Article by Ogova Ondego
Published January 30, 2008
Not a single African film competed for top awards at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2007. Moreover, no African was among the 35 film directors invited to participate in “To Each His Own Cinema”, a special film tribute to Cannes’ 60th anniversary. This prompted the African Filmmakers Producers Guild to question if the organisers of what is regarded as the world’s leading film festival were not discriminating against movies from the continent. OGOVA ONDEGO writes.
Wondering whether Africa lacked ‘worthy filmmakers’, African Filmmakers Producers Guild said, “Without questioning the Cannes festival’s right to sovereign choices, we note also that Africa’s point of view is of no interest.”
Aware that the African perspective usually does not matter at festivals like Cannes, South Africa,through its National Film and Video Foundation,has since 2004 run its own pavilion at Cannes to provide a platform to South Africans to showcase their work. To some extent, some filmmakers from other African countries also meet here for discussion and networking.
But perhaps the best platform for African, Caribbean, Latin American and Asian filmmakers is ‘Cinemas of the South’ pavilion run by Festival international du Film d’Amiens. It was here in 2007 that the films of the Belgium-based Congolese filmmaker Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda and Addis Ababa-based Ethiopian filmmaker Zelalem Woldemariam were shown at Cannes.
So what is the subject matter of these films, and why does it not interest film festival organizers like those of Cannes?
JUJU FACTORY, running 90 minutes, is a tragi-comedy on immigration and integration of Africans in Europe directed by Bakupa-Kanyinda originally of Congo-Kinshasa.
The film revolves around Kongo, an African living in the ‘Congolese’ neighbourhood of Brussels known as Matonge. Kongo, desperate for money, is torn between writing an authentic story of Congolese immigrants in Europe and his editor’s desire to write an exotic, stereotypical account that appeal to western sensibilities.
Made in 2006, this debut feature by Bakupa-Kanyinda is likely to do well in Europe, especially among immigrants and other people interested in issues such as immigration, integration, history and cultural exchange.
With the increase of Africans seeking greener pastures in Europe, JUJU FACTORY appears to be questioning what this transference means to the whole African race. “Is this another effect of the historical slavery or is this bemused self-reflection on the African psyche?” Bakupa-Kanyinda, the ever philosophical filmmaker, poses rhetorically. “Is this another effect of the historical slavery or is this bemused self-reflection on the African psyche?”
Well, this is for the viewers to determine for themselves.
THE 11TH HOUR, on the other hand, is a 95-minute feature film in Amharic with English sub-titles directed and produced by Woldemariam in 2006.
Saying his film can be categorised as “a socially-responsible film opening the eyes of all those who are expected to make a difference by enabling the children get adequate treatment”, Woldemariam says the initial aim of the film was to contribute to the ‘flourishing film industry in Ethiopia’ and also to highlight the plight of children suffering from heart diseases in his country.
Accordingly THE 11TH HOUR shows how a father sets out on a long and perilous journey determined to save the life of his eight-year-old daughter who is suffering from a serious heart condition.
THE 11TH HOUR, that Woldemariam says is a ‘moving and dramatic film’ that is a mirror image of the ups and downs as well as extreme sacrifices that are paid to save a helpless young child, is likely to be received well in Ethiopia and in America that carries the largest Ethiopian Diaspora in the world. It can also be appreciated in the developmental and donor circles as an informative film in their work in Africa.
This brings me to the 21st Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum held at Goethe-Institut, Nairobi, and at which FAIDA ZA MITI, a six-minute animation on conservation by Jerome Kimaro of Tanzania and a 10-minute drama, SNAKEBITE, by Matt Pinder of the UK, were shown. In the discussion that followed, it was clear that a good film should inform, educate, persuade and entertain. Though the audience could not agree on any single message from SNAKEBITE as compared to FAIDA ZA MITI, they nevertheless said they had thoroughly enjoyed the former. The latter, they said, could well have been a Microsoft Power Point presentation, a scholl text book or even an advertisement billboard as it lacked imagination, was didactic and almost patronized the audience.
For quite some time now, films in Africa have been presented not as entertainment but mainly as tools to disseminate developmental messages. This practice has given filmmaking, mainly documentaries, a bad name and few people in Africa want to see these NGO-message driven films in Africa. If the people for whom such films are made cannot tolerate them, how then can any one expect them to be appreciated by film festivals that treat films with the seriousness they deserve? Rather than complain of discrimination, Africans should take a long, hard look on what they term film and then compare it with films from other continents. They should then seek to emulate the formula of ‘good’ films which they should then incorporate in their own audiovisual media. I am in no way suggestuing that they ‘copy’ or ‘ape’ films without any social reality in Africa. Rather, they get the standard rules, recipes and formulae of good films. Just as there can be no African version of soccer or volleyball, there can be no ‘African film’ independent of the rest of the world.
Held every last Monday of the month at 6.00 PM since December 15, 2005, the objective of Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum is to give players in the filmmaking sector-directors, producers, screenwriters, camera people, actors, funders, fashion designers, journalists, researchers, academics, students, seekers of information, consumers-a platform on which to watch and discuss short films, socialise, and network with the aim of developing a critical attitude that would facilitate the production of better films.
By January 28, 2008, about 500 people had attended LKSFF that is organised and presented by ComMattersKenya in conjunction with Goethe-Institut in Kenya.
Meanwhile, AFRICAN FOLK TALES ANIMATED, a compilation of three films and three songs made at 2nd Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media festival, production workshop and market for children and youth in eastern Africa in August 2007 has been selected for screening at the 5th annual Children’s and youth’s Videotivoli festival (March 4-9, 2008) in Tampere, Finland.
Lola Kenya Screen’s MANANI OGRES, LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS DANGEROUS and THE WISE BRIDE were selected from among 500 submissions from 35 nations around the world.
MANANI OGRES, a fascinating animation on the imporatance of vigilance, was created by Joseph Hongo, Marcus Joseph, Norick Joseph and Samuel Musembi to show that drumming, music and dance must be employed where vigilance fails. Music, the short shows, has power on every living thing, including man-eating ogres.
Made by Samora Michelle, Adede Hawi NyOdero and Karama K Ogova, LITTLE KNOWLEDGE IS DANGEROUS, on the other hand, shows that one who tries to shock others by one’s clever-by-half antics, usually ends up frying oneself in one’s own oil. The message is passed through Mjinga, Juha, and Mwehu with the playful use on Kiswahili carrying the message across. This film won the Most Creative Project at Lola kenya Screen in 2007.
The message passed through THE WISE BRIDE is that when more than one suitor compete for a beautiful girl, only the girl’s ingenuity carries the day.This film with a twist in the tale was conceived and executed by Alexandria Ngini, Aysha Satchu, Layla Satchu and Flora Wanjiru.