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.

30 November 2011

Report on the International Images Film Festival for Women 2011 (Harare, Zimbabwe)

The 10th Edition of the International Images Film Festival for Women (18-26 November) in Harare, Zimbabwe brimmed with events, offering a memorable occasion for all who were present at the screenings, receptions, initiatives, master class, and award ceremonies, and who seized the exciting opportunity to network with local and international attendees.

The international character of the festival was evident as representatives from embassies, NGOs and international organisations interacted with Zimbabwean counterparts and invited guests. Networking opportunities also included encounters with African film festival organizers Hans-Christian Mahnke of the Namibian Film Festival, Shamek Stepien of AfryKamera African Film Festival Poland, Lizelle Bisschoff of Africa in Motion Film Festival in Edinburgh, actor and filmmaker Martha Fergusson of Canada and Beti Ellerson, director of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema based in the United States, and Zimbabwean filmmaking professionals and cultural producers such as Jackie Cahi, Nakai Matema, as well as Michelle Ajida, Tawanda Gunda, Melody Gwenyambira, Blessing Hungwe, Upenyu Makoni-Muchemwa, Victoria Mtomba, and Tawanda Mukurunge, who also served as jury members.

The festival theme “Women with Goals” was omnipresent; as films, organized activities and initiatives highlighted how women have persevered to attain the goals they set for themselves. Institute of Creative Art for Progress in Africa Trust Board Member Sarah Moyo reiterated these objectives in her presentation at the opening ceremony. The celebratory event which kicked off with the music of Mafriq, featured His Excellency Ambassador Anders Liden of Sweden, a major sponsor of the Festival.

The diverse collection of films by and about women spanned the globe, from the countries of Belgium, Canada, Cuba, Czech, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Uganda, UK, USA, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The myriad, multi-layered and wide-raging stories explore adolescent friendships; the bond between mother and daughter; traditional roles of sexuality and marriage; women struggling with depression, loneliness, jealousy and domestic abuse; the challenges of tradition versus modernity; the trauma of death; dialogues between past and present; generational conflicts within immigrant families; and the complexities within female relationships. The Zimbabwean films, screened at the popular Mannenberg (Harare) drew packed audiences, as local productions are increasingly in demand among viewers who are keen to see familiar faces and places. A new initiative of the festival is the Binga Outreach which will take place from 5-7 December where local films will be screened to audiences in the Matabeleland North town of Binga.

THE AWARDS (presented at the Closing Ceremony)

Best Short Film
Dina (Mozambique)
Best Documentary
Why Can’t I  (India)
Best Feature on Other Format
Distress (Iran)
Best Script
The Other/L’autre (France)
Best Direction
The Wedding Song/Le chant des mariées (France)
Best Actress
Sibel Kekilli in the film When We Leave (Germany)
Best Depiction of a Woman within the Goals of the Festival
The Wedding Song/Le chant des mariées (France)
Best Photography
Dog in a Sidecar (Japan)
Best Film
The Wedding Song/Le chant des mariées (France)

Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ) in partnership with the UNWomen Gender Support Programme (UNIFEM) hosted the Ndichirimupenyu Awards. Now in its 6th year, the award honours women who have excelled in their various endeavours—including the categories art, business, sport and national social contributor. In 2010 the category Best Male Against Gender-based Violence was included to highlight the role of men as active players in the fight against gender-based violence. The African Fathers Initiative of Zimbabwe was very visible at the awards event. Similarly, the "New Man" section of the Festival introduced screenings of films that highlighted a new consciousness of what it takes to fulfil the role of a responsible, caring and loving “New Man” in African societies. 

Other highlights of the festival were the Master Class, the World Premiere of Nyaminymi and the Evil Eggs and the Distinguished Woman of African Cinema Award. Presented by UK-based Lizelle Bisschoff from South Africa, the Master Class entitled "Women in African Cinema: Questions of Absence and Presence", was the subject of her recent doctoral thesis. The World Premiere of the film Nyaminymi and the Evil Eggs by Tsitsi Dangarembga included the presentation of the Artists Charter for Zimbabwe, the screening, and a lively discussion with the filmmaker, producers and audience. Three women were nominated for the Distinguished Woman in African Cinema Award: Producer Jackie Cahi of Zimbabwe, Producer Bridget Pickering of Namibia and African Cinema Scholar and Centre Director Beti Ellerson of the United States. Beti Ellerson was awarded the prize for her important contribution to the advancement of African women in cinema.

The International Images Film Festival for Women concluded with a farewell by Tsitsi Dangarembga, founder and outgoing director of IIFF, and at its 10-year anniversary, a passing of the baton to Yvonne Jila as she takes the reigns as new director.


Report by Beti Ellerson, November 2011


Also read about other proceedings on conferences, forums and meetings of African Women in Cinema on the African Women in Cinema Blog:

Keynote: "40 years of cinema by women of Africa" by Beti Ellerson. Colloquy: Francophone African Women Filmmakers: 40 years of cinema (1972-2012), Paris, 23 and 24 November 2012. Follow link

Report on the Colloquium-Meeting "Francophone African Women Filmmakers: 40 years of cinema (1972-2012)" - Paris, 23-24 November 2012. Follow link

Report on Afrikamera 2012 Women on and behind the screen. Follow link

Women and Film in Africa: Overcoming Social Barriers, University of Westminster, London, 19–20 November 2011. A report by Bronwen Pugsley. Follow link

Report on the African Women Filmmakers Forum 2010 - Johannesburg. Follow link


29 November 2011

Rungano Nyoni: Mwansa the Great

Rungano Nyoni from Zambia, has been crisscrossing the globe to festival screenings of her film Mwansa the Great since its release this year.

The film evolved from the 2009 Focus Features' Africa First Program for which her film project was chosen along with four other African filmmakers to receive financial and professional support to make their short films.

The film tells the story of eight year old Mwansa who aspires to be a hero and embarks upon a journey to prove his greatness - with unexpected consequences. Rungano Nyoni, who grew up writing stories, wanted to show the normality and fulfilled dreams of childhood despite adversity.

Rungano Nyoni on Focus Features


Trailer - Mwansa the Great (2011) by Rungano Nyoni


Link


28 November 2011

A Conversation with Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann

©Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann
Kenyan-German Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann explores how her multiple identities and complexity of experiences inform and influence her work.
You are of Kenyan and German parentage and have lived and traveled in Europe and Africa. How have these experiences influenced you and your work?
I will start by saying I am glad I have seen what I have seen, and that I have been where I have been. It has molded me to who I am. It’s been a long experience and it is still ongoing. For the longest time I battled with being one or the other – and in every location, every place, I am viewed as being other. Sometimes this becomes tiring – during the years I lived in Cape Town – this was harrowing – how others viewed me was incorrect to my vision of myself. However in hindsight this catalyzed my own revision of my vision of myself. Now I believe I am many things – I cannot be one thing – and I do not have to subscribe to one thing. What I am is my spirit, what I am, is my experiences. Being half white and half black, being half African, and half European, and having the perspectives of a German father and a Kenyan mother means that I see two sides to everything – I can put myself in the shoes of two polar perspectives which is advantageous to my filmmaking, especially the films I want to make.

This juxtaposition, this contrast was once a battle within me. However now it means that in my work I am drawn to writing stories about people that are misunderstood in their communities. I am also drawn to writing stories whose objectivity comes from their subjectivity of each character. I live in Kenya, and I love Kenya. Kenya is my country – but strangely, and unfortunately I am viewed as an outsider. I do not mind too much, as I have come to terms with myself and who I am, and I believe I am Kenyan. I know I am Kenyan in my heart, and so one’s opinion of what I am is no longer important. I am often asked, in my own country, where I am from. This can hurt sometimes. Personally, I would say I am my experiences, and I would say I am Kenyan, I am, a black woman and I am an African – this is where my heart belongs. I grew up in a multicultural community in Kenya. So I grew up in a dynamic environment where one's cultural or racial identity was something to be proud of, whilst simultaneously not being an issue at all.

In addition I grew up in the “leafy suburbs” of Nairobi – we grew up protected and educated in a British school system, I learnt Latin. So couple the leafy suburbs with a black white combo and I was an outsider in other people’s eyes. But many people were like me – so my background was not too much of an issue. Only when I went to school in Europe did I get a shock – I was young and sensitive. Suddenly I became aware of the difference between how I viewed myself and how others saw me.

You work with both the still and moving image. Your photography is very cinematographic, not in the sense of a constructed image, but rather that it has a strong narrative character. What is your filmmaking in relationship to your photography?
I have always been heavily attached to visual art through drawing and painting. I am very interested in images and so it was almost natural course to go into an art, that I believed had a “lifelike” embodiment. I chose to go into filmmaking and a bit later I took up photography as a hobby. I practice both – and I find that each honors the other. In addition through practicing as a photographer I enhance my own visual lexicon, deepen my aesthetic understanding and refine what images speak to me, and through this I know what images I want to speak to others. My penchant for photography is in its beauty to embody memory – a memory that is either real or “imagined.” I also like that, at least for the photography that I like, and that I take – I like that photography honors people. This is beautiful – you immortalize a soul, a whole lineage, a whole moment, a whole feeling in one image. That is beautiful to me. With a lot of my personal photography, the photography I do for myself; I want my images to look like a memory and carry the sentiments of a memory – a memory that the viewer relates to whether it is real or constructed.

In this way some of images that I have captured, or lets say, some “evocative memories”, are what influence my filmmaking.  Sometimes I am driven to write a story based on a photograph I took, a photography that maybe reminded me of a life I have never had. Some other times I will take a photograph and by chance, it is a images that belongs to a character I am writing about. It will look and feel like a photograph that was taken from the life of Sheba, the protagonist of Two Princes.

Gubi - The Birth of Fruit (2007) by Philippia Ndisi-Hermann

Your film, Gubi - The Birth of Fruit is an experimental folktale, recounted solely with beautiful images and sounds of the drum. What inspired this work? Were you influenced by African storytelling while growing up?

I wanted to write a story that took place in another time. And so, though I must say that African storytelling did not feature in my childhood, I am moved by it. For Gubi, I chose to create my own myth. Actually I wrote some prose based on my feeling for the film – and the prose spoke of seeds and burying seeds so that one’s spirit be reborn, and in turn return. And so with this, I started writing on the concept. I worked together with two other writers and Gubi – The Birth of Fruit is what we came up with.

The drum in the film was surely a blessing – we had toyed with different sounds and songs – and they didn’t work – they were almost too much from this world. I went to a friend’s house who saw the rough cut, and Chris said, “Speak to Kesivan – maybe he can do something for you.” Kesivan Naidoo at the time was an upcoming South African drummer (now he is very established). So I called Kesivan and he came into the studio with a njembe – and we filled a metal thermos with some rice and soil and stones – and in an hour, Kesivan had performed the music for the film. I like the drum a lot in this film. A lot - because I see the drum as being the omniscient immortal character; the narrator of this love story.

At the time I was interested in writing stories that had female martyrs – marginalized people that myopic people found easy to ostracize, however through their sacrifice they brought a great evolutionary change in their community. Which is what mythology is mostly about – African mythologies are like small vignettes of how we got where we are now; how our community got to where they are today. And so my narrative, through the protagonist Nok is about how the Gubi community discovered the circle of life, how we as humans became self-sufficient through learning that seeds reap fruit when buried. That is how I saw it in my mind.

Your documentary, I'm Not Dead Yet (2009), is about anti-apartheid, resistance artist Manfred Zylla. How did you develop an interest in him and his work?

Manfred the protagonist is a man that I really love. We no longer live in the same country and I must say I miss him. He is a close friend. I made the film about Manfred because I found him fascinating and in many ways I was curious about his life. Here is a man, a white man in South Africa – that during Apartheid chose to fight against the system instead of letting it work for him. He took on a problem, that he didn’t need to. I find this admirable. But then of course, in this post-apartheid era he is not recognized for his contribution because he does not fit into the box. So I made the film to honour his contribution and his work.

In addition, as we began to know each other I began to ask myself more questions. If one’s art is not recognized or appreciated, is it worth doing? In addition – Manfred is a man who dedicated his life to pursuing his art – and now 2 divorces and 2 children later – I wonder is he happy. As an artist, and I am sure many people can relate to this – you wonder if what you are doing is right, or you hold the perception that following your passion will inevitably make you happy. But what if it doesn’t? And what if you sacrifice people you love for your art, what then? I don’t know – So those are some questions that I was curious about that spurred me to make a film about Manfred. I wanted to begin some sort of deliberation towards the “truth”.
Your company, Thirsty Fish, an interesting name, what is its meaning?

One of my favorite poems is “A Thirsty Fish” by Rumi. I chose this name for my company and I embraced it as a pseudonym for many reasons – for example, one of my favorite lines is, “a great silence overcomes me and I wonder why I ever thought to use language.” Sometimes there are feelings and moments that I cannot express in words. There are other lines in the poem that I like – that move me. The poem has been with me for a long time too, so it has a lot of memories and feelings that I attach to it. I like the voice of this poem because he or she believes there is so much in store for them. I like that. The words of that poem really move me. Rumi moves me. 
Your work in progress, “Two Princes” is a feature film. What is it about and when do you anticipate completion?

To be frank, “Two Princes” is a film that I look forward to watching. It is about love, it is about death, it is about grief and it is about regret. I wrote the narrative because I was overwhelmed with a large bountiful landscape of moving pain in my heart and I knew I needed to write. This was coupled with my curiosity – I had so many questions that I wondered about. In my patriarchal society, what it is like for a woman to return to her husband, after she had left him for another man? Do we judge a woman’s infidelity and “wantonness” more harshly than we would a man’s? In Kenya, our strong Christian, Evangelical majority condemns infidelity, however it is socially accepted for men to have multiple partners and to openly partake in infidelity.  A woman accepts that her partner or spouse has other women.  These liberties are not extended to women.  For women, there is an invisible line between when expression of their own sexuality is a freedom or a form of repression.  There seems to be an overarching desire to possess a woman’s sexuality, and if a man fails to possess it, then an undercurrent of contempt brews.

In “Two Princes,” the central idea is ownership. I believe there are some things we can and other things we cannot own. We own our self; our body, our thoughts, our pain, our honor, our sexuality. However we must justifiably take responsibility of our actions. We cannot own others; our husbands, our wives, our lovers, our children. Our cars, our houses, our land; they can never be truly ours, yet we are fixated on acquiring or keeping them. In Kenya; the desire to own is a common denominator. If we cannot legally acquire land, then we steal it. In the history of Kenya, and many other nations, this desire to own has brought conflict and destruction.

My narrative unfolds in Lamu. This Islamic, Creole island embodies the conflict of ownership. Gentrification and animosity are surging. Plans are underway to build “Africa’s largest port. ” I ask, perhaps too naively, why do wealthy foreigners, and the Kenyan and Chinese Government have more say over this land than the people who were born there? Whose land is it anyway? How do we define ownership, and why? These are questions I ask myself, and you see I don’t know the answers, but I engaged myself on this journey to put myself there, and to get one step closer to the truth.

In this phase of my life, I believe we all have our life journeys and we all have to live them – and we can’t stop others from living their life, and in turn we should have the freedom to live ours. I believe as long as we know why we do something, and as long as it is in line with our life journey, and we know why we embark on a certain voyage, and the implications of such a voyage – and if it does not harm somebody - then do it. I believe this – but sometimes I doubt my belief - what happens to the people you leave behind? What if the damage is irreparable? What if you regret it? I don’t know. I don’t know this answer. But I want to find out.

I like “Two Princes” for many reasons – it is a film I need to make in order to let go of certain things I hold onto. It will be very cathartic for me. I find it to be such a hard and taking story to write and revisit. I find the story heavy. But it is an extension of me.  This story needs to be made. This story needs to be told. I am also enthusiastic about the contribution that the film will make, certainly to Kenyan and African cinema. The film is slow – its personal and moody but very loving. I would like to finish “Two Princes” by the end of next year 2012 – or latest early 2013.

Interview with Philippa Ndisi-Herrman by Beti Ellerson, November 2011

Links

14 November 2011

Agatha Ukata: Researching Women in Nollywood

Agatha Ukata, a professor at the American University of Nigeria, completed her doctoral studies at the University of Witwatersrand in 2010. Her PhD thesis “The Images(s) of Women in Nigerian (Nollywood) Videos”, examines female representation in Nigerian cinema. She has published widely on the topic of gender and Nollywood.

Agatha, what inspired you to do research on the representation of women in Nollywood?

What informed my interest in the study was borne on the fact that the depiction of women in one of the first Nollywood videos that I watched which was Glamour Girls, typified women in very outrageous ways that tried to feed on the stereotypes of women in Nigeria and by extension African societies. It seemed as though women have nothing good to contribute to the society other than destroying moral values, which I strongly have a problem with. With such a portrayal I began to interrogate the rationale behind such representations of women.

What was the purpose of your doctoral study?

The aim of the study was to explore the different ways in which Nigerian home videos capture women within the cultural values of the Nigerian society. This can be examined in the binary of positive and negative representations. For instance, what constitutes a negative representation going by the Nigerian culture is when women are represented in roles as home breakers, thieves, murderers and the like, which deviates from those which are guaranteed in the moral ethical values of the society. On the other hand, positive female roles are those that explore women as morally upright, hardworking, industrious and making meaningful contributions to their families and society. Furthermore, the positive image of the Nigerian woman is that which captures her as making economic and political contributions to the nation. The study attempted to discern what the ideas of representations of women in films involve. Going by Stuart Hall’s definition of representation as being a necessary aspect of the process whereby members of a culture can create and exchange meaning among them which is all inclusive of the use of ‘language, the signs and images which stand for or represent things’. Thus it behooves on the critic of representations to fashion out what levels of representational distinctions apply to a given study and to which point, Hall’s differential accounts of ‘reflective, intentional and constructional’ posits as an entry point into the interrogation of representations. Reflective tends to question if language merely reflects existing meaning which is out there in the world in terms of ‘objects, people and events.’ Intentional seeks to know if language expresses what the ‘writer or speaker or painter’ intends to say. The constructionist interrogates how meaning is constructed within and through language. The study also closely looked at how representations are achieved in these videos.

There has been other research focusing on women and Nollywood, however your elaboration in a doctoral thesis entails more in depth research. What was your approach to the study?

The analysis of the films of the study tried to expose the different ways in which women are explored in these videos. It was done with a view to ascertaining depictions of women, whether it is in line with the cultural approved image which seeks to represent women as virtuous (good women who are seen as a gift to their families and the society), or on the other hand, if they are represented as femmes fatales (dangerous women). Although, there are a few studies which have tried to address the issue of female portraiture in some Nigeria home videos such as those done by Camela Garritano (1996), Onookome Okome (2004), and the duo Ebele Eko and Imoh Emenyi (2002), the justification for the study was because so much still needed to have been done in the area of female representations in the Nigerian videos, given that these works are articles, which limits the critics from covering various issues in the area. These limitations gave rise to this study. In line with the above patterns of representations, the study among other issues, interrogated the following:
  1. How women are represented in Nigerian home videos.
  2. What the implication of such representations are.
  3. How representations affect the larger society of Nigeria and beyond.
  4. The extents to which visual aesthetics and cultural codes are used in the films of study to either portray women in negative or positive angles.
What were your theoretical framework, methodology and findings?

In this study, I also attempted to look at female subjectivity in terms of how roles are structured within films, in ways which are peculiar to only women and not men. This was done in order to investigate why women's roles are mostly captured in domestic spaces which show them as a marginalized group whose functions in some of the films cannot go beyond those of being mothers, housewives, and other related roles. At the same time and space in contrast, men are depicted mostly as leaders both in military and civilian spheres of rulership, and successful businessmen. Besides I also examined feminist criticism and the mother Africa trope’s interrogation of the stereotypes of women in these home videos in line with the cultural values of the Nigerian society. The portrayal of women in these videos demand great scrutiny to identify the image of women which will have adverse effect on them and to which point it does, and also appeal for concerted effort to be geared towards reordering this trend in this fast growing popular media. The study sought to inquire into the various portrayals of female characters, both positive and negative, in some selected Nigerian videos. This was done with the view to ultimately making a case for the improvement in the portrayal of women. Besides, an effort was made to examine the portrayal of women both positive and negative in major films in Nigeria. A more careful examination was made on the following films: The Tyrant 1 and 2 (2003/4), Masters Strokes (2004), I was Wrong (2004), More than a Woman 1 and 2 (2005) and Omata Women (2003).

What have been the responses to your research?

I have taught Nollywood at the University of the Witwatersrand but not with specific focus on gender issues, aside sometimes alluding to how gender roles are constructed in the videos. However, my audiences in conferences have reacted to the debased ways that women have continued to be portrayed in Nollywood videos. Some participants in various conference panels where I have presented on women concerns in these videos have tried to also reason on my lines of arguments in terms of trying to know if such representations have to do with male biases and anxieties? Or if it is just a way of creating images of women in ways that would shock patrons’ sensibilities in order to get people to buy the videos. Overall, many people agree to the fact that despite few isolated cases which might seem to have a bearing with how women are in the society, women's representations in Nollywood videos is outrageously out of proportion of what women really are. This to me begs the question why women have continued to receive such representations in this fast moving industry. Especially because I feel that there is a sense in which representations set the pace for reading women in particular societies.

Interview with Agatha Ukata by Beti Ellerson, November 2011

Related Link on the African Woman in Cinema Blog

11 November 2011

Focus on Wanjiru Njendu

Wanjiru Njendu
Wanjiru Njendu from Kenya and currently based in Los Angeles, is a member of Women in Film, founder of A Magic Works Production and has just completed the film Look Again, about two women's struggle to come to terms with the aftermath of an accident.
Wanjiru, what were your experiences with cinema while growing up in Kenya and what brought you to California, a hub of the U.S. film industry?

As a child I was very fortunate to have parents who had a love of reading and cinema and always tried to create opportunities for us to be exposed to both. Video rental stores were a business growing up in Mombasa and I remember rushing to the store after school on a Friday to get the movies for the weekend. Every movie on that tiny grainy screen was truly magical and I was captured at a very young age by Steven Spielberg movies such as E.T which, made me want to become a director. E.T was one of the most magical films in terms of fantasy but had the family values at the very core of the film. I did my undergraduate studies at United States International University (USIU) now called Alliant and graduated with a degree in Psychology. After a year of working, I decided to follow my dream and passion and enrolled at Emerson College in Boston. Emerson is a small campus and really focuses on the students enabling them to work on productions with the professionalism of the industry.

Your thesis film, Safari Ya Jamhuri: A Journey to Freedom, is a documentary about the Mau Mau, what inspired you to focus on this very iconic movement in the history of Kenyan independence?
My parents and grandparents always placed an emphasis on our history and heritage as a family and two or three times a year we travelled to visit my grandparents. Some of my earliest memories were stories told about my paternal grandparents and my father in a camp with other Kikuyus held captive by the British. It always amazed me that even though my father was such a young child at the time, the experience really had an impact on him and the memories he has are so clear that it made me want to know more and once I began researching it really stuck. It is amazing how much the British colonialists got away with at time especially when they were working with other nations against Nazi Germany as it was the Second World War.

You are a member of Women in Film-Los Angeles and have done outreach to include African women. What benefits will African women in cinema receive as members of this organization?

Women In Film is an incredible source for all women: of any ages, ethnicity and nationality. It is part of WIFTI which is the governing body. There are 38 chapters around the world with a newly formed chapter in Kenya. WIF creates an environment for networking opportunities and I have gotten jobs and met people I wanted to work with through them. The opportunities that Women In Film create include but are not limited to: master classes with seasoned industry players providing advice to their members, workshops where members participate, speaker series and best of all a mentoring program, through which I got to my mentoring in directing from acclaimed director Jon Amiel. Being able to have conversations with a director of his caliber opened up my eyes to so many things that you are not taught in college and these conversations have also altered how I work as a director and my casts and crew are much more appreciative of how I work as a director.

The chapters are very supportive of each other and you can be a visiting member of a chapter if you are in the area for up to three months, which allows for dialogue and interaction and above all, networking and collaboration opportunities.

In March 2011 you produced the Out of Africa: A Night of Kenyan Film and Culture at the Women In Film International Series, what inspired you to produce the series and what filmmakers and films were included?

One of the committees I belong to in Women In Film is their International Committee; their signature event is the Women In Film International Shorts Program, which was in its 5th year. The Program is a celebration of filmmakers from all corners of the world, produced by the members of the Women In Film International Committee. 

I had volunteered as an associate producer in the previous two years, which featured a night of Palestinian, Israeli and Korean film. The series is different from short film festivals because they are a celebration of the culture of the selected country. There is a pre-reception featuring food; music and art from the culture and the guests are immersed into the culture for that evening. The international committee members select a country each year and for the 2011 series I suggested Kenya. Kenyan film is growing in leaps and bounds and this was an opportunity for it to be showcased as well as for me to produce a series. When I was looking at venues and pitching the series (one of the duties as a producer is to get the venue donated). I made a list of venues and Universal Studios appealed to me the most as they were the studio that made "Out of Africa" with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford and I wanted to make that the series theme, "Out of Africa: A Night of Kenyan Film and Culture.” I approached Universal and by some amazing luck, the executive Jennifer Fitzgerald was a fan of Ayub Ogada and immediately came on board. Universal was incredible in their support of the series, enabling me to turn the event into a full-fledged production where we converted the soundstage into a Kenyan-themed space for the night.

Your production company, A Magic Works Production, what is its mission? Some of its projects?

It is an umbrella for developing strong stories of all kinds, but above all, a place to focus on development on strong thematically themed African stories. I produced and directed Safari ya Jamhuri under its umbrella and I am currently development two Kenyan-themed stories- a feature, which I wrote based on the story of Lwanda Magere, and the other is a TV pilot.

Your latest work, Look Again, what has been its trajectory, from conception, to fundraising, to production and now promoting it?

Look Again was written by Kenyan writer Carole Keingati and my Director of Photography Andrew Mungai, also Kenyan, is a recent graduate of the American Film Institute. Look Again was made with a very unorthodox business plan. We started fundraising for the film in March 2011 on Indiegogo.com and we only raised one third of the production budget. At the end of May we decided to try a different approach. I contacted the vendors and asked them to supply us with what we needed at half cost and to defer payment until the beginning of August. What was the plan at the time? To enable to filming, while continuing to raise the rest of the budget to finish the film on Kickstarter.com., an all or nothing funding platform. By providing behind the scenes of what we were doing, it encouraged people to give to the project and a week after we wrapped production, we achieved our budget goal.

Casting this film was terrifying for me as it was a very performance- driven story. It had a lot of subtlety in the story and I was very stressed during the casting process: sweaty palms and all (ha-ha). We saw a lot of actresses and actors and I am so humbled to say that when I saw the performances of Simone Cook and Lauren Neal, I knew I had found my leads. I then tested them together and their audition brought us all to tears.

Look Again was shot over two consecutive weekends in July 2011, in Culver City and Encino in California. Fortunately our location manager got the locations donated to the film and all we had to provide was location insurance. With a fantastic and very talented cast and crew, this film is a labor of love come to life.

We are currently doing the festival circuit. I feel like I live and breath this film. Every day I am thinking, which festival should we submit to? We have been so blessed as the film has already been accepted into four festivals on three continents, including the Kenya International Film Festival and in the United States in Los Angeles and New York City, and the African American Women in Cinema International Film festivals.

Interview with Wanjiru Njendu by Beti Ellerson, November 2011

Link

10 November 2011

A Conversation with Laurentine Bayala

Laurentine Bayala, documentary filmmaker from Burkina Faso, discusses her research on documentary cinema, the emergence of a documentary film culture, and her film projects.

Laurentine, your research on documentary filmmaking in Africa entitled "North and South Documentary Cinema, what kind of collaboration?" ("Cinéma documentaire du nord et du sud : quel types de coopération?") was included in the Cinéma du Réel Africain study group. Some reflections on your research?

For my study I made an inventory of documentaries produced from North-South collaboration and found that documentary filmmaking in Africa is reliant on funding from the west.  While institutions in the South do provide support for the documentary genre, it is insufficient.  To enable the artistic expression of the actual directors of the South, African States must devote more funds to support the "documentaire de création".

The University of Gaston Berger in St. Louis, Senegal has become an important location for the study of documentary filmmaking, offering the Masters 2 in Documentary Cinema. In fact, you are an alumna, what were your experiences while studying there? How is the programme structured?

The Masters 2 in "documentaire de création" is a professional track at the intersection of theory and practice. Since 2007 it has been part of the University Department of the College of Letters and Human Sciences at the University of Gaston Berger, through a collaboration between UGB and the the Stendhal University of Grenoble and Ardèche Images (Africadoc-France). Each year the Masters programme welcomes eight students from francophone Africa. With the Masters 2, I received training in the entire process of filmmaking which included scriptwriting, on-location shooting and editing. At the end of the programme, I produced a graduation film. During the Masters 2, I encountered for the first time, the exercise of pitching. At the International Documentary Cinema Conference, held in St. Louis since 2002, I pitched a film project with the objective of finding a co-producer.

AFRICADOC is also part of the Masters 2 in Documentary Cinema programme, what does it entail?

The program AFRICADOC, developed in France by the Ardèche Images Association, provides various types of initiatives in order to create a network in the areas of training, implementation, production and distribution of African film documentaries. Since 2002, Africadoc organizes "Tënk" an annual meeting among documentary professionals in Africa. The programme holds writing residencies and has contributed to the production of fifty documentary films in a dozen African countries.

In 2010 Les Rencontres Sobat was launched in Burkina Faso. At the opening ceremony there was a tribute of the elders of African cinema in Burkina Faso. How have "the elders" influenced you as a filmmaker?

The works of my elders have certainly inspired me. In the past, when the national television programmed an African or Burkinabè film, I never missed it. Thanks to the elders, I discovered chapters in Burkinabè culture, which helped me forge a cultural identity.

Burkina Faso has long been the capital of African cinema, what role has it played in your evolution in cinema?

I was a member of the FESPACO film club. Since 2005, I have participated on the TV-video and press committee at FESPACO (Panafafrican Film Festival of Ouagadougou). It was in the film club that scriptwriter-filmmaker Guy Désiré Yaméogo solicited me (with two other friends) to write critiques. He then coached us on a screenplay that won a contest. So I made my first short film Love Without Borders, funded by a Spanish foundation in partnership with FESPACO. In many ways, my first steps in cinema were made thanks to FESPACO.

Burkina Faso also has an impressive female presence in cinema. I had the opportunity to meet and talk with several of the women. What are your thoughts on the role and participation of women in Burkinabè cinema?

There are many Burkinabè women who have a passion for filmmaking. They are also present in the production line of the image from filmmaking to editing to acting. I am not speaking specifically about women's role in Burkinabè cinema but rather their contribution. Burkinabè women have appropriated the camera to bring their unique voice and particular perspective on the world. It enriches and diversifies their films, and it is Burkinabè cinema that wins as a whole.

The first edition of Cinematic Encounters with African Women of the Image was held in Ouagadougou in March 2010, you participated as a filmmaker at the event. What were your impressions? What were the goals and objectives of the event?

I think it's a great initiative that also promotes women's work. The first edition enabled me to discover films that I was not able to view at FESPACO. It was also an opportunity for women to discuss the many challenges in cinema. The festival has as objective to promote African films made by women.

Your film projects, Amour sans frontières"/"Love Without Borders, "Risquer sa peau"/"Risking one's life", "Mon mal, un male", please talk a bit about them and their reception.

Apart from Love Without Borders that I made in 2007, the other two titles have remained works in progress, for lack of funding. I continue to rewrite and submit them to committees. Love Without Borders has been in festivals in Spain, France and Burkina Faso. It is difficult for me to mention its "reception", but I will say that making this film made me want to continue to produce other works.

Interview with Laurentine Bayala and French to English translation by Beti Ellerson, November 2011

Rencontre avec Laurentine Bayala

Laurentine Bayala, réalisatrice de documentaire du Burkina Faso, nous parle de ses recherches sur la réalisation documentaire de création, de l'émergence d'une culture du documentaire en Afrique, ainsi que de ses projets de films.

Laurentine, votre recherche sur le cinéma documentaire en Afrique, "Cinéma documentaire du nord et du sud : quel types de coopération?" a été incluse dans le Groupe d'étude Cinéma du Réel Africain. Pouvez-vous nous donner vos réflexions à ce sujet?

Je fais l’état des lieux de la coopération Nord-Sud dans le domaine du documentaire. Il ressort de cet état que le cinéma documentaire  en Afrique est tributaire du financement du Nord. Le Sud apporte son soutien à ce genre, mais il est insuffisant. Afin de permettre l’expression artistique réelle des réalisateurs du sud, les Etats africains doivent davantage consacrer des fonds au soutien du documentaire de création.
L'Université Gaston Berger de Saint-Louis du Sénégal est devenue un lieu important pour l'étude du cinéma documentaire, offrant le MASTER II en Réalisation Documentaire de Création. Vous y avez étudié aussi, quelles ont été vos expériences? Le programme comment est-il structuré?

Le MASTER II en Réalisation Documentaire de Création est une filière professionnelle qui allie théorie et pratiques. Il est logé au sein de l’UFR (Unité de Formation et de Recherche) de Lettres et Sciences Humaines de l’Université Gaston Berger  de Saint Louis depuis Octobre 2007 grâce à la coopération entre l’Université Gaston Berger  pour le Sénégal et l’université Stendhal de Grenoble et Ardèche Images (AFRICADOC) pour la France. Ce MASTER accueille chaque année,  8 étudiants originaires d’Afrique francophone. Avec le MASTER II en Réalisation Documentaire de Création, j’ai appris à toucher à la chaine de fabrication du film allant de l’écriture, au tournage en passant par le montage. A la fin de la formation, j’ai pu réaliser un film d’école. Le MASTER II en Réalisation Documentaire de Création m’a permis de m’affronter pour la première fois à un exercice de pitch. J’ai défendu un projet de film en vue de trouver un coproducteur,  à la rencontre internationale du documentaire de création organisée depuis 2002 à Saint Louis.

AFRICADOC fait partie du programme, pourriez-vous en parler?

Le programme AFRICADOC, développé en France par l’association Ardèche Images, mène différents types d’actions visant à créer un réseau humain dans les domaines de la formation, de la réalisation, de la production et de la diffusion des films documentaires de création africains. AFRICADOC organise tous les ans au Sénégal depuis 2002, les Rencontres « Tënk » qui est l’un des rendez-vous professionnel de la coproduction documentaire en Afrique. Ce programme a organisé des résidences d’écritures, puis a favorisé la production d’une cinquantaine de films documentaires à travers une dizaine de pays africains.

En 2010 Les Rencontres Sobatè ont été lancées au Burkina Faso. Lors de la cérémonie d'ouverture il y avait une reconnaissance des anciens du cinéma africain au Burkina. Comment ces aînés vous ont-t-ils influencée en tant que cinéaste?

Les œuvres de mes ainés m’ont sans nul doute inspiré. Dans le temps, quand la télévision nationale programmait  un film africain ou burkinabè, je ne le ratais pas. C’est avec les ainés, que j’ai découvert certains pans de la culture burkinabé. Ce qui m’a aidé à me forger une identité culturelle.

Le Burkina Faso est depuis longtemps la "capitale" du cinéma africain, quel rôle a-t-il joué dans votre émergence dans le cinéma?

J’ai été membre du ciné-club FESPACO. Depuis 2005, je participe à l’organisation du FESPACO dans les commissions TV-Vidéo et presse. C’est dans le ciné-club que le scénariste-réalisateur  Guy Désiré Yaméogo m’a copté (avec deux autres amies)  pour rédiger des critiques. Il nous a ensuite encadrer pour écrire un scénario qui a remporté un concours. C’est ainsi que j’ai réalisé mon premier court-métrage « Amour sans frontières », financé par une fondation espagnole en partenariat avec le FESPACO. Pour ainsi dire, mes premiers pas dans le cinéma ont été concrétisés grâce au FESPACO.

Le Burkina Faso a une présence impressionnante de femmes dans le cinéma. J'ai eu l'occasion de rencontrer et de discuter avec plusieurs d'entre elles. Quelles sont vos impressions sur le rôle et la présence des femmes dans le cinéma burkinabè?

Elles sont nombreuses, les femmes burkinabè qui ont fait du cinéma leur passion. Elles sont aussi présentes dans la chaîne de fabrication de l’image allant de la réalisation au montage en passant par la comédie. Je ne parlerai pas de rôle des femmes dans le cinéma burkinabè , mais je parlerai plutôt de leur apport.  Les femmes burkinabé se sont appropriées la caméra pour apporter leur touche singulière, pour porter leur regard particulier sur le monde. Cela enrichit et diversifie leurs œuvres cinématographiques et c’est le cinéma burkinabè dans son ensemble qui gagne. 

La première édition de journées cinématographiques de la femme africaine de l'image a été tenue à Ouagadougou en mars 2010, vous avez participé en tant que réalisatrice à l'événement. Quelles ont été vos impressions? Quels étaient les buts et objectifs de l'événement?

Je trouve que c’est une belle initiative qui promeut doublement les œuvres des femmes. La première édition m’a permis de découvrir des films que je n’ai pas pu voir au FESPACO.  C’est aussi l’occasion pour les femmes de mieux échanger sur les défis du cinéma.  Ce festival vise à promouvoir le cinéma africain fait par les femmes.

Pourriez-vous nous parler de vos films : Amour sans frontières, « Risquer sa peau », « Mon mal, un mâle » et leur réception?

En dehors de « Amour sans frontières » que j’ai réalisé en 2007, les deux autres  titres sont restés à l’état de projet, par manque de financement. Je continue de les réécrire et de les soumettre à des commissions. « Amour sans frontières » a participé à des festivals en Espagne, en France et au Burkina. Il est difficile pour moi d’évoquer le côté « réception », mais je dirai que la réalisation de ce film  m’a donné envie de continuer à réaliser d’autres oeuvres.

Entretien avec Laurentine Bayala de Beti Ellerson, novembre 2011


07 November 2011

Taghreed Elsanhouri: "Our Beloved Sudan", a film about the partition of the country

Taghreed Elsanhouri, of northern Sudanese origins, discusses her first three films, her Sudanese identity, and her latest work about the transmutation of Sudan into two nations.

Taghreed, you were born in Sudan and moved to Britain with your parents as a young child. What does a Sudanese identity mean to you? Your experience as an Anglo-Sudanese, how does it inform your work?

My Sudanese identity has meant different things to me at different stages in my life. I have, I think at various stages tried to deny it then to find it and reclaim it and finally now I think to be at peace with it. I think the tension about my Sudanese identity and what it means to me has been at the source of my creativity.  

Your three previous films, All about Darfur, Orphanage of Mygoma and Mother Unknown, reveal your exploration with Sudan and in many ways they were about your rediscovery of your country--of course Orphanage of Mygoma has been life changing. What were your experiences with the films and your journey while making them?

I think through the journey of all three films I was still very much a guest of Sudanese culture and identity, treading carefully, cautiously not wanting to unintentionally offend, and seeking to please everyone. It is only now after living in Sudan for 3 years that I feel I have come to know my own voice and to feel comfortable and assertive in it.

What has been the reception of these films?

The international festival circuit received All About Darfur very warmly, I think the film’s inside perspective was new and refreshing. The film was also much praised in Africa where it won a prize at ZIFF (Zanzibar International Film Festival) and at the Kenyan film festival. In Africa in particular I think it was so much appreciated for the platform it gave for ordinary Sudanese voices to be heard. The film gave dignity and voice to a host of characters that we normally see spoken about by experts but that we never hear speaking in their own words. I am proud of making that film with a budget of no more than 20USD.

Orphans of Mygoma was commissioned for Aljazeera Witness and I think apart from changing my life the film has had a positive impact here in Sudan where it has opened the debate regarding the social stigma facing illegitimate children and inspired many young people to fundraise for the Mygoma orphanage.

Mother Unknown premiered at ZIFF where it won the UNICEF Child Rights Award and then went on to the Dubai International Film Festival where it had a mixed reception. I think in that film (as a practicing Muslim myself) I had wanted to understand or explore how a Muslim society could humanely and constructively deal with the issue of un-wed mothers and the stigma for them and their babies from within the value system of a Muslim society. But I think I was not yet ready as a filmmaker to deal with the complexity and moral ambivalence excavating the issue began to reveal. It is a piece of work that by my own estimation has failed but that failure was absolutely necessary as preparation for my next big film…  

Your latest film Our Beloved Sudan examines the history of a nation and its evolution into two countries, Sudan and South Sudan. What inspired you to make the film?

Ever since 2005 when I was making All About Darfur and the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] was signed I knew something momentous had been set in motion for Sudan and I felt the weight and the importance of the times and I also felt a responsibility to be conscious and reflective and to make my own draft of this moment as it unfolded. I began to film two years ago when the first national election in 23 years took place. I think Sudan and the Sudanese were in a state of disbelief regarding the possible partition of their country and now we are in a state of shock and hopefully after the shock will come reflection, analysis, atonement, forgiveness and a laying to rest of all the things that divided us as a people and made the partition of Sudan inevitable… 

What would you like the viewers to get from the film?

I think I would like viewers to get an insight into the complexity of the dynamics at play in Sudan, I mean the racial, political, religious and economic dynamics. Also I hope viewers will feel compassion for this very difficult situation. The breakup of a nation is like the breakup of a home. Sometimes the only healthy option is for people to go their separate ways but there is always regret and the question what if and if only…

While your origins are northern Sudanese, you are very attached to the South, your son Abdelsamih has origins there. What are your feelings about the separation of Sudan and to what extent does it mean a renegotiation of identity for you and the Sudanese Diaspora?

Regarding the separation I feel we had enough time since independence in 1956 to figure out how to forge a unifying identity. We failed and the consequence has been partition. My concern is about whether we will have the maturity and the leadership to create two new stable nations or whether both new entities will become failed states with all the destructive fallout and suffering that such an outcome implies.  

While my origins are northern Sudanese I have been shaped by my experience as an ethnic minority in the UK. My empathy for the condition of Southerners and other marginalized people in Sudan comes from this minority consciousness. Having lived with racism as a Black British and experienced the undermining and destructive impact of racism first hand in my own life I am compelled to speak out when I see it in Sudan from my reversed vantage point here as member of the dominant group. 

Abdalsamih my son is ethnically from Darfur and I would like for him to have spiritual and cultural links to the place that he is racially from. Growing up in the UK I saw myself as a Black woman and intellectually and spiritually I have been shaped by the work of Black American women like Toni Morrison. African literature has also been crucial to forging my identity in Diaspora. Arabic however is my mother tongue and even though I am more fluent in English I feel my Arab and Muslim heritage is intrinsic to who I am as well. As a northern Sudanese I am racially both Arab and African and the two coexist side by side for me and are a source of cultural and creative wealth.        

Interview with Taghreed Elsanhouri by Beti Ellerson, November 2011

Links

Our Beloved Sudan Facebook Page
Taghreed Elsanhouri’s Sudan on the African Women in Cinema Blog

All About Darfur (California Newsreel)

05 November 2011

Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe Community Outreach

Source: WILDTRACK Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ) Newsletter 3rd Edition (November 2011)

Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe (WFOZ) is excited to take the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF) outreach to the Matabeleland North town of  Binga for the first time. The project will take place from the 5 to the 8 of December 2011 where local films will be screened to the Binga audiences. Located in Matabeleland North, 450km away from Bulawayo, Binga district has a population of about 118 842 people. Targeting an audience of about 5000 people, IIFF will screen the films Nyami nyami amaji abulozi (Nyaminyami and the Evil Eggs), Peretera maneta (Spell my Name) and I Want A Wedding Dress. Each film is specifically chosen for the community because of its theme, content and relevance.  Nyami nyami is an adaptation of ancient Tonga folklore. Peretera maneta tackles child sexual abuse, while I Want A Wedding Dress focuses on HIV and AIDS and behavioural change, particularly amongst young people. 

Binga, like any other community, has its own challenges and these range from cultural practices such as wife inheritance and domestic sexual violence.  Secretive sexual performance with a close relative as a cleansing ceremony has been highlighted as another challenge that Tonga women still face.  Such practices drive the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Disastrously, as a result of cultural circumstances, 'mothers' are viewed as contributing to the spread of the pandemic by not defending the girl child from abuse.

Several initiatives to create space for women to freely interact, to build confidence and attain collective power, as well as share sensitive gender information have been introduced in the area. Participating in these initiatives, Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe uses the medium of film to enable these women, especially the young to identify, analyse and find possible solutions to problems that affect them as individuals and as a group through engaging with messages in the film. Film allows viewers a chance to discuss and debate issues normally swept under the carpet.  WFOZ almost always experience this during community outreach programmes. Discussion participants, having seen engaging films on problems that affect them personally, can both identify with protagonists and "hide" behind characters.  Audiences bring up issues citing the 
film, yet in reality referring to a real life experience. 

04 November 2011

Yvonne Jila takes the torch as director of International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF)

Source: Wildtrack Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe Newsletter 3rd Edition (November 2011)
Visionary leadership, exceptional management and excellent communication are the lifeblood of any successful organization. These sustain the organization and direct it towards achieving the
vision and the mission. After more than 10 years of directing the only women's film festival South of the Sahara, the International Images Film Festival for Women (IIFF), talented filmmaker cum novelist, IIFF founder Tsitsi Dangarembga has finally passed on the torch. Yvonne Jila becomes the new Festival Director.

Having put structures and systems in place, Dangarembga's dream is to see others carry this tradition to future generation and one way to do this is by bridging the intergenerational gap, through skills impartation.

Born in 1984, Yvonne was born and bred in Bulawayo. She attained her Advanced level at Thekwane High School in 2002 and later moved to Harare where she graduated with a National Diploma in Mass Communication from the Harare Polytechnic in 2006. Yvonne, who is currently in her second year of study in Sociology at the Women's University in Africa holds a diploma in Public Relations and several certificates on proposal writing, reporting, and feminism.

Yvonne joined Women Filmmakers of Zimbabwe in 2008 as a Programmes Assistant and was later promoted to be Programmes Officer before assuming Festival Directorship, a position she currently holds. Her portfolio includes overall management of IIFF, fundraising for the festival, festival reporting and networking among other things. Yvonne strongly believes women can achieve great heights as long as they adopt the –do-it-yourself mentality and do away with the give-it to-me syndrome. IIFF, being the only festival of its calibre in the region that 'combats silent women's cries and helps validate their value as active and creative contributors has managed to create this platform.