I had a chat with Samira Farah, the founder and director of the African Film Festival, about love for African film and her mission to build an audience for African film in Australia. Samira exemplifies what someone with passion can achieve with little or no resources.
Tell us a bit about yourself. When did you come to Australia? What do you do workwise?
I am a Somali born Australian. I came to Australia in 1997. I am currently based in Melbourne where I work in marketing and events management for a not for profit organisation. In my free time I the Founder and Director of the Film Festival, which involves everything from programming, to marketing and sourcing sponsorship to building community links. I am also involved with a number of different art organisations and events including Burji Arts, an art organisation focused on curating Somali culture.
When did the African Film Festival start in Australia? How did it come about and what is the vision?
The festival started in 2010. It was created in response to the lack of avenues in which Australians could access African cinema and arts. We also wanted it to serve as a platform for African film makers to access Australian audiences.
The vision of the film festival is to curate diverse, eclectic, thought provoking and exceptional African films that present alternatives to stereotypes and allow audiences to appreciate the diversity and complexity of African cinematic culture. Secondly, the festival seeks to collaborate with other African interest art collectives to contribute towards a strong African-Australian culture in Australia.
What do you think African Film Festival offers the broader Australian public?
The festival offers the broader Australian public opportunities to develop an appreciation of African cinema. There is limited African content on Australian television screens, and the content which is marketed as ‘African’ tends to be Western made, Hollywood productions that often rely on stereotypes to sell their stories.
What sort of films do you show? What criteria do you use to pick the films?
The festival screens all types of films from feature, documentaries, short films, experimental, to art house and music films.
Do you have a particular theme that you focus on each year?
There is no theme to the festival. I find the idea of a theme restrictive to film makers and artis
Is stereotyping an issue in African films made by either Africans or made about Africans?
Films made by westerners about Africa tend to either focus on stereotypes or position themselves as saviors within the story. We are interested in showing African film from the perspectives of Africans themselves and look at the ways in which African artists use film as a means of story telling. This is what I like to show. I want to show African cinema for its cinema!
Is it important to have an African managing the African film festival in Australia?
I think it is important as it allows for a level of critique and awareness that is critical in curating African content. By having Africans manage African art events there is a certain level of sensitivity and appreciation of the diversity and complexity of the continent. One of the aims of the African Film Festival is to portray as a continent of many diverse nations, and not one homogenous nation!
How do you source the material?
We source our films in two ways. The first is through an open submission whereby we invite film makers from around the world to submit their films to the African Film Festival for evaluation. The second is through monitoring social media, reading film magazines and taking note of what films are screening at other film festivals and what is creating a buzz and then personally inviting these films to screen at the festival.
Who funds the events? Is it easy to get support for the African Film Festival?
The festival is funded through various ways from government grant to corporate sponsorships and private donations. The competition for funding is fierce, however the African Film Festival has managed to remain sustainable by being realistic, growing naturally and building community support.
What has the public response been like? What sort of attendance do you get?
Fantastic! The second African Film Festival had over 1,000 attendees across Sydney and Melbourne which is a great result for our second year with minimal marketing and publicity.
Do you intend to cover other cities in Australia?
I would love to extend the festival throughout Australia. However, it is a time consuming and costly affair, I have not been keen in adding any new cities unless I am confident that we can bring the same experience and quality to these cities.
Are there any other such festivals in the African diaspora?
Many! Most of them are in the European and North American diasporas.
You must see many films. How many of them are African?
Not enough! Unfortunately, living in Australia means that a large number of African or films about black people do not make it to Australian cinemas. Fortunately, various online movie libraries have allowed me to access a number of films I would not have otherwise.
What are some of your favourite African films? Why?
There are too many to list!
La Noire De – directed and written by Senegalese film maker Ousmane Sembene, nicknamed the Father of African cinema. It is a gorgeous black and white film about a young Senegalese woman who moves to Paris to be confronted by racism.
Say Grace Before Drowning – a short film by Sierra Leonean-American film maker Nikyatu Jusu. Jusu is an African film maker to watch. This is a haunting short film about the impact of war on families even after they relocate to ‘safe’ countries. Jusu is currently working on her first feature film Free the Town.
Mother of George – a visually stunning film by Nigerian director Andrew Dosumnu. This film examines the migrant experience in New York City from the perspective of a West African community. It is a visually stunning film and themes of migration and belonging are issues which I can identify with.