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.

31 May 2011

La Parole à Nadine Otsobogo

Nadine Otsobogo
La multi-talentueuse gabonaise Nadine Otsobogo est réalisatrice, maquilleuse, et fondatrice du Djobusy Productions. Elle nous parle de ses passions pour le cinéma.

Nadine, vous portez plusieurs chapeaux dans le monde du cinéma. Comment vous présenteriez-vous ?

Une personne qui aime les chapeaux ? Non je plaisante ! Je pense que je suis une personne passionnée qui cherche à raconter des histoires,  à les dévoiler, et à les vivre tout simplement.

Le cinéma en Gabon n'est pas très connu, pourtant, il y existe une culture cinématographique active. Quel rôle espérez-vous jouer pour l’assurer une plus grande place dans le cinéma africain?

Le cinéma a toujours passionné les gabonais. Je pense que je fais partie des électrons libres du cinéma gabonais, du moins je l’espère, tout comme Yeno Anongwi, Marc Tchicot  pour ne citer que ces deux-là, c’est-à-dire que les films en choisissant leur décor (autre que le Gabon), en changeant de « cadre » ne collabore pas moins à l’essor du cinéma gabonais. Pour atteindre une envergure dans le cinéma africain, je désire aller vers la coproduction. Oui je pense que c’est une voie indispensable à l’heure actuelle, où les guichets européens se verrouillent. Et peut-être tant mieux, cela nous permettra de replacer autrement notre regard, et de prendre conscience du temps qui passe à l’attente d’une hypothétique  commission. « Regardez vers l’Afrique où un roi noir sera couronné » J’aime beaucoup cette prédiction de Marcus Garvey, qui me renvoie vers la terre mère, placer dans le contexte du cinéma, cette prophétie interpelle. Mes différents voyages, en tant que maquilleuse dans des productions africaines, m’ont dévoilé une Afrique surprenante, curieuse, singulière, battante, loin des clichés de l’Occident. Ce regard sur le continent, j’aimerais le rendre dans mes projets.

La liste des films de vos prouesses de maquilleuse est longue, plusieurs de renommé. Quelles sont vos expériences dans cette profession, la formation nécessaire ? De quoi s’agit-il ? Quelles sont des tâches spécifiques ? Quel est votre rapport avec les réalisateurs…les comédiens?

J’ai plus de 15 ans d’expérience dans le maquillage. J’ai fait une école d’esthétique cosmétique, une école de maquillage artistique et j’ai codirigé pendant plus de 3 ans une agence de maquillage Blush Poudre Etc., société qui abordait le maquillage de façon ludique. Sur un tournage, une maquilleuse doit mettre en valeur un comédien selon le scénario. C’est un personnage, on doit soit l’enlaidir, soit l’embellir, un travail de préparation est fait en amont avec le réalisateur, le chef opérateur, les coiffeurs et les habilleurs.

J’ai été maquilleuse sur certains films dont Le Marsupilami et l'orchidée de Chixclub de Alain Chabat,  Le collier de Makoko de Henri Joseph Koumba, Un homme qui crie de Haroun Mahamat Saleh, Demain dés l’aube de Denis Dercourt, Ramata de Léandre-Alain Baker, L’absence de Mama Keita, L’Ombre de liberty de Imunga Ivanga, Neg’marron de Jean-Claude Flamand Barny, Et toi t’es sur qui ? de Lola Doillon, Sexe, gombo et atiéké de Haroun Mahamat Saleh, Le Jardin de papa de Zéka Laplaine, Moi et mon blanc de Pierre Yaméogo, 40 mg d’amour de Charles Meurisse.

Un tournage c’est un microcosme de la société, avec des personnes qui ont de bonnes « vibes », d’autres pas du tout… Être maquilleur demande beaucoup de patience, de discrétion et d’écoute aussi bien avec les acteurs qu’avec le reste de l’équipe. La bonne cohésion est indispensable. Nous sommes ensemble pour faire aboutir un projet, c’est ça le plus important, le reste c’est du cinéma…

Ma relation avec certains réalisateurs était plus qu’une collaboration maquilleur - réalisateur, c’était un réel échange. Ils m’impliquaient dans le processus du film, c’était « notre film », et ça c’est réellement agréable et motivant. Je les remercie tous, du fond du cœur de leur confiance, surtout un en particulier qui a failli arrêter le tournage au bout de 3 jours. Il se reconnaîtra.

Vous avez réalisé plusieurs courts métrages--fiction et documentaire. Pourriez-vous nous parler de votre trajectoire ?

Mon premier tournage est une fiction Songe au rêve un court-métrage réalisé et produit au Sénégal, sélectionné à Carthage et au festival Afrique Taille XL en Belgique. Le documentaire Il est une fois…Naneth est un portrait de la chanteuse gabonaise Naneth Nkogue.  Ce film fait partie de « Talents du Gabon » une série de portraits documentaires, produits par le CENACI et Playfilm une production française. Ce film a été préparé et tourné en moins d’une semaine. Maady kaan, Escale à l’école des sables et Kellé sont mes premiers essais filmiques. Ce sont des films sur la danse et la rencontre. Je ne me suis pas posée la question si je devais les faire ou pas, j’ai pris ma caméra et j’ai foncé. Ensuite, trouver des monteurs qui ont le même « feeling » et la même vision que moi. Les films plaisaient beaucoup aux danseurs et à mes amis, mais je n’osais les montrer à des inconnus. Quand le Festival Plein Sud a sélectionné Maady Kaan, c’était un grand bonheur, une merveilleuse récompense.  





Vous avez créé Djobusy Productions en 2010, quels sont ses objectifs?

D’abord être dans la place ! Pour être repèré. C’est-à-dire créer une dynamique dans la production gabonaise. Aller à la découverte des histoires originales en fédérant, des personnes passionnées, curieuses et compétentes, en Afrique et dans le reste du monde, la coproduction est essentielle à tout projet de production. Dénicher des partenaires aussi bien financiers que humains. Faire des films, les présenter dans des festivals, des marchés, les diffuser, réinvestir en faisant encore plus de films.

Les projets à venir?

Un court-métrage en préparation, « Elle s’amuse ». En chantier, un documentaire, un moyen-métrage et une mini série sur des techniciens du cinéma que j’ai rencontré aux quatre coins du monde. Djobusy Productions est à la recherche de scénaristes.

(Entretien par Beti Ellerson, mai 2011)

A Conversation with Nadine Otsobogo

Nadine Otsobogo
Multi-talented Nadine Otsobogo from Gabon is a filmmaker, make-up artist and founder of Djobusy Productions. She talks about Gabonese cinema, her experiences as make-up artist, her films and her passion for cinema.
Nadine, you wear many hats in the world of cinema, some reflections?

Well for someone who likes hats…? I am joking! I see myself as a very passionate person who wants to tell stories, to delve into them, and to give them life.

Gabonese cinema is not very well known and yet, there is an active cinema culture there. What role do you hope to play in ensuring it a larger place in African cinema?
Gabonese people have always been passionate about cinema. I think I am part of a new energy within Gabonese cinema, at least I hope. In the same way as my colleagues, Yeno Anongwi and Marc Tchicot, to name a few. This also implies that films which draw from sources beyond Gabon, that reframe its stories, are providing a boom to Gabonese cinema. In order for African cinema to be more far-reaching I want to move towards co-productions. In fact, I think that is the necessary course to follow at the moment, as the box offices in Europe are increasingly inaccessible. And perhaps it is just as well as it will force us to rethink our priorities and attitudes regarding a would-be contract. “Look to Africa for there a Black king will be crowned.” I like this prediction by Marcus Garvey, which sends me back to the motherland. In the context of cinema, this prophecy is loud and clear.

During my diverse travels as make-up artist on African film productions, an unforeseen Africa was revealed to me: inquisitive, remarkable, striving, far from Western stereotypes. I would like to bring this perspective of the continent to my projects. 

There is a long list of films, of which several are renown, which is proof of your accomplishments as a make-up artist. What are your experiences in this profession, the required training, the specific tasks? What is your relationship with the directors, with the actors?

I have over fifteen years experience as a make-up artist. I studied at a cosmetology and aesthetics school and trained at a school for professional makeup artistry. And for three years I was co-director of a make-up agency called Blush Poudre etc…, its services include make-up for entertainment and special events.

During the film shoot the make-up artist must skillfully maneuver the actor’s appearance based on the script. The character may be made to look ugly or is beautified accordingly. The make-up artist works with the director, cinematographer, hairstylist, and wardrobe designer in advance in order to get their vision and input.

I have worked on many films, such as Le Marsupilami et l'orchidée de Chixclub by Alain Chabat, Le collier de Makoko by Henri Joseph Koumba, The Screaming Man by Haroun Mahamat Saleh, Demain dès l’aube (Tomorrow at Dawn) by Denis Dercourt, Ramata by Léandre-Alain Baker, L’absence by Mama Keita, L’Ombre de liberty (Shadow of Freedom) by Imunga Ivanga, Neg’marron by Jean-Claude Flamand Barny, Et toi t’es sur qui? (Just About Love?) by Lola Doillon, Sexe, gombo et atiéké by Haroun Mahamat Saleh, Le Jardin de papa (Father’s Garden) by Zéka Laplaine, Moi et mon blanc (Me and My White Buddy) by Pierre Yaméogo, 40 mg d’amour (40 mg of Love) by Charles Meurisse.

A film shoot is a microcosm of society. There are people who have good vibes and those who don’t. To be a make-up artist requires a great deal of patience, discretion and listening skills with both the actors and the entire crew. Being in harmony is a necessity. We are brought together to complete a project. That is the most important thing!

My relationship with certain directors was more than a collaboration between make-up artist and director, it was a real exchange. They integrated me into the filmmaking process, it was “our film”, and it was very pleasant and satisfying. I give them all a big thank you from the bottom of my heart for their confidence, and to one in particular, who almost stopped the shoot after three days. He knows who he is!

You have made several films (fiction and documentary). What has been your cinematographic trajectory? 
My first work was a short fiction film, Songe au rêve (Musings of a dream) directed and produced in Senegal and selected at the Carthage Festival in Tunisia, and the Afrique Taille XL Festival in Belgium. The documentary, Il est une fois…Naneth (Once upon a time…Naneth) is a portrait of the Gabonese singer Naneth Nkogue. The film is part of “Talents of Gabon”, a series of documentary portraits produced by CENACI (the national center for cinema in Gabon) and the French production company Playfilm. The film was prepared and shot in less than a week. Maady kaan, Escale à l’école des sables and Kellé are my first filmic essays. They are films about dancing and coming together. I did not ask myself if I should do it or not. I just took my camera and forged ahead. Then I had to find editors who had the same feeling and vision as I did. The dancers and my friends like the films a lot but I did not dare show them to people I did not know. When the Festival Plein Sud selected Maady Kaan, I was very happy, it was a wonderful reward.

(Musings of a dream) by Nadine Otsobogo

Maady Kaan by Nadine Otsobogo
(Dance sequence 1:10)



You created Djobusy Productions in 2010, what are its goals, its mission.

First of all to be in the right place! To be spotted. And to create a dynamism in Gabonese filmmaking. To search for original stories, to bring together people in Africa and around the world who are passionate, curious, and competent. Co-production is essential to all projects. To make films, to present them at festivals, at film markets, to broadcast them, to reinvest in order to make more films.

Future projects?

I have several projects in the works. I am in the preparation stage for the short film “She’s having fun”. And I am getting started on a documentary, a medium film, and a mini-series about the crewmembers that I have encountered in the four corners of the world. In addition, Djobusy is looking for scriptwriters.

(Interview and translation from French to English by Beti Ellerson, May 2011)

24 May 2011

In Support of Women Make Movies

As the director of the Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema, I give my enthusiastic support to Women Make Movies. This vital organization which has been instrumental in the world-wide distribution of films for and about women!

Women Make Movies has an impressive collection of films by and about African women, such Selbe by Safi Faye, Africa is a Woman's Name by Ingrid Sinclair, Bridget Pickering and Wanjiru Kinyanjui, Anna from Benin by Monique Mbeka Phoba, Sisters In Law by Kim Longinotto and Florence Ayisi, Africa, Africas by Agnes Ndibi, Maji-da Abdi and Fanta Regina Nacro, my own work Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema, and many more. For the last 40 years, it has built the reputation as the world’s leading distributor of films by and about women. As part of the Chase Community Giving Challenge, WMM is eligible to win up to $500,000 in Round 2, which will go directly to continuing the effort of helping women in cinema. Please support its efforts--voting ends May 25, 2011!


WMM Mission Statement

Established in 1972 to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry, Women Make Movies is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. The organization provides services to both users and makers of film and video programs, with a special emphasis on supporting work by women of color. Women Make Movies facilitates the development of feminist media through an internationally recognized Distribution Service and a Production Assistance Program.

19 May 2011

A Glance at Cannes: Short Film Corner

Organized by the Cannes Festival, the Short Film Corner is the essential rendez-vous for filmmakers. Since its inception in 2004 it has been a meeting place for producers and directors to present their films, network, and discuss strategies regarding their future plans. At the 64th edition, several films by African women are screened in this important venue.



Ayten Amin (Egypt)

Spring 89 (25 mn) Camelia and Sarah in the last spring of the eighties…Their last days of innocence, a story told twice by 2 different girls or rather 2 similar girls.



Chika Anadu (Nigeria)

Ava (9 mn)  A woman, a few hours away from her wedding, is pondering on her relationship with her husband to-be.

Epilogue (6 mn) A couple reach the last chapter of their troubled relationship history.



Nadège Batou (Congo)

Dissuasion (8 mn) These girls don't leave any chance to boys with bad intentions.


Inès Ben Othman (Tunisia)

D'amour et d'eau fraîche (7 mn) A couple escapes its financial problems  and decides to live by love and fresh water.


Annette Kouamba Matondo (Congo)

We don't forget, we forgive (26 mn)  By portraying Sylvie Diclos Pomos, a Congolese artist who is an actor, a director and also a writer, the film director questions the issue of writing. Writing  to remember a reality that may be cruel. These issues all relate to the "Beach case" that had extensive press coverage in Congo.




Shana Mongwanga (Congo)
A Common Cause - From London to Bukavu (16 mn) A film by Congolese-British Women about their journey to express express concrete solidarity with Women in Congo, during the World March of Women in October 2010. Follow their journey and hear their voices.


Elisabeth Bello Oseini (Cote d'Ivoire)

Un père indigne (34 mn) Ahou goes in search of the father she has never known. Sadly, he refuses to acknowledge her as his daughter. Down and out many years later, this unworthy father looks for Ahou, the daughter that he had disowned.



Rania Tazi (Morocco)

Open Sesame (21 mn) Locked behind an apartment door, a young Moroccan named Leina is held captive by her oppressive husband. When imprisonment becomes too much to bear, Leina attempts an escape with the help of a sympathetic neighbor.






17 May 2011

A Glance at Cannes: The Festival Residency

Chika Anadu from Nigeria is 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.

Since its creation in 2000, each year the Festival Residency welcomes twelve young directors to assist them in the preparation of their first or second feature film.  During their 4-and-a-half-month stay in Paris, they work on the writing of their feature film project, attend meetings with film professionals and with the support of the Cannes Film Festival, attempt to bring their project to co-production status.

Chika Anadu
Chika Anadu was born in Lagos, Nigeria in November 1980. She attended school there before going to the UK in 1997 where she did her 'A' Levels, got her first degree in BA (Hons) Law and Criminology, and an MA in African Studies: Human and Sustainable Development. Having always been an avid film buff from childhood, and having fallen in love with foreign Language/Arthouse films during her Masters degree, it wasn't until 2006 that Chika realized that she wanted to be a Filmmaker. She moved back to Nigeria for good in 2008 to work in TV/Film production. ‘Epilogue’ is the title of her first short and it was accepted for the 2010 San Diego Black Film Festival, USA. Chika is currently working on her first feature script ‘B For Baby Boy’.  It’s a contemporary drama set in Nigeria, about a woman’s desperate quest for a male child - which reveals the inherent discrimination of women in Nigeria in the name of culture and tradition. (From Cannes Résidence Website)

Links:


14 May 2011

A Glance At Cannes: A Tribute to Euzhan Palcy

Euzhan Palcy
Cannes Classics:  A tribute to Rue Case Négres (Sugar Cane Alley)

As part of the Cannes Classics 2011, Sugar Cane Alley (1983) will be screened as a special tribute to filmmaker Euzhan Palcy. Adapted from the novel by Joseph Zobel, the film won the César Award for the Best First Film in 1984. During a period when France is paying ceremonial homage to the late renowned poet and statesman Aimé Césaire, the minister of culture and the Cannes Festival are honoring the island of Martinique, of which they both are a native daughter and son. Honors to Palcy continue in New York City, at the Museum of Modern Art with a retrospective of her career from 18 to 30 May.

Synopsis

As summer vacation begins in Martinique, 6000 km away on the French mainland, preparations are being made for the 1931 Colonial Exhibition. In the midst of a plantation lies Sugar Cane Alley: Two rows of wooden huts left empty of the adults who work in the fields under the watchful eyes of the overseers. Among the children who spend their summer playing is eleven-year-old José, an orphan, raised with the tender though firm care of M'an Tine, his grandmother. But soon, life will separate the children according to their success or failure in school...

Euzhan Palcy talks about Aimé Cesaire, her masterpiece, Sugar Cane Alley, and her journey as a filmmaker, on TV5Monde with Patrick Simonin, 13 May 2011. Translated from French to English by Beti Ellerson

Patrick Simonin: The Cannes Festival pays tribute this year to the great film, Sugar Cane Alley. The filmmaker Euzhan Palcy is with us. This tribute is almost 30 years later. And in fact it was Aimé Cesaire who was at its origins.

Euzhan Palcy: Thanks to Aimé Cesaire who was my spiritual father, I decided to go into filmmaking and to make a certain kind of film. So if he had not been part of my life I would not have gone into filmmaking nor made this kind of film.

Patrick Simonin: Sugar Cane Alley was made in 1983, it was a difficult film to make!

Euzhan Palcy: Because it was my first film, and also because I was young, woman and black, all of these...Yes it was a fight to do so. It took, two, three years to make and thanks to Cesaire I was able to complete it. And also François Truffaut who assembled my technical crew, gave me advice on the script, on things that worked and that did not. I was very much influenced by him as by Hitchcock, Costa-Gavras, Sembene.

Patrick Simonin: And it has become a classic today, let's watch an excerpt.

Excerpt of Sugar Cane Alley

Patrick Simonin: Euzhan Palcy, as we watch this film almost 30 years later, what makes this film still among the classics today?

Euzhan Palcy: I think it is because it is a film that talks about universal values and also there is a genuineness among the actors, who were not in fact professionals--except the grandmother, Darling Legitimus and the old Meduse, Douta Seck

Patrick Simonin: Yes one speaks of struggle, colonialism, identity...

Euzhan Palcy: Yes and when there are these universal aspects it does not become obsolete.

Patrick Simonin: The film talks about Martinique, about colonialism, about the desire to liberate the people!

Euzhan Palcy: It is about a grandmother and her grandson. She leaves the sugar cane field to accompany her grandson who has obtained a scholarship. The character is like the courageous mother of Brecht, she says "I will go to Fort de France and you will go their school!" It is a grand story of love and an old woman's fight for education and culture.

Patrick Simonin: Some time ago there was the thought by some of a positive aspect of colonialism! Yet there is still a way to go...and Négritude!

Euzhan Palcy: When one speaks of colonialism there is nothing positive about it and it cannot be thought of in those terms. Yes Cesaire talks about Négritude, he talks about all of the oppressed of the world. It is a term that is vast and very strong!

Patrick Simonin: With the success of Sugar Cane Alley you catch the attention Robert Redford and Marlon Brando and others across the ocean!

Euzhan Palcy: Having met Robert Redford at Sundance, he knew that Warner was interested in working with me. And I worked with Warner for three years to develop the film, A Dry White Season a film adapted from the novel by André Brink, which focuses on Apartheid. Richard Attenborough film's Cry Freedom is released and Warner decides that one film about apartheid is enough and puts it on the shelf. I manage to persuade Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer MGM to produce it  and that is when Marlon Brando agrees to play a role in the film, and does so without pay. 

Patrick Simonin: And then you make a documentary about Aimé Cesaire, for whom we paid national homage. Could you say a few words about him, this powerful figure in history, someone who had a universal perspective?

Euzhan Palcy: It is unfortunate that this grand tribute to him is only paid after his death. I made the short film called Homage which introduced the ceremony [at the Pantheon in Paris] in the presence of the President, and talked to the young people and they were introduced to Cesaire and regretted that they did not know him during his lifetime, as he was a universal man and at the same time accessible, a magnificent person.

Patrick Simonin: Thank you for being with us on TV5Monde as we celebrate your masterpiece at Cannes.


13 May 2011

A Glance at Cannes: Cinema and Diversity

Under the theme "Cinema and Diversity" this year's Cinémas du Monde Pavillon/Cinemas of the World Pavilion at Cannes has planned several events on 14 May "Diversity Day", including a press conference and the screening of short films about diversity. TV5Monde, the French Institute and Yamina Benguigui will be present at the "Republic and Diversity" Think (and Do) Tank, an initiative that has as its goal to both reflect and take action on issues as it relates to diversity in France.

Franco-Algerian Yamina Benguigui, director, producer, and writer, has been at the forefront of  diversity initiatives in France and since 2008 is the Assistant to the Mayor of Paris on Human Rights and Issues Regarding Discrimination. She is also the President of the Jury for the DiaspAura Award. A prize initiated in 2010 to recognize the accomplishments of people of the diasporas around the world.

Yamina Benguigui (SOS Racisme)
A politically committed filmmaker, Yamina Benguigui has always considered filmmaking as an indispensable tool for raising consciousness and changing attitudes towards diversity. From this commitment she uses her fiction and documentary films to underscore the importance for those of immigrant origin to know their common history, particularly those from the Maghreb. As this history is often hidden, misunderstood, viewed as taboo by their parents and the host society, it is important to make it visible, to humanize it. To know one's past is the fundamental vehicle to restoring a diminished identity and moving forward together in society. Because she brings these societal issues to the screen for debate, each of her films are transformed into a film-tool to accompany her public presentations in order to facilitate free discussion and challenge public officials to action. (Yamina Benguigui Website Biography - translated from French to English by Beti Ellerson)

A Glance at Cannes: Cinémas du Monde Pavillon/Cinemas of the World Pavilion

The Cinémas du Monde Pavillon (The Cinemas of the World Pavilion) created in 2009, is a meeting place within the Cannes Festival for emerging filmmakers to exchange ideas and dialogue within a social and amicable environment.
According to Cannes Festival President Gilles Jacob:
"This initiative is an extension of the objectives of the Festival: to support and assist film creation at its source, well in advance of the selection process. It is thus quite naturally in keeping with our objectives by championing the ideas of the cinema that we cherish. Films move geographical frontiers and mental barriers and constantly reshape a world which is developing faster than we are."

Ayten Amin (Cinémas du Monde)

Egyptian Ayten Amin is among the delegation of twelve directors from India, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe invited to the Cinémas du Monde Pavillon to exchange ideas and dialogue with her colleagues in cinema. Studying filmmaking independently, she made her first short fiction film Her Man in 2006, and also directed several publicity films. Her next film, Spring89 was released in 2009 receiving many national awards. Her current project, "69 Messah Square", is a feature film co-written with Muhammed El Hajj and received the award for the project at the Cairo Film Connection in December 2010.

12 May 2011

A Glance at Cannes: A Focus on North Africa

At the Marché du Film at the Cannes Film Festival, in a tribute to the "Arab Spring" in North Africa, Egypt is the Guest of Honor, with a Special Focus on Tunisia.

Screenings will be held of Zelal by Marianne Khoury and Mustapha Hasnaoui (Egypt) and Ni Allah Ni Maître/Neither Allah nor Master by Nadia El Fani (Tunisia).

Synopsis of Films

Zelal by Marianne Khoury and Mustapha Hasnaoui

A journey into the enclosed world of two of Cairo’s mental hospitals, Zelal draws us into the day-to-day life of “ordinary” madmen and women. The film lays bare the shattered humanity of people abandoned without hope, left to stumble about in the backwash of life’s misfortunes. In the process, the viewer confronts his/her own demons, with the disturbing realization that the mentally ill are actually extensions of society’s madness.


Ni Allah Ni Maître by Nadia El Fani

August 2010: Tunisia is in the middle of Ramadan under Ben Ali’s régime. Despite the weight of censorship, Nadia El Fani films a country which seems open to the principle of freedom of conscience and liberal in its relationship to Islam… Three months later, the Tunisian Revolution breaks out, Nadia is out in the field. While the Arab World enters an era of radical change, Tunisia, which initiated the wind of revolt, is once again a “laboratory country” for its outlook on religion. And what if, for once, by the will of the people, a Muslim country opted for a secular constitution? Then, Tunisians would really have made Revolution.

09 May 2011

Wanjiku wa Ngugi talks about the Helsinki African Film Festival

Wanjiku wa Ngugi
Wanjiku wa Ngugi, founder and director of the Helsinki African Film Festival which runs from 12-15 May 2011, talks about representations of Africa in Finland, this year's festival theme "Women’s Voices and Visions”, and future goals for the festival to play a larger cultural role in Finland.

Wanjiku, please talk a bit about yourself and the creation of the Helsinki African Film Festival.

I was born and raised in Kenya. After high school, I attended New York University (NYU) where I studied Sociology and Political Science. It was actually here that I first met Dr. Manthia Diawara, a film-maker and critic, who was also the head of the Institute of African-American Affairs at NYU. I got a job assisting in his office and thus begun my introduction to African films. Growing up in Kenya, all we got to watch were Hollywood films and seeing black people on the big screen was a very rare occasion if ever. Anyway, a few years back I moved to Helsinki and was surprised at the level of misinformation about African people, both in the continent and the Diaspora. Even Finland has not escaped the Hollywood machine and the chronically negative representation of Africa in the News, so information about Africans is largely informed through the same narrow prisms. Hollywood has not exactly done any justice to the story of Africans, as most of their films—I am thinking here of popular films such as The Last King of Scotland or Blood Diamonds for example, are replete with stereotypes about Africa and Africans. And basically this is how HAFF was born—out of this need to deconstruct the depiction of Africa as this Dark Continent that only produces dark images, one-sided stories, and dehumanised people who should be pitied. Africa is not a country; I want to repeat this over and over again! We wanted to show the diversity of this continent, and begin a different conversation, one informed by a more realistic view as told by the Africans themselves.

This is the second edition of the festival, what was the response at its inception in 2010?

Our first film festival held in May last year was a huge success. Even we were pleasantly surprised at the level of interest shown. But in hindsight, we should not have—we should have recognized that people here have over the years been moving away from the usual sorts of politics. Even though the recently held elections may speak otherwise, the truth is that there is indeed much more openness within the Finnish society. It was only a question of creating an opportunity to see a different view of Africa, and people seized it. (I think the government here also recognized this as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported this initiative.)  Almost all the film screenings were sold out, with some people even sitting on the steps of the cinema. We have also attracted interest from other provinces in Finland as well, so this year some of the films will be traveling to the provincial towns of Kuopio, Oulu, Lahti and Tampere too.

The theme for this year is “Women’s Voices and Visions”. Why the focus on women? How does this focus reflect your own interest and experience as an African, Kenyan woman?

We wanted to not only celebrate women in film but also raise awareness about the African women’s experience, highlight the global economic and political issues that affect them. We also wanted to showcase the diversity of African women, as well as hopefully move away from the tendency to depict African women as weak, voiceless and always as victims. And even though African women, like their counterparts in most parts of the world, have and are still engaged in the struggle for equal rights, they are far from weak, and have been at the forefront of many struggles. For instance, the women who were part of the Mau Mau armed resistance against the British colonial government in Kenya, the women’s role in the Algerian revolution, and most recently women right at the forefront in the Egyptian uprising and pro-democracy movements, and so on.

In the mainstream media, popular films, etc., make African women invisible and this has largely informed how African women are viewed especially in the West. Not long ago I met a journalist who was going to interview me about the African woman’s experience and after some pleasantries, she remarked that she was surprised to meet me as she was under the impression she was coming to interview an African woman. I mean here I was, a black Kenyan woman. How else can anybody see me, except as an African woman—unless she had some preconceived notion about African women? And I have other such examples, but this goes to show how African women have been pigeonholed to fit certain stereotypes.

The festival includes an exciting selection of films. Could you detail the program and talk a bit about the films and filmmakers that are included?

We are showing fifteen films in total, three of which are documentary films. The documentaries showcase women advocating for change albeit in different settings. Sisters in Law, a brilliant film about a judge and prosecutor determined to change the lives of women in Cameroon in the courtroom.  There is the film, Taking Root, about Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai’s struggle to plant trees in Kenya and how it became a national political force. We get to see how this eventually evolved into a powerful women’s movement that shook the dictatorial government in Kenya at that time.

Our guest director is Caroline Kamya from Uganda whose debut film Imani highlights class differences in present day Uganda as depicted by three characters in the course of just one day. We also have this year’s FESPACO winner Pegasus, which is a powerful and beautifully shot film about a psychologist investigating a young girl who has been the victim of incest. 

We have the compelling drama Barakat! directed by Djamila Sahraoui from Algeria, which chronicles the journey of two women who confront contemporary religious limitations imposed on women. From a Whisper by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu is another must see film, and a moving tribute to the people who died following the US embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Basically we have put together a cross-section of brilliant films covering different genres from across the continent. One definite highlight is the provocative sci-fi film Les Saignantes, in which two young femme fatales set out to rid a futuristic country of its powerful, corrupt and sexually obsessed men. It’s a completely unique film that is guaranteed to get people talking about Africa—and lots of other things too!

Film festivals at the same time venues for showing films, also serve as conduits for broader cultural initiatives.  What are some of the future goals for the festival and other projects that focus on African culture and issues?

In the future we hope to screen more African films as our audience grows and to extend the cooperation with the regional film centres and everyone else interested in African cinema. We will continue to showcase progressive films that show the African people in motion and not in unrealistic and or subservient roles. We hope to incorporate more African art—music and literature. Of course all this is only possible if more funding channels are available, as right now we are producing the festival largely on a volunteer basis.

(Interview by Beti Ellerson, May 2011)

05 May 2011

Nadia El Fani and the Freedom of Conscience

Nadia El Fani
Franco-Tunisian filmmaker, Nadia El Fani is known for her political engagement on issues that are at the same time controversial. Her latest film Ni Allah ni Maître (Neither Allah nor Master) focuses on secularism in Tunisia, a majority Muslim country, at the height of the revolutions taking place in North Africa. With the release of the film, she has been the object of rather vicious Internet attacks. In opposition to these attacks, an online petition in support of Nadia El Fani outlines its position on the issue of secularism and freedom of conscience.

Below is a transcription of a recent interview with Nadia El Fani by Mohamed Kaci on Le Journal International TV5Monde and the Petition (which follows), both translated from French to English by Beti Ellerson

TV5Monde: Hello Nadia El Fani, you are a filmmaker. Ni Allah ni Maître, a documentary about secularism, was presented at a local film festival [Doc à Tunis] in Tunisia. We will talk with you but first we will look at an excerpt from the film.

[Nadia El Fani talks with a group of people]:

Man in group: Islamists want to come and impose themselves in Tunisia, but the people are opposed to an Islamic government but not to a Muslim country, we are Muslim!
Nadia El Fani: The problem with our constitution is that Article 1 states that the religion of the republic is Muslim, but what about those who are atheist, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist--and who are also Tunisian. We should not have to declare that we are only Muslim. We are many other things as well, and everyone has the right to live in peace here and express her/himself as he/she wishes!
Man in group: As it has been for centuries!
Nadia El Fani: So it must be written! That is important!

TV5Monde: The Tunisian revolution is generating a great deal of hope, Nadia El Fani you seem to be troubled about the question of secularism.

Nadia El Fani: Well not troubled, but certainly concerned. Modernity is at stake, as Tunisia has always been at the forefront in Arab countries and I hope we continue to be. I hope that we will have a secular constitution. I am a politically committed filmmaker and am taking on this issue.

TV5Monde: You have been the object of a restive polemic on the Internet, with sometimes fierce attacks and threats, specifically on Facebook, how are you dealing with it?

Nadia El Fani: As anywhere in the world when one takes a position on an issue there are those who are against it, and sometimes those overzealous detractors use insults and offensive attacks, often personal. I would rather that we remain on political grounds. For those who violate the law with threats, I will press charges in Tunisia and in France.

TV5Monde: But as you stated in your documentary, secularism does not exist in all countries, Islam is written in the constitution in Tunisia, isn't?

Nadia El Fani: There is now some ambiguity. Bourguiba [the first and former president of Tunisia] wanted to keep this ambiguity. While he states that Islam is the religion of Tunisia, he also declares in a speech, and I have an excerpt of this in the film, that diversity is part of Tunisian society. I think in order to live together there must be this concept of secularism. I already had this position before the fall of Ben Ali, that to ask for democracy, is to ask for secularism. I have images in the film before the Ben Ali regime of a Tunisia that is open and tolerant, with people who are open to these ideas.

TV5Monde: The revolution was above all, about freedom, dignity, democracy. If tomorrow a "religious party" won the election, we already saw this in the elections in Algeria at the end of the 1980s beginning of the 1990s, would your position be to cancel the vote?

Nadia El Fani: The events in Tunisia unfolded in a very different way, apart from Islamists, with a discourse that was not at all religious. It was as you stated about freedom and dignity, because there were socio-economic problems. So I say to all those who waste their time on the Internet to insult me and create Facebook pages on which they use images that depict me as some kind of devil, that what is at stake is much more important than me individually, which is, in fact, the modernity of the country. I think to be progressive one must adopt a certain secularism because everyone must be respected. No political party can assume power based on religion.

A Petition: In Support of Nadia El Fani and the Protection of Freedom of Conscience

Following her public statements on Hannibal television, filmmaker Nadia El Fani has been the object of an extensive campaign of verbal and physical threats on certain Facebook pages. We, Tunisian citizens committed to the freedom of conscience, belief and worship, declare by this, our full support of Nadia El Fani. We are stating that by her right to express her non-belief in God, she rejects any attempt to impose obstacles to her freedom of conscience by those who claim to adhere to a political Islam. We, Tunisian citizens hereby express our absolute indignation at the threats of physical violence and the verbal rampage against Nadia El Fani. 

We believe that the current political rise of Islamists, the repeated assaults against women whose dress does not conform to a so-called "Islamic morality", the political manipulation by the mosques, and the calls to murder for "blasphemy", necessitate the demand for greater vigilance. In this current climate there is especially the need for solidarity with all those who have the courage to not yield to the law of terror and the submission to silence. 

We believe that a society is either tolerant or it is not. Freedom of conscience is not divisible. In the same way that wearing the veil and a beard should be allowed and respected, an individual has the right to declare that he/she "does not believe in God." If today we give in to the threats of violence against those who declare their atheism, tomorrow the threats will be against those among us who are non-practicing Muslims, and the next day those among us who are practicing Muslims but who do so in a manner not acceptable to the extremists!


02 May 2011

A Conversation with Sam Kessie

© Sam Kessie
Sam Kessie a woman of the world with a foot on three continents talks about herself, her films, her company Sankofa Pictures, and how she brought together her eclectic experiences to express herself in media and filmmaking.

Well I am first of all grateful to have had a chance to have this experience because I think it's made me definitively who I am today. I was born in Camden Town, London. Growing up in 80's London was very much eclectic. I had a lot of influences from the pop culture of that time period through all the good, bad, out-of-the-box genres of music, video games, fashion, art, media, etc. I also grew up traveling a bit all over Europe, even living in Wales for a couple of years.

In the mid 80's, my dad took a job with a mining company and so we had to move from London to Obuasi, in the Ashanti region of Ghana. I wasn't too thrilled about the move and didn't really have a lot of "permanent" friends growing up. Mainly because one would say I had very strict parents and it was really hard to fit in. We had just moved into a very small town and so my parents were a bit protective of me. I am glad they were in the end though. So, I spent a lot of time reading and watching recorded videotapes of what we brought back from Europe. At the same time I was an extrovert, adventurous and did get into trouble occasionally resulting in being grounded a lot. I did a lot of writing as an outlet and had a few articles that made it into the local newspaper. The company my dad worked at had a lot of expatriates too and so I was able to still experience a bit of the culture I was used to from Europe like watching pantomimes, art activities and going to see movies at the club house.

Eventually as my passion for reading grew, I got a chance to experience stories and poems by African writers and was involved with some of the culture troupes and activities in school. On the local TV, there were a few interesting, creative Ghanaian children shows. However I was on a path to studying the sciences. Writing, anything within the arts, was encouraged to be more of a hobby. After high school I moved to Wisconsin, which was once again another shock. It was my first time in the States and I was in the middle of nowhere. I've now moved to Atlanta. So, many things have happened in my life. This has by far also shaped the kind of stories I have and want to be able to tell. They come to me in so many different forms but I can always find a way to relate a story that resonates with me. It took me quite some time to figure out what I wanted to become but this storytelling/filmmaking never crossed my radar. I sometimes wish it had sooner. But every experience counts for something I think. At least for me.

Your films, Sales Day (2005), Life 101: Angel's Secret (2005) and Zum Zum: The Career of Azumah Nelson (2010) have been well-received, please talk a bit about them and your filmmaking process. 

Sales Day is my first complete short film. It was my senior thesis for my BA in Media Production in 2005. It was also a careful yet strong attempt to leave the world of psychology and enter my new home in the world of filmmaking. In the end, it was all still an amazing experience. I tried to do something different with this short then, using the Panasonic DVX100A and attaching the PS Technik+Prime lenses to give it the feel and look of film. This was an exciting new thing for us, especially me. At that time, I was the only student at the school to try this. It added a bit to my initial budget, but it was well worth the investment I re-cut the short in early 2010. (Yeah, it's been through quite a few cuts but I am settled on this final one now). The tone is a bit darker now and I tried to work around as much of the imperfections as I could (just for fun really). I am very proud of my original Sales Day cut. I learned a lot from my mistakes and I especially appreciate all the notes and comments I took from it.

Life 101: Angel's Secret was my first directorial feature project right out of school. I was as green as can be, and I mean really green! The total budget for the project was about $10,000 and so there are a lot of things that ended up suffering. But it was a good story and we wanted to tell it and we did the best we could. 

Going back to Ghana after almost a decade, I was lucky to meet this great boxing champ, Azumah Nelson through a mutual family friend. After spending time with him, I came to learn he had been trying for a while to get a documentary about his life done. After showing him some of my work, he was more than happy to pass on all and any footage he had that could be used to tell a simple, low budget story about becoming a world boxing champion. I had to complete the documentary within a seven-month deadline. I drew a lot mostly from stock footage, but also integrating lively sketches as recreations of events. 

Zoom Zoom (2010) by Sam Kessie

As for my filmmaking process? I think I just allow a script or story to move me. Having the opportunity to read as many books as I did as a child has given me the chance to visualize words and settings and so I allow the initial words and feelings I get to help define my filmmaking style/process. I don't think two stories are alike so I don't think two films I create should be alike. Every work put out should be unique to its story. I do believe in spending as much time as possible in being ready for a film. Hence, I love pre-production. I believe with having the wheels of motion set "right" in the beginning, it absolutely helps make the rest of the stages in filmmaking a little less stressful and helps with keeping the budget true. I hope to become the type of director that leaps over unspoken boundaries through film and carry the audience to unseen, maybe even dark places within themselves. Although my style of directing may be influenced, occasionally, by the fact that I am a woman and of British/Ghanaian decent, I don’t want that to define my voice as an artist. I don’t want to be boxed into one particular style or genre of films.

Your company Sankofa Pictures, what are its objectives?

Sankofa, "Sɛ wo werɛ fi na wosankofa a yenky": "There is nothing wrong with learning from hindsight", is an adinkra symbol and is derived from the Akan words; SAN (return), KO (go), FA (look, seek and take). I resonate with this philosophy a lot. I initially had my production company as Jellybean Pictures because of my love of jellybeans. However as time went on and I matured in my new found profession, I realized that I had indeed returned to my roots to do something I have always enjoyed and was much of an extension of who I was. I needed it to be more of what I wanted to do in life. To tell the stories I want to tell and to share what I have learned from my own and other people’s experiences. Hopefully imparting that knowledge to others, especially our youth. So I started a new production company to do conscious-driven films within a unique blend of sharp dialogue, grim humor and striking aesthetics characterized by tense, complicated relationships. In addition to narrative films, at Sankofa we also focus on commercials, documentaries and music videos, yet with the same philosophy as our backbone. 

TKAFoundation, your current project, is a very exciting initiative, how was it conceived and what is the foundation's mission.

I think TKAF was born from my struggle as a child growing up in Ghana, and now understanding that all that happened to be me looking and wishing for an outlet to have my creativity flourish.

TKAFoundation is a huge supporter of the arts and embarks on contributing back to charities that encourage arts education. One of the frontrunners of the charities we support is Akosia, a non-profit organization that develops and facilitates creative projects for underprivileged children and women all over the world.

For Akosia's 2011 summer project, the TKAfoundation will be joining the cause with a team of eight volunteers, all of different backgrounds and walks of life, to help run this summer arts program for its third consecutive year.  We are extremely excited about this opportunity with the kids!

Interview by Beti Ellerson (April 2011)

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