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.


My photo
Director/Directrice, Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema | Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinéma


Search This Blog

30 September 2014

Women's Media Center celebrates Amma Asante

Photo credit: The Guardian
The Women's Media Center celebrates Amma Asante, among other influential women, at their 2014 4th annual Women's Media Awards for the directorial excellence for her latest film Belle. See article in its entirety at Women's Media Center

British-Ghanaian Amma Asante wrote and directed the award-winning A Way of Life (2004), a tough and uncompromising film that relates, beyond issues of black and white, the complexities of race in Wales. Belle her second feature film released in 2013, a very different work, is a period piece based on a real life story of Dido Belle Lindsay, a mixed-race woman of an aristocratic family in 18th century England.

Links of interest:

29 September 2014

The Art of Ama Ata Aido documentary launching in Accra, Ghana by the African Women’s Development Fund

On 17th September, The African Women’s Development Fund launched The Art of Ama Ata Aidoo, a documentary on the life and work of critically acclaimed Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo, at the British Council in Accra.

The documentary was directed and produced by Yaba Badoe and co-produced by Amina Mama for Fadoa Films. AWDF contributed 40% funding for the project with the remaining 60% accumulated through crowdsourcing on IndieGogo.

Read the article by Shakira Chambas and Sionne Neely in its entirety at

Read other relevant posts on the African Women in Cinema Blog:

27 September 2014

International Images International Film Festival for Women (IIFF) 2014 report by Oshosheni Hiveluah

International Images International Film Festival for Women (IIFF) 2014 report by Oshosheni Hiveluah. Photos : O.H.

This year’s International Images International Film Festival (IIFF) took place from the 15th until the 23rd August 2014 in Harare, Zimbabwe. Flagged under the theme “Women Alive, Women of Heart” the festival had a delightful array of films from all around the world, portraying women in front of the camera and also behind.

The festival officially kicked off with a screening at the Eastgate Mall in downtown Harare. We all anticipated the scheduled opening film Half of a Yellow Sun, which due to technical difficulties could not screen. However, the audience enjoyed Joel Karakazi’s Imbabazi (The Pardon) instead.

I got the chance to talk to filmmaker Veronique Doumbe about the importance of being able to tell our stories, the way we want to and from our perspective. “Films such as Imbabazi make you relive the pain, so we don’t have to go through the same thing”, says Veronique who is producer of the film.
Veronique Doumbe

This rings particularly true for Joel Karakazi, genocide survivor and director of the film, who was brave enough to tackle a very painful part of his life and put it onscreen: “We need to help so that it will not happen again, it’s important to respect each other; there is the enrichment you get from doing something different. I want it to be different so I can learn something and stand for something else. It’s important we don’t force, but accept our differences as that is a matter of respect.”

The festival films were screened at three different venues around the city namely Ster Kinekor at Eastgate Mall, Alliance Française and the Book Café.

In attendance were several filmmakers from across the globe such as Andrew Dosunmu, director of Mother of George. Veronique Doumbe, who produced and edited Imbabazi, was amongst the invited guests. Also present were founder and first festival director Tsitsi Dangarembga and several local filmmakers, fans of films, and government officials, all of whom came to show their support for the filmmaking industry.

Talent Fadzai Jakado
This year’s theme “Women with Heart”, for me was meant to be a reflection of the power and strength of women, no matter how subtle. I ventured to find stories of courageous women, women unafraid to tell their stories. One such story was the 23-minute documentary, A Story of Hope; A Stitch in Time (Collen Mogoboya, 2014) about a local cervical cancer survivor Talent Fadzai Jakado, which screened at the Book Café. Touching, heartfelt and personal, it is a story of hope that assures that we can rise above anything.

Camera Woman (2014) by Khadija Harrad was also a film that stood out for me. It tackled the issue of divorced women in Moroccan society, women being stereotyped because of the type of work they do. A film about women comradeship and the importance for women to support and encourage one another especially when one is down and under.

The festival also hosted a script adaptation workshop lead by British-Nigerian writer Ade Solanke. The feedback from participants was inspiring, some of which highlighted how it empowered Zimbabwean writers with new writing skills.

Images International Film Festival is growing and expanding. This year they are extending the festival to Kenya and Somalia. The festival will also screen and host workshops in November in Zimbabwe town/cities of Bulawayo, Gwanda and Binga.

The 2014 edition of the festival was entertaining and interesting and as other festival goers commented it would help the festival with a big surge of more support so more people can attend the festival and be part of this discussion. IIFF celebrates women who despite daily challenges emerge stronger.


All winning films received trophies and certificates, and some categories were awarded prize money

Walter Muparutsa Prize for The Best Film in the New Man Category
Winner: Under The Same Sun (2013) by Sameh Zoabi

A well made film that portrays men in a very positive light.  In the Israeli-Palestine conflict men have been fighting at the expense of women and children and it was good to see two men advocating for peace and working to create a safe world for their families.

Best Short Film
Winner: Strength in Fear (2012) by Ella Mutuyimana, Rwanda 

Best Documentary
Winner: Little Heaven (2011) by Lieven Corthouts, Ethiopia/ Belgium 

A humane story about children in a situation that is not of their own making. It is a story about hope and resilience that inspires empathy. It captures the festival theme “Women Alive, Women Of Heart”

Best Script
Winner: Biyi Bandele for the film Half of A Yellow Sun (2013)

Best Cinematography
Winner: Bradford Young for Mother of George (2013) by Andrew Dosunmu, USA/Nigeria

Best Actress
Winner: Sumeia Maculuva in Virgin Margarida (2012) by Licínio Azevedo, Mozambique/Portugal

Best Director
Winner: Joel Karekezi, for Imbabazi |The Pardon (2013), Rwanda

Best Depiction of a Woman Alive, Woman Of Heart
Winner: Virgin Margarida

Best Film
Winner: Virgin Margarida

Audience Prize
Winner: Half of A Yellow Sun 

Best African Film
Winner: Half of a Yellow Sun 

Winner: Virgin Margarida

Best Zimbabwean Film
Winner: Two Villages Apart (2013) by Donald Mabido

Service Award For Outstanding WFOZ Member 
Winner: Stella January

Distinguished Woman of African Cinema
Winner: Lupita Nyong’o, Kenya/USA

*The jury did not award the Best Zimbabwean Documentary and Zimbabwean Film with Best sound.

Report by Oshosheni Hiveluah, September 2014


23 September 2014

Examining the past to envision the future | Interroger le passé pour envisager le future by/par Stéphanie Dongmo on/sur Une feuille dans le vent – Leaf in the Wind by/de Jean-Marie Teno

Examining the past to envision the future |Interroger le passé pour envisager le future de/par Stéphanie Dongmo on/sur Une feuille dans le vent – Leaf in the Wind de/par Jean-Marie Teno)

SOURCE: - 2014-09-14. Article by/par Stéphanie Dongmo. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson.

Awarded first prize for documentary at the 2014 Ecrans noirs festival, A Leaf in the Wind by Jean-Marie Teno presents Ernestine Ouandie’s quest for truth, against the background of the history of the independence of Cameroon. 

"How do you expect a leaf without a stalk to live? I'm like a leaf; I need the branch to survive. When you cut the branch, the leaf will dry, the wind will blow it left, right, up, down, and the leaf will disappear one day." This sentence sums up Ernestine Ouandie’s entire existence. Throughout the film, she relates her sorrow and the perpetual quest of the father.

Born in 1961 in Nigeria, Ernestine is the daughter of Ernest Ouandié, the Cameroonian nationalist who led the UPC after the assassination of Ruben Um Nyobe in 1958 and Felix Moumie in 1960. In this 55-minute documentary, she gives herself entirely. She recounts her difficult childhood and her encounter with her father's country in 1987 after growing up in Ghana. She especially decries the veil of silence surrounding the history of Cameroon, which, for her, is an integral part of her family history. 

To date, the circumstances of the surrender of Ernest Ouandié, executed in Bafoussam in 1971, remain unclear. And there is no commemorative plaque honouring the martyrs, portrayed at the time as guerrilla fighters. Ernestine wants the truth, so she may pass it on to her children, because to project into the future, one needs to look at one's past. "It hurts to know that one must die twice. The first death, itself, is hard enough to accept. The second death, which is silence, will bring us nowhere. When history is written, the wandering souls will finally come to rest," she said. 

One morning of October 2009, Ernestine Ouandié went to join these wandering souls. At that moment, Jean-Marie Teno, who interviewed her in 2004, looks at her revelations in a new way: "I was so touched by her story. I did not know what form the film would take at that point. For a long time in the interview, she talks to me about the metaphor of the leaf but I did not understand. It is when she died that I realized that it made sense. I found in her a depth that made ​​me think that her words should be given attention.”

Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, once said that "the socio-psychological effects of colonisation are far more important than the political consequences because they penetrate deep into the minds of people and take longer to eradicate." Until her death, Ernestine Ouandé carried this burden, in a country where the history of independence has always been elusive. Facing the camera, this beautiful woman, who one senses is desperately alone in her quest, demands justice for truth. Her thoughts are methodically constructed. Her voice and her eyes are full of emotion. One senses that she is close to tears, but she does not crack. 

To put his story into perspective, Jean-Marie Teno utilises archive footage to recount the struggle for independence. He thus draws a parallel between the life of Ernestine and that of "Comrade Emile," her father. The use of illustrations by Kemo Sambé assists in filling the gaps in the story, and gives the viewer a change from the focus on Ernestine's face. The film shot in English and subtitled in French, is dedicated to the children of Ernestine: Boris, Ernesto and Helen. 

Review by Stéphanie Dongmo

Excerpt about A Leaf in the Wind from a discussion with Jean-Marie Teno during a meeting with Cameroon art critics (l’Association de journalistes culturels du Cameroun), compiled by Stéphanie Dongmo. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson

My latest film, A Leaf in the Wind, is my encounter with Ernestine Ouandié. There are specific circumstances that often dictate most of the films that I make. Beginning in 2000 Ernestine tried to meet with people who had worked on colonial history, who knew a little about the history of her father. Also she and my sister had a mutual friend in Bafoussam where my mother lives and where I go often on vacation. We ended up meeting, we talked, and she had this need to talk about her father’s story and that's how the interview was done.

I was so touched by her story. I did not know what form the film would take at that point. For a long time in the interview, she talks to me about the metaphor of the leaf but I did not understand. It is when she died that I realized that it made sense. I found in her a depth that made ​​me think that her words should be given attention, everything that she said in relation to pan-Africanism, the way Cameroon was perceived by the Anglophone countries after independence. It was the moment to question all of this, as well as history.

In order to put Ernestine’s story in perspective, I needed historical markers. The archival footage of this film is drawn from d’Afrique je te plumerai (Africa I will fleece you, 1992). Ernestine had suffered from the absence of her father during her childhood. When she became a woman, she needed to know the history of her father. So I structured the film around her life, her father’s, and the history of Cameroon. To recount, from someone’s perspective, the larger history of Cameroon, those things we do not talk about. This meeting makes sense only when you have brought together all these reflections and that is why I recorded it at the same time, I had to build a story that allows people to continue to deconstruct a lot of the things that we are taught in order to lock us into a certain way of seeing and thinking.

When I arrived at Ernestine’s house, I only had the camera, a 3-hour tape, and no tripod. There was not enough light in the living room to do the interview so I decided to do it outside. We sat on the porch as if having a conversation. The shot was fairly wide, as I did not want a close-up since I knew that what she was going to tell me was not easy, I put the camera on my lap. I started in French and then realised she was searching for words. After an hour we conversed in English where she felt more at ease and then she really began telling her story.

When you have an interview with someone who has constructed a thought that develops over time, it is not easy to stop her. First, she is a woman who is beautiful, who is a pleasure to look at, and at the same time, there is all this pain that is confined inside. When I showed the film in Europe, many people came out of the theatre with tears in their eyes. We see someone with so much strength who then leaves, and at the same time she is given homage without being judged. Someone talks for 30-35 minutes, we listen to her words, and in these words are her experience. This emotional weight I put in context with the story of her father; something we do not often see in documentaries. 

Speaking to liberate

A film only allows people to begin to search, to talk. We must speak in order to free those who are in pain, one must not be afraid of these words. A history is told from a lot of different perspectives. How each person perceives the same events is interesting to analyse: to know why there was conflict and how we go forward in relationship to this history, to allow us to go beyond it. This work is necessary; otherwise we will continue to have resentment and suffering. And that is why Nkrumah said that the psychological effects of colonialism are much longer and difficult to eradicate than the political and economic consequences. 


When I make films, I expect some knocks; but there are those blows that are very painful because they come from where one least expects them. The work I did for Ernestine, her family, her children, for me it was a commitment to the continuation of what I do, and it is very difficult to see people come up to me thinking it is a film that I made for my own benefit from the hardship of someone else. If I wanted to get rich, I would be doing a different kind of cinema and not this. I think the work I do, as do many researchers and historians, is not always recognized for its fair value. 

It did not go over very well with some members Ernestine's family. I do not hold that against them, I know that human nature is what it is, but I'm here, I'm going to cope. I was touched by the reaction of the children of Ernestine; that is sufficient. The film has not been shown much. Its first showing was on 18 March 2014 at the time of the premiere. An attorney for Ernestine’s family wanted to ban the film.

I wanted to show the film in Cameroon. People were disturbed at the beginning and ended up being captivated by it. I am very interested in how people perceive the film here; I always try to put myself on that level.

22 September 2014

Nadine Otsobogo: “The public is shy about themes on the environment" | « Le public est timide à la thématique de l’environnement ». Interview by/par Stéphanie Dongmo

SOURCE: - 2014-09-15. Interview by/par Stéphanie Dongmo. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson.

Nadine Otsobogo, the General Delegate of the Masuku Nature and Environment Film Festival reflects on the second edition which was held from 13-17 August 2014 in Franceville, Gabon. The only prize of this festival, the Audience Award, was conferred to the short film Siggil by Rémi Mazet (20 min, 2010). 

What is your assessment of this second edition of the Masuku Film Festival? 

Responses were fairly positive, since at the 1st edition there were not as many films, nor as much hype around the festival. The patron last year, the Senegalese environment minister, could not attend the event. This year’s patron was present, she pushed us further. She enjoyed the films, the initiative. Volunteers travelled from Libreville to support us. There is room for improvement of course, but overall it was genuinely positive. I say a big bravo to everyone on the organising committee of the festival. 

Why the choice of Danny Sarazin, the director of International Festival of Wildlife and Environmental Film in Morocco to be the patron of this edition?

I wanted a woman in the mould of Kenyan Wangari Muta Maathai who could accompany us and hammer home the message about environmental protection. I searched on Google and Danny Sarazin’s name kept coming up, her profile interested me because she has been organising a festival on environmental problems in Morocco and the world for the past 20 years so she has seen a lot of things. I thought that if she could pass along to us her experiences during these 20 years that it would definitely benefit us. I sent an email as one sends a bottle in the sea. My email had gone by the wayside, but she responded three months later. She was just perfect and that gave us a boost!

Some of the guests who were originally announced did not show up. What happened? 

We had not taken into consideration the administrative aspect, basically. Some people did not have the necessary time to obtain visas; the deadline was too tight. This is the case of Tunisian Habib Ayeb who had to withdraw while at the same time encouraging us. In the first edition, there were no international guests. This was the first time we had to deal with this situation. 

You devoted a “carte blanche” to the French director Jean-Claude Cheyssial. The five documentaries he made ​​on Gabonese spirituality were screened. What motivated you to choose him? 

Jean-Claude Cheyssial has made many films on Gabon. It was important to give a “carte blanche” to a person familiar with Gabon and who came back to give whatever he had received. I thought it would be perfect to give Jean-Claude Cheyssial the opportunity to present his films, to recount his experience as an anthropologist, filmmaker. This could be enriching for us, the Gabonese public, and for the international festivalgoers. Unfortunately, he was not able to come. I hope he can be here for the next edition. The festivalgoers loved his films.

Unlike the first edition, this year you made a call for films. How many did you receive? 

We received thirty films, 18 were selected, in addition to those of Jean-Claude Cheyssial. All of the films selected could not be screened due to the unforeseen limitation of screening venues in the city. 

A film market was planned, as well as workshops and meetings. Why were they cancelled? 

There was a workshop in fact, hosted by François Ako, organized in partnership with the Gabonese Institute of Image and Sound. We realized that it was a bit early to launch the film market, it had been planned first for Gabonese directors, but they withdrew at the last moment, even though they had agreed in principle to the idea. 

What do you plan to do, in fact, to win the confidence of Gabonese film professionals who seem to snub this festival? 

Snub is a big word! At present, I think they do not see where they fit in. There is widespread suspicion of what is new, and we do not have to win over these people. “Culture for everyone” is the objective of our association. And the environment is everyone's business. 

What were some of the difficulties of this edition? 

We had a lot fewer partners than last year. Some roused after the event, better late than never, is it not? This year where it was held, in Franceville, in August, there were at least three screening events organized by other organisations, which we had not expected. It was quite complicated to manage. It's good that there are several festivals or parades in Gabon but what is unfortunate is that in a city like Franceville, that there are several screenings during the same period. These associations did not coordinate their events with ours.

We are not competing; our objective is that the public can enjoy films and that in the end cinema houses are opened. We encourage people to come together to offer the best of Gabonese and international culture since we have the same goal, and not to disperse, having several festivals and multiple screenings in the same country, the same city, during the same period. We need to be logical.

The audience remained rather cautious, how do you intend to garner interest for future editions? 

The public is shy about themes on the environment, I think. But you noticed that when we screened the films of Jean Claude Cheyssial, the public was quite interested; because they were filmed in Gabon, undoubtedly. So we will review our program and with the guidance of Danny Sarazin, our patron, we will increase the environmental initiatives throughout the year.

Is it more difficult to organize a festival dedicated to the environment than a general festival? 

Absolutely. Already, a festival is not a small matter, but on top of it, to have a theme, it's not easy. This is the second edition, but I'm surrounded by a good team. It's very hard, I have learned that sometimes people are full of talk, they promise a lot and in the end, nothing. This festival is like a small niche; but the environment, for me, this is our daily life. It is much healthier to talk about everyday life, what we live on a daily basis. Gabon, Africa, the world, is a beautiful environment that must be protected, and our awareness comes through the image. One gets the impression that it is minute but it is vast. 

In two years, do you feel that this festival has helped raise awareness of the need to protect the environment? 

This year, we were besieged by other images, while the films that we show do not necessarily attract a large public. It will take time, but people are not stupid. I know that little by little, people will appreciate it and understand. At some point, they will say: we want something else, a healthy environment, a clean city, protected forests. I am convinced of that. 

What can we expect now for the next year’s 3rd edition of the festival? 

Already, the filmmakers who were not able to attend will be invited back. The films that were not screened will be re-programmed. This festival is like a baby. Next year it will be 3 years old, it will, hopefully, stand up and walk. 

Interview with Nadine Otsobogo by Stephanie Dongmo, originally published September 14, 2014.

Read also on the African Women in Cinema Blog:

21 September 2014

"Under and through the celluloid ceiling", a review by Sophie Mayer with comments by Beti Ellerson

"Under and through the celluloid ceiling", a review by Sophie Mayer

Women filmmakers, past and present, have been the subject of recuperative catalogues since the 1970s, and Celluloid Ceiling is a new entry into this heroic history of rediscovery and advocacy.

Sophie Mayer reviews the recent publication Celluloid Ceiling: Women Film Directors Breaking Through, edited by Gabrielle Kelly and Cheryl Robson.

IN: The F Word, Contemporary UK Feminism


When Sophie Mayer's review of Celluloid Ceiling was published--and the link posted here, I had not yet received my copy of the book.

Since recently receiving a copy, I have read the contribution by Maria Williams-Hawkins entitled: "Speak Up! Who's Speaking?: African Filmmakers Speak for Themselves". Her chapter, under the section on Africa, immediately follows mine.

I must say that I am extremely disappointed in what in fact is a mere adaptation of my chapter, “Africa through a woman’s eyes: Safi Faye’s cinema,” published in Focus on African FilmsFrançoise Pfaff, ed. (Indiana University Press, 2004).

The subchapter of Williams-Hawkins' article, “Safi Faye, Ph.D.: La Grande Reference” is not only a complete adaptation—though badly interpreted—of my article, but in the many instances where my ideas and analyses are brought out they are presented as if they were her own. When comparing my chapter with that of Williams-Hawkins’, it is, from my point of view, straight out plagiarism. Quite frankly, I think the article is not well written and am surprised that it did not go through a peer review.

If anyone is looking for information regarding African women in cinema this is definitely not a source to use.

10 September 2014

Jessie Chisi talks about "Between Rings: The Esther Phiri Story" and her hopes for Zambian cinema

Jessie Chisi, who lives and works between Zambia and Finland, and is founder and director of the Zambia Short Film Festival, has recently completed the feature documentary, Between Rings: The Esther Phiri Story. She relates about her evolution and experiences in cinema.

Jessie what were your experiences with cinema while growing up in Zambia?

When I was growing up, cinema was like a luxury or fantasy, going there because it was a holiday or a special event in the family or as a reward for passing your exams.  Most of my childhood cinema memories were going to outdoor screenings that were set either in halls or under a plastic stall. I would often use money to pay for the entrance fee rather than for lunch. The films were always projected from a small screen but for me it was phenomenal, that excited me. I watched films such as Lion King, Chaplin and Good Fellas. One of the films that really left an impact on me was the South African apartheid story, Sarafina and stories like Shaka Zulu. I could relate to the pains and agonies of the people. Those stories were always with me. 

You are an emerging filmmaker, what inspired you to want to make films and what has been your learning process, training?

I started writing stories when I was twelve years old. In school I always did well in literature and storytelling, those subjects were my comfort zone; I would shine with them. But what inspired me to be a filmmaker was the fact that no one believed me and I wanted to prove them wrong. Everyone thought that I was a dreamer--filmmaking was a very lonely path for me. Who talks about being a film director at the age of sixteen, and breaths and thinks cinema in a country where at that time the industry was non-existence, barely starting? 

However I began the quest. I met the necessary people who inspired me. People like Cathrine Kaseketi who trained me for a long period; and also Sakafunya Chinyinka who was my mentor; he made me believe in myself. Filmmaking has been a process of inquiring, discovering, experiencing, developing and having fun. I started out as a continuity supervisor, which allowed me to grow, and it opened my eyes since I was constantly working close to the director on any given project. I worked on Karl Francis’ Hope Eternal as continuity supervisor, Cathrine Kaseketi’s Suwi, and Zambian Kitchen Party. As I was looking within to discover myself, I served under people who inspired and challenged me. To think ten years ago that I would have a film that is screened in a festival—it was a far-fetched dream.

You attended the Durban Talent Campus in 2009, what was that experience like?

This was an awesome experience. Actually it was from Durban that I really started believing in myself. I pitched a film for the first time and I made a very good impression. Though it was a project that I never got to make, in Durban I was able to meet talented people and well-established filmmakers, which was a breath of fresh air. I was very motivated, and from Durban I never looked back. I was very young then, outgoing and extremely ambitious, never believing in failure. Then in 2010 I was accepted at the Berlinale Talent Campus.

What did the Berlinale Talent Campus entail and what did you get from the experience?

It is a very competitive campus and I was selected with my project, Woman on Hold. It was among the 12 selected projects from over a thousand applicants.  At the Berlinale my project got the best pitch review and for the most promising film. I was more than humbled and I knew from then on that my journey to real professional filmmaking had begun. Being young, African and a woman, this industry is tough. I had to brace myself for challenges because I knew it would not get any easier; but I remained persistent, focused and consistent. Art is about consistency and managing your inner desires. In addition, while there I learned how the international markets work, and the question I always ask is “where is Africa in this? Can African cinema fit in? Can women filmmakers fit in? And my answer was yes. The world is slowly changing and it is embracing diversity: I strive to take my stories across the globe. So the experience for me in the campus was all about acquiring knowledge, networking and making lasting experiences. 

Your film Between Rings co-directed with Salla Sorri is about your cousin who is a champion female boxer. Did you decide to focus on her in order to follow her training and progress leading up to the 2012 Olympics?

Time flies, and the film has changed a lot. Originally called Woman on hold, the film is now titled Between Rings: The Esther Phiri Story. It is a story about my cousin Esther Phiri, the first-ever Zambian female boxer who was torn between marriage and career because she could not have both worlds as one conflicted with the other. Again those kinds of situations disturb me, first as a human being and second as a woman. I was intrigued and started asking questions like "why shouldn’t she be able to if she loves it?"

Esther’s story is one of a woman who always puts her life on hold to achieve the other thing and always remains empty within herself. She gives up her love for boxing and gives up boxing for her independence. 

You are now living in Finland, working there in film and visual media. What have been your experiences? 

I actually have lived for the past 5 years 50% of the time in Zambia and 50% in Finland. My experience of having a torn life in two different countries has made me more aware of who I am as an artist. I went to Finland to train in filmmaking on a scholarship organized for local Zambian filmmakers. During my training there I made a 22-minute short called Every woman knows. Oh, please don’t ask me, “why another woman story”. I am always around women who protest that women should tell their own stories. This movie was more of my discovery stage. The following year I directed Goodbye, about a woman dying of cancer and her son is waiting to say goodbye and she wants lip gross because her lips are dry, however, the son misses the moment to say good bye but he puts the gloss on her lips anyway. Unborn is a story about a woman who has to make a very critical decision in her life. Between keeping her newly-promoted career or her unborn child. I am actually releasing a second version of a similar situation but this time to be set in Zambia. I am always fascinated about women and their decision-making; how we always have to give up one thing in order to have something else.

What has been the reactions of the Finnish public to your work?

Most of the Finnish who see my short films say that I have a melancholic Finnish way of storytelling. I suppose it is because I now know the culture there. I have studied the people. I have connected with Euphoria Boralise, a Finnish film association with whom I have been doing projects. To me, Finland is a good place to write and to be inside oneself as an artist. The film industry is small, but it is big compared to Zambia.

You are founder and director of the Zambia Short Fest, which is a visible part of the Zambian cinemascape.

The project was born from the fact that Zambia has no film school, yet there is a lot of talent. The Zambia Short Fest wants to encourage rising talents and filmmakers to use short films as their school. We showcase shorts of 15 minutes or less. 2014 is our second edition and we are going to screen 60 films, sixty percent of which are Zambian films and 40% international. There is a three-week intensive film-training workshop prior to the film festival where 24 young Zambians are enrolled. The training is in co-operation with Euphoria Borealis and is funded by the Finnish film foreign ministry.

A Zambian cinema culture is emerging as a result of talented filmmakers like yourself. You have already created the Zambia Short Fest, how else would you like to contribute to its growth and success?

I love Zambia. Zambia has untapped stories and talents and I want to explore that. I have just finished making my first feature-length documentary and I am excited especially to see and hear what Zambian thinks about it. I want to see where this boxer’s story leads me. I am working with an amazing woman, Victoria Thomas who has been a great pillar. She is in charge of African and world distribution of the film. 

Interview with Jessie Chisi by Beti Ellerson, September 2014.

Links of interest:

Wanjiku wa Ngugi talks about the Helsinki African Film Festival

09 September 2014

Naomi Beukes-Meyer (Germany-Namibia) launches crowdfunding for the 2nd Episode of THE CENTRE Web Series

Naomi Beukes-Meyer, still from promo
Berlin-based Namibian writer and director Naomi Beukes-Meyer, created "The Centre" webisode series in order to relate the experiences of African women who are trying to deal with the day-to-day life in Berlin. The first episode, “I’m still down here”, was received with much enthusiasm by online viewers. She has launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for the second episode “What to do with the Silence.”

Indiegogo crowdfunding description:
The series is written by Naomi-Beukes-Meyer, herself an African woman who has been living in the German capital for nearly 20 years.  
Though there is a large African community in Europe, Naomi has always felt that there is a distinct lack of film and television dramas highlighting first and second generation African female and, in particular, lesbian experience in her adopted country and it was this that spurred her on to write the first episode of The Centre two years ago.

Read also on the African Women in Cinema Blog: Naomi Beukes-Meyer: a Namibian woman telling stories from Berlin 

06 September 2014

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Parts 1-9: reflections by Beti Ellerson

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Parts 1-9:  reflections by Beti Ellerson

During the spring 2014 semester I taught the course African Women in Art and Cinema at Denison University. During the past two weeks of Blog posts, I shared my experiences in teaching the course: my desire for creating the course, its objectives, methodology, the course readings, the course exercises, and selected student reflections, which were published with their permission. In addition to the readings and visual materials, the wide range of exercises offered a dynamic, interactive exchange between the students and me, and among the students themselves—notably the panel forum that entailed the preparation and discussion of an assigned group topic. The final exercise encompassed a simulated event/environment showcasing African women cultural producers based on an assigned theme—an exciting culmination of the semester!

What I learned above all from the experiences of teaching this course was the incontestable fact that with available, accessible and organised materials and resources, a course such as this, perhaps seemingly obscure to some, may be taught, not just as a session or two within a course, or as a week-long seminar, but as a semester course. What still remains an obstacle, nonetheless, is the availability of films, which is the case in African cinema studies in general due to the restraints of distribution. And perhaps the most frustrating, the fact that resources—for various reasons— are not always accessible directly from the continent. Nonetheless, as I have attempted to frame the course using a non-deficit approach in order to show the empowering and positive visual representations, voices and discourse, I remain within that spiritBeti Ellerson


In the Part 1 Blog post, I present the course description. Part 2 elaborates the course structure, outline and themes. Part 3 focuses on introductory sources that frame theoretical and critical practices of interpretation and contextualise women artists’ multiple experiences. Part 4 investigates the themes “women’s voices” and “women’s stories” and the ways in which they are contextualised and problematized. Part 5 explores the plurality of women’s experiences based on assigned artists/filmmakers for which students did research and prepared a visual oral presentation. Part 6 examines issues around voice and representation drawing from the story of Saartjie Baartman—the woman, and the Venus Hottentot—the name given to her as spectacle. Part 7 focuses on the theme: interrogating identities, bodies, sexualities, femininities. Part 8 examines themes around intergenerational, transnational, global diaspora: Under the theme, intergenerational perspectives, the class follows the evolution, tendencies and trends, from the pioneering women to the present generation. The themes globality, transnational, diaspora are problematized around the question of the positionality of the gaze. Part 9 is framed around the question “is there a gendered sensibility? If so, what does a woman’s sensibility look like?”

Also published at the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema

05 September 2014

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Pt 9 – Gendered sensibilities?: Safi Faye’s "Mossane" and Ousmane Sembene’s "Moolaade"

Teaching African Women in Cinema, Art and Culture – Part 9 is framed around the question “is there a gendered sensibility? If so, what does a woman’s sensibility look like?”

During the spring 2014 semester I taught a course that I created called, African Women in Art and Cinema. In the Part 1 Blog post, I present the course description. Part 2 elaborates the course structure, outline and themes. Part 3 focuses on introductory sources that frame theoretical and critical practices of interpretation and contextualise women artists’ multiple experiences. Part 4 investigates the themes “women’s voices” and “women’s stories” and the ways in which they are contextualised and problematized. Part 5 explores the plurality of women’s experiences based on assigned artists/filmmakers for which students did research and prepared a visual oral presentation. Part 6 examines issues around voice and representation drawing from the story of Saartjie Baartman—the woman, and the Venus Hottentot—the name given to her as spectacle. Part 7 focuses on the class theme: interrogating identities, bodies, sexualities, femininities. Part 8 examines themes around intergenerational, transnational, global diaspora: Under the theme, intergenerational perspectives, the class follows the evolution, tendencies and trends, from the pioneering women to the present generation. The themes globality, transnational, diaspora are problematized around the question of the positionality of the gaze.—Beti Ellerson

The last theme of the semester was framed around the question “is there a gendered sensibility? If so, what does a woman’s sensibility look like?” This question was the centre of a discussion I had already explored in the film Sisters of the Screen, African Women in the Cinema during a sequence where several women reflected on my question. Drawing from this film segment, which was screened in class, the discussion focused on two films, one by a woman, Mossane (1996) by Safi Faye and the other a man, Moolaade (2004) by Ousmane Sembene, both from Senegal. This was the first time that a film by a man was a focus of discussion. Though the theme, "critical perspectives of African women actors" examined the visual representation of women on screen, which included films by African men, women's experiences were the point of departure. The readings for the session included: “Gendered Sensibilities and Female Representation in African Cinema” an analysis of Safi Faye’s Mossane and Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaade; an interview with Ousmane Sembene on the subject of Moolaadé by Samba Gadjigo; and the revisiting of the article, "Africa through a Woman's Eyes: Safi Faye's Cinema" by Beti Ellerson, in Focus on African Films by Françoise Pfaff.
The class discussion centred on the notion of “feminist” filmmaking, of whether women have a specific sensibility when dealing with issues related to women. Another point for discussion compared and contrasted the filmmakers’ approach to the dominant theme of both films: traditional practices regarding the girl child/woman’s body, her right to define her future, and the role of the village as agents of change.

The student reflections reproduced here are indicative of the passionate and enlightening dialogue that emerged:

Burkinabé Fanta Nacro theorises that in our actions as human beings, whether male or female and whether driven by the causes of others or our own motivations, in the end there remains only the human being. When contemplating male and female sensibilities, it often becomes easy to differentiate, claiming that only a woman could connect with and accurately portray the questions and experiences of women. Yet film school director Masepeke Sekhukhuni identifies the danger in pinpointing and essentializing “female sensibilities,” as there exist men whose sensitivity may be likened to the sensitivity of women (Jenna B. '16, Denison University).

Though experiences are often gendered, the forces that drive us are mostly universally human. We all want a sense of belonging in our society, we want what is best for the ones we love, and we want security. Myth and ritual are tools through which we are able to measure and understand our place in society and maintaining tradition thus becomes a way for us to maintain a sense of security in our understanding of the world. When tradition is threatened we risk massive dislocation and disorientation in our sense of self. It is for this reason that even the most harmful traditions are often so difficult to change. Alone on an island we would not risk our daughter’s life by having her excised. We would, however, if it was the only way we could give her a chance at being valued in the community. Tradition can be empowering as easily as it can be oppressive. The tradition of Moolaade was the vehicle through which Collé was able to effect such change. Tradition can institutionalise and protect cultural values. Myth, such as that of Mossane, can teach values from generation to generation and inspire consciousness-raising. It is this struggle to redefine tradition and build a better society that is at the heart of both of these stories and the struggles chronicled in the two films express a human sensibility as the characters deal with the difficult implications of their decisions (Tommy C. '14, Denison University).

The concept of a “woman’s sensibility” stems from three ideas: one, that women’s perspectives are often neglected in films, two, that women are better suited to portraying a woman’s perspective, and three, that women are more likely to open up to other women. While I agree with these points, I also contend that a film directed by a man, such as Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaade, can also hold relevance not only to women’s daily life, but also to the wider issues of women’s rights as they conflict with tradition and history (Caroline C. '16, Denison University).

In both the films Mossane, directed by Safi Faye, and Moolaade, directed by Ousmane Sembene, we see girls abandoned to tradition. Mossane portrays a girl trapped by her society’s expectations for her life, while in Moolaade, the young girls’ rebellion becomes a village’s revolution. Moolaade has a more overt display of feminism, while Mossane is more of a subtle examination of a young girl’s rebellion. This subtlety can be attributed to Safi Faye’s inclusion of myth and ancestral legend, which intrinsically ground the film to a more stasis plot development (Caroline C. '16, Denison University).

After finishing Mossane, I initially considered the film a tragedy, but the more appropriate word is a film of “destiny.” The role of myth and ancestral beliefs ties into this concept of destiny and Mossane’s ultimately necessary death. In following through with the story of the myth (rather than changing Mossane’s story into a successful act of rebellion), Safi Faye exhibits a base respect for African traditions and culture. Although the film is a story of a rebellious young woman, there are still representations of mythology and ancestry that are treated with the utmost respect, as an unchangeable destiny. While Mossane’s death seems unfair, her return to nature (to the river) and to the spirits follows the metaphor of the film. Mossane is “a metaphor of beauty, a song to women.” Mossane does not have to change her village to make an impact with her audience or her people. The film is a metaphor, like poetry, to illustrate the life of a girl who, by others, is defined by her beauty. Her society sees her beauty as her value, but Mossane, the mythology, and her audience, come to understand her complexity and desire to be free. And in the end, in death, she is freed from the world that tried to contain her (Caroline C. '16, Denison University).

In my view, the largest comparison between the two films is in how these rebellious acts are dealt with in the end. Moolaade “pushes the men to come to terms with their complicity in the perpetuation of women’s oppression.” I enjoyed Moolaade in particular because of this male involvement in change. As said by Kelley Temple, an officer of the National Union of Students UK Women, “Men who want to be feminists do not need to be given a space in feminism. They need to take the space they have in society and make it feminist.” In Moolaade, the character Mercenary helps to disrupt the patriarchal structure – he stops Collé’s husband from beating her. He states, “I cannot stand violence.” He does not protect Collé because he views her as a weak woman (quite the opposite – Collé is a woman of incredibly strong conviction), but he saves her because he hates to see the violence of humanity. Collé is not just a woman, she is a person. This relates to the concept not of a “woman’s sensibility,” but a human sensibility (Caroline C. '16, Denison University).

Had Moolaade ended more similarly to Mossane – without any perceived change in the societal norm, with the girls excised anyway, and no collective protest against tradition - I suspect the male director Sembene would have received more critique by the feminist sphere. That is to say, perhaps because Ousmane Sembene is a male director, his film about women’s issues had to end with a positive note to be considered an open-minded, feminist film. I do not mind his overt approach to advocacy of women’s rights. We discussed briefly in class how Collé is a character very much made for her role. She is made strong and steadfast in her beliefs, and her character is portrayed to serve a purpose: to disrupt the patriarchy of oppressive traditions. However, I do not view Collé as a two-dimensional archetype. She is a hero, and a character created to be a role model for young women (and perhaps even for societies as a whole). Collé’s struggle to stand for her beliefs is not fictional – her story is relatable and relevant to a wide range of audiences (Caroline C.  '16, Denison University).

There is a connection between thought and voice within the two films. While the younger generation is the most directly affected by the practices and rituals, the elders (older generation) have the loudest and most stern voice throughout the film. Mossane’s parents are accused of sacrificing their daughter’s happiness in order to become wealthy. Mothers buckled under the pressure of resisting the excision of their young girls for fear of what would happen if the tradition were defied. It would be easy to look at this as an injustice to women and a defiance of their freedom to exist on this earth, but we also must realize that changing an institution or a culture based on tradition and the attitudes from the elders toward that change is not an easy thing to do. [A classmate] made an intriguing statement in class [suggesting] that the change takes place within the community, not from the outside world. When looking at these experiences as it pertains to today’s generation, it is hard to classify the experiences of men and women, because they affect each other in many ways. As a society where both genders exist together, they both play a significant role in perpetuating/defying a ritual or tradition within that society. Therefore, the idea of human sensibilities is the lens in which I viewed both of these of films as they seemingly find ways to tell a collective story of both men and women’s lived experiences (Rian M. '16, Denison University).

Although the films Moolaade by Ousmane Sembene, and Mossane by Safi Faye are quite different in content, they are both prime examples of Fanta Nacro’s concept of “human sensibility”. Both films are seen to take a humanistic approach to the problems presented, advocating for women’s rights, bodily integrity, empowerment and freedom of choice.  Both films explore these themes through the resistance to tradition, thus demonstrating the evolution of the human character, as well as the natural human drive for independence. This may be seen when Faye’s title character Mossane defies her arranged marriage to follow love, or when Sembene’s Collé defies the tradition of female excision.  It is interesting that such characteristically feminist themes originate from both a male and female filmmaker, especially because Faye has on numerous occasions declared that her films are not specifically feminist. However this emphasizes the humanism of the two films: both adopt a sense of human empowerment that is surely embodied, but not limited to feminism (Abbie T., '16 Denison University).

By Beti Ellerson, September 2014

Also published at the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema

Blog Archive