Saturday, November 10, 2007

African Film Conference

Having just returned from an absolutely amazing conference on African film at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I thought I'd share a few photos. In addition to my academic heros, there were representative filmmakers from the continent. Among the academics I was excited to have a chance to talk with further: Abdalla Uba Adamu, Brian Larkin, Matthias Krings, Onookome Okome, Jonathan Haynes, Birgit Meyer, Kenneth Harrow, and many more. "Nollywood" reps: Joke Silva, Madu Chikwendu, Francis Onwochei, Ghanian filmmaker Socrate Safo, and Cameroonian filmmaker Joyce Ashuntantang. Photo 1: Onookome Okome and Abdalla Uba Adamu; Photo 2: Ghanian filmmaker Socrate Safo was passionate about his craft and was a delight to watch "in action" as he grounded the often flighty academic theorizing with practical examples of current issues of technology and practice in the Ghanian film industry; Photo 3: Brian Larkin and Abdalla Uba Adamu on a panel; 4) Socrate Safo presents clips from three of his films; 5) Cameroonian filmmaker and actress Joyce Ashuntantang shows a clip from her film, Potent Secrets, and speaks about her feminist motivations.

One of the best parts of the conference was getting to interact with the filmmakers from Nollywood, Ghana, and Cameroon. Hearing them speak in conjunction with the academic papers, I was particularly struck by their passion and their professionality--the absolutely brilliant business that Nigerian (and Ghanaian) filmmaking has become. But while there were still a few academics who echoed the cliched critiques of "Nollywood" filmmaking being "only about making money," Socrate Safo, Joke Silva, Madu Chikwendu, and Francis Onwochei emphasized (and embodied) the intentionality of the craft. These filmmakers are not greedy amateurs out to just make money (although money is certainly a very practical concern in an artform that is also a business--films cannot be made without money), but artists and performers who love and are passionate about what they do. I was particularly impressed with the few clips I saw of Safo's films--lighting, camera angles, mise en scene, and wonderful use of an original music score.

The main impression I came away from the conference with was that the dichotomy between "African cinema" and the "video film" is a false one, and that while various histories, funding, and technologies must be taken into consideration, films on celluloid and video can and should be put side by side in analysis of African film. This is why (even before this conference) I have been calling Nollywood and Kannywood productions "films" rather than "video films." As digital technology becomes prevalent even among filmmakers coming out of a celluloid training (Jean Pierre Bekolo's Les Saignantes, for example), the technical differentiation between "video" and "film" seems to be a rather useless one. At the conference, the prevalent terms used were "Fespaco films" and "video films;" however, much of the discussion centered around the need to complicate the framework that has so far divided analysis of one from the other.

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