African cinema festival breaks new ground

The African cinema festival, a first in Western Massachusetts, will showcase films from the continent that span countries, decades and genres.

By Keely Savoie

In a few short decades after its legalization, filmmaking has exploded on the African continent, as producers and directors have trained their cameras on the stories that matter to them. Now, the filmmakers are sharing their work with the world.

The four-day Five College African Studies Council African Cinema Symposium and Festival will feature film screenings, scholarly presentations and question-and-answer sessions with African filmmakers.

The first showing of Western cinema was in 1895, said Samba Gadjigo, Mount Holyoke professor of French and co-organizer of the festival.

“But in French-speaking Africa, we weren’t allowed to pick up a camera until 1962,” he said. “There was a law, because they realized the potential danger of filmmaking. In that short span of time, we have come from being only consumers of images to being producers of images.”

Gadjigo, a celebrated African filmmaker whose movie, “Sembene!,” explored the power and challenges of filmmaking in Africa, organized the festival with Olabode Omojola, chair of the Five College African Studies Council and Five College professor of music, along with other members of the Five College African Studies Council.

In addition to showcasing African cinema and offering an opportunity for in-depth discussions with panelists, the festival will provide an opportunity for faculty members to enrich their teaching.

“Cinema has become the medium par excellence of cultural exchange,” said Omojola. “This festival is a way for us to update our knowledge and bring that back to the classroom.”

The festival will feature filmmakers and producers spanning the continent and several decades to bring a great variety of viewpoints to the panels.

Filmmakers and producers will be joined by a distinguished panel of Five College–based scholars and filmmakers. Presenters include:

  • Mahen Bonetti (Sierra Leone/U.S.)— keynote address

  • Keith Shiri (Zimbabwe/U.K.)

  • Idrissou Mora Kpai (Benin)

  • Jean-Marie Teno (Cameroon)

  • Rama Thiaw (Senegal and Mauritania)

  • Litheko Modisane (South Africa)

  • Djo Tunda Wa Munga (Democratic Republic of Congo)

“Cinema has become the mirror through which all people look at themselves,” Gadjigo said. “So by bringing African cinema here, we are looking at the way Africa sees itself as opposed to the way it is portrayed by outsiders. It encompasses all aspects of our lives. Social, political, economic and cultural.”