Showing posts with label film criticism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film criticism. Show all posts

Friday, October 28, 2011

Crowdfunding a Documentary about the "LA Rebellion" Film Movement

Zeinabu irene Davis' documentary about the LA Rebellion-- a film movement out of UCLA in late '60s-- is worth every crowdfunding cent.

LA Rebellion alums include Charles Burnett '69 ("Killer of Sheep"), Billy Woodberry MFA '82 ("Bless Their Little Hearts"), and Julie Dash MFA '85 ("Daughters of the Dust") and at the core of the movement is the work of the late of Ethiopian scholar Teshome Gabriel (blogged - here) and filmmaker Haile Gerima (Gerima on Gabriel - blogged here).

...documents the lives and work of a small group of critically acclaimed, but as of yet relatively unknown group of black filmmakers and media artists known as the Los Angeles Rebellion, the first sustained movement in the United States by a collective of minority filmmakers that aimed to reimagine the production process so as to represent, reflect on, and enrich the day to day lives of people in their own communities. All of the filmmakers associated with this movement attended UCLA between the “Watts riots” of 1965 and the “urban uprising” in Los Angeles that followed the Rodney King verdict in 1992
Kickstart - here.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Senegal: Why You Can't Get Any of Ousmane Sembene's Films in Dakar

California Newsreel Barrie McClune's visual essay (Journal of African Media Studies Volume 2 Number 1 pp. 107–119 2010) of his search through Dakar's cinema houses, conference rooms,  museums, market stalls and living rooms for Ousmane Sembene's films. He asks if the body of wor of Senegal's most famous filmmaker is accessible to the Dakar public and what has happened to Sembène’s work in the city he made his home...
In search of Sembène by Barrie McClune

Many assume that it is the structural constraints created by monopolistic foreign distribution companies that explain why Senegalese publics and Senegalese films remain unacquainted with one another. To such claims, Mamadou Sy (17 June 2008 interview) provides an interesting answer: African films don’t work in Senegal. We have tried them many times. Our last experience was with Moolaadé by Ousmane Sembène, but the film did not make in audience returns half of what a foreign DVD would make. And the DVD rents for much less. The clientele will not adapt to African films. There are a couple of notable exceptions

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tanzania: Narrating "Titanic" in Swahili (Documentary)

German anthropologists have been documenting Tanzanian performers (wa tafsiri) who narrate/translate pirated foreign films into Swahili for the local audience. Though the art of video narration is more established in neighboring Uganda, it seems the East African roots of the practice goes back to colonial efforts like the Bantu Education Kinema experiment from the 30s or mobile cinemas from the 70s used by Kenyan promoters to hawk their wares in the Tanzania country side.  

The documentary below, VeeJays der Film, from Johannes Guttenberg University, Mainz, premiered back in April and is a closer look at Tanzania's “vibanda vya videos” (video parlours) where average Tanzanians gather not only to watch foreign films from China, the United States, Nigeria and India get narrated by enterprising veejays, but also to have the movies translated--given a "Bongo" flavor if you will-- into their local context.

In "Turning rice into pilau: The art of video narration in Tanzania," Matthias Krings explains the narrator biz:
... narrating live is more demanding, because the brouhaha in the video parlour sometimes makes it difficult to concentrate on the film, but at the same time it is more rewarding because of the immediate response the narrator gets from the audience. Performing live, however, doesn’t generate much of an income because the audience would rather stay away than pay a higher entrance fee which means that a live narrator has to depend on the token amount he gets from the owner of the video parlour who hires him to attract more customers. It is only consequential, therefore, to mediatise video narration and sell the tapes en masse to video parlours and video libraries across the country. According to King Rich, who always makes sure to announce his mobile phone number a couple of times on each of his dubbed tapes, he gets a lot of encouragement from his dispersed audiences. Such positive feedback notwithstanding, he believes that his audience still prefers live-narration, for when he performed in Kobla’s video parlour for about two months in 2007 the room soon became too small to accommodate the daily growing numbers of spectators.
The added value the translators--some of whom do not even speak the language they are translating from--provide is the addition of an enzyme-like layer of information that helps the audience further absorb and better digest the movie better in Swahili - i.e. this information could be anything from the veejay's own take on what is going through a character's head in a scene to all the latest juicy gossip about the actor's life. For example, the scene in Titanic where Jack, after saving Rose, is invited to dinner, when translated by a veejay called Lufufu, sounds like this:
Internal monologue Jack: On this party one is supposed to eat ugali [Maize dumplings] with twenty different spoons. Theses are things I would never get accustomed to, stupid, useless things.
Narration: Jack, still on … like I have told you … still on the welcoming party, he thought that he would get ugali, spinach, beans and cassava, instead he was served only very small portions of food. That’s how it is in a decent place like this. That was not very pleasant. He thought to himself that he would go to bed hungry today (Titanic 1:00:13–45).
Like the katsudō-benshis of early 20th century Japan, Tanzania's skilled narrator-translators have also amassed a loyal following; in addition to what the film is about, people want to know who the narrator at the

Friday, July 29, 2011


Charles Burnett's distinguished alumni award acceptance speech at UCLA's Theater, Film and TV commencement 2011  (June 10). He talks about the making of "To Sleep with Anger".

The excerpt below from an old essay on by Ray Carney on "To Sleep with Anger" and Burnett  is still on point:
Yet no doubt the title alone didn't make or break the movie. The larger problem was that Burnett made an African-American film that violated virtually every convention about the depiction of African-Americans on screen. There are no drugs, no gangs, no guns, no policemen, and no hookers. There are no views of urban life, no identifying ethnic patois, costumes, or mannerisms, and no rap or hip-hop scoring on the soundtrack (and not even any references to such realms of experience). Burnett makes us realize the extent to which the African-American experience has been cinematically stereotyped. His characters are not teenage ghetto dwellers with boom boxes on their shoulders, but middle-class mothers and fathers who head stable families, live in well-kept houses in suburban neighborhoods, and care as much about their jobs, their marriages, their children, and their relationships with their neighbors as any white suburbanite does. His film may have an all Black main cast, but in another respect, it represents a breathtakingly color-blind vision of life. Its narrative may be anchored in specific observations about the Black family(and, in particular, the distinctive role of women in it), but its net effect is to suggest that what all families have in common is much more important than the skin colors that distinguish them.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Kenya: Admitting Sex Plays a Dominant Role in Poor People’s Lives

Ndoto z Elibidi, a tragicomedy about abt a family living in Mathare Valley slum opened in theaters in Kenya last month after winning the Italian Cinema Africano di Verona @ Zanzibar Film Festival last summer. Excerpt below culled from Margaretta wa Gacherun's review of the film in the Nation:
The backdrop of the film is the poverty to be found in Mathare. But the poverty in no way diminishes the humanity and vitality of the characters, all of who are developed as full-blooded individuals, each with his or her issues. The girls’ father, Elibidi, is the main storyteller and pivotal figure of the film, but his daughters and their dilemmas and developing relationships form the body of this wonderfully told modern morality “play”. The fact that each of the girls’ experiences is an authentic reflection of everyday Mathare life is confirmed by the attentive “live” audience which laughs, cries, screams and laughs again. That sex plays so dominant a part in poor people’s lives may shock some filmgoers since it’s an issue addressed head-on in Ndoto z Elibidi.
In terms of the telling, the film is described as constantly cutting back and forth from fiction to documentary and from the original stage play to actual locations; as it takes the viewers on two parallel journeys: watching the story in real time and also watching it through the eyes of the ghetto audience.

In that case it should fit in snugly somewhere between Abderrahmane Sissako's Bamako (2006) and Denys Arcand's Jesus of Montreal ('09).

H/T: Kenyan Christian

Monday, July 4, 2011

Africa/Italy: African Immigration and Italian Cinema

Decades of African immigration to Italy is enough time for the attitudes of the Italian society in relation to African immigrants to be absorbed and examined through its cinema. In the Grace Bullaro edited 2010 text above, Italian cinema also replays the love/hate relationships you find towards Africans in the larger society -- i.e. Italian soccer fans and African players.

Some Italian films discussed include dir. Luca D’Ascanio's Bell'amico [Some Friend (2002)], a look at the love/hate relationship between an Italian host and his house guest, an obssessive filmmaker from Angola. Trailer below. The book's breakdown of the film - here:

Or the love/hate relationship Italian men have for West African prostitutes captured as far back as Matteo Garrone's 1997 short film, Terra di Mezzo. The book breaks it down - here

Friday, June 10, 2011

Africa: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun Vs. Fespaco - Fespaco 2011 Postmortem

Two must-read pieces from Olivier Barlet over at the French journal, Africultures, translated to English. 1) An interview with Chadian director and Cannes winner Mahamat-Saleh Haroun about his pronouncement in March (blogged - here) that he won't be attending the continent's preeminent film festival again. Excerpt:
If its filmic dimension was managed better, wouldn't the question of things like hotels be more relative? Of course. In September 1997, we set up the Guild because we faced the same problems. We had no rooms and spent the night around the Hotel Indépendance poolside talking till six in the morning. Today, the same things are happening again! These small, incidental [hiccups] take[...] on huge proportions when the problems cumulate. In his opening speech at the stadium, the Minister of Culture didn't seem to think fit to talk about film; he spoke about Burkina's culinary specialities, such as "bicycle" and rabilé chicken. I know the Minister of Culture is also the Minister of Tourism, but the Fespaco is first and foremost a film event. Does this festival truly respect cinema, or is it simply a popular festivity people come to for the sun and millions distributed in special awards? Must we continue to accept this due to an essentialism that is specific to us? It's a typically African social comedy, rooted in our traditions, in which there is no solidarity between the filmmakers. And we sustain this farce by our presence. I get the impression that there is no longer any reflection on film here, and if we don't reflect on film, it's difficult to take it elsewhere and to escape the ghetto we are shut in. We become just image-makers. In Burkina, since Idrissa Ouedraogo stopped shooting, there's no cinema anymore.. (more)
2) Barlet then follows up with observations and analysis of what really ails the festival. Money quote:
Fespaco has become a huge machine that is struggling to stay focused on cinema. This is the crux of the debate that emerged from the Haroun-Ouedraogo face-off. All the same, it would be wrong to enter into an opposition between auteur and popular cinema. In our interview, Haroun clearly states that in the history of cinema, popular cinema is not a poor-quality cinema. In his article An Unkept Promise published in the Cahiers de cinéma in February 2011, he sees in the confusion between video and cinema the expression of a sustained marginality, as if Africa had nothing to say to the world, and already denounced the Fespaco as "an audiovisual festival". He sees the source of this in the fact that grants "are not concerned with accompanying auteurs, but in favouring the production of African images". He calls for "culture, training, art history, in short film culture to be put back at the heart of our cinema", and thereby to break out of this marginality. (more)
Usually after every Fespaco, one or two journalists writes a gripe piece about the festival's shortcomings. For example, you can wince at Aidan O'Donnell's sum up for RFI on Fespaco (2009) :
The festival-goers seem generally unimpressed with the organisation this year, with copies of films not turning up at their respective cinemas, filmmakers left stranded without plane tickets and movies playing in cinemas where the lights don’t actually go down. You do get the feeling something’s slightly amiss when an actress like Mali’s Maimouna Helène Diarra – known from films like Bamako and Sembène Ousmane’s Mooladé - is seeking out journalists rather than the other way round. She was here this year with the Malian television series Duel a Dafa from director Ladji Diakité and described herself as “disgusted”. “The organisation is rubbish,” she said.
But, perhaps, because of what the idea of Fespaco symbolizes for postcolonial Africa and Africa cinema, it seems everyone shrugs, gathers again in Burkina Faso in two years and the cycle repeats itself. Looks like Haroun is putting his foot down - enough! From our faraway perch, we would argue that the festival, at its core, is disconnected from any economics of filmmaking and exhibition supply tied to any robust pan-African audience demand. Thus whatever sustains it and brings it back every 2 years isn't rooted in the kind of economic forces or pressures that forces a film festival to either get better organized or go extinct.

Above: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun on the jury at this year's Cannes film festival. Actually, when you think of it, Haroun's fight, apart from trying to preserve cinema in the realm of Nollywood, touches on something else. To go from jury member on an operation and organization like Cannes back to turning a blind eye to fespaco's recurrent failings or to accepting the festival's absurd organizational standards will be nothing less than, well... colonial.   

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

DRC: Interview with Viva Riva! Director Djo Tunda Wa Munga/ Next Project - A Chinese Detective Sent to the Congo...

Just before Congolese director Djo (Joe) Tunda Wa Munga's Viva Riva! went on to win the inaugural "best African movie" award at the MTV Video music awards last weekend, the director spoke with A Bombastic Element last week while promoting the film, which opens June 10th in New York and Los Angeles, and June 24th in Washington, D.C.

The suspense in Viva Riva! revolves around an Angolan gangster, Cesar (Hoji Fortuna), who is tearing up the fuel-starved city of Kinshasa looking for his cargo of gasoline and his former protege, Riva (Patsha Bay), who stole it. Meanwhile, Riva, kind of like the character played by Belmondo in Truffaut's Breathless, is not as interested in making himself scarce as he is in getting with the "property" of another gangster - the story's femme fatale redhead, Nora, played by Manie Malone.

The steamy sex scenes
How did the Congolese audience react to the sex scenes in the film?
In the screenings that I did in Congo, people reacted pretty well to the story and they didn't even mention [the film's explicit scenes] to my surprise. Even though Congo is quite conservative, in reality we know that everything is there and there is nothing to hide, and perhaps they enjoyed those scenes not only as part of the film but as parts of characters they know.
...the World audience reaction?
In terms of world audience, I was surprised that everyone really liked those scenes - liking them in the sense that they have not seen that before. And I was wondering, with all these sex scenes we always see in movies, why the surprise? I think what you have in most sex scenes in movies is a cut of like, 'they love each other, they make love, okay, that's it.' In the sex scenes in Viva Riva!, we take time to look at them. We take time to get closer to them and the sexuality becomes part of the action that they are having, so it is more of a scene; it is saying something. Maybe that's why people are more touched by that and get more into it.
What about the location and nature of the sex scenes? You left bedroom scenes for intimacy - i.e. Nora telling Riva of her childhood and her relationship with her father. But you have the various sex scenes take place in every manner of inconvenient place - i.e. through a window, in a bath tub, in alleyways and so on. Are the nature and location of the sex scenes hinting at anything about Congolese sexuality?

There is something there of Congolese letting out their frustrations through sex in the sense that the environment is not easy.  So you get the sense that it is cool, he is in love, but it is not so easy to just engage with someone. You do what you can, where you can. My characters have different barriers. The main character, Riva, faces a barrier because there is the other man and this is the only way he can get something out of her, so to speak. His friend was married, but at the same time has restrictions. It is in that sense that I wanted to express something about Congo. 
Movie villains:
Your bad guy, the Angolan gangster Cesar... 
He was played by Hoji Fortuna. He won an African Movie Award (AMAA) for the role.
Cesar's villainous consistency led us through the whole chaos. He came across as the bad guy with integrity. Did his character come straight out of the streets of Kinshasa?
The Kinshasa in the background may feel like a documentary but I also wanted to have a narrative vision for the film and Fortuna's character was in response to that. Who are good villians in movies? The integrity that you are talking about came out of wanting to create someone really radical in the really noir sense of the film. His barione is sharp, he doesn't hesitate, he doesn't have any this confusion about Kinshasa. 
You've mentioned elsewhere the idea of racism in Africa. Does Hoji Fortuna's character, being an Angolan, perceive himself superior to the Congolese?
My point in the film is that there is racism in Africa today. We just don't talk about it. The way the actor puts it in the film might have been in a sharper way, like in his line where he says [the Congolese] should have stayed colonized. It was one of the most popular lines in the film - people remember it because of the way he said it.
Strong women characters:

Can you tell us more about the military "Commander" character played by Marlene Longange? Perhaps because she is also gay, the character drew parallels to the prison warden in Joseph Gai Ramaka's Karmen Gai (2001).

Longange won an African Movie Award (AMAA) for the role. Her character was straight out of the streets of Kinshasa. The character was inspired on someone I knew many years ago who was even more radical. So the character is Congolese but from a different angle. 
And the femme fatale character of Nora (played by Manie Malone)?

Yes, her character comes from the same world.
African cinema :
Viva Riva! was shot on the Canon 5D - a digital photo camera that also produces high definition videos with a cool film look. We've seen the camera in use in Egypt on the set of Cairo Exit (2011) and in the South Africa bushveld on the set of Night Drive (2011). Is this the camera African cinema has been waiting for?

I think the question of African cinema is not so much about the camera. It is much more about the person behind the camera and how you use it. We also thought the same thing 10-15 years ago when we had all these digital cameras come on the market that we are going to make more films. Maybe there were more films but the quality of the films were way below what they could have been. Maybe we were not using the full potential of the camera, quality lighting and many other things. so it goes back to the person behind the camera; what is this knowledge; how does he or her use it. One of the most important things about cinema is to bring great photography to work with someone who has a great mind or who has trained properly.  
Francophone African cinema:
And while we are still on cinema and training, what are your thoughts on the prevailing schism in approaches to filmmaking on the continent? On one hand you have an older generation of Francophone African directors, able to draw from decades of French film tradition, support and training, thus, they are more fluent in the language that is cinema. On the other hand we have the rest of Africa, with decades of little or no support. The more cinema minded Francophone directors, beholden to shooting on celluloid, have been accused of being slow to take advantage of digital technologies or make films the average African audience can identify with. Your thoughts?

I think first it is the mentality which has to change. It is important that we approach cinema in a cinematic way. And cinematic way doesn't mean that we use print or stay within certain types of genres. Take Dogma for instance (Dogme 95 - the Danish film movement started in 1995 by Lars von Tier and Thomas Vinterberg). Those movies were shot on DV and some of them were amazing movies. So at the end of the day, again, it's not just the technique that is important but also how the filmmaker approaches the story. We didn't have Dogmas in Africa. So the challenge now is not so much to get the technique; but to get what is behind the technique; we need to get the mentality and the mind as well.

What about collaborations between Francophone and Nollywood filmmakers? 

I'm collaborating with a South African producer, cause we want to bring together resources from both sides, put them together and make films that are better productions. So there is no barrier. There is nothing stopping you. It is just to adapt and to have the good influences from both worlds. That's also part of the success of Viva Riva! That we have been able to take resources from South Africa, from Congo, from Paris, from Brussels and put them together. I believe collaboration would work. That collaboration between different filmmaking traditions within the continent will bring something new to the market. 
The DRC and Post-Viva Riva!
After Viva Riva! what comes next?

I'm working on a Congo-China story. Something of thriller about a Chinese detective who comes to Congo. Hopefully the project will takeoff and I will be able to shoot it.

And what other Congolese directors from the DRC should we be watching out for?

I know of Balufu Bakupa-Kayinda and there are many other Congolese directors who make documentaries.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

DRC: North American Trailer for Viva Riva - Opens in U.S. Theaters June 10th

Djo Tunda Wa Munga's film noir Viva Riva (2010) hits U.S. theaters June 10th. PR dropped the Itunes link to the North American trailer in the inbox. The pitch:

Riva is a small time operator who has just returned to his hometown of Kinshasa, Congo after a decade away with a major score: a fortune in hijacked gasoline. Wads of cash in hand and out for a good time, Riva is soon entranced by beautiful night club denizen Nora, the kept woman of a local gangster. Into the mix comes an Angolan crime lord relentlessly seeking the return of his stolen shipment of gasoline. Director Djo Tunda Wa Munga’s Kinshasa is a seductively vibrant, lawless, fuel-starved sprawl of shantytowns, gated villas, bordellos and nightclubs and Riva is its perfect embodiment.

Find "money is like poison" scene - here. Hit the film's site for cities and playdates. Some earlier discussions about the cinematography - here. That and a ton of other links on the film's fb wall. Spread the word.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Nigeria: Supervillains of the Modern Age, Cont'd

Some dudes with awful accents playing trigger happy Nigerians who kidnap a drug lord's son in a March 21 episode of Chicago Code. Niger Delta representin'. Our archives of Nigerians as super-villians in the media - here.

Rather than protest Nigerian villainy adapted to meet the needs of American TV writing, we'd rather protest  that American TV writers should do their homework and read, for example, Misha Glenny's book, McMafia: Crime Without Frontiers to learn how Nigerian international crime syndicates actually roll:
Yet despite a reputation for ruthlessness, the Nigerians in South Africa (or more accurately the Igbo, who make up between 80 and 90 percent of them) run their criminal gangs, as we've seen, on principles of nonviolence. Into Hillbrow and other parts of South Africa, they have imported an egalitarian system of tribal councils stipulating that territories should not be fought over but agreed upon and discussed. "Arbitration, Not Aggravation" could be their slogan (pg. 185).
We've trashed out some of these points before in an old post on Nigerian super-villainy here. Anyway, awful accents aren't the worst thing that can happen when Nigerians are being depicted--or Nigerians are doing the depicting of other generic Africans--in Hollywood. Recall British-Nigerian actor Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje playing the African tyrant, Wombosi, in 2002 Bourne Identity? Remember the morgue scene, where on seeing the body switched for Cain's he told his aide in Yoruba, "see, didn't I tell you?"... "you're an idiot". Nollywood's dread awful subtitle writers can smile at that clip because Hollywood really screwed the pooch on the translation as well.

We've always thought that was way worse than awful accents.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


Pull back a chair, pop a cork, pour some wine and enjoy film studies' bad ass Richard Dyer talking about wind in the films of Federico Fellini. Of course...


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Egypt: Egyptian Cinephiles and Film Bloggers

This report from Al masry al youm English looks at a new generation of Egyptians watching their movies over the web. It's also a rare conversation with a couple of Egyptian cinephiles/film bloggers about cinema and subtitling films to Arabic.

A brief clip in there of Bjork from von Tier's Dancer in the Dark in Arabic made us smile.   

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Kenya/South Africa: New Cinema. New Films.

The makers of South Africa's highly successful international crossover White Wedding (2009) (blogged here) are back with the same cast (dir. Jann Turner, actors Keneth Nkosi, Rapulana Seiphemo plus who else but Vusi Kunene as the bad guy), in Paradise Stop (2011). Feels more Serpico than a buddy comedy but still keeping the buddy movie signature from White Wedding along with all the weird white guy as comic relief. Behind the scenes below:

Bob Nyanja's The Rugged Priest (2011), shot on 35mm... about an American Catholic priest who gets in the middle of the politics in the Rift valley:

On the heels of the Ford brothers zombie horror, The Dead, South African studio, Film Factory, takes on the slasher genre with Night Drive, which premiered in SA in February. In what they label a "bushveld slasher" (lol), tourists on a safari are hunted by poachers who are hunting humans for muti. Trailer -  here.

For the film geeks, cue to 4:20 - for portability and shooting low light in the bushveld, the filmmakers shot the film with a Cannon 5D Mark 2 highend still camera, rigging the light as feather cam in all sorts of interesting ways. Yep, u heard right, "a highend still camera":

More behind the scenes - here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Nigeria: The New Nollywood?

University of Wisconsin-Madison PhD student Matthew Brown who has just spent a year in Nigeria looking at Nollywood tells Balancing Act that everyone in the industry has the feeling Nollywood is on the cusp of something new, but no one knows exactly what.

Writing in ThisDay a few weeks ago, Tony Kan describes the threshold Nollywood now finds itself. He explians that if the soaps of Amaka Igwe, Zeb Ejiro and Lola Fani-Kayode announced the dawn of the new Nigerian Television in the '80s and prepped the Nigerian audiences that would early on fuel demand for those first Nollywood movies, then when the history books are written Kunle Afolayan's The Figurine (2009) will mark the beginning of the New Nollywood. Kan defines the New Nollywood as one that's looking past the straight-to-video model and now seeks to make movies that can go head to head for distribution deals and global box office openings with the best of them:
These movies are, what I would like to call, heralds of a new dawn in Nollywood... What the New Nollywood will do is direct world attention to us in a way that begins to bring in much needed interventions to the industry technically and financially. With a movie like Ije having a second box office run based on popular demand, it is now easy to convince a bank to finance a movie. Secondly, while we continue to hail Multichoice's designation of dedicated channels for Nigerian/African movies, the New Nollywood will engender a paradigm shift. It will see the transition of Nigerian movies from what I call the "DSTV ghetto channels" like African Magic to the real movie channels like 102, 103, 104 etc. more
If the new model is box office releases, then a new Nollywood cinema-going audience will have to emerge--i.e. trained--to form the bedrock for its demand -- the same way a new television audience emerged in the '80s to form the bedrock of demand in the early '90s that saw the first Nollywood blockbusters.

In this light,London's Odeon chain of theaters Special Projects Manager, Moses Babatope, explains (above) the theater chain has been screening Nollywood films since 2006. Below he explains the beginnings/economics of the New [box office] Nollywood to Balancing Act:
In 2010, Odeon Cinemas had 14 screenings of Nollywood films, of which a dozen were premieres with stars in attendance. These included films such as The Figurine and The Tenant (made in Yoruba by Tunde Kelani). As Babatope told us:"We've been doing this since 2006 and started with screenings in Odeon Surrey Quays (an area close to a large part of the Nigerian diaspora population. Sometimes the film-makers or producers approach me and sometimes I approach them. We're always looking out for good films." The deal is on a hire basis: "In trying to build a business case (within Odeon), we had to start by re-invigorating the culture (of going to the cinema) in the core audience. We needed to build this case by doing one-off screenings." The screenings were held late night on either Tuesday or Friday and gave Odeon Cinemas additional income through hire revenues in a dead time and secondary revenues through retail (with sale of things like popcorn):"The promoters of the film deal with the ticketing. But the screenings are tapping into a different demographic for Odeon Cinemas and that interests them." (more)

Africa: Fespaco 2011 - The Round Up and Other Stuff

Fespaco ended on Saturday. France 24 Leela Jacinto's video round up - here. CBC's - here. If your Francais is up to it, Balancing Act has posted a ton of videos - here.

Mohamed Mouftakir's Pegase, a Moroccan film about a young woman battling incest, took the "Golden Stallion:

(Algeria) Samia Meziane in Abdelkrim Bahloul's Le Voyage à Alger (Journey to Algiers) got best actress prize::

Le Voyage à Alger reviewed below by BBC's Thomas Fessy:

(Haiti) Arnold Antonin's Les amours d'un zombie (The Loves of a Zombie) took the African Diaspora prize:

(Cote d'Ivoire) Owell Brown's Le mec idéal (The Ideal Guy) took the Bronze Stallion. (Benin) Sylvestre Amoussou took best actor for Un pas en avant, les dessous de la corruption. Other awards: (Senegal) UEMOA integration award (a trophy and a check for four million CFA francs) went Dyana Gaye for Saint Louis Blues (2009). The series' "Isma' s ndiakhoum" by Mamadou Ndiaye took the prize in the TV category + 2 million CFA francs and a statuette) + some of the other prizes - here.

Our thoughts: A week or two back, Time Out's Dave Calhoun talked to the Strand about how politics trumps quality in the selection of films at Fespaco. Case in point, Sylvestre Amoussou's Un pas en avant, les dessous de la corruption, which was chosen to open the festival and which Calhoun noted that although it dealt with corruption, it was still a pretty "naive" film. Chad director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, though his own Cannes winner Un homme qui crie (A Screaming Man) went on to take the Silver Stallion, still raised his concerns in an interview with RFI about the selection process at Fespaco:
...I confess that I'm getting very, very disappointed by the Fespaco./That is to say?/ That is to say there is no requirement in the selection. It is the only festival that does not look at the films, ... there is not a desire to seek [out] what is happening... we send  films and from that moment they are selected. /You're not going to make friends by saying this./ No, I'm not looking to make friends, because I've always been a loner (goog trans.).
The whole debate about Fespaco and Francophone Africa filmmakers continued Rouch-like embrace of the unsustainable 35 mm film/cinema format in a Nollywood world of digital video is still up in the air. We've quoted in the past from Pierre Barrot's book about  how Francophone film directors are shooting themselves in head by holding on to dreams of shooting and distributing 35mm or even blown up 16mm film. A Cannes winner like Haroun can probably get the funds to shoot on film, but even he points out to RFI that Francophone cinema cannot compete, and goes on to claim that he has tried to bring his films to the Nollywood market but says:
..."it's a market that is an island, which is a conqueror but that will not make room for others. Hollywood, Bollywood, Nollywood, same ideology: no place for foreigners."
That's funny, we thought it was the other way round: that Anglophone countries and filmmakers were the ones not allowed on the Francophone and Fespaco film/cinema island. Even Leela Jacinto still noted the cinema schism in her preview at the start of the festival:
The brutal truth is that while organizers laud the unifying spirit of Africa’s biggest film festival, FESPACO exposes the deep chasms that divide countries with different cultural, linguistic and colonial histories. “Former European colonies still have an imprint of how the former ruling power considered and thought about cinema,” says Bailey. “Former British colonies such as Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria do not have the culture of cinema as in the former French colonies.”
Meanwhile, the African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), which has turned out to be Nollywood, Anglophone-sub-Saharan Africa's answer to their exclusion over the years from Fespaco with respect to the cinema and quality of their films is building its own legitimacy by reaching out to other cinema cultures:
Egypt is to send a 20-man delegation to the 2011 Africa Movie Academy Awards, following the success of Egyptian movie, ‘Hanayns Shoe’ which won the Best Animation prize at the 2010 awards ceremony. The 2011 AMAA holds on March 26 at Gloryland Cultural Centre, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State. Traditionally held in April, this year’s AMAA is happening in March because of the forthcoming April polls. A nomination night and concert in Nairobi, Kenya on February 25 and 26 will however precede the awards night.
At this blog we dream of a time when the best Francophone directors put their clapper boards and viewfinders where their mouths are and quit hiding behind film. Rather, grab a digital camera, work with a Nollywood budget and bring their auteurism, cinema expertise and storytelling via digital to the African movie watching masses. We like to think it will be like the 1894 racial segregation law enacted in New Orleans - forcing the refined Creole musicians, many of who were trained classically in Paris conservatories, to live on the other side of Canal Street with the black jazz musicians. Len Weinstock writes that Jelly Roll Morton himself attested that it was the collaboration that unfolded that gave off:
.. the musical sparks that flew on the clashing of these very different cultures in the ensuing decade that ignited the flames of Jazz.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ghana: Adapting Kurosawa

Going through the list of films participating in the New Directors/New Films Film Festival, the S & A crew spot the Ghanaian entrant, The Destiny Of Lesser Animals, written by Yao Bunu Nunoo, directed by Deron Albright, partly financed with his 2008 Fullbright Fellowship to teach at NFTI, Ghana. An article about how the film was made in Ghana - here.

The film is said to have been "originally conceived as an homage" to a film we love to death - Akira Kurosawa's Stray Dog ('1949).  You will see the cop's bag get snatched in the trailer above. But instead of losing his police issued revolver, inspector Boniface Koomsin (played by Yao Bunu Nunoo) who is trying to return to America loses his counterfeit passport/visa. Kurosawa's film was the odyssey of an idealistic rookie cop and the hard nosed veteran investigator into the struggling underbelly of a post-WWII Japan, which gets flipped in this adaptation to the African deportee embarking on an odyssey through modern Ghana joining forces with a veteran investigator (Chief Inspector Oscar Darko played by Fred Amugi), who is optimistic about the future of the country.

The short doc below is a walk through (cue to 3.13) other adaptations based on the films of Kurosawa. Hoping Nunoo and Albright's get added to the list:

Saturday, February 5, 2011


This blog is all about sampling and remixing a certain kind of information about a certain kind of subject, thus Kirby Ferguson "Everything is a Remix" series has been dear to our heart.

Part one looked at music, which we remixed - here. Part 2 focuses on film:

Everything is a Remix Part 2 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ghana/Kenya: Theater Renewal - Discovering the Middle Class, Cont'd

Nothing says middle class aspirations like a theater audience and signs of a re-emerging and expanding African middle class suggest theater revivals. Reuters' African Journal recently took a closer look at the re-surging Ghanaian theater scene, recalling the age of playwrights like Joe De Graft,  Efua Sutherland , the Drama Studio and the '60s Ghanaian cultural revival.  In this current revival, the report looks at the work of Ghanaian playwright James Ebo Whyte. His plays, House of Secrets or  The Devil in the Mirror , which can be viewed on YouTube, deal with everyday social issues and stereotypes middle class audiences readily relate to. Watching them on this side of the ocean, the Tyler Perry-Chitlin vibe is palpable.

Meanwhile the resurgence in Kenya's theater scene has prompted the debut of a theater critic, Anne Manyara, on the pages of The East African newspaper. Her intro seems to be pondering how an African theater critic reconciles 2 things: 1) an obligation to a resurgent theater scene reflecting the popular tastes and riding the momentum of an expanding  African middle class with 2) the academic rigor and bourgeois standards demanded of the craft:
On January 22, I watched the Heartstrings production Oh My God! which was played to a house full of a thoroughly amused audience. But if I gave my honest view about it, I would most likely be dismissed as an academic killjoy. Such a sentiment is echoed by 19th century American social critic Washington Irving who wrote, ironically, (being a critic himself) in the Morning Chronicle, "The critics, my dear Jonathan, are the very pests of society ... they reduce our feelings to a state of miserable refinement and destroy entirely all the enjoyments in which our coarser sensations delighted." There are some practitioners however, like the legendary British director Peter Brook, who have lovely things to say about theatre critics: "A critic is always serving the theatre when he is hounding out incompetence. If he spends most of his time grumbling, he is almost always right." My opinion is that there couldn't be a better time for theatre criticism in Kenya and the region. A recent World Bank report highlighted the growth of the African middle class.In Kenya, this rise in affluence means that there are more people able and willing to pay Ksh500 ($6.17) for a theatre ticket than there were some years ago, and more organisations are willing to sponsor theatre. As a result, there are more people taking up theatre and other arts as their full-time career, which has inevitably led to the current "renaissance" of the arts. However, while patronage makes art flourish, (constructive) criticism refines it.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Africa: African Cinema and the New Wave

In the lastest issue of Senses of Cinema, Wes Felton clarifies the origins of African cinema to shed light on the pioneering work of Beninois director, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra...
The earliest known film made by an African, was Congolese filmmaker Albert Mongita’s The Cinema Lesson in 1951. The second is Mamadou Touré’s twenty-three minute film from Guinea titled Mouramani, about a man and his dog, produced in 1953. Additionally, in the same year Emmanuel Lubalu released his film Inflated Tires in the Congo. For quite some time most historians falsely believed that a film entitled Africa on the Seine held the honour of being the first film made by an African. Even though this is not so, Africa on the Seine, directed by Paulin Soumanou Vieyra, holds a special place in film history for being one of the first films made by an African, and more importantly, one that actively investigates the then present day situation of African immigrants living in Paris, as well as critiquing the French colonialist establishment.
...and like we've argued in past of the special debt French New Wave owes Jean Rouch's Moi Noir ('58), Felton argues the inclusion of Vieyra's film, Africa on the Seine (1955), in the New Wave cannon:
One of the fascinating things about Africa on the Seine is that it almost provides scenes, shots, and sequences that could or should have been placated within the French New Wave films. Figuratively speaking, Africa on the Seine could almost be seen as made of the ‘cut-off’ footage removed from films of the French New Wave. As if white filmmakers in France at the time cut out any evidence of an African presence and whenever there just so happened to be an African captured within the frame of a shot, they were left on the cutting room floor. It is almost like Vieyra somehow stumbled upon the pieces of film in a New Wave garbage can and brought them back as if to say, “See? We are here!”
Below, Frank Schneider (prod. Jadot Sezirahiga) discuss the origins of African and Arab cinema with Tahar Cheria, founder of the Carthage Cinema Days. It includes a profile of Paulin Vieyra and stills from Africa on the Seine:

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cameroon/ Egypt: "Sexually Transmitted Marks" and Other Harrasments

BBC's Randy Joe Sa'ah talks to students and professors in Yaounde, Cameroon, about a very old problem - students confronted with having to exchange sex for marks in order to pass their courses. In other words, "sexually transmitted marks," as it is referred to in Cameroon.

Above, trailer for Mohamed Diab's 678 (2010), first Egyptian film to squarely tackle the issue of sexual harassment. Howard Feinstein over at Filmmaker raves. Egyptian film reviewer, Hala Galal, tells the Strand it sucked.


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