The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.

27 May 2016

Les noirs dans le cinéma français (Blacks in French cinema) - Régis Dubois

Les noirs dans le cinéma français de Joséphine Baker à Omar Sy (Blacks in French cinema from Josephine Baker to Omar Sy) - Régis Dubois, Edition LettMotif, France, 2016.


[English]
This book has two objectives. On the one hand, to analyse the image of the "Black" and its evolution in the French cinematic imagination from the past century. On the other hand, to highlight the presence of Blacks and mixed-race people in French cinema since the first projections of the Lumière Brothers, to the successful Intouchables. Particularly evoking the roles played by Josephine Baker, Habib Benglia, Darling Légitimus, Robert Liensol, Isaac de Bankole, Firmine Richard, Jacques Martial, Alex Descas, Mouss Diouf, Aïssa Maïga, Edouard Montoute, Stomy Bugsy, Eriq Ebouaney, Joeystarr, or Omar Sy.

This book also devotes a chapter to "Black French cinema" in an attempt to understand why and how a cinema of identity (not to say specifically communitarian)--created by filmmakers of African ancestry since the past thirty years, has been shaped. (Translation from book description in French).

[Français]
Cet ouvrage poursuit deux objectifs. D'une part analyser l'image du "Noir" et son évolution dans l'imaginaire cinématographique français depuis un siècle. D'autre part, mettre en lumière la présence des Noirs et Métisses dans le cinéma hexagonal depuis les premières vues des frères Lumière jusqu'au triomphe d'Intouchables, en évoquant notamment les rôles interprétés par Josephine Baker, Habib Benglia, Darling Légitimus, Robert Liensol, Isaac de Bankolé, Firmine Richard, Jacques Martial, Alex Descas, Mouss Diouf, Aïssa Maïga, Edouard Montoute, Stomy Bugsy, Eriq Ebouaney, Joeystarr ou Omar Sy.

Ce livre consacre par ailleurs un chapitre au "cinéma noir français" pour essayer de comprendre pourquoi et comment s'est constitué un cinéma identitaire, pour ne pas dire communautaire, réalisé par des cinéastes afro-ascendants depuis une trentaine d'années.


Table des matières (Table of contents)

Avant-propos 11

Du Clown Chocolat au Nègre gourmand 15
Premières images, premiers stéréotypes (1895-1914)

Joséphine Baker 19
Première star noire du cinema

Habib Benglia, Darling Légitimus 27
et les indigènes du cinéma colonial (1930-1960)

L’après-guerre : vers un changement ? 35
Orfeu Negro, Moi, un noir, J’irai cracher sur vos tombes

Les revendications isolées des années 60 41
Les Lâches vivent d’espoir, Les Verts pâturages, La Noire de…, Soleil Ô, La Permission

Les « étalons noirs » du cinéma érotique des années 70 49
Alphonse Béni, Manu Pluton, Désiré Bastareaud

Ils arrivent ! La génération 80 59
Isaac de Bankolé, Alex Descas, Jacques Martial, Pascal Légitimus, Firmine Richard, Mouss Diouf

Années 2000 : quels progrès ? 67
Hubert Koundé, Stomy Bugsy, Eriq Ebouaney, Aïssa Maïga, Édouard Montoute, JoeyStarr, Omar Sy…

Le cinéma noir de France 81
Christian Lara, Euzhan Palcy, Guy Deslauriers, Jean-Claude Barny, Marc Barrat, Lucien Jean-Baptiste, Djinn Carrénard, Rachid Djaïdani, Fabrice Eboué, Thomas N’Gijol, Abd Al Malik…

Noirs et Blacks au cinéma : regards croisés France/États-Unis 97

Post-scriptum
À propos du succès d’Intouchables 107

Post-scriptum 2
À propos de la réception médiatique de Bande de filles (2014) 117

Paroles d’acteurs (1989-2015) 123

Dictionnaire des acteurs et réalisateurs 133

Liste complémentaire des acteurs et actrices 235

Bibliographie sélective 237


LINK OF INTEREST ON AFRICAN WOMEN IN CINEMA BLOG



26 May 2016

Beti Ellerson: ‘African Women in Cinema’ - Women’s Film Activism, an interview by Marian Evans

Photo: Christophe Poulenc
Beti Ellerson: ‘African Women in Cinema’ - Women’s Film Activism, an interview by Marian Evans on Medium@devt

Marian Evans:

Beti Ellerson established the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema | Centre pour l’étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma in 2008. It is a virtual, dynamic and in-depth archive of information on the research, study and documentation of African women in cinema. Beti’s African Women in Cinema, in French and English, is a database with a lively blog, details about women filmmakers, video interviews, essays and reviews and various associated social media accounts. In today’s intense dialogue about inclusion in filmmaking it’s a vital resource and I want to celebrate Beti and her work.

Follow link to read the interview on Medium@devt : LINK

25 May 2016

Alice Diop : Addressing political issues through sensitivity and empathy | Les questions politiques par le biais de la sensibilité et de l’empathie

Image: Alice Diop - © Lou Dangla / Cinema du Reel
Alice Diop : Addressing political issues through sensitivity and empathy | Les questions politiques par le biais de la sensibilité et de l’empathie.

Interview by | Entretien mené par Bastien Landier (Blog documentaire.fr) 

Image: Alice Diop - © Lou Dangla / Cinema du Reel
Translation from French by Beti Ellerson

[English] Français ci-après

Two recent films, presented in two different festivals, receiving awards the same day... Alice Diop is increasingly establishing herself on the documentary landscape. After La mort de Danton (The Death of Danton) she returns with Towards Tenderness and On Call.  

Le Blog documentaire : Your film On Call is shot in closed sessions in the medical practice of Dr. Gerraert. Why did you choose to show only this setting?

Alice Diop: Actually, it happened quite naturally. I was on location for the preparation of a story about equal access to healthcare and I spent an afternoon in the office of Dr. Gerraert. I was completely captivated by what was happening in this place, by the faces of his patients. For me, it was never a question of being elsewhere than in this place, it arose quite naturally as it was the only possible filming location. This is a film about the pain of exile, but it is told through the contemplation of the faces of these men. What grabbed me when I started working on this subject was the images of these undifferentiated and anonymous masses who flock to our doors. While initially, this image was not negative in its intent, it produced something that can be experienced as threatening. For me it was important to put faces, to put names and specific stories on what is often treated as an all-encompassing problem.

What place is the viewer situated in your film? What do you want to convey as message?

I'm not trying to convey a message; I am not an activist. What I want is that the viewers work with these faces, with the reality of the lives of those who are presented in this film. I want the political issues to be felt through the sensitivity and empathy that can rise from the exhibition of its faces and its extreme dramatic stories. These men that I have filmed, they are the men who we all pass by on the streets without necessarily seeing them, they are the Bengali street vendors of flowers, or who sell chestnuts at the entrance of the metro. For me it is important to give them a face, give them flesh and a body; that is what I want the viewer to experience while watching my film.

In this film, we see that there is a majority of men and very few women... Why did you choose to show the testimony of so many men and very few women?

The choice was not mine, that is the reality. There are many more men who frequent this place than women. At the same time women's stories were often extremely difficult, often related to arduous migratory journeys. They had fled their country and family conflicts where they had been victims of rape. So I was not interested in exposing their faces directly in front of the camera. I did not want to provoke this voyeurism or this sensationalism. This is also why I intuitively filmed them from behind. The stories of the women were so terrible that there was no possible representation, suddenly we found ourselves caught up in the reality of the violence that revealed nothing other than itself. I did not want to expose them in this way and encourage this type of reaction, or fascination.

Regarding the conditions of filming, how did you inhabit the space with your camera? One feels that the place is quite small, quite intimate... How did you define your position?

I explored the space for an entire year before filming. I positioned myself behind the shoulder of Dr. Gerraert and I was drawn in by this contemplation of faces that paraded in and out day after day. Very naturally my filming position was established at this location. The fact that I took the camera, that I filmed these men, was a natural extension of all that work during the year’s exploration. I think there was no other place for me to be. It was very instinctive in fact, for me it was clear that I was going to do a closed session, that I was going to position myself in that space, and that I was not going to change angles in the middle of the medical visit, because what is happening is something extremely fragile and extremely personal.

How was the transition from your presence without the camera and your presence with the camera made? How did the patients react?

The camera was not an intrusion in the sense that it was introduced very slowly, very gradually in this space. After a year, I dared to take some photos and it was these photos that informed me about the power of faces and the need for close-ups. I was less interested in wide shots; I did not want to be in the "social space" of the room, but in this very direct relationship with the personal.  It was a year before I took any photographs and a year and a half before I dared to introduce a camera to film. It was done very slowly. The people welcomed me because there was a kind of tacit agreement between us, and they understood what I was doing. It was a long process because I don’t think that one can film these individuals with their face uncovered, in such an intimate way, if there is no preparation in advance.

This type of framing, with tight close-ups of the faces, is also found in La mort de Danton with the face of Steve Tientch Tientcheu. Is it your individual way of filming, or does it depend on a particular feeling?

It is rather the feeling. I'm quite fascinated by faces. But of the faces of people who tell much more than what one thinks one knows about them. I have never theorised about it, never thought about it, but there is this unity of form from La mort de Danton to On Call and Towards Tenderness.

In La mort de Danton, there are strong contrasts, in terms of the space between the banlieues and the imposing Parisian theatres, in terms of language between rehearsals and moments when Steve converses with you. Is it also a film about rupture?

This is more so a film about the sociology of the journey. The journey from one language to another, from one social class to another, it is about our ability to be able to move about and how it produces violence, conquest, victory, doubts, anguish. In La mort de Danton, Steve does not break; he navigates from one place to another.

In this film, you do a portrait of Steve with a beginning and an end. In On Call, you film a phenomenon that started before you arrive and then continues afterwards. How were you able to extract a story from it?

In On Call, there is no story, in fact. I had a hundred hours of footage for editing. I filmed a lot of individuals who did not necessarily come back, and I could not know in advance which of them I would be able to focus on, as they were walk-in visits without an appointment. I built this film as an architecture between situations that exist in and of themselves, and those that tell something more universal about exile. It is an architecture that intertwines the characters that are seen returning, and that also allows us to establish time. It's very difficult to ascertain time when you're in the same place. This is the permanency of situations, the permanency of things. After them, others will arrive. There is this idea of ​​renewal and the attempt to construct the film as a loop... There is this idea of continuous ​​waves, as a kind of surf.

In La mort de Danton, there are many moments in the film where you are heard speaking, asking questions, talking with Steve, how do you manage the influence you have on the subjects of your film?

In La mort de Danton, I film a relationship; I do not do interviews or journalistic exchanges. This is a conversation in which I give my opinion, it is a give-and-take that we have. Afterwards I think, of course, of the reality that is transformed by the very fact of filming.

For you, must a documentarian assume that her presence will inevitably change the situations that she films?

Yes I think so, because even in On Call where I am not at all present, the fact of posing the camera at this particular place with these particular men creates a highly visible space and a point of focus that they automatically seize upon. Perhaps they said things that they would not have said in this way. I think the presence of the camera and the fact of looking at this camera, to play with it, is a component of the therapeutic process. Being watched and recognised in one’s individuality is in some way a part of the way one cares for another.

For you is there a connection between On Call and La mort de Danton?

The only connection I can make consciously is to give voice to the invisible, to those who do not have loud speakers to the media, to those who we see very little and never hear, and who can sometimes be extremely stigmatized.

Link: Alice Diop: "It is up to us to work on our own complexes" by Olivier Barlet

[Français]
Deux films récents, présentés dans deux festivals différents, et primés le même jour… Une moisson assez remarquable pour que l’on parte enfin à la rencontre d’Alice Diop. La cinéaste s’impose de plus en plus dans le paysage documentaire. Après « La mort de Danton », elle revient donc avec « Vers la tendresse » et « La Permanence ». LIRE l’article en intégralité sur http://leblogdocumentaire.fr/alice-diop-questions-politiques-biais-de-sensibilite-de-lempathie/

24 May 2016

Rahmatou Keïta : ‘The future of cinema is in Africa” | « L’avenir du cinéma est en Afrique »

Rahmatou Keïta : ‘The future of cinema is in Africa” | « L’avenir du cinéma est en Afrique »

Source: KADIDIA.COM. Published | publié 21 05 2016. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson.

Image: KADIDIA.COM

[English] Français ci-après

Cinéaste Rahmatou Keita from Niger, author of a rich internationally acclaimed filmography, attended the Cannes Film Festival to promote her new film "Zin'naariyâ! "(Golden Alliance), which tells the love story of a man and a woman in the heart of Niger's desert.

KADIDIA.COM: Tell us about the preparation of your new film Zìn'naariyâ! ?

Rahmatou Keita: I would first like to specify that it is a film that is one hundred per cent African. I united Africa around this film. It is an African Union film. It was funded entirely by African countries, including Algeria, Niger, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, Morocco and Uganda. It took eight years to find funding, one month for the shooting—as the budget was limited, and a year to do the editing and all the postproduction. It is important to note also that whatever the political orientations of the leaders of these countries that have agreed to finance the film, they are first and foremost advocates for Africa, who are sensitive to those things that are disappearing on the continent.

How did you succeed in convincing these countries to finance your project?

I was able to convince them by highlighting the importance of the image. I emphasised that the advancement of our cultures also involves the image. I am proud that all these countries contributed to making this film happen. Moreover, the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers, which brings together all of the diverse associations of African filmmakers and the Diaspora, is creating, with the African Union, an African film fund, in order to provide financing for projects. I think it will go into effect in two or three years.

Can you tell us more about the love story that takes place in your film?

It's a love story that takes place in the Sahel, in the Niger Sultanate of Damagarau built in the 11th century. The film is set in a beautiful location, with very beautiful architecture, as Niger is also characterised by ancient cities. I relate a Fulani love story in a Hausa State from a Sonrhay perspective. These are people from a very discreet culture. So I tell this story with great modesty. It's a love story with all of these cultural codes. Through this film, I also relate things that are in the process of disappearing in African cultures because the West is a steamroller that imposes its way of life on the world. In reality, behind this film, there is the desire to preserve the cultures and lifestyles of these men and women. If all this dies, the world also dies because it has been inspired a great deal by African cultures.

Could you explain…?

The West wants to standardise the world, shape it in its own way. If the West destroys African cultures, it will die also because it will have nothing to feed itself. Take computer language, it was drawn from the pygmies’ method of a binary numeral system. But today pygmies are disappearing due to the deforestation that is destroying their way of life.

Why is it important to participate in preserving the cultures of Africa?

I think there is something to be done for all of these endangered cultures. As for me, I am playing a role in my own survival because it is these cultures that have nurtured me and it is with them that I can nourish my children. My films are my testimony to the world. What good will it do to imitate other cinemas when we have so much to tell about Africa? The future of cinema is in Africa. The future is in Africa. Everyone goes to Africa and Africans themselves are fleeing Africa. There is something amiss. It is through cinema that Africans must show what they are. It's always someone else who shows who they are; it does not make sense. Africans have survived despite the tragedies, invasions and a great deal of climatic damage. Peoples have disappeared for less than that. Africans have spirituality, strength and energy that have enabled them to overcome many misfortunes. It is up to them to reveal who they really are.

[Français]
La cinéaste nigérienne Rahmatou Keïta, auteur d’une riche filmographie saluée, à l’international, est actuellement au Festival de Cannes pour la promotion son nouveau film « Zin’naariyâ ! » (Alliance d’or), qui raconte l’histoire d’amour d’un homme et d’une femme au cœur du désert nigérien. Contactée par téléphone, elle revient sur la genèse de son nouveau long métrage de 90 minutes.

Même si le Festival de Cannes est loin d’être de tout repos, d’autant qu’elle doit faire la promotion de son nouveau long métrage, trouver des distributeurs et des vendeurs, Rahmatou Keïta ne semble jamais fatiguée. Au contraire. Elle parait en pleine forme. Ses conversations sont d’ailleurs souvent entrecoupées d’éclats de rire. Au bout du fil, de sa voix qui chantonne et porte, elle peut vous parler pendant des heures de sa passion pour le cinéma. Mais ce qui intéresse avant tout cette ancienne journaliste de France 2France InterFrance 5, primée plusieurs fois pour son travail, c’est de raconter des histoires dont personne ne parle, notamment sur le continent africain. Au fil du temps, elle laisse de côté peu à peu le journalisme. Non pas qu’elle boude sa profession, mais tout simplement parce que la passion du cinéma finit par la rattraper. Comme si les pièces du puzzle s’étaient assemblées naturellement pour cette auteure de nombreux longs reportages et documentaires. « Je dis toujours que mon métier c’est le journalisme et le cinéma ma passion », aime-t-elle dire. Aujourd’hui, elle n’a pas moins de huit films à son actif : Djassaree, 1997 : Femmes d’Afrique, Le Nerf de la douleur, Une journée à l’école Gustave-Doré, Les États généraux de la psychanalyse, Al’lèèssi… une actrice africaine, JIN’NAARIYA! et le désormais Zìn’naariyâ! qu’elle compte bien défendre de toutes ses forces. LIRE l’article en intégralité sur http://www.kadidia.com/rahmatou-keita-lavenir-du-cinema-est-en-afrique

23 May 2016

Call for African filmmakers to submit proposals for the Al Jazeera-Encounters Pitching Forum - Johannesburg, 11 June 2016

For Immediate Use

The Encounters South African International Documentary Festival, in partnership with Al Jazeera, is calling African filmmakers to submit proposals for the Al Jazeera-Encounters Pitching Forum taking place in Johannesburg on Saturday, 11 June 2016. The deadline is this Friday, 27 May 2016

A maximum of 12 African filmmakers will be selected to pitch to Aloke Devichand, a senior commissioning producer in the documentaries department at Al Jazeera English. 

Devichand focuses on the channel’s flagship character-led strand, Witness. Before this he helped launch a short docs strand for Al Jazeera’s digital startup, AJ+, which has become one of the world’s largest social media video publishers. Previously Aloke worked for CNN International, and for production companies making films for the BBC and Channel 4. He holds a BSc in Management from the London School of Economics and an MSc in International Public Policy from University College London.

The call is open to projects at any stage of development or production. Each selected filmmaker will have a maximum of seven minutes to pitch their film, with an additional seven minutes allocated for feedback and questions from Devichand.  

Projection equipment will be provided for those that have DVDs or other visual presentations to augment their pitch. Selected applicants who cannot attend will be able to participate via Skype.

The pitching forum has been highly successful in creating opportunities for filmmakers. Last year Al Jazeera commissioned two one-hour documentaries from projects at the forum.

Submission Details
Interested parties should send not more than:
- A one-page synopsis of their film
- A one-page biography of the filmmaker and producer, including complete contact details (Skype contact, telephone number, city of residence, home and work addresses) 
- One page of further background information and/or visual treatment of the subject. 
- Links to previous works and promo of proposal, if available.
- Any submissions that do not follow the strict page limitations will be disqualified.

Email this to pa@encounters.co.za with Al Jazeera Pitching Forum in the subject line. 
Submission deadline: On or before 4pm (South African time), this Friday, 27 May 2016.

About Pitching To Witness
Witness is an immersive, character-led strand on Al Jazeera English with a focus on observational, visual storytelling.

The strand has one-hour and half-hour slots each week. The former are usually acquired or co-productions, while the latter are normally commissioned projects.

Witness looks for the following elements in their half-hour commissions:
- A strong central character/s who ‘owns’ the film and tells their own story
- A specific journey that the character/s are on with the potential to capture an unfolding narrative, compelling storylines and a sense of transformation
- Actuality-driven narrative style with well-shot observational scenes and confidently crafted sequences
- Few or no formal sit-down interviews. We prefer ‘in-situation’ interviews filmed while characters are immersed in the events driving the film
- Films that are character-driven, rather than issue-driven, but still have a current affairs theme as a backdrop. We aim to provide depth and context to topical issues through the lived experiences of the characters
- Docs that have a timeless quality and therefore are usually not built around fast changing news events

See http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/witness/  to gain a sense of the Al Jazeera Witness documentary style. 

About Documentaries, Series & Stand-alone Films
- There are non-strand slots for series and stand-alone documentaries of half hour and hour durations which are commissioned, acquired or co-produced. These documentaries should be by, about and from a range of people, places and perspectives, challenge dominant views and seek to reflect the human experiences and stories behind current affairs in our docs.

About Investigative Programmes
- There are also weekly strands which commission ‘reportage’ - journalist-led investigative programmes, like People & Power and occasionally Africa Investigates.

About Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera English is an international news channel, with over sixty bureaux spanning six different continents. Established in 2006, it has continued to grow in reach and popularity due to its global coverage, especially from under-reported regions. The channel currently broadcasts to over 250m households across 130 countries. Its in-depth approach to journalism has won numerous awards and plaudits over the years, including RTS News Channel of the Year 2012, Freesat Best News Channel, the Columbia Journalism Award, a DuPont award, and a George Polk award.


Al Jazeera is one of the world’s leading media corporations, encompassing news, documentary and sport channels. It was the first independent news channel in the Arab world dedicated to covering and uncovering stories in the region. It is now a media network consisting of over 20 channels – Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera Balkans, Al Jazeera Sport, Al Jazeera Mubasher, Al Jazeera Documentary, the Al Jazeera Media Training and Development Center, and the Al Jazeera Center for Studies. For more information, visit www.aljazeera.com

Cannes 2016: Houda Benyamina - "Divines", la Caméra d'or

Cannes 2016: Houda Benyamina - "Divines", la Caméra d'or

Source: Festival Cannes 

The film Divines by French-Moroccan Houda Benyamina, awarded the Caméra d’or for the best first film

Le film "Divines" de la franco-marocaine Houda Benyamina a remporté la Caméra d'or pour le meilleur premier film

Synopsis

[English]
In a suburb where trafficking and religion run side by side, Dounia is eager for power and success. Supported by Maimouna, her best friend, she decides to follow in the footsteps of Rebecca, a respected dealer. But when Dounia meets Djigui, a young sensuous dancer, her daily life is disrupted.

[Français]
Dans une banlieue où se côtoient trafics et religion, Dounia a soif de pouvoir et de réussite. Soutenue par Maimouna, sa meilleure amie, elle décide de suivre les traces de Rebecca, une dealeuse respectée. Sa rencontre avec Djigui, un jeune danseur troublant de sensualité, va bouleverser sa vie.

21 May 2016

Joyce Osei Owusu - Ghanaian Women and Film: An Examination of Female Representation and Audience Reception

Joyce Osei Owusu - Ghanaian Women and Film: An Examination of Female Representation and Audience Reception

Dr. Joyce Osei Owusu, congratulations again on the successful defence in November 2015 of your doctoral thesis “Ghanaian Women and Film: An Examination of Female Representation and Audience Reception”. Just to imagine that we met in 2011 when you contacted me to tell me that you were doing your doctoral research on women filmmakers in Ghana at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia! In fact later that year we had an interview that appears on the African Women in Cinema Blog to talk about your doctoral studies. Actually, I have had an opportunity to read your PhD thesis, and so in this conversation I would like for you to talk about the experiences that you had from 2011 until the present.

Perhaps begin by telling us a bit about your project and why you chose the subject.

Thank you very much Beti for inspiring me in the area of Ghanaian/African women in cinema studies. It has always been a pleasure to interact with you. My PhD research was borne out of my desire to do further research on women in filmmaking in Ghana. After my MA research on Ghanaian women filmmaking which sought to understand how female filmmakers particularly Shirley Frimpong-Manso concretised her efforts to tell stories and present images of women shaped by values she highly endorsed; and also analysed how a group of female audiences read the female representations in her first two films: Life and Living It and Scorned, I became fully aware of the dearth of literature and critical studies on women in filmmaking in the country and so I set out to help fill the gap. 

While my MA study purposely also focused on defining the characteristics of ‘positive’ or progressive visual representation of women by women, my PhD study relatively took a broader focus. The project explored the filmmaking practices of both local and diaspora Ghanaian female directors and their contributions to the Ghanaian film industry and culture including their representations of societal issues, and also investigated audience reading of their films. Specifically, it focused on three women: Veronica Quarshie and Shirley Frimpong-Manso (based in Ghana), as well as Leila Djansi (based in the diaspora), with a specific aim of delving into their biographical backgrounds, and the political economic conditions under which they work, and how those influence their film practices. Another interest of the study was to understand the representational strategies the women employed to highlight women and women’s issues in selected films (The Forbidden Fruit – Quarshie, The Perfect Picture – Frimpong-Manso, and Ties that Bind – Djansi). It also examined a group of male and female audiences’ interpretations of the portrayals of women and women’s issues in the selected films.  

Using a number of theories which included postcolonial feminist, African feminist, transnational film and encoding and decoding theories, the central findings of the study were: (1) Even though the female directors deal with similar themes; the political economic conditions, their individual sensibilities, concerns and interests have great impact on the way they portray and redefine postcolonial women’s experiences; (2) Despite working in a commercial environment where films are populated with misogynistic and stereotypical images of women, the three women directors depict female characters who challenge societal structures and strictures and personal barriers that constrain women to redefine female independence, social justice, and gender equality on the big screen; (3) The male audience participants overall were largely welcoming of progressive change in women’s situations, and they supported women’s freedom even at the expense of male privilege. The female participants, on the other hand, were more approving of women asserting themselves through acceptable social conducts, though they strongly believed in achieving women’s independence in a just manner.

What did you discover in your process that you did not anticipate during your research proposal stage?

I discovered a number of issues that I had not anticipated earlier before embarking on the actual research process. First, during the proposal stage I aimed to focus on four women feature film directors, but before I set out to collect data I moved away from that initial plan to include women making documentary films to capture the diverse modes of presentation. This again changed when I had to define a scope that was acceptable to the research I was undertaking at the PhD level and so I had to narrow it down to three feature filmmakers. The actual truth is that my research review committee felt I had too much information and it was best to narrow the focus. In view of these, I would say I did not anticipate that what I had initially planned would change. Through this experience, I also discovered that it could take time to finally find a focus for a study. Indeed, my knowledge about the intricacies of research processes was transformed, but one pleasant discovery I made was learning that there are more women involved in filmmaking than I had anticipated. Through interviews, the Internet, and a snowball approach, I encountered women filmmakers whom I had never heard off or had the chance to meet or view their works.
    
I know for me during these past five years I have witnessed an incredible presence of African women of the screen thanks to social media in all its diverse platforms. Have you found this to be the case as well? In fact we met on Facebook in 2011 and have been communicating ever since. How, if any did social media impact your research process and methodology?

Social media played a very important role during and after my research process. To an extent, it opened my eyes and changed my perception about Ghanaian women’s underrepresentation in filmmaking, and it partly informed the way I sometimes discovered and collected data for my research. My claim that there are more Ghanaian women involved in filmmaking both in Ghana and in the diaspora than I had thought initially is partly informed by their visibility on social media. In fact, our 2011 Facebook meeting actually set the ball rolling. Through African Women in Cinema Blog, I discovered several women filmmakers such as Yaba Badoe, Akosua Adoma Owusu, Sam Kessie, Akua Ofosuhene, Amma Asante, Frances Bodomo, Jacqueline Nsiah, Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Priscilla Yawa Anany, and a host of others some of whom I have had the chance to meet, connect to, interview and/or followed on other platforms. Social media deeply aided my understanding of Ghanaian and other women’s works, their filmmaking careers and journeys, their challenges, and remarkably their achievements. Generally, I would say the Internet was instrumental because with a click of a button, trailers, full movies, and paratextual materials on the women and their works were made accessible. This experience is on going.

I have heard about Efua Sutherland as a pioneer in African cinema but beyond the description of her film production Araba: The Village Story (1966) that is often cited, there appears to be very little documentation. Would you know whether Araba is available for viewing and whether the specifics of her as it relates to her role is actually known? It would be of great value to finally get more particulars about her role as a pioneer in
Ghanaian "cinema". When I participated in the African Women's Film Forum in Ghana in 2013, I was surprised at the dearth of information known about her role and her work among Ghanaians.

Sutherland successfully established herself as a dramatist and a scholar in the arts. Her invaluable contribution to the Ghana national theatre movement is well documented, but information on her pioneering filmmaking engagement still remains obscure. The film seems to have disappeared and at this point the little we know are the facts that her docudrama Araba: the Village Story (1967) tells its story from the perspective of a young Tuesday born girl, Araba (played by Naana Nketia); it is set in the village of Atwia in the Central Region of Ghana, which was one of Sutherland's primary oral tradition research sites; and notably it has been internationally acclaimed to be a pioneering model for contemporary popular theatre for development. Apart from the fact that Sutherland collaborated with the U.S. network ABC to make the film, the specific role she played is yet to be uncovered.

During my field work in 2013, I interviewed key family members and colleagues who worked closely with Sutherland, but I did not uncover much about the film. I have been in close contact with some of the people I interviewed and recently through a follow-up, I learned new information. I gathered that the ABC team that worked on the project included an exceptional woman, Merle Worth. At this point there are no leads to her whereabouts. I have discovered Merle Worth worked as an editor on the documentary film East Meets West (now re-titled Raga), which was directed by the American director Howard Worth. I have also learned that Howard in the 1960s worked on a lot of ABC projects in Sub-Sahara Africa. This was the period Araba was made. Hence, currently, I am making efforts to contact Howard to see what more we can learn.

You focus your research on Veronica Quarshie, Shirley Frimpong-Manso and Leila Djansi. Talk about your scope of study, your choice of these three and how they are representative of the many other Ghanaian women of the screen.

Due to the constraints of space and time the study focused on the three female directors: Veronica Quarshie, Shirley Frimpong-Manso, and Leila Djansi based on the following criteria: (1) they had prioritised women and women’s issues in their films; (2) their films were accessible; (3) they had made feature films; and (4) they were ready to make themselves available for the study. By selecting these three women, I was not suggesting they were the only Ghanaian female film directors whose films are committed to telling female stories, but in order to carry out a project that was feasible, I unavoidably had to limit the number. It is important to add that they were easily accessible. Since the scope of the study was limited, it did not claim to be exhaustive and the findings that were reported were not intended for generalisation.

That notwithstanding, with the selection I made, I attempted to reflect three interrelated paradigms with regard to the time the women entered filmmaking. The selection covered a time span from when Ghanaian women began establishing themselves as feature filmmakers to the present – precisely from 1992 to the present. The first Ghanaian female video filmmaker Veronica Cudjoe released her film Suzzy in 1992; however, she did not have a sustained career in filmmaking but rather television. Veronica Quarshie whom I selected commenced her career in 1992-1993. Shirley Frimpong-Manso and Leila Djansi’s professional filmmaking engagements have evolved since the second half of the 2000s to the present, a period in which the Ghanaian video movie industry made a shift from producing movies using analogue technology to producing movies using digital technology and engaged in transnational productions. It is important to point out that the selection of local and diaspora Ghanaian female directors across what I have called first and second generation video/digital filmmakers demonstrates the quintessential multiplicity of Ghanaian women’s filmmaking, which is also the case for women on the African continent and elsewhere. Finally, the selection was also to reflect the different production lenses and cinematic distinctions between Ghanaian female filmmakers in the homeland and diaspora.

I observe a blurring of corporeal, sartorial and language practices in the work of Africans and those of the African global diaspora, a phenomenon that comes from the flow, exchange and influences of what I describe as a western-normative gaze. Would you say this blurring exists as well among Ghanaians and Ghanaians of the diaspora?

Yes, it exists in the works of the Ghanaian/Ghanaian diaspora female filmmakers I studied. Many times, African or Ghanaian cultural representations influenced by a ‘western-normative gaze’ are contested and resisted because it is believed such depictions are not authentic and they implicitly reinforce western supremacy. However, my study tacitly suggests that through such blurring and representations, the filmmakers redefine African womanhood and female empowerment. By such fusion, they portray women who actively participate in the global – thus, the women move beyond the public and domestic. Again, through those hybrids the female characters are able to explore new forms of identities and spaces. I found that Frimpong-Manso, for instance, promotes a sense of fashion that is hybrid when she presents in her movies authentic Ghanaian/African textiles like GTP Nuystyle and Woodin which have been designed into formal and informal wear, bags, hair accessories, rosettes, and hats. In a personal interview, she stated that this gesture is her way of supporting the idea that the traditional Ghanaian or African fabric is as good for funerals as it is for corporate board meetings. My argument is that by presenting such designs (African fabric in western cuts), the filmmaker does not only combine the South with the West, but she also uses such fashion trends as exclusive sites to allow a deeper understanding of the contemporary empowered African women in a postcolonial globalised space.

In your research, you examine Ghanaian women’s transnational filmmaking engagements. African cinemas have been transnational since the beginnings of African cinematic practice, when Paulin Soumanou Vieyra and his group of African students made the film Afrique sur Seine (1955). The title appears to be paradoxical, and yet it reflects the early practices of African transnational cinema. Talk about what you describe as transnational filmmaking engagements among Ghanaian women.

The practice of transnational filmmaking and its varying phases is an upshot of globalisation. Hence, the transnational filmmaking engagements as practised by the Ghanaian women are not different from transnational cinematic practices found in Africa or in other places. Much as the study, in an instance, focused on how the locally specific story and some of the issues as well as narrative characteristics transcend national borders, the transnational dimensions discussed in the women’s work centred on contextual determinants in relation to issues of production such as sources of funding, modes of production, location, distribution, exhibition, casting, and the diverse backgrounds and nationalities of the professionals involved in the productions. 

There were varying levels of cinematic transnationalism found in the women’s work. For example, I discussed Veronica Quarshie’s transnational practice that involves her work with a Nigerian producer. There are traces of transnational practices with regard to content, casting, distribution, and exhibition in the works of Shirley Frimpong-Manso. For Leila Djansi, because of the transnational space she occupies (lives in the diaspora and works in the diaspora and the homeland); her independent films are often made in a transnational mode. Thus, the diaspora and/or the homeland form the backdrop to her films. By working at the interstices of the local and diaspora, her films are funded by an independent studio and through what Hamid Naficy calls “mixed economies”, and they have been distributed and exhibited internationally. The cast and crew she works with originate from diverse nationalities. Certainly, her productions are not just transnationally made, but also her work inherently fictionalises some vestiges of Africa’s past, evokes personal and familial experiences as well as presents issues both in her home and/or host countries that affect humanity particularly women.

In your observation, what role has digital technology and the emergence of the video movie played in the evolution of a Ghanaian-women-of-the-screen practice? Here I am including the myriad screen media that go beyond the traditional definitions of “cinema”—web series, digital storytelling, transmedia…

The video film culture that emerged in Ghana in the late 1980s paved the way for women filmmakers based in Ghana to emerge as producers and directors. Prior to this period women who worked with the GFIC rose through the ranks to become producers, but they did not produce or direct a film. While the first pioneering students who graduated from the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI) in 1981 included two women, women moving into key production positions began after 11 odd years. Veronica Cudjoe, a pioneering graduate who worked as a television drama producer/director with the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), in an interview explained that the availability of video technology, its affordability, the video films made at the time, and the experience using the technology for her television productions prompted her to produce and direct her debut video feature, Suzzy and its sequel Suzzy II. After Cudjoe, women such as Hajia Hawa Meizongo, Afi Yakubu, Veronica Quarshie, Cecilia Oppon-Badu, Nana Ama Boateng, Ellen Anim Mensah, Josephine Anim, Nana Akua Frimpomaa, and Vera Mensah Bediako among others emerged in the 1990s as directors and/or producers. As much as some of these women did not sustain careers in filmmaking, their evolution was phenomenal.

In spite of all the challenges that plagued the Ghanaian film industry in the 2000s, the introduction of digital technology and other technological innovations boosted Ghanaian-women-of-the-screen practice. By 2007, Shirley Frimpong-Manso was at the forefront of this phase releasing her debut feature film Life and Living It and Leila Djansi contributed with her transnational practice, which saw the release of her debut I Sing of a Well. In recent times, producers and/or directors such as Kafui Danku, Yvonne Nelson, Yvonne Okoro, Juliet Ibrahim, Zynell Zuh, Kafui Dzivenu, Nadia Buari, Barbara Anakwa, Lydia Forson, Alberta Hukporti and Priscilla Yawa Anany among others have made feature films. Technological advancements continue to create new opportunities for more women and revitalise the kinds of films they make, the way they make them, and the mode in which they distribute and exhibit such films. To give a couple of examples, Juliet Asante’s MobileFliks Movies and Nicole Amarteifio’s web-series are significant.

Using your own example and research process, talk a bit about the importance of African women’s voice in film criticism, research and scholarship.

African women on the continent and in the diaspora are diversely projecting women’s issues, increasingly creating a female consciousness, and are involved in many aspects of production, promotion, circulation and consumption. I believe the African woman filmmaker’s visibility in academic scholarship and research is gradually taking shape and evolving. As theories, conceptual frameworks as well as methodologies in African women in cinema studies are being formulated, it is imperative that African women’s voices contribute in the establishment of such theorisations and discourses. I embrace African women’s voice in film criticism that emanates from the continent and the diaspora because our various realities, experiences, knowledge of Africa and/or the diaspora as well as our position as insiders will enhance the scope and insight of African women’s cinema criticism.

Next steps? Future goals?

Currently, I teach at the School of Performing Arts, University of Ghana. My passion to learn about women cultural producers has grown. Hence, as an early career researcher, my goal is to build up a research profile in the field of Ghanaian media studies, with publications and conference papers particularly in specific areas of research interest which include: gender representation in film and other media forms, women in filmmaking and other media productions, the politics of women’s creativity, as well as audience reception of women’s works. I have an interest in genre studies, so I have begun exploring that area particularly in relation to women’s films. There are also plans to have my thesis published into a book in the future.

Interview with Joyce Osei Owusu by Beti Ellerson, May 2016

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