As the excitement around the Cannes Film Festival reaches its peak, what a great occasion to highlight the history of African women in cinema at the festival. In his report on the African presence at Cannes, French critic Michel Amarger notes the visibility of Africa at the very first Cannes Festival in 1946 with representation from Egypt, for the film Daria by Mohamed Karim. Following African independences in the 1960s an African cinema by Africans emerged--reflected at Cannes with a spurt of films during that decade, including: Lamb (Senegalese Wrestling--National Sport of Senegal) by Paulin Viera of Senegal in the Official Selection in 1964. In 1966, also from Senegal, La Noire de…by Ousmane Sembene was selected in the Semaine de la Critique /International Critics’ Week, a parallel section of the Festival created in 1962: “Historically, International Critics’ Week is the first “parallel” section of the Cannes Film Festival. It has steadfastly remained true to its tradition of discovering new talents. Critics’ Week was conceived by the French Union of Film Critics…to showcase first and second feature films by directors from all over the world.” In 1969, also in La Semaine de la Critique were Cabascabo by Oumarou Ganda of Niger and La Voie by Algerian Mohamed Slim Ryad.
Women followed in the 1970s with the selection of Monangambee in 1971 by Sarah Maldoror for the country Angola in the Quinzaine de Realisateur/Directors’ Fortnight. This parallel section created in 1968, “is distinguished by the independent judgment displayed in the choice of films, the “cinéphile” standards and the accessibility to non-professional audiences at the festival. In fact, the Directors’ Fortnight is the non-competitive program at Cannes that is open to the general public.” In 1976, the film Peasant Letter by Senegalese Safi Faye, was screened; and in 1979, her film Fad’jal was selected in A Certain Regard, a part of the Official Selection introduced in 1978. At the 40th Cannes Film Festival in 1987, the “Panorama du Cinéma Sud-Africain Independant” was a first-time programming of South African independent films, featuring anti-apartheid themes by progressive South Africans. Films by women included in this category were: Last Supper at Hortsley Street by Lindy Wilson and Re tla bona, (We will see) and Sharpevelle Spirit by Elaine Proctor.
Fast forward to 1994, Les Silences du palais by Moufida Tlatli of Tunisia is selected in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. In 1996, Senegalese Safi Faye returns on the Croisette with Mossane in Un Certain Regard, while British filmmaker Ingrid Sinclair, who also has Zimbabwean citizenship, presents Flame in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. The first decade of the 2000s continues to show an African women’s presence at Cannes. In 2002 Rachida by Algerian Yamina Bachir-Chouikh is selected in Un Certain Regard. In 2005, the film Sisters in Law, co-directed by British filmmaker Kim Longinotto and Cameroonian Florence Ayisi, wins the Prix Art & Essai (CICAE) in the Quinzaine des réalisateurs. Also in 2005, Rahmatou Keïta of Niger presents her film Al’leessi…an African Actress, selected in the Cannes Classics. A sidebar of the festival, the Cannes Classics “celebrates the heritage of film, aiming to highlight works of the past, presented with brand new or restored prints.” The selection of Al’leesi is appropriate as it highlights the legacy of early filmmaking in Niger, which had been all but forgotten.
At the 61st Cannes Film Festival in 2008, Comorian Hachimiya Ahamada presents La résidence Ylang Ylang in La Semaine de la Critique. Djamila Sahraoui was also present, invited by ACID (Association du Cinema Independant pour sa Diffusion) to present her film, Barakat. ACID "presents nine films at Cannes during the festival. Most of them do not have a distributor. The aim is to give visibility and public release to new talent.” Also during the festival, the Pavillon Les Cinémas du Sud/Cinemas of the South (renamed Cinemas du Monde/Cinemas of the World) gave homage to women in cinema of the South. Les Cinemas du Monde, “welcome[s] all filmmakers, from wherever they may come, and all films, without frontiers, and to give them recognition and support.” As well as providing a space to screen their films, two roundtables were organized to discuss relevant issues. The first roundtable highlighted the cinematic journey of three "emblematic" women: Moufida Tlatli of Tunisia, Ingrid Sinclair of Zimbabwe and Nadine Labaki of Lebanon. The second roundtable brought together filmmakers, producers and actresses from Africa, Brazil, Iran and Iraq to discuss the theme: “Cinema and engagement: a feminist, artistic and/or political engagement?" The invited participants included:
Rakhsan Bani Etemad - filmmaker (Iran)
Tan Chui Mui - filmmaker (Malaysia)
Fatoumata Coulibaly - actress (Mali)
Angèle Diabang Brener - filmmaker (Senegal)
Fatoumata Diawara - actress (Mali)
Mati Diop - filmmaker (Senegal)
Taghreed Elsanhouri - filmmaker (Sudan)
Dyana Gaye - filmmaker (Senegal)
Marianne Khoury - producer (Egypt)
Nadine Labaki - filmmaker (Lebanon)
Osvalde Lewat - filmmaker (Cameroon)
Angie Mills - producer (South Africa)
Teona S. Mitevska - filmmaker (Macedonia)
Lucia Murat - filmmaker (Brazil)
Awatif Na'eem - actress (Iraq)
Joséphine Ndagnou - filmmaker (Cameroon)
Bridget Pickering - producer (Namibia)
Hend Sabry - actress (Tunisia)
Naky Sy Savané - actress (Côte d'Ivoire)
Ingrid Sinclair - filmmaker (Zimbabwe)
Rahel Tewelde - filmmaker (Erythrea)
Moufida Tlatli - filmmaker (Tunisia)
Ishtar Yasin - filmmaker (Costa Rica)
At the 62nd Cannes Film Festival in 2009, three women from Africa are invited at the Pavillon des Cinemas du Monde: Tunisian Nadia el Fani, Marie Ka of Senegal and Algerian Djamila Sahraoui—to discuss their films. Nadia el Fani is invited to present Ouled Lenine at the Marché du Film; Didi and Gigi by Marie Ka is showing in the Short Films Corner; and Djamila Sahraoui discusses Ouardia Once Had Sons, a project under development.
Report by Beti Ellerson