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.

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