By: Randall King
Last September, the third edition of the annual African Movie Festival in Manitoba should have been a pretty dismal affair, given that audiences in the Gas Station Arts Centre were limited due to COVID-19 protocols.
But instead, it was the best year of the fest, according to Ben Akoh, the founder and president of AM-FM, with 18 films screening over two days.
This year’s fourth edition promises to be bigger and better, with a total of 24 films to be screened from 15 different African countries, including Rwanda, Tunisia, South Africa, Benin, Morocco, Senegal, Togo, DR Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria and Côte d’Ivoire (as well as from African diaspora in Switzerland, Guadeloupe, U.S. and Canada).
“Last year for me was a huge success for a number of reasons,” says Akoh. “We had more numbers participating last year, despite the pandemic. I think we got a lot more support after last year’s festival than we had in the previous couple of years.
“And I’m hoping this year will be the same thing, because we have more films to screen and we’ve gone from two days to three days starting on the Friday night, instead of the traditional Saturday start.
“I’m hoping that there will be more people at the venue this year, because the health restrictions may have improved somewhat,” he says. “We’re still crossing our fingers.”
Akoh says he hopes to reach more African-Canadian audiences this year, acknowledging the majority of the audiences so far have been non-African.
“I don’t know why,” he says. “But we’ve done all our marketing and promotion to the African community and the Black community as well, and I hope this year might be different.
“But with anything that’s new like this, it will take some time for it to become a household name and get support from the actual African community itself.”
In a way, the answer to that issue may be addressed in a Friday evening screening of the 1983 film Camera D’Afrique, a documentary examining 20 years of African film from writer-director Férid Boughedir. Though almost 40 years old, the film addresses still pertinent issues pertaining to the way western forces still dominate the global film industry.https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/foQ0q4w6z4Q?rel=0&wmode=transparent&enablejsapi=1&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.winnipegfreepress.com
“That film is one of my favourites,” says Akoh. “It does an amazing job of looking at the history of African cinema.
“One of the common lines that emerges from that film is the fact that, even in Africa, African filmmakers are struggling to tell our own story when the western film powerhouses prevent that from happening. They make it really challenging for our films to screen in our traditional cinema houses, whereas western films had audiences lined up to go into those theatres.
“The gatekeepers of film and cinema still perpetrate some of those things that Férid Boughedir captured all those years ago.”
Akoh says that if a single theme runs through this year’s festival, it’s a sense of hope in a post-colonial Africa.
“Mostly we’re thinking in terms of post-colonialism,” Akoh says. “How can we let go of our past and think about our present and our future? What are the experiences from our past that we can use to change, to recreate new stories and experiences going forward?”
A symposium titled Cinema and Black Empowerment will take place during the opening ceremony of the festival on Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Gas Station Arts Centre.
Discussions will focus on the possibilities for empowering young Manitoba filmmakers to tell their own stories through film.