Africa: Hollywood’s invisible continent

I saw this article in The Guardian and thought it summed up pretty much why we created the Galway African Film Festival! The article was printed on 3rd November 2011 and was written by Hannah Pool.

“Viva Riva!, the award-winning film by Congolese director Djo Tunda Wa Munga, a ‘gloriously trashy, fast-paced gangster flick’.

I’m a big fan of North American cinema, and I think it’s important to show their film industry plenty of support. My only problem is that once you’ve seen one or two North American films, you’ve pretty much seen them all. As a diaspora African I’d much rather watch other Africans on the big screen.

Sound odd? A tad racist, even? Of course it does, and yet that’s how many non-Africans think of African cinema.

How is it that stories produced by Africans, be it film, music, or literature, are still considered niche, worthy, or somehow “less” than art created by non-Africans? At best, African cinema is considered “art house”, African art is labelled “craft”, and African literature must focus on the big three (famine, war or poverty) to be deemed authentic.

Author Chimamanda Adichie called this the danger of the “single story” of Africa: a story of catastrophe in which there was “no possibility of feelings more complex than pity; no possibility of a connection as human equals”. If Africa is only ever viewed through a western prism, how can you expect to have anything other than a deeply unbalanced view of a continent of more than 50 countries and 2,000 languages?

Binyavanga Wainaina, whose satirical Granta essay How to Write about Africa went viral a few years ago, says of western films: “Africa is an object, rather than a subject. We are suffering objects or empowering objects or sustainable objects or some kind of objects but we are objects. We don’t have anything to say for ourselves.”

Today sees the launch of the Film Africa festival, which features 50 films over 10 days and highlights the significance of Africans telling their own stories, and how important it is for others to consume them. “The festival aims to bring alternative Africas and visions of Africa to audiences, to compel viewers to reflect on their own assumptions about this vast, fascinating continent,” says its co-director Lindiwe Dovey.

Last year Unesco finally recognised Nigerian cinema, which produces more than 2,000 films a year, as the world’s second largest film industry. “Nollywood”, worth about $250m, is not as productive as Bollywood, but is making more movies than Hollywood. Bombay Dreams and Slumdog were both considered “crossover” Indian films: isn’t it about time African cinema had its own crossover moment?

One of my favourite films of this year is Viva Riva!, a gloriously trashy, fast-paced gangster flick by Congolese director Djo Tunda Wa Munga. It’s great entertainment, and a world away from the stereotype of worthy African cinema. It won six African Movie Academy Awards (including best film and best director) and was named best African movie at the MTV movie awards, so why aren’t more cinemas showing it? I had to wait years before I saw the beautiful Ethiopian film 13 Months of Sunshine (about a marriage of convenience that goes wrong), and only saw it then because a friend lent me her cherished DVD.

Film Africa will see the UK premier of Koundi And National Thursday, by Cameroonian director Ariane Astrid Atodji, which won best documentary at the African film festival of Tarifa. It looks at a village’s attempt to maintain independence. Contrary to the Hollywood version of Africa, this film is about Africans addressing their own poverty without the help of outsiders.

Why do film distributors never come under fire for failing to adequately distribute African cinema? And why is it assumed that white audiences prefer Africa to come with a thinly veiled colonial backdrop, which usually involves a white hero saving a poor downtrodden country from itself? Blood Diamond, anyone?

Africans are now telling their own stories. It’s time the rest of the world started consuming them.”

Voices from Robben Island

Director Jurgen Schadeberg and the BBC teamed up to create this definitive documentary on possibly the most infamous island in 20th Century world history. In an age in which the freedom of the individual has arisen this island has become symbolic of the many fights that have taken, and continue to take place.

This film looks at the Island’s 400-year history through the eyes of people incarcerated there. From those lepers and lunatics that were first locked up in the 17th century to their most infamous inmates Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Kathrada, Mlangeni – the freedom fighters against Apartheid South Africa.

‘Voices of Robben Island’ reveals the great courage of some of its prisoners through the personal accounts of individuals such as Mandela and Mbeki. The result is not simply a moving character led film, but a piece of history in itself.

White Wedding

Set against South Africa’s breathtaking landscapes, WHITE WEDDING is a high-spirited modern day road comedy about love, commitment, intimacy, friendship, and the unbelievable obstacles that can get in the way of a fairy-tale ending.

Ayanda (Zandie Msutwana) is just days away from her lifelong dream of a modern ‘white wedding,’ complete with a dazzling dress, dozens of bridesmaids, a flamboyant wedding planner and large reception at a fancy hotel. The only problem is that her husband-to-be, the sweet, committed Elvis (Kenneth Nkosi), is 1,000 miles away with his childhood friend and best-man Tumi (Rapulana Seiphemo).

What should be a simple, straightforward journey gets seriously derailed, forcing Elvis, Tumi and Rose (Jodie Whittaker), a footloose English doctor they meet along the way to tackle directional mishaps, car accidents, a tag-along goat, and a potentially dangerous encounter with a bar full of redneck Afrikaners seemingly stuck in the era of Apartheid. Ultimately charmed by Elvis’ infectious spirit, everyone surrounding him becomes determined to get him to his destination.

Meanwhile, poor Ayanda is watching her dream unravel as she wrestles with problems of her own — from questioning whether there’s any truth to Elvis’ preposterous excuses of why he might not get to the church on time, being caught between European and African traditions as her mother (Sylvia Mngxekeza) has a very different idea about how the wedding should be orchestrated, and dealing with the unexpected arrival of Tony (Mbulelo Grootboom), a slick old boyfriend with a questionable agenda.

WHITE WEDDING subtly interweaves South Africa’s history as bride, groom, friends and lovers are forced to look at the meaning of marriage, fidelity, honesty and the two sides to every story.