Does the African film exist? 'Yes, certainly', says Erna Beumers, curator Africa of the World Arts Museum in Rotterdam and expert on African cinema. 'It is in the way they are watched.'
Erna Beumers: 'I am sure that the African film exists. The African continent is enormous, of course, boasting a dazzling range of differences between its countries and peoples. But there is something that all African films have in common. It is mainly in the way they are watched and what is highlighted in them. In general one could say that in African film it is not so much the individual, rather than the context that is important. That is a major difference with Western cinema, in which the psychology of the individual takes center stage rather than the sum of interhuman relations.
'Many African films also have a strong narrative character, related to the oral tradition of African cultures. This means that there many long shots, plenty of nature and slow camera movements in most films. And there is usually a great deal of symbolism which makes them difficult to understand for people from the West because we often don't know that cultural context. For example: in the West we often interpret white as purity, in Africa, however, white refers to ancestors and mysticism.'
'Over the last twenty years, the subject matter of African films has shifted. Naturally, the world changes. During the early years after decolonization, many films were produced containing sharp criticism on colonization. These days there is a focus on the topic of migration, both from the country side to urban areas as well as – and actually in particular – migration from Africa to the West.
'When I visited the film festival Fespaco in Ouagadougou for the first time, something else became clear to me. Film reception is different in Africa compared to the West. In the Netherlands we watch in silence, individually and with concentration. In Africa, film is experienced more and people watch it together as a group. People in the audience are expressing their opnions, the door of the film theatre is always open, people are walking in and out. Life goes on.'
'African people watch very few African films. There are very few cinemas and there are relatively few African films. The continent is bombarded with films from the United States, India and South East Asia. That is why African people see very few of their own images. This is bizar and a shame and it should be improved.
'I am convinced that the power of culture and development is in a nation being aware of its own identity. An identity of their own can only develop by creating and watching their own images. The African cinema is the ideal medium to do so! Who are we? What is our history? What is our future? Art, and film in particular, plays an essential role in this quest.'
'Cinema is a way of re-finding and reinforcing their own identity. After all, cinema is an attempt to show pictures of reality and an ideal art form to show their own images. And apart from that: the image that us western people have of African film, gives us the best possible idea of how African people see themselves. Supporting African cinema is therefore a must.
1. Borôm Saret (1963) Sembenè Ousmane (Senegal), a true classic! a must!
2. Soleil O (1969)
Med Hondo (Mauretania)
3. Muna Moto / l’enfant de l’autre (1976)
Jean Pierre Dikongue-Pipa (Cameroon)
4. Yeelen / la lumière (1987)
Souleymane Cissé (Mali)
5. Tabataba (1988)
Raymond Rajaonarivelo (Madagascar)
6. Mortu Nega / Celui dont la mort n’a pas volu (1988)
Flora Gomes (Guinee-Bissau)
7. Octobre (1992)
Abderrahmane Sissako (Mali/Mauretania)
8. Touki Bouki / Voyage de l’hyène (1973)
Djibril Diop Mambéty (Senegal)
9. Wend Kuuni / Don de Dieu (1982)
Gaston J.M. Kaboré (Burkina Faso)
10. Nyamantosn ou la leçon des ordures (1986)
Cheick Oumar Sissoko (Mali).
11. Bal Poussière (1988)
Henri Duparc (Ivory Coast)
12. La vie est belle (1987)
Mweeze N’Gangura (former Zaïre/ DR Congo)
13. Sankofa (1993)
Haile Gérima (Ethiopia)
14. Au Nom du Christ (1993)
Gnoan M-Bala (Ivory Coast)
15. Chikin Biznis (1999)
Ntshavheni Wa Luruli (South Africa)
Erna Beumers with Gaston Kaboré