African films get a foot in the door at Cannes
The 68TH Cannes Film Festival in May saw a glimpse of African cinema plus a promise for the future with experienced and young filmmakers sharing their stories to an international audience of producers, distributors and funders.
Two feature films made it to the official selection. Lamb by the young Ethiopian filmmaker Yared Zeleke about a child, who after the loss of his mother, is sent to live with his relatives in the mountainous countryside of Ethiopia. The second film was by veteran Malian filmmaker, Souleymane Cisse, whose film Yeleen secured the third place in the jury prize of 1987, and this year Cisse was showcasing his film Oka translated as The House. The story follows four <g data-gr-id="47">grownup</g> sisters expelled from their homes by a corrupt judge. Cisse states that he wanted to explore the corruption of officials that leads to violence in his country, Mali.
According to Cisse, over the past 20 years, almost all the cinema halls in Mali have been destroyed and this is compounded by the lack of cultural subsidies and cinemas closing down under pressure from home videos and piracy which in turn has led to a fewer African productions in general.
Nigeria undoubtedly leads the way in terms of film production and revenue however Cisse argues that feature films are made in two weeks with quality not being seen as a high priority.
In the recent years at Cannes, films Grigris and Timbuktu have made it into the competition for the coveted Palme d’Or. The French-Chadian production directed by <g data-gr-id="46">Mahamat Saleh</g> Haroun is about a young man who becomes paralysed and dreams of becoming a dancer. Timbuktu by Abderrahmane Sissako explores the fragility of a human being, the relationship of religion and violent fundamentalism within a country grappling with globalisation and the tragedy that innocence faces.
This year at Cannes, 20 emerging South African filmmakers were promoted by the South African Ministry of Trade and Industry and they participated in the producers’ networking and workshop sessions, potentially selling their works to prospective buyers with the aim of the government to transform and grow the South African film industry. In the Cannes’ classics section the documentary about the life and the legacy of a Senegalese writer, film director and producer Ousmane Sembene, played out. Sembene is widely considered the father of African cinema. His debut film La Noire De translated as Black girl about an African maid working in France and produced in the <g data-gr-id="48">sixties,was</g> the first sub-Saharan feature film.The documentary co-directed by Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman portrays the true story of the self-taught novelist and filmmaker using archival footage.
Cannes continues to welcome African cinema together with the world’s emerging stories on screen. African filmmakers may have to work harder and more resourcefully to share their narratives both to their own people and to the wider world. However, African cinema has evolved from its colonial era through post-independence and is emerging with its own identity.
Says Cisse, “We have a sacred responsibility to make quality films, otherwise it is better not to represent Africa at all.”