Africa Hub of Ideas for Filmmakers

The image of the continent on the big screen is changing as more local directors give voice to their own stories, and more international personalities change the way they depict us…

Shining, Africa

Different Perception: Africa

Africa in Focus is a series of panels hosted at the Durban International Film Festival which examine the experiences of film-makers on the continent.

One of the panels held at the weekend concentrated on the African idiom, interrogating the new ways are of presenting the continent to the world.

Looking around the panel, Portuguese film-maker Joao Viana pointed out that it was not unusual for a film festival discussion about the image of African cinema to consist of white filmmakers.

He reflected on his nation’s imperial legacy in Africa in The Battle of Tabato, and thinks guilt is a huge driving force for film-makers. Viana posited that it takes at least 30 years after the end of colonialism before filmmakers really dare to interrogate what has happened in an African country.

His debut feature examined music, magic and post-colonial angst in Guinea Bissau, where smartphones co-exist with ancient magic rituals.

Viana thinks that African filmmakers have a responsibility to show the new Africa, which for him is one rich in knowledge and spirit, not only the standard images of poverty and strife.

The way African films used magic realism and more dialogue, a different perception of time, and included music as part of the life of the characters and not just as a background score, were some of the ways they were different.

He also questioned why African film-makers felt they needed to justify their products at Western film festivals when there were African film festivals.

German Dorothee Wenner was upfront about how the image of Africa in her country was outdated, and said air time on German television about the African continent was constantly shrinking: “We lack images of understanding Africa in a different way,” she said.

So she was determined to present Lagos in a positive light in her documentary, Drama Consult.

Still, she is aware that the unspoken rules are very different for African filmmakers compared to Western filmmakers.

“Nobody puts on our shoulder the burden that you have to make a more German film,” said Wenner, who curates sub-Saharan films for the Berlin Film Festival.

While audiences reacted differently to films, there were few filmmakers who could make films which work equally well for African and Western audiences.

The ones who stood outwere those who tried to develop their own voices instead of trying to play to an audience.

American Gabriel Bologna – who directed American Gothic, an adaptation of playwright Reza de Wet’s Diepe Grond – mirrored the sentiment when speaking about Hollywood films, which he thinks are much less compelling than what comes out of Africa: “I feel like much has been lost in the American and European medium in the disconnect from struggle. So many great American films came out of McCarthyism. Sometimes when life is too good and clean and sanitised, the art is lost.”

Hence he thinks the medium is looking to Africa for ideas.

“It all starts with the voice. So much of Western culture is a rip-off of the subjugated people,” he said.

Source: Theresa Smith| iol.co.za

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