By Ogova Ondego
Published October 15, 2014
Movies or motion pictures that we usually refer to as film are little more than still images that are given the illusion of motion. Film is art or something that is created by an artist for a specific purpose. As such, it follows certain conventions or guidelines by which it is judged.
To appreciate film fully calls for one to understand:
• the aim of its creator
• the elements captured in it
• the ways in which the various elements contribute to the creator’s goal
• the context within which it evolved, and
• the connection of that particular creation to other creations by the creator.
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In other words, we analyse a film by looking at its FORM—whether animation, fiction, experimental or documentary—and the CONTEXT—socio-cultural, economic, political—within which it is made, i.e. why it was created, in response to what artistic, social, cultural, historical and political forces, events or trends. The work alone—a naked DVD, for instance—doesn’t provide adequate information for analysis.
A film is analysed by looking at elements like
• musical score
• mood and atmosphere
• special effects
• characters—as developed both verbally and non-verbally
• camera techniques
But what is a Documentary film?
The Documentary is a type of film that PURPORTS to present FACTUAL information; unlike Fiction, a Documentary shouldn’t present IMAGINARY beings, places or events, i.e. agents of Documentary, unlike those of Fiction, are photographed DIRECTLY and NOT portrayed by DESIGNED, PLANNED, REHEARSED, FILMED and REHEARSED (STAGED) intermediary.
But this convention of a Documentary NOT being STAGED could be up for debate since a Documentary is a film, a movie with still pictures that deceive the eye into believing they are moving. It, too, is constructed to present a particular view of a situation.
In film—whether in live action fiction or documentary, animation or experimental—the character is driven by what the character wants and needs; what is also called the MOTIVE.
So why am I writing this article? What is my Motive?
Simply this: To help inject some professionalism in our fledgling regional motion pictures sector. It results from my duty as Chair of the Documentary Film Jury at 3rd annual Arusha African Film Festival, Arusha, Tanzania, September 20-27, 2014.
Here, my colleagues, Floriane Kaneza of ITULIVE Actors Agency, Burundi and Anwary Msechu of Kilimanjaro Ink, Tanzania were presented with films to be judged in two categories.
We watched, discussed and awarded marks to films in the East African Film Network/East African Community award and Arusha African Film Festival prize.
We felt the films being considered were not only too few and didn’t represent the five East African Community Partner States, but were not all made by East Africans. We also struggled with grasping the relevance of some of the films in the context of the East African Community and its vision of regional integration.
Although Kenya, for instance, makes a mountain of documentaries, it was disheartening that not a single film came in from Kenya; do we blame the festival, the filmmakers, the East African Film Network or ourselves for this?
Like in the EAC category, we felt the films submitted for the AAFF prize weren’t representative as some were created by directors from the North besides being too few for anyone to make any meaningful comparison and judgment upon. The festival, it should be noted worked with what they had. What is troubling is why out of a 53-country continent only very few documentaries were produced by Africans. Should Africans sit back and watch non Africans being awarded by their own Africa-based festivals? For whom are such festivals made? And doesn’t the North already have more than enough platforms on which to play and thus don’t really need Africa to affirm them? Having asked these questions, it must be said that the AAFF is a platform for the exhibition and distribution of Africa-centric films made by filmmakers from all over world without regard to race or creed.
We were flabbergasted at the cavalier manner in which filmmakers treat the sub-titling of their work: They fail to summarise or synthesise, use grammar carelessly and appear not to be concerned with correct spellings.
The sub-titling of a film has to be creatively done, bearing in mind that sub-titles are meant to enhance the appreciation of a film, not hinder it. Film isn’t a novel or a pulpit!
Festivals may be the only platforms for setting and maintaining standards on movies in Africa. With the establishment of the regional East African Film Network in March 2014, it is hoped that EAFN will assist in pointing players in the motion pictures sector in the right direction. It is hoped that, for example, film practitioners will be made to appreciate the importance of submitting their films to EAFN-member festivals complete with synopses, profiles of key cast and crew, trailers, motivation, posters, flyers and images; that they will feel compelled not to do themselves and those who are to use their creation a great dis-service when they don’t provide this information!
Filmmakers may at first resist conventions and regulations pertaining to set industry practice but they will eventually have to toe the line. A good example is of how the Nigeria-based Africa Movie Academy Awards embarked on setting standards for Nollywood where a single film would have up to four to five parts. Just to maximise on the profits. But AMAA insisted the filmmaker hand in just a single film—a director’s cut, not market copy—of not more than 150 minutes; AMAA is now at 90 minutes and Nollywood is coming to terms with it!
The writer is an arts, media and culture practitioner who has facilitated workshops and seminars and judged creativity in Africa, Europe, South America, Asia and Oceania.