Africa in Motion film festival 2011
Pegase, Tree of Spirits and an appearance by director Obi Emelonye among festival highlights
As Scotland’s biggest celebration of Africa cinema enters its sixth year, Amy Russell looks at this year’s form and wonders if anyone should care
‘The first criteria is that they are excellent films,’ explains Lizelle Bisschoff, founder of the Africa in Motion film festival, when asked about the selection process for the fest. African cinema is still an unknown factor for many UK filmgoers, and its relative scarcity on even the non-mainstream circuits means that, for many, the continent’s on-screen representation can come largely in the form of well-intentioned but often grim TV documentaries. Africa in Motion has always attempted to introduce a new audience to the diversity and skill of African cinema, and to showcase the industry’s talent for entertainment, as well as education. ‘When you do something to do with Africa it can so easily become a development initiative or awareness-raising – which, of course, a lot of these films are because they deal with the real issues of Africa – but it’s always been very important for us to emphasise that we screen brilliant African films first and foremost,’ says Bisschoff.
This year the festival is emphasising that claim by bringing an exciting programme themed around children and youth to Edinburgh screens, and can also boast nine UK premières, one of which – Pegase (Pegusus) – won the prestigious Golden Stallion award at FESPACO, the world’s largest African film festival, earlier this year. A mixture of African-made documentaries and fictional narratives, Africa in Motion highlights the different styles of films that are being produced, including several animated films such as L’arbre aux esprits (Tree of Spirits); a genre not commonly associated with African films but one which is evidently growing in appeal. To complement its film programme, the festival will also host a series of events including a filmmaker seminar with Obi Emelonye, director of The Mirror Boy, storytelling sessions for children, drumming and dance workshops.
A lack of funding and the absence of a solid distribution infrastructure means that African films have remained difficult to access; even within the rarefied world of arthouse distribution, pan-African cinema is constantly relegated to the sidelines. Were it not for the efforts of Africa in Motion and festivals of its ilk there would be little or no outlet to meet what is a growing demand. With African immigrant communities living in Scotland steadily growing, the academic audience working in African or Film studies as well as school groups who already have links to the continent through their own Global Citizenship initiatives, Africa in Motion can only go from strength to strength. In building this audience and sustaining an interest in all things African, gains can really be made in terms of the distribution and awareness of African cinema on the UK circuit. As Madiba once noted: ‘When the water starts boiling it is foolish to turn off the heat.’
Africa in Motion 2011 is at Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Wed 2-Sun 6 Nov. Also read Amy Russell’s blogs about the festival at list.co.uk