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Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with Filmmakers

Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike
Foreword by Teshome H. Gabriel
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Questioning African Cinema
    Book Description:

    Diverse in their art, paradoxically more celebrated abroad than they are at home, African filmmakers eke out their visions against a backdrop of complex historical, social, economic, and political practices. The richness of their accomplishments emerges with compelling clarity in this book, in which African filmmakers speak candidly about their work.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9399-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword: A Cinema in Transition, a Cinema of Change
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Teshome H. Gabriel

    The art of the skillful question puts the questioner in a stance of opposition to conventional wisdom and provides a framework for the development of new insights, new methods, new ways of seeing and thinking. In this volume, Professor N. Frank Ukadike certainly asks the pertinent questions, eliciting responses that speak to the nature of African cinema and African culture more generally. Yet, as Ukadike suggests in the book’s title, African cinema is itself a matter of questions and questioning, an ongoing questioning that never merely accepts the supposed givens of African reality. In many ways, Ukadike’s questions in this...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    N. Frank Ukadike
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. xvii-xxii)

    African cinema is at last infiltrating the world market with major works of indigenous cultures that explore and adapt their oral and literary traditions to the articulation of a new film language. This book clarifies the notion of African cinema by providing a matrix of convergent and divergent perspectives through interviews with film directors about the evolution of African filmmaking. It identifies the specific sociopolitical, cultural, economic, and pedagogical issues that influence the production, reception, and discourse of films while at the same time serving as a compendium of “alternative” approaches in African cinematic trends.

    The project features interviews with...


    • Kwaw Ansah (Ghana)
      (pp. 3-18)

      A man of many talents, Kwaw Ansah is an artist, theater designer, dramatist, and music composer turned filmmaker; he is also the most important individual in Ghanaian cinema. He has expressed enormous gratitude for his success and development as a filmmaker to his father, a trained photographer. Although his father wanted him to engage in his own trade of photography, the young Ansah, having discovered his talent in drawing and painting, had other options. After he had completed his secondary school education, he found employment with the United African Company, a Unilever firm in Ghana. There he acquired basic training...

    • Souleymane Cissé (Mali)
      (pp. 19-28)

      Born in Bamako, the capital city of Mali, Souleymane Cissé, a pioneer in the development of Malian cinema, is one of Africa’s most acclaimed filmmakers. He discovered the cinema at the early age of six when his brothers took him to a theater; he was so enchanted with the motion picture that he then went unaccompanied to many films, to the dismay of his parents. He became interested in the art of making films in 1962 after seeing a film about the brutal treatment and murder of Patrice Lumumba, the former prime minister of Congo.

      In the 1960s, Cissé joined...

    • Safi Faye (Senegal)
      (pp. 29-40)

      Born in Senegal, Safi Faye was the first woman of sub-Saharan African to make a feature-length film,Kaddu beykat, in 1975. She enrolled at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Sorbonne) to study ethnology and at the Louis Lumière Film School in 1972. In 1975, Faye continued her studies in ethnology at the Sorbonne and obtained a diploma. Combining filmmaking with educational pursuit, this relentlessly hardworking woman obtained a doctorate degree in ethnology from the University of Paris VII in 1979. As she states in her interview, it was her findings from the research she did with her own people,...

    • Gadalla Gubara (Sudan)
      (pp. 41-56)

      Mainly because the cinema of Sudan is one of the least developed in Africa, filmmaking by the government and by Sudanese individuals is rarely discussed. It was, for me, a significant discovery when, by chance, at the 1995 Pan-African Festival of Film and Television of Ouagadougou, I came in contact with Gadalla Gubara, who, as this interview reveals, is probably the oldest pioneer of African cinema. This slender man of average height, clad in an immaculate white robe and matching turban, stood out among the crowd and immediately drew my attention as someone from the Maghreb region. He was in...

    • Med Hondo (Mauritania)
      (pp. 57-72)

      Med Hondo (whose full name is Mohamed Abid Hondo) is one of Africa’s most prolific filmmakers. He is also considered a pioneer, not because of his age, but because he started his filmmaking career in the 1960s, the decade marking the birth of African cinema. He was born to a Senegalese father and a Mauritanian mother in the village of Ain Ouled Beni Mathar, in the Atar region of Mauritania. From 1954 to 1958, the young Med lived in Rabat, Morocco, where he pursued training at a hotel management school. After graduation, he emigrated to France in 1958, hoping to...

    • Lionel Ngakane (South Africa)
      (pp. 73-84)

      Lionel Ngakane is one of the pioneers of African cinema and a founding member of the Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers. He grew up in Pretoria, South Africa. After 1950, he lived in exile in Britain until he was able to return to South Africa in 1993 following the release of African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela. The liberation of Mandela in 1990 signaled a political change that ultimately led to the demise of apartheid and the birth of an independent South Africa nation in 1994. Throughout his years in exile as a filmmaker, Ngakane pursued his ultimate ambition of...

    • Chief Eddie Ugbomah (Nigeria)
      (pp. 85-98)

      Chief Eddie Ugbomah was trained in England, where he majored in journalism and drama and later in film and television production at the London School of Television Production. He worked for some time at the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Independent Television Network (ITN), and as an actor he appeared in such films asDoctor No, Guns of Batasi, andSharpeville Massacre. At one time, he ran the first all-black theater company, the Afro-Caribbean Drama Group. A man of many talents, Ugbomah also worked as a model in London and Paris and as a promoter of music concerts featuring...


    • Flora Gomes (Guinea-Bissau)
      (pp. 101-108)

      Few people in the United States are familiar with the work of Flora Gomes, the most prominent figure in Guinea-Bissau’s film industry, because none of his feature films or documentaries have been distributed in this country. Indeed, little is known in the West about either the cinema in Guinea-Bissau or the country itself. This tiny West African nation of less than a million people was under Portuguese colonial rule until 1974, when it became independent. Westerners’ opportunity for knowledge of Guinea-Bissau came only during the protracted fifteen-year war of liberation against the Portuguese colonial administration, whose rule was brutal and...

    • Gaston Kaboré (Burkina Faso)
      (pp. 109-120)

      Gaston Kaboré is one of the best known African filmmakers. He has played a crucial role in and contributed immensely to the development of African cinema. He was educated in Burkina Faso as well as in France. After his high school education, in 1970, Kaboré enrolled at the Centre d’Etudes Supérieures d’Histoire de Ouagadougou to study history. After two years of study, he left for Paris to attend the Sorbonne, where he obtained a master’s degree in history in 1972. There, he developed an interest in film—not filmmaking at this point, but, as he puts it, the “use of...

    • Djibril Diop Mambety (Senegal)
      (pp. 121-132)

      They said he was a UFO. “The most paradoxical filmmaker in the history of African cinema.” To some, he was “the African Dionysus,” or “the prince of Colobane.” Others simply called him “D.D.M.”

      On July 23, 1998, Djibril Diop Mambety died in the Paris hospital where he was being treated for lung cancer. Only fifty-three years old at the time of his death, Mambety was a director, actor, composer, poet, and orator, loved and admired by critics and audiences all over the world.

      Mambety had studied drama in Senegal, and he worked as a stage actor at the Daniel Sorano...

    • Ngangura Mweze (Congo)
      (pp. 133-150)

      Ngangura Mweze was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After graduating from high school in 1970, he obtained a degree in literature and then studied filmmaking at the Institut des Arts de Diffusion in Brussels for four years. As a student, between 1973 and 1976 he made two films that he says are important to him:Tam-Tam Electronique, in black and white, and his thesis project,Rhythm and Blood, in color. After receiving his diploma in directing, Mweze returned to Congo in 1976. He notes that it was, and still is, difficult to find money to make films in...

    • Idrissa Ouedraogo (Burkina Faso)
      (pp. 151-160)

      From the mid-1980s to the early 1990s, the films of Idrissa Ouedraogo, more than those of any other African filmmaker, made an enormous impact internationally, in terms of both universal acceptability and commercial viability. This period saw the release of Ouedraogo’sYam Daabo(The choice, 1986),Yaaba(1989),Tilaï(1990),A Karim na Sala(1991),Samba Traoré(1992), andLe cri du coeur(The heart’s cry, 1994).

      Idrissa Ouedraogo was born in 1954 in Banfora, Burkina Faso, and was educated at the Institut Africain des Etudes Cinématographiques of Ouagadougou (African Institute of Film Studies in Ouagadougou). While studying at this...

    • Brendan Shehu (Nigeria)
      (pp. 161-180)

      Born a Muslim in Northern Nigeria, Brendan Shehu is one of the oldest pioneers of African cinema and has played a vital role in the development of Nigerian cinema. He has served the Nigerian film industry as a filmmaker, bureaucrat, and administrator. Although Nigerian films are not well-known internationally, Nigeria produces more films than any other African country, with filmmakers catering specifically to the local population. Nigeria also has an enormous cinematic infrastructure, an ultramodern film studio, color laboratories, and sound facilities, which, according to Shehu, are well equipped to handle film production from “concept to finish.”

      Shehu launched his...

    • Cheick Oumar Sissoko (Mali)
      (pp. 181-200)

      Cheick Oumar Sissoko who won the Étalon de Yennega at the 1995 FESPACO with his filmGuimba the Tyrant(1995), has, with the release ofLa genèse, (The genesis, 1999), solidified the indelible mark he has left on the minds of critics and spectators, who unanimously applaud the unparalleled artistic quality of his films. The elaborate settings and costumes that adorn Sissoko’s films exemplify the filmmaker’s persistent search for creative autonomy. They not only emphasize Africa’s rich cultural heritage, they illuminate its significance and application to the enrichment of African film aesthetics.

      Since the release ofFinzan(A dance for...


    • King Ampaw (Ghana)
      (pp. 203-216)

      Of all the filmmakers featured in this volume, King Ampaw is one of those who spoke most freely with me. He never shied away from contentious issues affecting the development of African cinema. The amazing thing is that King, as he is popularly called, is always open to criticism and even welcomes it as the only way to reach the heart of a matter. For this reason, it is interesting how we agreed to disagree or disagreed to agree on some pertinent issues.

      After graduating from Accra Technical Institute in 1960, King went to Germany for higher education; there he...

    • Jean-Pierre Bekolo (Cameroon)
      (pp. 217-238)

      Since coming into the African cinema scene in the 1980s, Jean-Pierre Bekolo has established himself as one of the youngest African filmmakers to combine imagination, innovation, and courage in his meditations on the contradictions of African film. In this interview, conducted in New York City during the 1998 African Film Festival, he provides one of the most candid and provocative assessments of African cinema in this volume. His responses to my questions also exemplify the earnestness and defiance that characterize all of his films.

      Bekolo trained in France as a television film editor at the National Audiovisual Institute (INA) from...

    • Salem Mekuria (Ethiopia)
      (pp. 239-252)

      Salem Mekuria is an associate professor of art at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and an independent film producer, writer, and director from Ethiopia, based in Boston. For a number of years, she worked withNova, the Public Broadcasting Service’s premier science documentary series, and with numerous international film productions focusing on issues concerning African women and development. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including the Rockefeller Foundation’s Intercultural Media Fellowship in 1995; the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest International Artists Residency Fellowship in 1993; a fellowship at the Bunting Institute of Radcliffe College, Harvard University, 1990–92; and...

    • Haile Gerima (Ethiopia)
      (pp. 253-280)

      Haile Gerima is one of the best-known African filmmakers and one of the world’s most creative directors. He is also probably the most radical of African filmmakers, comparable only to Ousmane Sembene of Senegal and Med Hondo of Mauritania.

      Gerima was brought up in a Christian family; his father was an orthodox priest, a teacher, a historian, and a playwright. His mother taught home economics in a vocational school. While growing up, he performed frequently as a member of the itinerant theater troupe his father directed, which staged shows across the country. He was thus exposed to his father’s daring...

    • Ramadan Suleman (South Africa)
      (pp. 281-300)

      The demise of apartheid in South Africa raised hopes for the emergence of black filmmakers. Under the white minority’s repressive rule, blacks who wanted to study film or art were excluded from attending educational institutions reserved for whites only, and, economically, such education was out of reach for them unless they received support from foreign funding. As independence paved the way for artists, intellectuals, and other political exiles to return home, the emergence of a young filmmaker, Ramadan Suleman, and the international impact of his first feature,Fools(1997), rekindled this optimism.

      In 1981, Ramadan Suleman completed a three-year drama...

    • Jean-Marie Teno (Cameroon)
      (pp. 301-316)

      Jean-Marie Teno grew up in Cameroon, a country that has produced several prolific African filmmakers of international reputation, two whom are featured in this volume. Teno’s filmography is impressive. Unlike some African filmmakers, he has been working consistently and producing at least one or two films every year. This is remarkable considering the perennial problems of funding that handicap African filmmakers’ ability to make films on regular basis.

      Teno graduated from the University of Valenciennes in 1981 in filmmaking and worked for fifteen years as an editor at the France 3 television network. In 1984, he made a short film,...

  10. Distributors of African Films in the United States
    (pp. 317-320)
  11. Backmatter
    (pp. 321-321)