The purpose of the African Women in Cinema Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema--filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. The blog is a public forum of the Centre for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema.

Le Blog sur les femmes africaines dans le cinéma est un espace pour l'échange d'informations concernant les réalisatrices, comédiennes, productrices, critiques et toutes professionnelles dans ce domaine. Ceci sert de forum public du Centre pour l'étude et la recherche des femmes africaines dans le cinémas.

31 October 2010

Fellows Friday with Peace Anyiam-Osigwe

TED Blog

 
Africa has beautiful stories to tell, says Peace Anyiam-Osigwe. At 16 years old, the Nigerian published her own magazine. She later continued bringing a “voice to voiceless issues” as a talk show host and film producer. Founder of the African Movie Academy Awards, Peace now dedicates her time to building cinemas in rural Africa, and helping other Africans tell the untold stories of their homeland.

27 October 2010

Vénus noire by Abdellatif Kechiche

Jeune Afrique interview with Abdellatif Kechiche: Translation from French to English by Beti Ellerson
  
Franco-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche demonstrates, that beyond Saartjie Baartman's history, racism is more than ever a part of everyday life.

Jeune Afrique: How did you get the idea for this film?
Abdellatif Kechiche: I discovered the character by chance a while ago. In particular, when I was working on my film L’Esquive, I read an essay on Diderot by Elisabeth de Fontenay, referring to the horrendous fate of Saartjie Baartman, calling upon her readers to seize her remains still on public display and bury them in the Père-Lachaise Cemetery. The idea of making a film came later in 2000 when I heard about the case, which provoked a debate in the National Assembly in Paris, that in 1994 Mandela had addressed François Mitterrand demanding the return of her body to South Africa.

Until now, you have been more interested in contemporary histories, related mostly to North African emigration to France and which directly affect you. What brought about your interest in Saartjie Baartman?

It was the extraordinary thing about her fate that first caught my attention. Everything this woman had lived--exhibited like a savage--seemed incredible. And it was equally amazing that this story has actually lasted for two hundred years. I did not ask myself whether this was related to my own journey, my own origins. Moreover, what impressed me most is that moment just after the death of Saartjie Baartman, where a man, a prominent scientist, anatomist Cuvier, tore away her organs, including her genitals, which she had refused to show him when still alive, in order to examine them and put them in jars for preservation. I saw an act of revenge and barbaric rape, perhaps the most barbaric in History. That it happened post-mortem does not change anything. I do not blame Cuvier as a person for being barbaric, but I wondered how a man could commit such an act.

Despite its historical aspect, does Vénus noire speak as much about today's realities as your previous films?

Sadly, racism is more than ever part of our daily lives in France. It has reached a very alarming level. More than it was ten or fifteen years ago. And most importantly, and this is new since the early 2000s, it is present in political discourse in a way reminiscent of Cuvier, with arguments that are similar. Resulting sometimes in action, as demonstrated recently by the expulsion of the Roma. A terrible shock for me; I never imagined that in France we would see  such extremes, to reject people, to prevent them from breathing the same air as we do, only because they do not live as we would want them to, and what is more, with a large percentage of the public finding it legitimate.

Is the film's purpose to fight against this?

I think it is unhealthy to hide, to repress one's own history. And, with respect to that of Saartjie Baartman, one may wonder about the total neglect for so long of such a prominent and symbolic figure. For me, her history has at least as much interest as that of--though in a vague way--Joan of Arc, or even Napoleon. It is also important to the country's heritage. The first time that I saw her face, while looking at enlarged photos of the cast of her body, I saw a living face. Expressing all the pain of humanity, but also the compassion we may feel for humanity. This forced me to question myself on the finitude of existence, the nature of humanity, the mystery of life, of the soul. And that questioning continues.

You have fallen in love with this character?

The word is perhaps not the best one, but I would say yes. I was struck by her demeanor, by her mystery, by her physique even. I immediately wanted to hold her tight in my arms, in a spirit of brotherhood. Never ceasing to wonder if there was any meaning in all this suffering. Physical suffering, no doubt, but also that which is caused by loneliness and, above all, the gaze of the other focused upon her. Saartjie Baartman is like those movie stars that are worshipped but who often live unhappily. What comes out of her body is bright. And she still shines like the glitter in the sky of the stars that have died long ago. It's that image that I keep of her and that I want others to see.

This is your first costume drama. Was the historical reconstitution necessary?

No, I did not privilege the historical aspect, the expensive sets. Even though it was important, of course, to keep things realistic. I focused primarily on shooting faces, on close-ups. Moreover, we do not know the whole story of Saartjie Baartman, or her psychology. I had to speculate, similar to a police investigation. The show she played in (twenty times a day, ten hours straight!) or the trial in England, brought about by a company that wanted to defend her dignity, are well documented, as what happened (and what that she refused to do) during the three days she spent with the scientists accompanying Cuvier. From these elements, I wanted the viewer to wonder--as I did--not to have the story already digested in order to comfortably watch it. It would have been disrespectful to attribute feelings or acts to Saartjie Baartman that are in fact unknown. So I conserved as much as possible the mystery around her. In order not to betray her, in order not to add a rape to all that she suffered.

Your film is about the gaze: that of Europe onto Africans, but also that of the spectators of Vénus noire on the life of Saartjie Baartman. Which of these gazes were more important to you?

A film about the gaze? Definitely. What interested me, above all, is the oppression of the eye. It is an organ, so to speak, which has the power to condition someone's life. Of the one who is watched, but also of the beholder. There is the gaze that imprisons, that paralyzes, that loves. And the collective gaze, that of the spectators watching in the same direction. It is exciting to explore that.

Most of the time in the film, what is shown is the gaze of those who see the spectacles but are not fooled by it. Those who do not actually watch this woman, such as Cuvier, are the ones with a political view, because they need this character regarded as the missing link between humans and monkeys, to serve their racist theories. This is obviously the worst of gazes. As it is the one that gave its tragic dimension to the fate of Saartjie Baartman.

Your film forces the audience watching this disturbing spectacle in the position of voyeur during sequences that last a long time, making them more than uncomfortable. Was that your intention?

I did not want to make a nice film, proposing a melodrama that would require identification with the character. Usually, one tries to seduce the viewer, consciously or not. To give him/her pleasure, to entertain. The story of this character does not lend itself to that. To treat it that way would have been indecent. So I preferred rather to disturb the viewer. Resisting as much as possible the temptation of seduction. The viewer’s unease is mine as well. And if there is voyeurism, it is caused by a character who also has an erotic dimension, which I did not want to hide. Even in its degradation, the character retains a beauty and sensuality that I wanted to show.

You made a disturbing film. But perhaps also very "politically correct"...

That does not shock me to hear that. And if the film is politically correct, that’s fine. But I do not think so. I think to the contrary that it questions political correctness. It requires the viewer, for instance, who, like almost everyone believes they cannot be racist, in watching the movie, to question this certainty.

26 October 2010

Victoria Marcellina Thomas: A Portrait

©VMT
Victoria, you are from Sierra Leone, raised in the UK where you live and work. Could you elaborate some on your background, your plural identities?

I consider myself a citizen of the world because I have moved around so much. But I have spent the most time in Sierra Leone where I was born and Britain where I live, but I also lived in The Gambia and Kenya at some point. Africans ask where I am from as do the British and answering became complicated as they also need explanations for my name and accent which is neither here nor there so a few years ago, I stopped answering or said the first country that came to my mind. 

Before completing your MFA in film at the Screen Academy Scotland you pursued areas that have been useful in your present career. How did you become interested in the moving image?

I am an only child and my dad's idea of babysitting was ensuring I knew how to switch on the TV and VCR from an early age with a never ending supply of British comedies and James Bond movies. But I did enjoy them and acted them out in the comfort of my bedroom. I was always Bond. It was something that always fascinated me once I figured out that the people were not in the TV set. I never really thought I could make films because I never saw anyone who looked like me in them. So I studied accounting and then went to law school. But somewhere along the line I discovered Spike Lee and Waiting to Exhale and it seemed within reach.

You have a few films that have been visible in the international film festival circuit, such as Ladies Who Lunch and Santa Trap, both nominated for the best short film at the Birmingham Black International Film Festival. What has been the reception of the films?

The reception was a lot better than expected. I do comedy films and they can be tricky because it is all down to sharing a similar sense of humour with the audience. They both premiered at Cannes this year and the room was full of people from different countries largely in Europe and there were no subtitles but they all laughed at the time they were supposed to laugh so that was a relief.

I am especially fascinated by your interest in comedy. What inspired your interest in this genre?

I am a pessimist and a cynic so it helps that I have a sense of humour otherwise I will be depressed. I don't do slapstick but I am fascinated with the humour that comes from the many contradictions in our existence and I don't think that you have to be gloomy and preachy about life to make a point. 


Your production company The Polkadot Factory…what are some of your current projects?

We are currently working on a comedy feature film that is set in Nigeria as I want to make films in Sub-Saharan African but I am determined not to make a film about poverty or social issues in Africa. I am not trying to gloss over the challenges that exist but I am also certain that Africa has more than sob stories to offer. I am also developing two of my short films The Brides Ball into a feature film with support from Scottish Screen and The Santa Trap as feature for cinema.

There is an active cinema culture in Britain and there are several film festivals that focus on people of African descent, such as the Birmingham Black International Film Festival and also specifically on Black women in cinema.

Photo still of Brides Ball
Britain does have a rich cinema culture though I am not aware of that many festivals that focus on people of African descent. From what I have noticed, the focus is on films which feature people of African descent regardless of who makes them and I am not sure that if you are of African descent and you make films you only have a perspective on Africans especially as so many people who are not Africans have a perspective on us.

When one thinks about African cinema, Sierra Leone is not very visible. What are your connections to Sierra Leone and is there an emergence of a Sierra Leone cinema? Are there others in the Sierra Leonean Diaspora with whom you work or connect?

I collaborate a lot with a friend of mine who is an actress and producer whose origin is also from Sierra Leone. I have not been to Sierra Leone in fourteen years so I don't know much about Sierra Leonean cinema or if there is one but I have never seen a film made about Sierra Leone by anyone who has anything remotely to do with the country or in some cases even bothered to go there before writing their script. I would like to make a film there someday. I am not sure what it will be about but it will be funny and not about diamonds, civil war or amputees. 

Future projects and goals?

Hopefully I can continue to make films whether they are my own ideas or collaborate with other filmmakers to bring stories to the screen that I am genuinely intrigued or amused by.

Conversation with Victoria Marcellina Thomas and Beti Ellerson October 2010

LINKS:

The Polka Dot Factory NO LONGER ACTIVE





23 October 2010

Bridget Thompson: what shaped/shapes my i/eye

Bridget Thompson, a documentary filmmaker from Cape Town, focuses on untold stories and hidden history. She began making films in the 80's in an attempt to reclaim stories and knowledge suppressed during Apartheid. Inspired by the African Cinema movement, she attempts to bring its aesthetics, principles and practices into her work. Currently she devotes her time to the Art and Ubuntu Project, whose inspiration draws from the legacy of Ernest Mancoba, artist and intellectual. 

In September 2007 Bridget presented  the paper "What shaped/shapes my i/eye" at the People to People International Documentary Conference. A personal, touching reflection on her evolution as an intellectual and filmmaker, at the same time a critical engagement with the cultural politics of filmmaking in South Africa.

"What shaped/shapes my i/eye" is republished here:

The student boycotts in June 76 and Biko’s death in September 77 triggered the most momentous shift in my consciousness. They propelled me to embrace and explore my own country and initiated a journey out of the white cultural Bantustan into the wider black world intellectually, politically, socially, culturally and spiritually. This wider black world gave my life meaning and coherence, filled it with richness beyond counting. My access to this world was only possible because of the graciousness of my guides on this journey, both black and white. A lot of this journey, but not all of it, was conducted through documentary film-making. Through documentary film -making and especially through the oral histories I have done with it I have learnt to know my country and to construct my own identity. This is inevitably still a work in progress.

This gathering is exquisitely painful for me because naively I’d expected that our struggle would lead to the paradigms of this wider black world that I was privileged to be exposed to shaping both our cinema and all the knowledge broking institutions of our society - on the contrary as a society we’ve gone the other way with an almost wholesale capitulation to commodity fetishism and all that that implies in terms of insertion into the international systems of western broadcast media.

I sometimes wonder whether our easy acceptance of the values of western media had its roots in our approach to the media during the struggle? During the struggle, most but not all, people in the progressive movements with film-making skills fed the international news media. This was no doubt a key factor in strengthening the world –wide anti apartheid movement but it was also a double- edged sword. Regretfully our paradigms of storytelling have been very influenced by the ways in which we ‘sold’ our struggle internationally via the mainly western media – where the spectacle of dead bodies of children beamed out internationally telling the story of pain, loss and brutality and we still somehow seem to need this external validation of ourselves, our stories, our pain and our history.

Of course this is not all we are as film-makers and since 94 there has been a fabulous coughing up of stories which reclaim history, identity and start to piece together a sense of a nation. We are grappling with our own heritage and history, sense of ourselves as a nation and our indigenous voice. In particular whereas in the 80s one could count the number of black South African filmmakers on one hand there is now a wonderful flowering.

Nevertheless the prevailing paradigms of debate have been limited and fragmented, often unaware of precedent locally and internationally and the insidious problem of spectacle still prevails in a number of different ways. There seems to be no discernible organised resistance or alternative to these prevailing values.

In recent years I have felt rudderless in my journey away from the cultural bantustan I referred to as the values Id hoped would prevail in the new South Africa seem to be a thing of a dim and distant dream.

At last however on a public platform in a meeting of film-makers we are raising the values expressed so freshly and poignantly by Biko and captured so well in Bheki Petersen’s keynote address and for this I am extremely grateful.

Biko is dead long live the spirit of Bantu Stephen Biko and BCM long live. I say long live BCM because I think is important for us to acknowledge that Bantu Stephen Biko was a bright charismatic person in whose life and thought and martyrdom were condensed the hopes of a generation but he did not walk alone and he stood on the shoulders of others – he above all people subscribed to the values enshrined in the proverb umuntu ngamuntu ngabanye abantu:

My first exposure to the foundation of Biko and BCM’s ideas was anecdotal. I stumbled upon some life stories which revealed facets of what I later came to realise was a large and long lived movement, the New African Movement characterised by Prof Ntongela Masilela as beginning in the late 1860s and ending with the end of the Sophiatown Renaissance at the end of the 1950’s. It is Masilela’s rigorous scholarship which joins the dots of our intellectual history and heritage and makes it accessible to us today but there is no doubt that in spite of the intellectual ‘naqda ‘that occurred in South Africa from the 1950s to the 1990s aspects of this heritage were handed down across generations and ideas percolated in a way that fed the development of the BCM inter alia.

The history of the ideas that have shaped our movements for change are extremely germane for us as social documentary film-makers and need to be the subject of our rigorous scrutiny. That is if we take the social in documentary film-making seriously. For example if we fetishise Biko as an individual hero (which no doubt he was) and exclude consideration of the fact that he was part of a social movement – if we also don’t have the courage to look at ourselves and how we were party to dissing the B.C.M and it’s ideas we have no right to celebrate Biko and can only engage his ideas superficially. A deep consideration of the BCM’s ideas about race for example, where whites were not accepted if they self identified as white but were accepted if they identified as Africans may be seen to be extremely progressive then and now. However its not only the ideas of Biko and BCM, we need to take cognizance of all the debates and faultlines in our social movements going back as far as the debate between Tiyo Soga and Sandile 140 or so years ago for they have an impact on our society and relevance even up to today.

There is incredibly rich material for us as artists and filmmakers to explore especially if we are prepared to go outside the box and the prevailing norms and dig a little deeper than the expectations of broadcasters funders etc. I get nervous when I hear film-makers referring to making doccies. The word doccie always reminds me of pet dogs, lap dogs perhaps with a carefully coiffed presentation rather like a film which is formulaic, neat contained and doesn’t probe beyond the superficial and obvious.

On the other hand if we take seriously, Haile Gerima’s formulation of how film language is created in a discourse between producer, audience and critic then we do have a responsibility to acknowledge that our practice has societal relevance and is not something formulaic nor something we can build alone without consciousness of precedent and context. Haile's formulation helps me to ground my 'I' eye or my endeavors as a film-maker within a collective societal discourse such as it exists.

Given that we are working within an environment where we do have political democracy if not economic democracy and we havn’t yet fully reclaimed our intellectual and cultural heritage nor repaired the damage of 40 years of Christian National and Bantu education.

I believe that as social documentary film-makers we have an urgent obligation to contribute to this project. I fear that we wont be up to this huge and responsible task, that we will repeat ourselves, mimic the forms of tv discourse in the hegemonic western world and ultimately go into a cul-de-sac producing merely ‘doccies’ if we don’t take serious account of 3 things:

1. The history of documentary film - the development of its form and how this was related to moments of significant social change – instances where documentary film movements contributed to social change and progress and instances where it shored up the status quo

2. Our own intellectual history - in particular the 100 year history of the New African Movement

3. The rich and potent legacy of the African Cinema Movement – which may even encourage us to question the documentary form in its entirety  In consideration of these three legacies to which we are heirs, whether we admit it or not, I believe we will also review, develop and build the social in our practice and it is in this developing social aspect of our practice that I hope to find my I/eye before I die. 

Note

After the conference and my perception of the difficulties that a number of film-makers showed in awareness of their work in relation to history and historiography (eg simplistic comments like history must be subsumed to story etc.) I would add that some awareness of theories of history and indeed the history of history and how documentary feeds into this is also a pre-requisite for those documentary film-makers engaging historical questions. But then its also the role of critics and audiences to raise these questions thereby pushing filmmakers further on their path.

©C Bridget Thompson September 2007

22 October 2010

Lizelle Bisschoff’s Aim: Africa in Motion Film Festival



As the fifth edition of the Africa in Motion Film Festival (21 Oct to 5 Nov) goes into full swing, it is a great occasion to profile its founder and director, Lizelle Bisschoff of South Africa.
Lizelle founded the festival in 2006 while studying for her doctorate in African cinema. She earned her PhD in 2009 from the University of Stirling (Edinburgh), her dissertation entitled: Women in African Cinema: An aesthetic and thematic analysis of filmmaking by women in Francophone West Africa and Lusophone and Anglophone Southern Africa. At the same time scholar, she is also activist and advocate, wanting to “do something more practical to increase accessibility”.

In addition to a host of Internet venues to promote the festival, a short conversation with Lizelle on video is indicative of her intention to maximize the visibility of the festival and by extension African cinema. Lizelle talks about her passion for African cinema and scholarship and her commitment to promote African experiences through film.


The aim of the festival is to overcome “the under-representation and marginalisation of African Cinema, we believe that the best way to learn about Africa is to listen to African voices and to view representations created by Africans themselves.”

Sites promoting the festival include a Website, Internet TV channel, Youtube channel and Facebook page.

Lizelle Bisschoff’s Dissertation abstract:

This study focuses on the role of women in African cinema – in terms of female directors working in the African film industries as well as the representation of women in African film. My research specifically focuses on francophone West African and lusophone and anglophone Southern African cinemas (in particular post-apartheid South African cinema). This research is necessary and significant because African women are underrepresented in theoretical work as well as in the practice of African cinema. The small corpus of existing theoretical and critical studies on the work of female African filmmakers clearly shows that African women succeed in producing films against tremendous odds. The emergence of female directors in Africa is an important but neglected trend which requires more dedicated research. The pioneering research of African-American film scholar Beti Ellerson is exemplary in this regard, as she has, since the early 2000s, initiated a new field of academic study entitled African Women Cinema Studies. My own research is situated within this emerging field and aims to make a contribution to it. The absence of women in public societal spheres is often regarded as an indicator of areas where societies need to change. In the same sense the socio-political and cultural advancements of women are indicators of how societies have progressed towards improved living conditions for all. Because the African woman can be viewed as doubly oppressed, firstly by Black patriarchal culture and secondly by Western colonising forces, it is essential that the liberation of African women includes an opportunity for women to verbalise and demonstrate their own vision of women’s roles for the future. The study analyses a large corpus of films through exploring notions of nationalism and post/neo-colonialism in African societies; issues related to the female body such as health, beauty and sexuality; female identity, emancipation and African feminism in the past and present; the significance of traditional cultural practices versus the consequences and effects of modernity; and the interplay between the individual and the community in urban as well as rural African societies. Female filmmakers in Africa are increasingly claiming the right to represent these issues in their own ways and to tell their own stories. The methods they choose to do this and the products of their labours are the focus of this study. Ultimately, the study attempts to formulate more complex models for the analysis of African women’s filmmaking practices, in tracing the plurality of a female aesthetics and the multiplicity of thematic approaches in African women’s filmmaking.

Links:

14 October 2010

Foremothers in African Cinema: Efua Sutherland

Efua Theodora Sutherland (1924-1996) renowned playwright from Ghana, affectionately called Auntie Efua, entered into the annals of African cinema history in 1967, in association with the production of Araba: The Village Story. The film was produced for the U.S. television network ABC to document the successful Atwia Experimental Community Theatre Project. The initiative is recognized worldwide as a pioneering model for the now popular Theatre for Development (1). She is well known and admired as dramatist and writer, continuing in her chosen field of drama having never produced another film.

Her role as foremother in African cinema, documenting African culture and experiences, is indicative of the practices of many African women. Some women have entered filmmaking as a primary career, while others have used the moving image as a medium of expression in their work.  And thus, Efua Sutherland was a devoted and passionate cultural producer whose vision and influence continue to reach far and wide.

At the funeral of “Auntie Efua”, Kofi Anyidoho reflected on her life in this way:

Dr. Efua Theodora Sutherland. 'Auntie Efua' is best known for her pioneering work as a cultural visionary and activist, her impact on society at once comprehensive and enduring. Teacher, research scholar, poet, dramatist, and social worker, she devoted her life to the building of models of excellence in culture and education, and to the training of young people who would carry her vision into the far future…

…It was also in the final phase of her work that she gave to Ghana and the African world probably her grandest artistic vision for uplifting and reuniting African peoples through the arts—an original proposal for the Pan African Historical Theatre Festival, the Panafest Movement. This final gift underscores the significance she attached to connections between Africa and the Diaspora. She played a very critical role in the establishment of the W.E.B. DuBois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture. She belonged to an extensive global network of friends, many of them eminent creative minds.

(1) Kofi Anyidoho, James Gibbs. FonTomFrom: Contemporary Ghanaian Literature, Theatre and Film. Rodopi, 2000.

Links:




Other sources:
“In Memoriam: Efua Sutherland 1924-1996.” ALA Bulletin. African Literature Association. Summer 1996, pp. 8-19.
The Legacy of Efua Sutherland: Pan-African Cultural Activism. Anne V. Adams and Esi Sutherland-Addy. Ayebia Clarke Publishing Ltd; Africa Edition, 2007.

13 October 2010

Jane Murago-Munene: Entrepreneur of the Cinema Arts in Kenya

Jane  Murago-Murene on CAPITAL TALK
Veteran filmmaker and producer Jane Murago-Munene was trained at Voice of Kenya, the name was later reverted back to Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. Her first production, The Tender One, was produced during the first United Nation’s International Year of the Child in 1979. It was this UN project that made her realize her interest in documentaries as they “give you a chance to tell things as they are and a chance to go deeper into issues than you would otherwise do”. Founder of CineArts Afrika in 1990, she is also chairperson of the Kenya National Film Association and Eastern Africa regional secretary of FEPACI (the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers). Other works to her credit include: The Chosen One co-directed in 1991 with Dommie Yambo-Odotte, the 14-minute documentary Women, Water, and Workload (1994), Enkishon: the Maasai Child in Kenya (1995), a 28-minute documentary. Out of Silence, a 23-minute documentary produced in the early 2000s. The fiction films The Price of a Daughter and Behind Closed Doors were released in 2003 and 2004 respectively. The most recent production, Turning Tide: Women Entrepreneurs in Africa is a 13-part series made in 2008 in collaboration with the (IFC) International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, to showcase successful businesswomen from Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. It has been also broadcast in those countries.

Jane Murago-Munene gives these reflections on Turning Tide: Women Entrepreneurs in Africa:

"This series looks at the challenges businesswomen face in Africa and how these challenges can be overcome. I hope their stories will serve as inspiration to other women who dream to begin their own business."

“I feel that it is through giving a voice the way we do, that we can make a change no matter how small.”

Capital Talk with Jeffrey Koinange, in four-parts, features Jane Murago-Munene discussing her journey into film production and the significance of the Turning Tide: Women Entrepreneurs in Africa project.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31ZzAZpsPDU



Links:

CineArts Afrika

IFC Supports African Women Entrepreneurs

08 October 2010

A Conversation with Véronique Doumbe

Photo credit: Sergei Franklin
Véronique, you were born and raised in France as well as Africa, and actually trained as a lawyer. What were your experiences growing up? Do you connect your training in law with filmmaking?

I was born in France. My father is from Cameroon and my mother is from Martinique. I grew up in France, then Cameroon and Ivory Coast.

I gravitated towards Law because my stepmother was a prominent lawyer in Cameroon. I attended several trials just to listen to her. I was fascinated. I have an undergraduate degree in Law called Licence en Droit, a “Bachelor’s of Law”. I never practiced Law. I studied it.

You have been in the United States for some time. How did you decide to come to the United States and what have been your experiences with U.S. culture?

I arrived in the US in the 1981, tired of France and its stifling atmosphere. I knew I did not want to become a lawyer but I did not know what else to do. In Europe, and France in particular, you choose one path (very early) and you stick to it whether you're happy with it or not. I have discovered a new culture where instead of WHY people have asked me WHY NOT? That was so liberating.

But my first shock coming to the U.S. was the breaking of the Air Traffic controllers' strike under President Reagan. Coming to the U.S. meant coming to democracy. This was my first rude awakening.

You have an eclectic collection of film themes. Where do you get your inspiration? How do you choose your subject matter?

It actually takes me a while to find something that grabs me. It is about people I know. Issues that I am or someone close to me are dealing with.

Caribbean cinema has a complex identity as it is expressed by both Diasporans as well as the inhabitants of the islands. What are your experiences with Caribbean culture?

I grew up mostly among Africans (except for my family from Martinique) so I identify as an African. But growing up I was longing to know my other side, which I discovered at age 26. When I finally visited Martinique for the first time, I couldn't leave. I went to visit for a week but I stayed 3 months. The pull was very strong. I remembered all the Creole my grandpa spoke while I was a little girl. I have visited Martinique regularly until a few years when my grandma passed away. I don't have much experience with Caribbean culture other than the one with my immediate family and few friends.

Do you have contacts and projects in Cameroon? What is the state of Cameroonian cinema?

I do have contacts in Cameroon. My family lives there. I am going back home for the first time in 19 years. I have been invited to preside over the jury of the 2nd edition of the Mis Me Binga, (International Women's Film Festival) in March 2011. I am also helping set up a chapter of Women in Film in Cameroon.

There are no more theatres in Cameroon (it's a problem throughout Africa). There are a lot of eager budding filmmakers. There is a crying need for training and more exposure. But as I read some of the stories, there is tremendous content. African filmmakers have incredible stories to tell. Content is not the issue. Lack of access to funding and exposure are major problems.

Your production company is Ndolo Films, what are its activities?

Ndolo Films, LLC. is the production company under which I produce my films or the films I am hired to direct (TV pilot, music video) or consult.

Future projects, dreams?

I am working with a scriptwriter in Ivory Coast on a story that will allow me finally to shoot in Africa soon.

My biggest dream is to open a film institute in Cameroon.

Interview with Véronique Doumbé by Beti Ellerson, October 2010

Clips of films by Veronique Doumbe on Vimeo





03 October 2010

Foremothers in African Cinema: Thérèse Sita-Bella

Wikipedia image


Thérèse Sita-Bella entered the world of cinema even before most of the filmmakers that are recognized today as pioneers. Trailblazing journalist from Cameroon, she made Tam Tam à Paris in 1963.  The 30-minute film documented the National Dance Company of Cameroon during its tour in Paris.  It was featured at the first FESPACO in 1969, alongside the films of Mustapha Alassane (Niger), Ousmane Sembene (Senegal), Ababacar Samb (Senegal), Urbain N'Dia (Cameroon), Paulin Vieyra (Senegal), and Momar Thiam (Senegal).

Thérèse Sita-Bella had a long, productive career in radio and print journalism.  During the 1989 interview translated from French to English below, she indicated that she has many scripts that she would like to put to film and, upon her retirement, hoped to be able to do so. But she left us in January 2006, forgotten and virtually unknown in her own country. Thus, as we recognize her accomplishments at conferences, in blogs and articles about women in the history of African cinema, it must also be emphasized that African cultural producers must struggle nonetheless to produce and work. And now with the increased interest in Africa’s pioneers in cinema, one may ask how this groundbreaking journalist, cineaste, pilot, descended so deeply into obscurity, having defied her own assessment of her place as a filmmaker, asserting: “you know cinema is not a woman's business".

Translation from French by Beti Ellerson of an interview by André -Marie Pouya. Amina Magazine #233, September 1989.

Voir la version originale en français après la version anglaise ci-dessous

Thèrése Sita Bella participated in the creation of La vie africaine, the first African journal in France, where she worked until 1964-1965. Afterwards, she spent six months at UNESCO [based in Paris] and also participated in the creation of many radio programs destined for listeners in Africa, including the African Service of the BBC in French, and Radio-Cologne, Germany. She was also correspondent for Voice of America, as well as the Radio Television Luxembourg, then the ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française), the French Radio. She returned to Cameroon in 1967, where she immediately began working at the Ministry of Information. Today she is chief deputy at the Department of Documentation.

What are your thoughts on the evolution of the press in Africa?

The press in Africa is experiencing enormous difficulty. The private press needs a lot of advertising capital. As advertisers are often the target of these articles, journalists are not able to present burning issues. If you published an article opposing alcohol or tobacco, companies engaged in these businesses are reluctant to give you their advertising market.

We are now on the verge of a kind of journalistic prostitution...Political problems should be taken into account. Initially, the press was very limited in expression. Since the election of President Paul Biya, power is a bit more balanced. Leaving a little more freedom of expression to the so-called official press. Curiously in the official press, the radio and television, we read and hear things that the private press would not have dared mention in the past. We are witnessing the democratization of the press. We see an evolution both in form and in substance. The content is much more interesting, since people can say freely what they think.

Obviously, there is self-censorship. Journalists are not going to say and write things that would cause their articles to be censored. For example, they are not going to endanger state security. With the arrival of the national television, we are experiencing an upsurge in media expression.

Do Camaroonians politically support the press?

Everyone knows that when a major newspaper is censored it arouses curiosity. People want to know why there is censorship. When a newspaper is seized, people always find a way to get hold of it. The shrewd ones operate similarly to sell foreign newspapers that have been seized.

I think the majority of the population in Cameroon support Paul Biya, because they hope he will bring improvement with change. Democratization is already a reality. This is evident in recent local and parliamentary elections and even during the presidential elections. It turns out that people living in different regions work together on the same newspaper, though there are heated debates in the newsroom. The consensus that emerges gives some credibility to the press. It is a kind of internal democracy.

Has the upsurge of the press diminished the power and appeal of the “sidewalk radio”?

Not at all. To the contrary, in most of the private newspapers there is always a section dedicated to the “sidewalk radio”: “I heard that…”, “the President said that…”, “the sorcerer predicts that…”

We try to tell the story in the manner of La Fontaine, portraying political figures by changing their names a bit. We also simulate people chatting in a bar. Each saying: "I heard that...” Information believed to be confidential or top secret by the powers to be is filtered into the story.

Sita Bella, have you thought about writing a book?

I continue to write at the present. I have some ideas, and it is never too late to write about them. If I do publish them, the purpose will be to inform and teach.  Remember that I am also a filmmaker. I have many scripts that are lying idle that I would love to bring to fruition. I plan to retire soon and filmmakers are ageless. This will be my way to leave a message…

Propos recueillis par: 
André Marie Pouya
Amina #233 Septembre 1989
Elle participé à la création du première journal africain en France qui avait pour titre La Vie Africaine, où elle a travaillé jusqu'en 1964-1965. Ensuite elle a été six mois à l'UNESCO et a également participé à la création de beaucoup d'émissions radiophoniques à destination de l'Afrique et notamment au service africain de la B.B.C., en français et de radio-Cologne, en R.F.A. Elle a été également correspondante de la Voix de l'Amérique, sans compter la Radio Télévision Luxembourg puis de l'O.R.T.F. Elle est rentrée au Cameroun, en 1967, aussitôt engagée au Ministère de l'Information. Aujourd'hui elle est chef de service adjoint de la Documentation.

Quel jugement portez-vous sur l'évolution de la presse en Afrique?

La presse, en Afrique, connaît une énorme difficulté. La presse privée a besoin de beaucoup d'apport de la publicité. Comme les annonceurs sont souvent la cible des articles de presse, les journalistes éprouvent de la difficulté à aller au fond des choses. Si vous faites paraître un article contre l'alcool ou contre le tabac, les entreprises dont c'est l'activité rechignent à vous accorder leur marché, de publicité. Vous êtes alors à la limite de la prostitution... Les problèmes politiques sont à prendre en compte. Au départ, la presse était très limitée dans l'expression. Depuis l'avènement du président Paul Biya, le pouvoir a lâché un peu de lest. On laisse un peu plus de liberté d'expression à la presse dite officielle. Curieusement dans la presse officielle, la radio et la télévision, nous lisons, nous entendons des choses qu'elle-même la presse privée n'aurait pas osé évoquer par le passé. Nous assistons à la démocratisation de la presse. Nous voyons une évolution, tant dans la forme que dans le fond. Le contenu est beaucoup plus intéressant, dans la mesure où les gens peuvent dire, librement ce qu'ils pensent. Evidemment, ils s'autocensurent et ne vont pas jusqu'à dire et écrire des choses qui entrainaient une censure de leurs articles. Par exemple, ils ne vont pas attenter à la sûreté de l'état. Avec l'arrivée de notre télévision, nous vivons une explosion de l'expression médiatique.

Les citoyens camerounais soutiennent-ils politiquement la presse?

Tout le monde sait que c'est quand un grand journal est censuré qu'il éveille la curiosité. Les gens veulent savoir le pourquoi de la censure. Quand un journal est saisi, les gens trouvent toujours le moyen de se le procurer, sous le manteau. Les petits malins opèrent pareillement pour écouler les journaux étrangers qui ont été saisis. Je crois que la majorité de la population, au Cameroun, soutient Paul Biya, parce qu'elle espère qu'il va apporter un mieux dans le changement. La démocratisation est déjà une réalité. Nous l'avons vu lors des dernières élections municipales et législatives et même lors des présidentielles. Il se trouve qu'à l'intérieur d'un même journal cohabitent des ressortissants de régions différentes, il y a un débat houleux au sein même des rédactions. Le consensus qui se dégage donne une certaine crédibilité à la presse. C'est une sorte de démocratie interne aux journaux.

L'éclosion de la presse a-t-elle diminué la force et l'attrait de Radio-Trottoir? 

Pas du tout. Au contraire, dans la plupart de ces journaux privés, vous aurez toujours une page réservée à Radio-Trottoir: «On dit que...», «Le Chef a dit que...», «Le sorcier a prédit que ...».

On essaie de raconter l'histoire à la manière de La Fontaine. On met en scène des personnalités politiques, en changeant un peu les noms. On simule aussi les gens qui bavardent dans un bar. Chacun dit: «Moi, j'ai entendu que ... ». On y délivre ce qui a filtré de ce que certains responsables croient détenir comme confidentiel ou très secret.

Sita Bella, l'idée vous est-elle venue d'écrire un livre par exemple?


Pour le moment, je suis employée aux écritures. Les journalistes sont employés aux écritures. J'ai quelques idées. Il n'est jamais trop tard pour bien faire. Si j'écris un jour, ce sera dans un but didactique. Je suis en train d'écrire sur l’information et relations humaines. Je mets ce genre de choses en chantier. N'oubliez pas que je suis cinéaste. J'ai beaucoup de scénario qui chôment et que j'aimerais bien réaliser. Je vais prendre ma retraite d'ici quelque temps et les cinéastes n'ont pas d'âge. Ce sera ma manière de laisser un message...