|Brigitte Rollet and Sarah Maldoror|
Interview by Stéphanie Dongmo, originally published on Le Blog de Stéphanie Dongmo, (28 November) and translated from French to English by Beti Ellerson.
Brigitte Rollet, researcher at the Centre d'histoire culturelle des sociétés contemporaines (CHCSC) Centre for the Cultural History of Contemporary Societies at the University of Versailles Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in France, organised the Colloquium-Meeting "Francophone African Women Filmmakers: 40 years of cinema (1972-2012), held 23-24 November in Paris at the Quai Branly Museum and the (BnF), the National Library of France. She talks about the issues that were raised during the meeting and the challenges that women filmmakers face in Africa.
What motivated you to organise the colloquium on 40 years of cinema by Francophone African women filmmakers?
While studying the history of French women filmmakers, I realised that there were the same funding problems and the same problems regarding visual representation. These women filmmakers have always been marginalised in the history books of cinema. There is the fact that women have not been integrated into African cinema. I thought that it was necessary to celebrate these women and trace the emergence of cinema by women in Africa.
Historically, the first woman filmmaker was the Cameroonian Thérèse Sita Bella with her film Tam-tam à Paris in 1963, however the focus was on the Guadeloupean Sarah Maldoror as pioneer. Why this choice?
It is true that there was Sita Bella but the films of Sarah Maldoror and Safi Faye have left their mark. I don't think that the same thing could be said about the film of Sita Bella because it was less known, most people are not even aware of it, I don't even known where to view it, which is also the case for Safi Faye. By organising the colloquium in the physical space of the BNF (National Library of France), I wanted to also highlight the problem of preserving a cinematographic cultural heritage by recalling that there are films that have been lost.
What is the history of Francophone African women filmmakers?
It varies from country to country, based on whether there is the political will to promote cinema. But women are always a bit sidelined in cinematic development, especially in societies where one's gender determines whether a woman is behind the camera. When one looks for women, one will find them. I wanted to make this history visible.
What specific problems do Francophone African filmmakers encounter?
Cinema continues to be thought of as a male activity. The fact that there are many women filmmakers does not negate this perception, and African women filmmakers are not visible. There are individual trajectories, and there are developments, but not national cinema policies. In countries where there is a genuine political will to develop a cinema culture, there are more women than in those where this interest does not exist. It is a question of economics. Cinema is a costly art, and producers are even more hesitant to finance a high-budget film directed by a woman. They are only willing to help those who have proven themselves. If one is not able to prove one's ability, it is difficult to justify receiving this kind of funding. This is a situation that African women filmmakers share with numerous women filmmakers in the West.
Around the world women's film festivals are more and more present. Are these specialised festivals a solution?
Women's film festivals are a solution as they provide more visibility for the films. Afterwards the question is whether there is the possibility for these films to continue to exist beyond the festival circuit. And that is the problem with African cinema in general. It is a cinema that is well-financed but is not able to find a place among theatrical releases. This is a global phenomenon. If women's film festivals provide the venues for films to be viewed, this can only have a positive effect for women who make films in Africa.