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The African New Wave
The surge of interest in African cinema was highlighted at the premiere of The Mirror Boy in London’s Leicester Square. Virtually the entire cast had been flown over and it was a real red carpet affair. The new enthusiasm for African film has gone global, while the phenomenon of Nollywood’s billion dollar success is being closely studied by everyone from Harvard Business School to The Sunday Times.
African film lecture Kunle Olulode tells us his top tips for the new wave of African Cinema
A new type of commercially savvy but artistically committed film maker is emerging. This coterie of young, talented, cosmopolitan directos and producers are keen to raise the artistic bar for African films and are eager to acquire a real artistic standing in the film world without compromising their appeal to African audiences. They follow in the wake of classic films like: ‘Xala’ (Ousmane Sembene), ‘Mapantsula’ (Oliver Schmitz) and ‘La Vie est belle’ (Mweze Ngangura & Benoit Lamy).
Take the film ‘Phone Swap’. A comedy story based on a cultural collision between, an eager, wide-eyed country girl and a rather formal, big city businessman. They become entangled in one another’s lives after a chance airport mix up over mobile phones. It could be a vehicle for the next Jennifer Aniston ‘rom com’ but in fact, it’s the latest film project from dynamic Nigerian producer/director Kunle Afolayan.
Afolayan came to international prominence in 2010 with the ground-breaking thriller ‘The Figurine’. He is on a mission to raise the quality level of Nigerian films. He rejects the ‘Nollywood’ label, eschewing its economically successful, but, formulaic production values. No cheap DVDs for him. Phone Swap cost around $500,000 to make and is playing in African cinema theaters alongside Hollywood blockbusters before wider digital distribution in the summer months.
‘It’s about us telling our stories from an African perspective’, says Congolese Director Djo Munga director of Viva Riva, arguably one of the best films ever to come out of Africa. Munga, emphasises the importance of craft.
Viva Riva has a mature, gritty edginess that caught audiences by surprise when it came out last year. Showered with awards, Djo has been applauded worldwide for his film which centres on the joy and pain of life in Kinshasa experienced through the life of a petty criminal Riva played by Hoji Fortuna. Munga understands why people may be uncomfortable with some of the film’s imagery but has no time for those who would soften the content. ‘Riva is a re-representation of real life, not a documentary. I just hope that people get the point’.
The importance of Africans telling their own stories is also echoed by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu. ‘From a Whisper’ (which took up the issue of the 1997 bombing of the UN HQ in Kenya and cult African Sci Fi short, Pumzi) She highlights the lack of a film making tradition in anglophile Africa and sees African writers rather than fellow film makers as her inspiration for wanting to make films.
‘We can see in every other sphere of culture, be it music or literature, are excelling. So the next logical progression will be in film making.’ She told me. ‘I am my primary audience when I make a film. If it moves me first, then I know it will move others. Even in government people are now beginning to wake up and say, why don’t we tell our own stories? I want to be able to tell the story of the African who makes love, who laughs, who goes out, who orders take out! I want to be able to tell the stories about those people’.
Phone Swap (awaiting a date for UK release)
Maffe Tiga (Peanut Butter Stew) - nominated for Best Short Film at the 2012 AMAA
The Figurine – amazon.co.uk
Africa First Vol1 (a collection featuring Pumzi etc..) - available from Focus Films
Viva Riva DVD – available from amazon.co.uk
Kunle Olulode is a lecturer in African and Black Film Studies and Creative Director of film exhibitors Rebop Productions.
On Sunday 10th June, I'll be speaking alongside film historian Stephen Bourne and June Giovanni about Black London Film Heritage’s ‘Big City Stories’ at the Phoenix Cinema
(Phoenix Cinema, 52 High Road, London N2 9PJ)