Film Africa, the UK’s largest festival of African cinema and culture, is back in November 2012 with 10 days of more than 70 amazing African films, 35 leading filmmakers offering Q&As, free professional workshops, and nine African music nights. After the huge success of Film Africa 2011, this year’s festival is even bigger and better, with a whole range of new exciting educational, family, and arts events alongside the main film programme. And this year, in addition to continuing our Silver Baobab Award for Best Short African Film and The Distribution Forum, we will also be inaugurating the Film Africa Audience Award and Picha House, an alternative cinema venue with free screenings throughout the festival.
A Royal African Society event, in association with SOAS, University of London, Film Africa is hosted by the Hackney Picturehouse and also takes place at The Ritzy in Brixton, the Rich Mix in Shoreditch, the BFI Southbank, Screen on the Green in Islington, and the South London Gallery. This means that, no matter where you live in London, you’ll be able to come and enjoy the festival’s rich offerings.
As we all know, the global economic crisis has not made this an easy time for cultural institutions, events, and ventures. Many African film festivals across Europe have had their public funding withdrawn by conservative governments and are struggling to survive. Some are being told that African culture has ‘no relevance’ in Europe. We are proud that we have managed to keep Film Africa alive at such a time – a time when we absolutely need to insist on the relevance of Africa and its people to the UK’s – and the world’s – future. The last UK census revealed the huge proportion of African-born residents of London: 69,000 Nigerians; 66,000 Kenyans; 46,000 Ghanaians; 45,000 South Africans; 34,000 Somalis; 32,000 Ugandans. Further, more than 10% of London’s population is Black British. But, beyond the great African diaspora and Black British presence in this city and throughout the UK, there are further reasons why events such as Film Africa are crucial. Britain was built on the backs of African slaves and then, later, through the economic gains of colonialism; surely Africans then should have a strong voice in the British capital? Surveys have shown that the African diaspora and Black British communities in the UK identify very closely both with their original ‘homes’ and with Britain. We have only to think of Mo Farah saying, this past summer, ‘Look, mate, this is my country’ to be reminded of this. The UK cannot deny its complete, inextricable binds and bonds with the African continent, and Africans are making, and want to continue to make, invaluable contributions to the development and success of Britain.
It is not only that the UK and Africa are connected, however; Africa’s position as a global player and leader is finally starting to be recognized. This is reflected in the funding structures as well as the themes of many of the 73 films we’ll be screening over the 10 days of the festival, which are profoundly transnational. This vision of a ‘global Africa’ has inspired one of our key programming strands – Continental Crossings – alongside several other major thematic focuses: Elections and Democracy, Mama Africa, Spotlight on Sexualities, Sport, and Public Space and Citizen Journalism.
The films in the Continental Crossings strand suggest the multiple ways in which African countries are, and have always been, connected to the Western and non-Western world. Our opening night film, Nairobi Half Life – which we are delighted to be premiering in the UK – is a stunning collaboration between leading German director Tom Tykwer and young Kenyan film talent David Tosh Gitonga. Nigerian-Welsh director Branwen Okpako’s The Education of Auma Obama, another UK premiere for us, brings out from the shadows the Kenyan half-sister of President Barack Obama, giving a profound portrait of the woman who introduced Obama to his Kenyan roots, and emphasizing how interconnected Africa is with the rest of the world. It is no accident that we have scheduled this screening for 6 November – US elections day. We are also proud to present the UK premiere of Sons of the Clouds, a film produced and starred in by actor and activist Javier Bardem, which critiques the West’s role in sustaining Moroccan oppression of the Sahrawi people. The multi-award-winning documentary Call Me Kuchu is a devastating tribute not just to courageous gay activist David Kato but also a stark reminder that what happens in African countries is heavily influenced by their relationships with other countries. In the case of this film, we see American evangelical preachers pushing their own homophobic agenda all over Uganda. Film Africa is delighted to be kicking off the film’s mainstream release in the UK. We are also presenting a range of fascinating films that reveal the complex relationships between African and non-Western countries, such as Cuba, Burma, China, the former Soviet Union, Ukraine, and India.
As usual, the festival will throw particularly bright light on certain African countries. In 2012 one of these countries is South Africa. We want to recognize and celebrate the flourishing of South African filmmaking (16 new feature-length fiction films were made in the past year alone, a remarkable achievement) but also use the opportunity of the ANC’s centenary this year to give pause and consider the country’s past successes and failures, its contemporary situation, and its dreams, hopes, and fears for the future. No fewer than 15 South African films – fiction, documentary, and shorts – grace this year’s programme, covering all aspects of the country: from its thriving stand-up comedy scene, surfing, the relationships between mothers and daughters, and music and creativity, to violence against gay people, the recent xenophobic riots, and the power of social movements to hold the government to account.
Film Africa 2011 aimed to challenge the dominance of men in African filmmaking by giving centre stage to the many African women filmmakers who have contributed to the representation of the continent on the silver screen. Film Africa 2012 continues this focus, and is delighted to welcome leading filmmakers such as Hawa Essuman and Branwen Okpako to the festival. At the same time, we are also celebrating and exploring different ideas of ‘motherhood’ in our Mama Africa strand. This strand was inspired by young filmmaker Sarah Ping Nie Jones’ beautifully shot and profoundly moving personal documentary Umbilical Cords, which we are honoured to be premiering internationally. After what we hope will be 10 wonderful, enriching days of celebration, sharing, learning, and exchanging ideas, Film Africa 2012 will close with a screening of Mama Africa, Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki’s cinematic tribute to an African legend – Miriam Makeba – affectionately known as the mother to the entire African continent. Makeba’s granddaughter Zenzi Monique Lee suggests what we can all learn from Makeba’s inspiring life when she says: ‘She was playing for humanity.’
Those Who Helped Make It Happen
We are immensely grateful, in the first instance, to the Royal African Society, Film Africa 2012’s principal funder, and the continued generous and unstinting support of Miles Morland, who has always been a major funder of the festival. We are also indebted to the sponsorship of Renaissance Group, Ophir Energy, IC Publications, and the Centre of African Studies.
The festival could not happen without the support of all the filmmakers who have allowed us to screen their beautiful films, and those who will be visiting the festival. Neither could Film Africa take place without the fundamental support of our fantastic venues – we are so appreciative of your partnership – and, in particular, we want to thank Clare Binns and Micallar Walker of City Screen for their tremendous work. Thank you, too, to all the film distributors who have collaborated with us.
Many people give of their time generously and passionately to make Film Africa happen. We greatly appreciate the support we has received from our wonderful film programming team; our fabulous Programming Associates, Joseph Adesunloye, Michael Boyd, Marian Briozzo, Basia Lewandowska Cummings, Julie MacArthur, Joshua McNamara, Sheila Ruiz, and Michael Thomas; and our programming committee, Nouria Bah, Kate Bolgar Smith, Estrella Fernandez, Sophie Harrison, Sterre Lodders, Olufunsho Nwabuzor, Nicole Parr, Caitlin Pearson, Daniel Perry, Alena Rettova, Lauren Siegel, Christine Singer, Robin Steedman, and Sarah Swanson. Also those who have been invaluable to helping with the expansion of the Arts and Education Programme: our Arts and Education Assistant Christine Singer and Film Africa’s educational advisor Natasha Kusemamuriwo. We also want to acknowledge the incredible creativity of the Lalibela Cinema Design Collective and Ranti Bamgbala, who have transformed the lower gallery of the Rich Mix into an exciting cinematic installation, known as the Picha House.
Eric Cooper, our outstanding Festival Manager, has been a pleasure to work with, and we appreciate his complete dedication and devotion to Film Africa. We have also been blessed to work the most spectacular PR Manager, Simone Bresi-Ando. Basia Lewandowska Cummings is an invaluable contributor to so many dimensions of the festival, not least in her role as Online Marketing Manager. Robin Steedman’s efficiency has shone through time and again in her role as Marketing Manager and Print Transport Manager. Lulu Kitolo and her team at Asilia Creative continue to give so generously of themselves to ensure that we have stunningly designed publicity. Gemma Haxby at the Royal African Society works tirelessly behind the scenes year-round taking responsibility for the festival’s financial smooth running, and we are grateful to all of the staff at the Royal African Society for their help and support. Chris Brown has made huge contributions to the festival over the years, particularly through his work on our lovely trailers. And we simply could not have run the festival without the hard, excellent work of our three Film Africa 2012 interns – Fadhili Maghiya and Christine Singer.
And, of course, a huge thank you to you – our dedicated audience – without whom Film Africa would not exist. We are so looking forward to seeing you at the festival!
Lindiwe Dovey and Namvula Rennie, Co-Directors, Film Africa 2012