updated March 2019
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.
As part of the Cannes Classics 2011, Sugar Cane Alley (1983) was screened as a special tribute to Martinican filmmaker Euzhan Palcy. In addition, Chika Anadu from Nigeria was among the twelve young directors selected to participate in this year's Festival Residency. She attended the 21st session from October 2010 to February 2011.
In 2014, several films by women are included in the Short Film Corner: Gabonese Samantha Biffot's 9-minute fantasy drama Return to the Source, Jìn'naariyâ ! by Rahmatou Keïta of Niger and Peau de Colle by Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hénia, whose film is supported by the Fonds Francophone. The filmmaker is also in the prestigious ACID selection, with her first feature film Le Challat de Tunis, which also benefits from the support of the Francophone funding. In addition, four women are among the 5 young Ethiopian filmmakers selected to attend Cannes : Adanech Admasu, Hiwot Admasu, Hermon Hailay, Yamrot Nigussie. “From Addis To Cannes” filmmakers were chosen from a significant group of applicants from Ethiopia’s promising film community through a targeted search focusing on emerging and mid-career filmmakers looking to further their careers and create international partnerships. In addition, Senegalese Angèle Diabang is attendance at the Fabrique des cinémas du monde with her film project "So long a letter".
In 2015, Malian singer and musician Rokia Traoré will join co-presidents Joel and Ethan Coen on the 68th Cannes festival jury, along with the other members Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan, French actress Sophie Marceau, American-British actress Sienna Miller, Spanish actress Rossy de Palma and Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro.
In 2016 Houda Benyamina’s directorial debut was awarded the Caméra d'Or, an award of the Cannes Film Festival for the best first feature film presented in one of the event’s selections. Also in 2016, Tapiwa Chipfupa of Zimbabwe and Angolan Pocas Pascoal are in attendance as part of La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde. Tapiwa Chipfupa presented her film project “The Other Half of the African Sky”, while Pocas Pascoal discussed her film project “Girlie”, (2nd feature film). La Fabrique des Cinémas du Monde, a professional programme helping talented young directors from emerging countries increase their international exposure. Each year this programme, developed by the Institut français, in partnership with France Médias Monde – RFI, France 24, Monte Carlo Doualiya- with the support of The International Organization of La Francophonie, invites ten directors working on their first or second feature films to attend the Festival de Cannes along with their producers.
In 2017, Tunisian Kaouther Ben Hania's Beauty and the Dogs is selected in Un Certain Regard as well as Zambian Rungano Nyoni with I am not a Witch which she developed at the Cinéfondation du Festival de Cannes in 2013. Moreover, South African Twiggy Matiwana's The Bicycle Man is including in the Festival Corner.
In 2018, Rafiki by Wanuri Kahiu and Sofia by Franco-Moroccan Meryem Benm'Barek are part of the Official selection of Un certain regard. In addition, Safi Faye returned to Cannes with Fad,Jal, restored by the CNC, presented at Cannes Classics. The film was first screened at Cannes in 1979 at Un Certain Regard.
Report by Beti Ellerson