BY GABBY RAYMOND '20
From Wednesday April 5 to Saturday, April 8, the Five College African Studies Council hosted the African Cinema Symposium and Festival. Four films, “The Revolution Won’t be Televised,” “The Colonial Misunderstanding,” “Indochina: Traces of a Mother,” and “Viva Riva!” were shown for the festival. Each film was chosen because it exemplified the theme of the festival: how Africa’s past can be used to engage its political future. There were five panels over the course of four days, at which the filmmakers spoke on the ways in which cinema can influence activism, help to educate people on the continent as well as globally on issues facing Africans, and how colonial- ism has impacted the future of Africa.
The Five College African Studies Council, which consists of professors from each of the Five Colleges, invited many well known filmmakers and speakers. Samba Gadjigo, a French professor at Mount Holyoke College, said, “World leadership in the 21st century cannot, should not, exploit Africa — the voices in these films are going [to be] a voice for the voiceless.”
The symposium’s keynote speaker Mahen Bonetti is the director of The New York African Film Festival. Festivals offer platforms for these artists to share their films with the rest of the world, and pro- vide more opportunities to continue creating, even when filmmakers are not supported by their own governments. Bonetti said, “This is a generation of not only artists but of social activists, and these filmmakers insist on the authenticity of their voices to be a part of the changes in the world.”
Many of the filmmakers are present at the symposium expressed a desire to increase the presence of an African identity in film. “At the end of the 1980s there was no African voice — while African American identity was growing in America, the representation of those living in Africa was lacking, and many of us thought cinema might be the ideal venue for cross cultural communication,” said Branwen Okpako, a filmmaker and visiting professor at Hampshire College.
A central purpose of the symposium was to educate students about African culture, political and economic developments. Even though all Five Colleges have African studies departments many feel that students still lack opportunities to learn about Africa and all of its countries. “It takes political will and political resources to show students how important Africa is and to create an open dialogue across all fields of study. Having events like this weekend’s will help to share more culture,” stated Gadjigo. Rama Thiaw, creator of “The Revolution Won’t Be Televised,” agrees that film is one of the best ways to start a productive discussion about important issues and underrepresented voices in society. “Even if a person doesn’t understand the language, they understand an image. We can use images to change the mentality that has been reinforced by stereotypes to take back our history and self image,” she stated.
Emma Tolerton ’17 attended the festival because she took a class with Gadjigo and was “interested in the culture after reading and watching materials by Africans that focused on their perspective on colonization.”
Since African films are not typically covered by mainstream Western media, it is difficult for many African filmmakers to receive widespread circulation and viewership. Furthermore, even if the films are circulated in their own countries, filmmakers run the risk of their film being banned if the material is not flattering to their country. Thiaw’s film is currently censored in her home country of Senegal. Her colleague, Jean-Marie Teno, creator of the film “The Colonial Misunderstanding,” expressed his belief that there should be a sense of respect for all African films. “Bringing awareness to what Africa is and what Africa really means has always been a challenge — for the last 30 years we have been fighting for respect for ourselves and our work,” Teno said.