These words concluded the inaugural GiF: Girls in Film event in Johannesburg’s chicest independent cinema The Bioscope. The sentiment also concludes a six-month exploration of cinema and arts that took me in a broad sweep across the African continent to Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa.
Addressed to a packed audience of film lovers and makers, rising filmmaker Zandie Tisani spoke of her refusal to be seduced by the acclaim that comes with being the first of her stripe to achieve mainstream recognition as a black women in a predominantly white, male industry. Instead, Tisani favours a conscious work ethic that strives to create space for a diverse pool of future creators. What GiF an international network for womxn filmmakers is that Tisani is not alone she is part of a group of highly accomplished Black womxn creating diverse, urgent and engaging content in South Africa.
At the event Tisani screened abstracted creative doc Highlands, that explored Johannesburg urban development alongside the cultivation of water in the locale from 3 million B.C. to present. A variety of film forms and craftspeople where also represented: Creative Director Bee Diamond projected Fela Kuti style queens in a retro guised Joburg for Major Lazar and DJ Maphorisa’s Particula. Soweto-based artist Phatstoki’s split-screen-diptych Dirty Dancing created a recognisable sense impression of traveling though Joburg on a night out. Motivated by intersections between Feminism, sexuality and politics, Jabu Nadia Newman’s fluid doc Femme in Public outlined Queer and Transgender performance art in Cape Town. Another hugely resonant voice came from Sihle Hlophe, her fictional short Nomfundo played on the space between abuse and agency from the perspective of a young pregnant women undergoing a transcendental experience. At the post-screening discussion Hlophe’s expressed the same coolness and raw ferocity as her work, articulating her steadfast objective to bring the margins to the centre in future work.
In spite of challenges on the ground there is an energy and vitality within independent filmmaking in Johannesburg trying to foster creative connections and produce a spectrum of work. Alongside GiF, production companies like Passion Seed headed by Hlophe and hubs Creative Nestlings - a network for young African creative entrepreneurs on the continent and within the diaspora are leading the charge. In collaboration with the British Council Creative Nestlings closed 2017 with film events that brought UK director Shola Amoo and artist director Kojey Radical in conversation with Joburg creatives.
In Lagos, the 7thannual Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) expressed the collective consciousness of filmmaking in Nigeria and across the continent in the last year - with filmmakers pushing marginal dialects and instigating conversations from gender and spirituality to the comedic and uncanny. A watershed moment at AFRIFF this year came from Surrea16 collective. The collective comprises of genre maverick CJ Obasi responsible for Nigeria’s first zombie movie Ojuju, Abba T Makama’s whose satirical debut Green White Green toured the festival circuit widely following a debut at TIFF’s City to City Spotlight and relative newcomer with an eye for subjects and introspection Mike Omonua. Inspired by European art house cinema movements like Dogme 95 the collective set out their ambitions to shake up their industry with an injection of artistically minded cinema to diversify current mainstream content. At a special event chaired by filmmaker and AFRIFF Artistic Director Newton Aduaka Surreal16 screened their anthology film Visions and outlined a daring 16-point manifesto. The group rattled their Lagosian audience with vetoes against ‘cliché looking witch doctors’, ‘romcoms’, ‘slapstick’ and excesses in morality plus the unifying tenant that all of their films must contain an element of the surreal. Visions itself was a well-executed tasting platter of what the group has to offer individually and as co-operative. A collection of three short fictions based on dreams and visions Makama’s Shaitan injected a nightmarish spin to a conversation between two friends at a psycho-spiritual crossroads, while Omonua’s Brood explored a holy trinity of heartbreak, angst and allusion, Obasi’s Bruja glimpsed a dispute witihin a coven of witches. With a feature length upstairs-downstairs drama with its probe set on the stratification of Nigerian society Surreal16 is a Nigerian Cinema movement inent to watch out for.
Further afield in the world of artist moving image the 2nd Art X Lagos presented challenging and insightful work from audacious Angolan visual artist and poet Nástio Mosquito. Co–directed by Pere Ortín the two part My African Mind/My European Mind utilized a pick n’mix of styles and techniques from 4D animation, live action and audio-visual archive to unpack colonial constructions of Africa and the sequel the ideological precariousness of post-colonial Europe. The fine art scene in Ghana also craved out significant space for film and lens based media with its premier street art festival Chale Wote offering a substantial international film programme. Never ones to shy away from conversations to be had the festival theme this year WATA MATA aimed to conceive imaginative means of resisting challenges to ways of living. Worlanyo Ansa’s Dear Valentine spun the romantic comedy on it head with a tale about a date backfiring due to a lack of sanitation infrastructure. In a clever tale about how assumptions can ignite mob justice graduate filmmaker Gamel Baba Apalayine Jr’s cleverly broached homophobia in Ghana. ANO gallery founder writer and artist Nana Oforiatta Ayim offered a taste of her forthcoming 54-volume encyclopaedia of African art in Mind the Gap – a ten-screen installation synthesising her findings for the book project and the cultural clash to her experience as a diasporic artist. The Ghanaian film industry shows no sign of slowing, following on from Peter Sedufia’s heart stealing screwball caper Keteke 2018 scene-stealers with definitely include debuts from Fofo Gavua’s college comedy Lucky and Sam Blitz Bazawule’s The Burial of Kojo whose kickstarter campaign and visuals took Afri-cine-twitter by storm.
I’m taking the long way home, with three more countries to go. Next stops Senegal, Rwanda and Nairobi. Choo Choo!
This trip was facilitated through the British Council Art Connects Us programme - supporting connections and opportunities between UK creatives and their counterparts in Sub Sharan Africa