In 1963, Ousmane Sembene used a 16mm camera and film stock sent by friends in Europe to film Borom Sarret (The Wagon Driver), which is considered the first African movie made by a Black African. This movie went a long way in foregrounding the aesthetics of African cinema. Several decades later, Africa not only hosts the world’s second largest movie industry, by volume, it also hosts important festivals such as the Festival Panafricain du Cinéma de Ouagadougou (FESPACO), the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF), The Cairo International Film Festival and the Ecrans Noirs Festival.
One of the festivals to watch out for every year, especially if one is interested in cinema from francophone Africa, is Ecrans Noirs in Cameroon. An article on the CNN website which focuses on how the Cameroon movie industry grows while cinemas close highlights the fact that “the country is witnessing a movie-making revival, spurred on by cheaper digital technology and inspired by the success of Nigeria’s film industry, aka, Nollywood.” Despite the misleading claim that “Cameroon has a film festival to call its own: Ecrans Noirs,” when in reality the central African country has several film festivals, notably the Festival International des Courts Métrages de Douala, Yaoundé Tout Court, and the ArtCity Short Film Festival. Nevertheless, this claim probably arose because Ecrans Noirs is touted as the oldest and most known film festival in Cameroon.
During this year’s iteration, which took place from 15 – 23 July, the Goethe-Institut Cameroon— a long-time partner of the festival, invited directors, producers, actors and visual artists to take part in the festival within the framework of the Moving Africa programme. Moving Africa is the Goethe-Institut’s pan African exchange programme which gives artists the opportunity to travel to selected cultural festivals on the continent. Launched in 2009, the programme’s aim is to foster exchange and networking amongst African artists.
This year’s pool of artists and professionals who attended the Ecrans Noirs festival as Moving Africa participants included Byll Delali Martine (Togo), Ouattara Adélaïde (Ivory Coast), David Aguacheiro (Mozambique), Anna Peter Mallya (Tanzania), Ncube Priscilla Sithole (Zimbabwe), Laurene Manaa Abdallah (Ghana), Kabuika Ronnie (DRC), and Mwagale Waheedah (Uganda).
Describing the new wave of African cinema in 2013, Julie MacArthur said it is “characterized by a younger generation of filmmakers who are engaging in a much more philosophically personal, visually daring, and intellectually engaged form of filmmaking than previous generations. These films, while taking on some of the same subject matter as their predecessors, privilege interiority and poetics over the more didactic or overtly political and nation-building approaches of past cinematic production.” This statement sums up the vision and cinematic repertoire of the eight Moving Africa guests at the Ecrans Noirs festival who are mostly affiliated to indie productions and privilege interiority in some of their notable projects.
Congolese (DRC) film director, scriptwriter and director of photography, Ronnie Kabuika is best known for Villa Matata (2014), his full-length feature film which relates the misadventures of three cousins; Ali, Mohamed and Toto, who are constantly broke, not too smart, and are always looking for easy money to satisfy their taste for alcohol and women. The movie was highly influenced by Maboke – a popular filmed theatre genre in Congo. He summed up his experience by saying that Moving Africa “provided me with the opportunity to meet like-minded people such as the other participants of the programme and festival and enabled me to network for future collaborations.”
Byll Delali Martine produces a bimonthly called Cine Art, which focuses on African and Togolese cinema and is broadcast by TVT, the national television station. She also featured in two films, Les mots qui manquent (2014) and J’ai tourné la page (2015). For her, Moving Africa was “a wonderful experience and opportunity which enabled me to discuss with the movie professionals whose films were in competition, as well as gather information which will enable young Togolese film-makers to participate in the Ecrans Noirs festival and deal directly with CRTV.”
Anna Peter Mallya is a movie director and her silent short film Computermania explores how computers can destroy relationships. Regarding the Moving Africa programme and the Ecrans Noirs festival, she said “the program put me in touch with producers from all over the world and I am still in touch with the other Moving Africa participants and we intend to collaborate. The festival was well organized, but unfortunately most of the movies were in French and they had no English subtitles.”
Adelaïde Ouattara is an actor, known for Run (2014), Burn It Up, Djassa (2012) and To Repel Ghosts (2013). The latter highlights one of Ouattara’s most memorable performances. She commented on the programme’s relevance by saying “Moving Africa made me discover two very different types of cinematic production in Cameroon during the Ecrans Noirs festival; mainstream production at CRTV and indie production undertaken by Lea Malle Frank and colleagues.”
In Chebet, Mwagale Waheedah explores how a teenage girl from Kapchorwa is an outcast because she cannot stand the culture of female genital mutilation. Galz About Town (2015) written by Waheedah, is a story based on Uganda’s prostitution world, exposing prostitutes’ lifestyles as well as how they entice and service their clients.
The group of Moving Africa participants also included David Aguacheiro, a visual artist; Ncube Priscilla Sithole, a former director of the Zimbabwean Arts Centre, who has produced a number of documentaries on culture and women’s issues. Regarding her Moving Africa experience, she said “the festival was an eye-opener for me because I have not been exposed to film festivals outside Zimbabwe. Furthermore, I enjoyed the use of an open air space as the main screening venue. The highlight of the Moving Africa programme, for me, was the competition organised by the Goethe-Institut in Cameroon to award young Film makers who produce short films.”
Laurene Manaa Abdallah, a movie director and Editing lecturer at the National Film and Television Institute as well as part-time lecturer at New York University in Ghana describes her experience as “lovely because it was easy to approach filmmakers and engage in conversations with them about their works, compared to other festivals where there are these hierarchical structures and filmmakers have ‘cults’ that are impenetrable. My most memorable experience occurred when I was having breakfast with a member of parliament without knowing until a Cameroonian filmmaker started engaging him in conversations about the arts.”
It would have been interesting to watch projections of movies involving these artists, as it would have enriched the selection of movies on and off-competition. This wasn’t really possible, except for a movie in which Ronnie Kabuika featured.
Exchange programmes like Moving Africa are crucial for artistic and professional development because they facilitate travel, exposure and networking in ways that are not always accessible to every artist and professional. The result is usually a number of collaborations both at personal and national levels, which influence the cinema industry in ways that are unimaginable.