Arts  

Broaden your African cinema horizons

Durban International Film Festival (DIFF)

The 40th edition of the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) started on July 18 and runs till 28. It’s one of Africa’s longest-running festivals with a strong focus on African Cinema, with 180 screenings of new films at this year’s edition. It offers an opportunity for filmmakers and film lovers from around the continent to see the work of emerging African filmmakers and network.

It also includes the Talents Durban programme in partnership with the Berlin Film Festival, which gathers 20 filmmakers from around the content to be mentored and develop their projects. More importantly, it’s an opportunity to connect with filmmakers from other countries and get some insight into their experience and the cinema of their country. As an alumnus of the programme, I can say it shifts your paradigm about filmmaking in Africa as a whole.

The thing is, the average Nollywood patron has seen little to no films from other African countries. At the most, they can mention a few films by Ghanian filmmakers who regularly cast Nollywood actors in their films or Ghanian films starring Nollywood stars. They have seen multiple Hollywood, Bollywood and Hong Kong martial arts films but not films from saying; Mali, Congo, Kenya, South Africa or Senegal.

Is it a matter of accessibility? Is it a matter of awareness? Or we’re simply indifferent? What could Nigerian viewers and filmmakers be missing out on?

Well, brilliant films like Viva Riva (2010) from Congo, La Pirogue (2012) from Senegal, The Burial of Kojo (2018) from Ghana, Supa Modo (2018) from Kenya, Vaya (2016), I am not a Witch (2017), Inexba(2017), Of Good Report (2013) from South Africa and so much more to miss.

These films travelled around the world and had great reception but none made it to Nigerian cinemas. The only way to have seen most of them theatrically in Nigeria would have been by attending the annual African International Film Festival (AFRIFF).

A case can be made for their mostly, non-mainstream nature and marketability to Nigerian punters. Many of them are dark or serious films on socio-economic or political issues and heavy subject matter and as some Nollywooders will tell you, “Nigerians want to laugh and forget their worries, they don’t want to think too much.”

Here’s the thing, when we don’t watch films from other African countries, we live in an echo chamber, similar to the social media Jollof argument Nigerians get into with other Africans, even as most of those arguing have never tasted Jollof (or any food) of any other African country.

Similarly, the average man on the street makes the assumption that the best films and filmmakers in the world are from the United States without ever watching films from Asia, Europe, South America or Africa. It’s easy to believe that inaccuracy till his dying day.

Hollywood’s Golden Age was heavily influenced by actors, writers and directors who came from Italy, Hungary, Germany, England, Sweden and other parts of Europe. The film brats; Scorcese, Speilberg, Copolla, DaPalma were all influenced by filmmakers like Hitchcock, Felini, Bergman, from Europe and Kurosawa; Mizoguchi from Asia and the French New Wave. As were Tarantino and many of his contemporaries.

Spike Lee (Dir- BlacKkKlansman -2018) graduate professor at NYU Film school, on the first day of class, gives his students, “The List Of Films That I Feel You Must See If You Want To Make Films.” Containing 95 films, many the work of European and Asian filmmakers. American cinema wouldn’t be what it is if the filmmakers stayed measuring themselves by themselves.

While we can teach our continental brethren about the commercial side of the business and building a loyal audience, we need to be open to cinema craft from other African countries. Their films have travelled internationally a lot more successfully than ours as far back as the work of Soulyman Cisse (Cannes Jury Prize), Ousmane Sembène (Silver Lion Winner) and Idrissa Ouédraogo (Golden Lion Winner) long before Nollywood was born. So we need to take what works in terms of cinema craft, visual storytelling and infuse it with what makes Nigerian storytelling unique and commercial.

Streaming sites have made films more accessible than any other time in history, it’s important to take advantage of that and see the films the rest of Africa has to offer.

Most people can’t travel to South Africa for DIFF to see these films in theatres, but they can attend a film festival like AFRIFF which takes place in Lagos, November 10 to 16 this year. Those who attended in 2018 got to see the brilliant opening film, Sew the Winter to my Skin (2018) from South Africa and during the festival, the controversial, Rafiki (2018) from Kenya.

Broaden your cinematic horizons and watch a film from another African country as soon as you can.

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