Film Africa, a festival dedicated to African cinema has been exposing diverse audiences to multiple narratives about the continent in London much to the delight of the African diaspora in the city. Ariane Astrid Atodji, whose debut film, Koundi and National Thursday, one of the offerings at this year’s festival documents the lives of villagers in Koundi, Cameroon, who successfully created their own communally cultivated cocoa plantation as a way of alleviating their poverty without the help of outsiders. A testament to the fact that Africa does exists outside of the narrow, stereotypical lens of poverty, conflict and famine often used to invoke it in the news media. She tells Belinda Otas why African Filmmakers must learn to work together to build African cinema.
Belinda: This is the first film festival by FilmAfrica in London, why is it important to bring a festival that celebrates African films to one of Europe’s biggest cultural capitals?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: African films should be known everywhere. This is the opportunity to say that there is also an African cinema and it exists. It is also a way to promote our cinema and bring together different cultures.
Belinda: How would you describe the current state of the African cinema and film industry?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: There are countries that are growing up within the African Film industry like Nigeria and South-Africa. Nevertheless, there is more work to be done. We have enough potential but no financial and human resources. Making cinema in Africa is still a risk for people, who first think about earning money. Making a film is a kind of lottery, you don’t know if you going win or not. Making a film involves money, we can’t deny this factor. Our government should consider this field of work and invest in our cinema in order to improve African production. Governments and institutions for the enhancement of African arts and culture should help filmmakers by facilitating their work in some way. I am always sad to discover that in many festivals, when you hear about African film, the directors are always European.
Belinda: Let’s talk about your film, Koundi and National Thursday , a documentary, what should the audience expect from your offering and what compelled you to make this film?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: Showing Africa differently was one of my motivations. Out of war and misery, there is a positive Africa, with great ideas. And good initiatives like the village and people in my film, who took their destiny in their hands without waiting for others to come and change it.
Belinda: There have been some successful films from the continent this year on an international level, including Viva Riva! Do you think the international film market/industry is now more open to narratives from the African continent by Africans and on their terms?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: Africa and its people have great potential and Africa on its own is a big potential. People need to see African realities from the point of view of African filmmakers. We still have lot of think to show from Africa. Everything in Europe or America has been shown, now Africa should be explored.
Belinda: In what ways do you see a platform like Film Africa helping to develop that process/tradition and keep it going?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: Film Africa and the tradition it creates with this festival could motivate Africa filmmakers to increase their production. It is going to be a huge of challenge for us African Filmmakers to come back with something new.
Belinda: The distribution of African films is a huge challenge and Film Africa has a Distribution Forum to address that issue. Based on your experience, do you have any thoughts on how distribution networks for African films can be better improved and get more films to more audiences and of course, bring African cinema to a wider audience?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: First, we should bring film culture in our daily life. African channels or televisions should broadcast a maximum of African films, which is not the case except in some Anglo-Saxon’s countries. Even festivals in Africa should first put an emphasis on local production. Arabian cinema is now growing up because they are using this politics: Arabian films made by Arabian Filmmakers. Dubai International Film Festival is an example. Even at the Durban International Film Festival, emphasis is put first on their local production.
Belinda: There is a special focus on women filmmakers from the continent in the festival’s programme, why it is important for a space which focuses on and celebrates African women filmmakers is created within a festival of this magnitude?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: African Women Filmmakers (allow me to write with capital letters) become more and more present on the field. So they should be honoured. This recognition of their work could be a motivation for them, us to go ahead.
Belinda: What more can African filmmakers do to up their game and help build African cinema?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: We should put our hands together and stop thinking that we are rivals. Making film is sharing our creativity. It would have been good if we could have in every country an organisation of filmmakers (working in every field in cinema), a real one where somebody could bring his experience and expertise to help build African Cinema and increase the production. With such an organisation, something great could be built.
Belinda: How do you see African cinema and films evolving in the next five years/decade?
Ariane Astrid Atodji: There are films, but there are good films. To be proud of our cinema, we should make good films in the image of this great continent. Nevertheless, I am optimist. It could be in the next decade, an African cinema revolution. Why not?
Belinda Otas a is Journalist and Blogger