Another highlight of the Stockholm film calendar, CinemAfrica hit a big landmark last year, their 20th anniversary. Moving beyond that milestone hasn’t led to them slowing down or resting on their laurels in any way – instead, they’re pushing forward with a bold programme for the festival’s 21st edition. We spoke to festival manager Dina Afkhampour about this year’s festival.
So you celebrated your 20th anniversary last year. So does this year feel like stepping into a new era of CinemAfrica?
For a few years recently, we have felt a definite shift within the film festival world as well as in the larger Swedish society. There are definitely more film festivals today in Stockholm than ever before and we see more knowledge and demand about and for African cinema. So there is more representation in film festivals, but we have the ability to contextualise the films in a way that is difficult if you don’t specialise in the region of the world we do. Also, Swedish society has changed — a lot of our Afro-Swedish audience are second or even third generation Swedes.
This year’s main theme is de-colonialisation, with a special focus on the work of Fanon through Hassan Mezine’s documentary and a panel discussion following that. How does that theme run through the films on this year’s programme?
Hassane’s film is a testament to the longevity and usability of Fanon’s ideas or approach — it is a document that needs to be seen to take in the scope and breadth of how his work lives on today. But the whole programme has strong currents of de-colonisation that are more obvious in some cases like Onyeka Igwe’s work — the series around Specialised Technique. She takes a singular historical event such as the Women’s Riot of Nigeria in 1929 — an example of one of the first successful anti-colonial revolts initiated by women no less, against the British. Onyeka reinterprets and re-frames the event and the strategy the women used, layering meanings and new understanding about the event and its consequences today. The same goes for Billy Woodberry’s A Story From Africa which examines colonial images, time and our relationships to history as viewers. The film echoes Fanon’s ideas about not being tied to history and having the freedom or agency to create one’s own world. More abstractly, the opening night’s film, The Burial Of Kojo, has as its background the tension between long standing colonial history and the presence of the Chinese community in Ghana. Almost every film can be seen as rooted in some notion of de-colonisation.
Tunisia is one of the countries in focus this year. How does the film scene there look at the moment, and did it make sense to highlight it?
Well obviously, we could not not highlight Tunisia when we have the first horror or genre film to ever come out of the country — Dachra! But more seriously, since the Arab Spring, there are more films being made (at least a dozen per year as compared to one to three per year before 2011). There is a revival of sorts and I think that Dachra really exemplifies bolder, more expansive ways of thinking about the medium and narratives in general. What’s interesting is that Tunisia has long been a destination for Hollywood or western films like Star Wars or Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Which of course, domestic cinema is so far from.
Talk us through the short film session on Oct 6.
We have queer Afro-futures (2064), re-negotiations about family ties/relationships such as My Beloved Co-Wife, a lot of women and sports that really try to bring stories of migration and societal change to light. There is really a mish-mash of stories – something for everyone and we loved the idea of just spending the whole day, on a rainy Sunday in the cinema to watch short film after short film! Cozy!
Five films are competing for this year’s festival prize. Can you tell us about them?
The opening night’s film, The Burial Of Kojo has been one of the few films in my professional viewing life that just stopped me in my tracks, because of its stunning visuals. Each shot is composed beautifully with a surrealism that makes you feel like a child, dreaming. The whole film is a heightened state of being! When you consider that the film is really his [Sam Blitz Bazawule] debut feature length film, it becomes all the more impressive. Though the film is produced by one of my all time favourite independent filmmakers, Terence Nance, who has a very specific aesthetic and point of view which you can also feel in this film, if you know Nance’s work. Yomeddine is just a sweet film about a relationship between two people we would never have met before – a leper and a young orphan and their finding their way home. Again, the setting and environment of the film is just as important as the story. Akasha is our recognition of the clever filmmaking coming out of Sudan at the moment — amidst serious political change the Sudan Film Factory and other independent filmmakers bring awareness to their society in flux. Night Ext is a departure for Egyptian drama, mostly because director Ahmad Abdallah is so clever with keeping stories snappy and a sense of playfulness / sense of humour. We have shown almost all of Abdallah’s films and it is always interesting to watch an artist’s trajectory throughout the years. Fig Tree by Alamork Davidian is about the Ethiopian civil war seen through the world of a young girl who is just on the brink of becoming a young adult. The film started off as a short, Facing The Wall, which we showed a few years ago, so seeing the long film more developed is a real treat! The film is inspired by the director’s own story and sheds light on the Beta Israel community now in Israel. It is these stories of migration that are rich and not so well known, that I think educate us in the West.
Finally, outside of film, but still connected to it, CinemAfrica is organising an activist day on Sunday, October 6, with the POC Filmmakers Forum and various panels. How important are events like these for the festival, that people not only absorb the films, but also become activated through these meetings and panels?
It is ultimately, the most important outcome of being at our festival — we want to activate you! Their importance is two-fold: for the cultural landscape and film sector itself, something like the POC filmmaker’s forum is vital because it fills in the gaps that we see missing or not letting our constituents in. The more social justice films are really our centrepieces because they are not just artistic expressions but have a pedagogical dimension.
Cinema Africa, Oct 2-6, Various Venues
Main Image: Still from The Burial Of Kojo