AFRICAN CINEMA

According to a recent UNESCO report: The Film and Audio-visual Industry in Africa has the potential to create over 20 million jobs and can generate income up to US$20 billion in revenue per year. This is a comprehensive report by a global organisation, with an agenda for humanitarian progress, cultural legacy, development, and heritage for every nation on the planet. 

Titled: “The African Film Industry” – Trends, Challenges & Opportunities for Growth. The report covers a complete mapping of the film and audio-visual industry in all 54 States on the African Continent. The contents include analysis at the regional and continental levels, with quantitative and qualitative data. The report proposes strategic recommendations for the development of the film and audio-visual sectors in Africa. This detailed report is available at: unesdoc.unesco.org.   

The Great Fathers of African Filmmaking

A place where the art of storytelling is revered, yet, for all the usual reasons and a lot more, movies or filmmaking in Africa was never an easy task. Nollywood, Bollywood, and Hollywood, famous or infamous, these places have made their mark as industry, generating huge sums of income for the continuation of the medium.

What I am concerned with here are the pioneering spirit, motivation, devotion, artistry, love, and sheer determination of those individuals, who, against all forms of barriers, continued to establish the foundations for cinema, and gave us some of the greatest moments in African film-making history.

Relaying a brief outline let’s begin in Senegal, West Africa, with Ousmane Sembene – born in 1923 and died in 2007. After serving in the French army during the Second World War, he moved form Senegal and settled in France, 1947. 

During his time in Marseilles employed as a dockworker in the 1950s, he developed a love of literature utilising the local trade union library. His first novel published in 1956, titled ‘The Black Docker’ explores the difficulties of a Black worker seeking to become a published author.  

In 1960, Ousmane returned to Africa, a continent emerging out of colonialisation. Senegal, a francophone African country, gained its independence in 1960. During the festive atmosphere, Sembene experienced an epiphany. Since his novels were not accessible to many Africans, who could not read or write, cinema was the answer. He decided to become a Filmmaker.

Mbissine Therese Diop – leading role in Black Girl 1966

‘Black Girl’ completed in 1966, tells the story of a domestic worker who travelled from Senegal to work as a nanny and housekeeper for a middle-class family in France. The full-length film illuminates larger issues of identity, exploitation, and displacement. 

Senegal

Between 1971 and 1976 a trilogy of films was made: Emitai, Xala and Ceddo, establishing his career as a major world class filmmaker. 

Several of his films were banned in Senegal, with accusations of being anti-government. Held in a wilderness by the Senegalese government, after ten years lockdown, in 2004 his masterpiece ‘Moolaade’ was released to great acclaim.

Since his death in 2007, the work of biographer Samba Gadjigo, who also worked in a leading role to complete the documentary ‘Sembene’ in 2015. Samba continued to offer us a greater insight into the life and work of the great filmmaker, often referred to as the ‘father of African cinema’.

The recent opening of the Ousmane Sembene archive at the university of Indiana, USA, offers the opportunity to develop our knowledge and understanding of the times and circumstances in which he worked. Ousmane Sembene was able to create a language in cinematic film, that spoke clearly to audiences around the world.  

When contrasted and compared, there are stark differences between the classic period of movie making in Africa, and films made in other places. Apart from the source for the screenplays, geographic locations, cultural references, and the types of stories lines. 

Approached from a standpoint that is not only anchored in leisure and entertainment, the African stories and screenplays evolved at a much slower pace, there are rarely any adrenalin rush. Set in everyday reality, the experience is to feel, understand and comprehend from a unique perspective. During the early period of filmmaking in Africa, the major obstacles to international audiences were language and distribution. With new technology many of the old problems, like language barriers are easily resolved. However, today, marketing and distribution are still areas that need major improvements. 

Pan-African Festival of Cinema & Television – 2023 Burkina Faso.

The 28th Edition of FESPACO – Pan-African Film & TV Festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, is scheduled from February 25th to March 04, 2023. The festival promotes African Filmmakers and facilitates the screening of African films. It also offers film professionals the opportunity to establish working relationships, exchange ideas and network. 

Created in 1969, the festival has evolved into an internationally recognised and highly respected event. It was formalised by decree as an institution of government on the 7th of January 1972. On of the founding members was Alumata Salambere, who later became a minister of culture.  

FESPACO agenda aims are, contribute to the expansion and development of African Cinema, as a means of expression, education and raising awareness in all areas of living. From 2020 to the present time, Alex Moussa Sawadogo is the delegate general for the festival. Get more info and the newsletter from: www.fespaco.org – The Film Reviewer.