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.

26 March 2009

African Women in Professional Film Organizations: FEPACI

FEPACI, the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers marks its 40th anniversary in 2009. Like the FESPACO, the Pan-African Film Festival, which was featured in the 19 March 2009 post, FEPACI, was created in 1969--initially under the name, the Pan-African Union of Filmmakers. Founded in Algiers, Algeria, its objective is to facilitate in the reflection of a politics of development, with a cultural lens and a specifically cinematic focus. According to the former General Secretary, Gaston Kaboré of Burkina Faso (1985-1997), the founders of FEPACI saw the federation "as a means to emphasize to those in the political and cultural arena that it has been through the image that neocolonialism has been able to continue in Africa." During FEPACI conferences African filmmakers meet to discuss, debate and assess the myriad interests, objectives, problems and needs of African cinema.

After a nine-year hiatus, due to internal problems, FEPACI was restructured in 2006 to meet the needs of the 21st century, passing the torch to Seipati Bulane-Hopa of South Africa. While she is the first woman in its history to hold the post, the pan-African filmmaking infrastructure has featured women prominently from its beginnings. Alimata Salambéré and Odette Sanogoh, both from Burkina Faso, were founding members of FESPACO. In my 1997 interview, Kenyan filmmaker Anne Mungai raised concern regarding the domination of men in the upper ranks of the African filmmaking infrastructure. She discussed these issues at the 1989 FEPACI meeting in this way: "FEPACI has always had regional secretaries and they have always been men. Though we are both men and women, each time we come here as filmmakers, the issue of cinema is addressed as though there are just men alone." She recalls that one of the objectives of the historic women's caucus held at the 1991 FESPACO was to give African women a voice.

The 2006 African Film Summit in South Africa showed a different face from the experiences Mungai describes at the 1989 meeting. Women were present everywhere. Their voices were heard, their faces highly visible among the 250 invited delegates. A woman's caucus was held prior to the vote for the new Secretary General in order to choose with a unified voice, a woman for nomination. Seipati Bulane-Hopa was elected with thunderous applause. Some three years later she is satisfied with the contributions that she has made, though she laments that the problems that have crippled FEPACI before she took office continue to exist. In this case one notes, that gender aside, leading an organization of the scope, size and needs such as FEPACI, is a formidable undertaking.

Related link: FEPACI Film Blog

19 March 2009

African Women at Film Festivals

Drawing on momentum of the 2009 21st Edition of FESPACO, the largest film festival of African cinema held biennially in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, this is the occasion to highlight the Pan-African Film Festival and other important venues for the celebration and viewing of African cinema. To underscore the presence of women at the very beginning of this historic festival, it is worth noting that Alimata Salembéré of Burkina Faso was one of the founding members and president of the organizing committee of the first festival in 1969; she also served as the General Secretary of the festival from 1982 to 1984. Now in 2009, the Festival fêted the 40th anniversary of its inception from 28 February to 7 March. The top award, the Golden Yennenga Stallion, is a statuette depicting, astride a horse, the Princess Yennenga, the legendary Mossi warrior and founder of the empire. To date, a woman has not been bestowed this honor. Nonetheless, women have a high visibility at the festival, as their films are included in the various categories. On the other hand women have not had a prolific showing of their work since 1997. In the feature film category alone, which competes for the Etalon d’or de Yennenga, the Golden Yennenga Stallion, there were four films by women, all with 1996 release dates: the debut film, Everyone’s Child by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), Miel et Cendres by Nadia Farès (Egypt), Mossane by Safi Faye (Senegal), and Flame by Ingrid Sinclair (Zimbabwe). (Historically, since their emergence in the 1970’s, African women have been more visible in the documentary genre. Therefore it is not surprising that there is a dearth of works in the feature film genre. Moreover, this is an international trend, as women in general do not hold the positions of director). The next year, in 1998 the Festival international de film de femmes/International Women's Film Festival at Créteil in France, had an impressive platform devoted to Africa.

Even before the 1997 FESPACO, the festival devoted a platform to women during the 12th edition in 1991 under the title "Women, Cinema, Television and Video in Africa." The meeting brought together fifty women from more than fifteen countries chaired by Senegalese Annette M'Baye d'Erneville, a veteran in the field of communications in Africa, founder of RECIDAK (Rencontres Cinématographiques de Dakar) and director of Consortium de communications audiovisuelles en Afrique (CCA) in Senegal. Two years before in 1989, the Montreal-based film festival Vues d'Afrique organized a special section devoted to African women in the visual media.  The program consisted of: a screening of short and feature length films, television shows, and video programs produced and directed by African women; a discussion of the on-screen image of women and the influence of the media; a colloquium on the role of African women in the audiovisual media which included a survey of the participants' assessment of the current situation and their recommendations. On the African continent, three years later in 1992, the Zimbabwe-based Africa Women Filmmakers Trust was formed.

The prolific activity of the 1990s was an indicator of the increased interest and visibility of African women in cinema both on the continent and internationally that followed, ushering in the creation of film festivals and organizations such as South Africa-based Women of the Sun, launched in 2000. This initiative brought about several other South African projects including the African Women Filmmakers Awards in 2003 and the African Women Film Festival in 2004.  The Zimbabwe-based Zimmedia, initiated the Mama Africa Project, completed in 2001. The three-year project promoted the scriptmaking and production of films by women. Another initiative coming out of Zimbabwe is the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF) founded by Tsitsi Dangarembga in 2002. Other international festivals include the London-based, Images of Black Women Film Festival created in 2005.

African women film festival organizers have also positioned themselves as important players in the industry. Namibian producer and filmmaker Bridget Pickering and Sierra Leoneon Mahen Bonetti are pioneers in this domain. In 1992, Pickering launched the Pan African Film Festival of Namibia; while a year later in 1993, Bonetti created the New York African Film Festival, featuring as guest filmmaker, Ousmane Sembene, of beloved memory, who, to use Bonetti's words, “gave his blessing”.  In 1998, actress and film professional Hanny Tchelley from Cote d’Ivoire, inaugurated the Festival International du Court Metrage d’Abidjan-FICA (the International Festival of Short Films of Abidjan). In 2008, the festival celebrated its 10 anniversary with a fete and the launching of a blog.

Related links on the African Women in Cinema Blog

13 March 2009

Commemorating Women's History Month

In commemoration of International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, and in honor of Women’s History Month, celebrated during the month of March (in the US), the blog will feature noted films—that are available for distribution—by African women.

In the United States, Women Make Movies,  the largest distributor of films by and about women, has a burgeoning collection of films by and about African women. The films by African women are for the most part, short experimental or fiction, or documentary films. The rubric “Africa” includes films by African women, which focus on general topics or issues specific to women, such as, the classic film Selbe and many others by pioneer Safi Faye from Senegal and the acclaimed film Aleessi… by Rahmatou Keita of Niger. There are titles specifically about African women, some of which are directed by women throughout the world.  A recent addition to the collection is the film Nollywood Lady by Dorothee Wenner. A documentary based on the work of Peace Anyiam-Fibresema of Nigeria, which explores the prolific and dynamic video industry in Nigeria dubbed Nollywood. The collection, New Voices on African Studies, includes many of these films, as well as my work Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema. I will devote a discussion about the film in a future post.

California Newsreel, the largest U.S. distributor of African films, has an impressive collection of films by African women, about African women, as well as films featuring African women protagonist. The films are grouped under the rubric: Gender and Women Studies in its Library of African Cinema section. Films by African women include the internationally acclaimed documentaries, Femmes aux yeux ouverts | Women with Open Eyes (1994)  by Paris-based Togolese Anne-Laure Folly, Monday’s Girls (1993) by Ngozi Onwurah of Nigeria who is based in Britain and These Hands (1992) by Tanzanian Flora M’mbugu Schelling who is based in the United States. It is worth mentioning Everyone’s Child (1996), the debut film of internationally renowned writer Tsitsi Dangarembga of Zimbabwe, who, since the mid-1990s includes filmmaking in her repertoire of creative expression. Among the notable films with strong heroines are Finzan (1990) by Cheick Oumar Sissoko of Mali, Flame by British filmmaker Ingrid Sinclair, who has since become a Zimbabwean citizen, the inimitable Hyenas (1992) by the late great Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety and the dazzling Karmen Gei (2001) by Joseph Gaï Ramaka, also from Senegal. The story traces the incredible saga of the first African Carmen.

Artmattan, based in New York, also distributes films from African and the African Diaspora. The collection includes the debut film, Cape Verde My Love (2007) by Cape Verdean Ana Lucia Ramos Lisboa. Also available in the collection are Faraw! Mother of the Dunes (1995)  by Malian Abdoulaye Ascofaré and Sia, the Myth of the Python (2001) by Dany Kouyate of Burkina Faso. Both films feature female heroines. The films of the late Ousmane Sembene, patriarch and recent ancestor of African cinema were part of the collection of the recently defunct New Yorker Films, and are now available commercially on DVD. From the beginning of his career as writer as well as filmmaker, Sembene has called attention to the experiences of African women, such as in the classic films, Black Girl (1966) and Xala (1975), and his chef d’oeuvre and final film, Moolaade (2004).

Mossane (1996), the beautiful film by pioneer Safi Faye, has limited distribution, and regrettably, is not commercially available in the United States. The story is set in the village of Mbissel in Senegal and tells the saga of the eponymous Mossane. Interwoven into the story of a fourteen-year-old girl and the innumerable experiences she faces at that age, is a fictionalized Serer myth that every two hundred years, a girl is destined by her beauty to a tragic fate. Mossane’s remarkable beauty haunts even the Pangool, ancestral spirits of the Serer. In the end, through the arms of Mamanguedj, she is returned to the seashore where the ancestors live, the only place where she may be protected. The French version of Mossane is available with French-subtitles only, distributed by the Paris-based French association, La Médiathèque des Trois Mondes.

Nonetheless, as noted above, African films are more visible in the United States as they become increasingly available through commercial outlets, especially since the emergence of DVD. The availability of The Night of Truth (2004), the first feature film by the prolific Fanta Nacro of Burkina Faso is an example of this trend. Her other films have not had much visibility in the United States due to lack of distribution. The incredible film, The Night of Truth, is a stunning introduction of Fanta Nacro to the U.S. film-goer. While one does not generally associate a woman filmmaker with films of war and violence, The Night of Truth is in memory of her uncle who was murdered in the brutal manner depicted in the film. It is also about two women, wives of the leaders of the two opposing factions—the President of the government in power and the Commander of the rebel army in opposition—who respond very differently, on the night of truth.

09 March 2009

Blogging African Women in Cinema

At the start of my research on African women in cinema in 1996, I asked the question: What is an African woman's vision, her gaze, her way of seeing and visualizing?

I began to explore the interests and desires of African women in front of and behind the camera, both as actor and as filmmaker—as well as other filmmaking professionals, which evolved into the on-going African Women in Cinema Project: the documentary, Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema, the book, Sisters of the Screen: Women of Africa on Film, Video and Television; the Center for the Study and Research on African Women in Cinema and the African Women in Cinema Blog. Others before me have posed similar questions which have informed my own research and work. These questions are still relevant today as an African Women in Cinema Studies emerges, positioning itself within its own space for critical inquiry. The emerging discourse on African Women in Cinema Studies encompasses the films themselves, auto/biographies, film criticism, film analysis, and interdisciplinary approaches at the intersection of culture, development, and political economy. The blog serves as a forum for discussion and sharing of information.

The blog explores themes such as:

• The evolution of African women in cinema
• African women and the cinematic gaze
• African women’s visual imaginary
• The political economy of African women in the moving image
• The filmic representation of African women

The blog follows current events relevant to African women in cinema such as:

• Festivals
• Films in progress
• Announcements for grants and funding
• Call for scripts
• Production related topics
• Academic topics such as conferences, panel discussions, articles and call for papers

And more…