By Ogova Ondego
Published July 20, 2007
The African Film Summit, held in South Africa in April 2006, sought to put women at the centre of filmmaking in Africa. Although men appear to dominate the audiovisual media sector in Africa, more than 100 women attended the summit as filmmakers, film festival directors and government representatives. Besides a woman, Seipati Bulane-Hopa, being elected to head FEPACI, the Pan African Audiovisual and Cinema Practitioners Declaration (Pretoria Declaration) called for the creation of an enabling working environment for women in filmmakingand also for gender-sensitive broadcast content. Lebone Maema, manager of the African Film Summit project, speaks to OGOVA ONDEGO.
Please summarise your duties as project manager of the African Film Summit.
I was responsible for, among other things, developing the objectives and the expected output of the summit of the committee and the consultation with the steering committee comprising the host of the summit, the Department of Arts and Culture, the National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, and the secretariat of NEPAD, the Director of Social Affairs and Culture of African Union, the Department of Trade and Industry, the SABC and the Gauteng Film Office who came in as partners on this project, and over and above that, liaising with more than 200 filmmakers from across Africa and in the Diaspora, to deal with various generations of filmmakers from the pioneering elders like Haile Gerima, Med Hondo, Kwah Ansah, Souleymanne Cisse, Safi Faye, Sarah Maldoror, Gaston Kabore, and Gadala Gubara to the youngest generation of filmmakers like Dumisani Phakathi; it has been very exciting in managing the African Film Summit.
Would you mind to trace the journey towards the African Film Summit and 7th Congress of FEPACI?
During the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso in 2003, FEPACI had requested the Department of Arts and Culture and the National Film and Video Foundation to host its next congress on recommendations of the African Union Commission’s appeal for the participation of the African Union, African regional economic communities, African governments, the private sector and civil society to take appropriate steps in establishing an African commission on the audiovisual and cinema industries and a fund to promote cinema and television programmes in Africa during its assembly in Maputo, Mozambique, in July 2003.
So South Africa is collaborating with the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers; What role has FEPACI played in organising this summit?
We’ve always believed that FEPACI is one of the most important organisations that could help in facilitating unity among African filmmakers. We made all efforts to ensure that we had the support and the endorsement of the secretary-general of FEPACI, Jacques Behanzin, in the processes of organising the summit. We invited their southern African regional secretary, Morabane Modise, to join us on the working committee but due to reasons beyond my understanding he resigned from FEPACI suddenly during the process of organising the summit. FEPACI has nevertheless been very instrumental in ensuring the success of this summit.
What were the highlights of the African Film Summit for you, and also for the organisers?
I think there were numerous highlights; we had more than 250 participants. We had people who represented 42 countries in the continent and in the Diaspora. We had over 16 film festivals. We had representatives of national film associations. All I have to say is that there were numerous highlights. But of course the highlight of the event was the adoption of the Pan African Audiovisual and Cinema Practitioners Declaration (Pretoria Declaration) and the successful hosting of the 7th General Congress of FEPACI and adoption of the recommendations for the restructuring, democratizing and strengthening of FEPACI. The delegates have agreed that the establishment of the African Audiovisual and Cinema Commission (AACC) and the African Film Fund (AFC) are crucial to the development of film across the continent.
Why did you not include film festivals on the agenda?
I think that one of the conclusions that came out from a particular generation of African filmmakers, a generation that started making films in the 1950s and the late 1960s, was that they have attended many film festivals and conferences which, in many cases, gave them false hopes; that they came up with various resolutions, proposals and recommendations from all these conferences that, unfortunately, amounted to little.
Did you identify any weaknesses of this African Film Summit?
I believe and will always believe that we are never perfect as human beings. I think there were numerous challenges. The first was that of historical consequences of colonialism that still divides us into categories like Anglophone and Francophone because of the languages of our former colonisers that we still use. This resulted in misunderstanding at certain times during the summit.
Say something about the proposed African Film Fund.
I think we need to establish a commission that will be responsible for developing a mechanism to ensure the fund itself is established.
How about the African Diaspora; how do you define it?
I think the Diaspora has no definition save for the one the leaders of the African Film Summit can come up with. I think a real African is the person who puts Africa first no matter where they are based.
How soon can Africans realise the fruits of the Tshwane (Pretoria) Declaration?
We said that by the time of Sithengi in November 2006 we should have a response from the African Union on the recommendations; we said by February 2007, FESPACO would have a platform for feedback on the work that would have been done. But after all has been said and done we will endeavour to ensure that we expedite the process of implementing the declaration but I think we have to be very realistic to say that other issues are beyond our control. Africa has many challenges, from unreliable electric power, poor communications, and lack of infrastructure. I really wouldn’t want to say that we would have done this in three months, we would have done that, you know that would be unrealistic. To say that we would endeavour to do our best to ensure the various platforms that we need for the various film practitioners who will really constantly report back on progress but at that time we will do our best to make sure that we did our best as per the proposals on the Summit.
Issues related to children, youth, women, and the elderly were not on the agenda either. Why was this so?
There were more than 100 women at the Summit from filmmakers to directors of film festivals and to government representatives. Although the African film industry is male-dominated, we had many women represented here: Sarah Maldoror, Safi Faye, Rahmatou Keita, Seipati Bulane-Hopa, Amaka Igwe, Jean El Tahri, Magda Abdi and many others.
So even with the declaration that was made here the issue of participation and allow more access for more women was raised, even to details of creating conducive working environment for women in the industry were addressed; with regard to broadcasting in particular, the question of what kind of content is shown on public broadcast stations was raised. With regards to the elderly perhaps that was not addressed in much detail but I think the issue to do with women and children were adequately addressed.