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.