my village.

HR: The school in the city.

JMT: From school in the city, the big city of Yaoundé,[22] to my village where my grandparents live and where I used to go during the holidays. I was trying to see this modernity that they told us about when we were kids: the belief that everything was going to become modern. What really has become modern? Instead you see how empty the discourses in the cities are. When you get to the village and start seeing and talking to people, what they have to say makes so much sense. The people from the city come and destroy even the social structures that existed in the village. This is in order to bring about something like getting spaces to sell beer, Coca-Cola, and all that and not allowing space for people to meet and really interact the way they used to. So Vacances au pays also questions this same idea. And when I was finishing Vacances, I did Alex’s Wedding because I had this guy from the film who was asking me to do his wedding. And then Le Malentendu colonial was the next film. But after all these films, I’m going to—to move on to a fiction film and a love story. (Laughs).

HR: I guess you need that.

JMT: I need that.

HR: Perhaps we can talk about your situation as an African filmmaker who has been living in France now for…how long? Twenty years?

JMT: Twenty years, yes.

HR: Twenty years as a Cameroonian filmmaker, but at the same time, you’re an African filmmaker who looks at African themes, not just Cameroonian themes. How is this? In a sense this is also a kind of double-consciousness: you’re outside and inside. You’re passionate about the situation, the fate of Africa and of Cameroon, and at the same time you—

JMT: I live outside.

HR: You live outside, you’re not working inside. How is this? This was obviously not a choice from the beginning; it is something that must have evolved.

JMT: Actually, I went to Europe because of the possibility of studying there. And when I studied there, I could have come back to find a job and get into the system, but I didn’t like that system. I thought it was that I didn’t want to end up like many of the people that I knew who had entered the system and become civil servants. I didn’t; I couldn’t accept the idea of being a part of that. So, I decided to stay in Europe and go to Africa regularly. It’s difficult because, of course, I need to have a base to be able to become more and more creative, to have a sense of belonging to a group, to—

HR: A network of like-minded.

JMT: Yes, not only that, but also to be part of the group. If I want to make films, feature films, I also need to be among the people I am making films about. This has to really be grounded in their everyday lives, facing what they are facing, and making films out of that because I’m like an exiled filmmaker. Tomorrow, I could come make a film here in the United States., but maybe I’d need to make more feature films because that would only be stories that I’d tell while being detached. Or maybe I don’t really have any attachment with my country anymore.

I am very much attached to the situation, to the whole global situation, to see how we can have an impact and really foster change so that people can live better. In other words, real elections and not the kind of situation that we have where the money is there and people have the will to do things but nothing is happening. So, I am in exile, I am outside, but I am always inside because I read almost all the newspapers from my country through the internet. I am always trying to understand what is going on. And also, this gives me the possibility to be more effective in questioning things because I have distance.

HR: Now, about fiction films and the status of documentaries versus fiction films. Generally, fiction films are considered more as “films” than are documentaries. At least it used to be that way. I think it’s changing. A lot more people, especially with digital media, have begun to work in the documentary vein. Is that your impression?

JMT: Well, yes, we are still fighting for the status of documentary because even in many festivals, documentaries are still second class.  It’s an ongoing fight, it’s an ongoing fight.  (Laughs.)  You do have a few success stories, but these successes are probably in the US with a few people like Michael Moore[23], of course, and the Enron film coming out.[24] There are a few such films and more and more documentaries that are attracting public interest. But there’s still a long, long way to go. The documentaries that people go and see and which are very popular are sometimes those that cost so much more than the average documentary.

HR: I wanted to ask you about your fiction films. In a sense, your documentaries flow into the idea of how you work with fiction.

JMT:  Le Malentendu coloniale was one of the most time-consuming and heavy in terms of work and research for me. Maybe I didn’t go as far as I wished in the creative realization of the film. I was really exhausted when I finished working with this film. And also, I didn’t have the money. It’s still a very low-budget film.  I think my fictions are not going to be simple. They are going to be very story-driven. I’m going to find stories and tell the stories only if, of course, the stories do interest me and have some political level somewhere. But I am going to really go for stories, you know, and try to make them as effective as possible and really try to express myself creatively. (Laughs.)

Notes

[1] Le Malentendu colonial / The Colonial Misunderstanding  (Cameroon/Germany/France, 2004, 78 min.)  Many thanks to Nancy Kang, who assisted tremendously with the transcription and detailed footnotes to this interview.

[2] Vacances au pays / A Trip to the Country (Cameroon, 2002, 75 min.)

[3] Wuppertal was home to the Rhenish Mission. In the early nineteenth century, it was a centre of missionary activity and the departure point for those intending to administer to such African countries as Togo, Cameroon, Namibia, and South Africa.

[4] Teno is presumably referring to a series of events in Germany that built up to the Holocaust. In 1935, Hitler announced the rearmament of the country in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In the fall of that year, the Nuremberg Laws were implemented. The “Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honor” and the Reich Citizenship Law were among those measures that orchestrated the legal disenfranchisement of Jews, rendering them state subjects instead of citizens, as well as subject to further persecutions as Hitler’s power steadily increased.

[5] The Shoah (Hebr. “catastrophic upheaval”) or Holocaust refers to the Nazi genocide of Jews and other minority groups (among them, those with ethnic, religious, ideological, and sexual orientations disfavored by the Nazis) according to Hitler’s doctrine of the “Final Solution.”

[6] The Berlin Conference lasted from November 1884 to February 1885. Invited by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, representatives from Europe, the United States, and the Ottoman Empire met in Berlin to wrangle over African territories and resolve problems encountered thus far during the imperialist projects in the area.

[7] Professor Ewané’s is among those voices featured in Le Malentendu colonial.

[8] Cameroon became independent in 1960, having been colonized by England, France, as well as Germany.

[9] The Marshall Plan, named after US Secretary of State George C. Marshall, commenced in 1947 when the United States offered a massive economic aid program designed to rebuild the economies of Western Europe.

[10] Kofi A. Annan (1938- ), seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations, is originally from Ghana. His term in office spans 1 January 1997 to 31 December 2006.

[11] “The rationale of the most powerful.” There is a double entendre here, with “right” (as in correctness, from the expression avoir raison) coinciding with the literal translation of raison (as in justified agency, “rationale” or “reason”).

[12] As treated in Le Malentendu colonial, the Hereros were victims of a genocidal war with Germany that lasted from 1904 to 1907 in Namibia. It led to the incarceration of these tribal people in concentration camps. One area of critical inquiry is the extent to which these concentration camps served as precursors to, or general models for, those constructed during the Nazi regime.

[13] “They had a lot of disdain.” Mépris (Fr. n.): disdain, contempt, scorn (Oxford French Dictionary)

[14] Disparate (Fr. n.): ill-assorted, mixed, disparate.

[15] Le Mariage d’Alex / Alex’s Wedding (Cameroon, 2002, 45 min.)

[16] FESPACO: Le Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ouagadougou (English trans. The Ouagadougou Pan-African Film and Television Festival). FESPACO is the largest gathering of the cinematic arts in the African continent. Ouagadougou is the both the national capital of Burkina Faso and the capital of Kadiogo province. See www.fespaco.bf/.

[17] Afrique, je te plumerai / Africa, I Will Fleece You (Cameroon, 1992, 88 min.)

[18] Tête dans les nuages / Head in the Clouds (Cameroon, 1994, 37 min.)

[19] Clando (a.k.a. Clandestine) (Cameroon, 1996, 98 min.) A “clando” is an unlicensed (hence, illegal) cab. Germany has a presence in this film’s plot. The film’s protagonist, Sobgui, is approached by a village elder to go there in order to locate his estranged son.

[20] Chef! / Chief!  (Cameroon, 1999, 61 min.)

[21] Étienne de la Boétie (1530-1563), French political philosopher and friend of master essayist Michel de Montaigne. The treatise Discours was written between the years 1549-53 and was first published in 1576.

[22] Yaoundé is the capital city of Cameroon. Teno’s ancestral village is Bandjoun in the Ghomala-speaking region of western Cameroon.

[23] Michael Moore (1954- ), controversial American filmmaker, writer, and political activist born in Flint, Michigan. Was the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature Film in 2003 for Bowling for Columbine.  Also known for such documentaries as Roger and Me (1989) and Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004).

[24] Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. Dir. Alex Gibney (United States, 2005, 110 min.)

HELLO NIGERIA!

Hello Nigeria! is actually the first in a series of programmes that I am doing where I attempt to dissect another culture through examining their celebrity magazines. The series is called Hello World!, but it was seeing the Nigerian society magazine Ovation that gave me the idea for the series in the first place.

Launched in the mid 90s, after the magazine’s charismatic publisher Dele Momodu was forced to flee Nigeria under the military dictatorship of Sani Abacha, Ovation magazine sells not only in Nigeria and all over Africa but also the USA and Britain and now in the Caribbean. It has a monthly circulation of around 100,000.

When I first saw Ovation, I was bowled over by its glossiness and its brightness. It also looked exactly like the British celebrity magazine, Hello!, but when I flicked through Ovation’s pages, I became aware of how very different it was from the British version. For example, Britain is obsessed with its royal family, soap stars, models, movie actors and American celebrities. In the Nigerian Hello! equivalent called Ovation, doctors appear more frequently than actors or even footballers. Ovation doesn’t think twice about including a ‘Jet Set pastor’ or man of the cloth displaying his mansion in it and funerals are presented as a glamorous society event. One of the mottos of Ovation, according to its charismatic publisher Dele Momodu, is that “in Nigeria everybody is a star”,  so we see a lot of very ordinary people featured in their pages appearing to be celebrities. This is because they pay to be in the magazine, which is how Ovation is funded – and not all of these people are particularly wealthy. You could say that Ovation has a bit of Ebony magazine about it. This may be true, but it is telling that there really aren’t so many “superstars” in Nigeria, therefore so-called “ordinary people” and their achievements are held up as worthy of celebration. It’s actually quite refreshing. And in this day and age where definitions of celebrity are being challenged with reality TV shows spewing out new ‘celebrities’ everyday, it’s been enlightening to hear about another approach to celebrity.

The idiosyncracies and value systems of any given society are apparent in these magazines and the people who are featured in these magazines also reveal certain truths about their national culture. Hello World! is a series about identity, pride and aspirations. And in my opinion, there’s a lot to be learned when you examine people’s aspirations. Forget the folk traditions and rural ways! I want to contest this underlying assumption that the repository for cultural authenticity automatically lies in a culture’s poorer citizens. This assumption, I believe, has its roots in anthropology where the tradition was to ‘study down’ i.e. to study those at the bottom rung of the social pyramid when visiting another culture. The philosophy of anthropology has since moved on, but there is actually nothing new in the idea that rurality, and to some extent poverty, signifies cultural authenticity. It is an idea espoused by the European Romantics amongst others. Coupled with the universal truth that bad news is more sensational and therefore more sellable, then it’s hardly surprising that it is the bad news from Africa that dominates the Western media.

But this sort of publicity is not without after effects. Therefore, in Hello Nigeria! I have attempted to explore how a negative global image affects those that are from that society. After all, you hear very little about Nigeria or Africa that does not relate to poverty, disease and suffering. All these things exist in Africa, but there are many other African stereotypes that don’t seem to emerge either. The colourful way Nigerians dress and celebrate themselves comes to mind. Indeed this self-celebration is not only cultural but, in fact, a necessity in a world where African success is often seen as an anomaly and not an ordinary or natural occurrence.

It was a real education making the film. Due to a lack of funding, I have been unable to actually travel to Nigeria, so this film focuses slightly more on the Nigerian community in Britain. But as the magazine was started in England and the publisher lives in England, it seems an appropriate place to start. Having grown up here in the UK, I’ve felt somewhat isolated from the Nigerian community (even the Nigerian community in England) but through this magazine and through making the film, I have met an awful lot of Nigerians and even made a few friends. I’ve become aware how little we all know about the towns and cities we live in. We know nothing of the characters, the ambition, the frustration, the courage that exists everywhere. I have been able to meet Nigerians from all walks of life from footballers and actresses to shopkeepers and priests and it’s been an enormous privilege as well as an education.

About the director:

Zina Saro-Wiwa is a 27-year-old filmmaker and broadcast journalist. Born in Nigeria but brought up in England, Zina has worked for the BBC as a programme-maker and has written for a number of broadsheets and magazines in London including the Sunday Times and Marie Claire.

 

 

Victor Viyuoh

Biography: Named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Independent Filmmakers to watch, Victor Viyuoh wrote and directed the short film Mboutoukou which was filmed entirely in Cameroon, Africa. In one year on the circuit, Mboutoukou played at over 100 festivals including Venice in Italy, New Directors/New Films and Rotterdam. Beginning with its nomination for the 2002 Student Academy Awards, Mboutoukou won over 20 awards including Best Short at SXSW, Best Short at Urbanworld, and the Rights of the Child Award at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. Victor is an alumnus of USC’s School of Cinema-Television and IFP/LA’s Directors and Screenwriters labs.

(Source: http://www.ninahsdowry.com/#)

Films Shown in AFF, Inc. Programs:
Mboutoukou (2004);
Ninah’s Dowry (2014).

Filmography:
Mboutoukou (2002);
Ninah’s Dowry (2012).