Africa Film WebMeeting

Message from: (african-cinema-conference@XC.Org)

Sat, 31 May 97 12:14:00 PDT

Originally from:
Originally dated: Sat, 31 May 97 12:14:00 PDT

Book Review
Imruh Bakari and Mbye B. Cham, eds., *African Experiences Of Cinema.*
London: British Film Institute, 1996. 0-85170-511-1 (pbk), 0-85170-510-3
(cloth). [Distributed in the USA through Indiana University Press.]
Sender: owner-african-cinema-conference
Precedence: bulk

This is a valuable collection of essays and documents for anyone interested
in the cinemas of Africa.

The book is divided into five sections. The first consists of manifestos
and declarations (Algiers 1973 and 1975, Niamey 1982, and more recent
ones). The second consists of personal statements by film-makers (Hondo,
Cheriaa, Maldoror, Bouzid, Ngangura, Mungai, Traore, Teno, Ki-Zerbo). The
third reviews the history and political economy of cinema in Africa. The
fourth section covers issues of representation, and the fifth (entitled
"Critical Perspectives") holds three essays, two of them by Pfaff.

One could quibble a little with the organization of the book - it is not
clear, for instance, why the fifth section was separated out, or why the
volume begins with official declarations, which as we know too well may
have a rather tenuous impact - but it is certainly appropriate to have the
artists' voices given a certain priority. Not that critics and commentators
are parasites on the process, but the creators' perspectives logically need
to be heard first.

One great strength of the book's organization is its pan-Africa focus,
embracing North Africa, South Africa, East Africa, and Lusophone Africa, as
well as the current major centers of film production in West Africa. In the
face of the continent's continuing divisions, this choice represents more
than simply an attempt at comprehensiveness. Egypt is a little thinly
represented, given its significance, and the new wave of popular video in
Ghana and Nigeria is not represented. Nonetheless, the book's scope is very

The film-makers' statements derive partly from the 70s (Hondo, Cheriaa,
Maldoror, Ki-Zerbo), and partly from short essays presented at FESPACO '93.
Two further contributions were to my mind the strongest in this section,
namely those by Nouri Bouzid (The Man of Ashes, etc.) and Mweze Ngangura
(La Vie Est Belle, etc).

Bouzid writes very interestingly not only about thematic issues in his own
work (which includes contributing the script to Boughedir's Halfaouine),
but also about the contemporary context of film-making in North Africa. His
influences included European and Latin American cinemas of the 60s and 70s,
but also the need he felt to produce work that challenged the hegemony of
Egyptian film. He wrestles particularly interestingly with the issue of
Arab defeat that so dominates cultural production in the region.

Ngangura has some tart comments to make about the distance he sees between
many contemporary African films and the African public. He cites a chance
conversation he had with a thirteen-year-old at FESPACO '89 who asked him
why there were no African Rambo figures. He acknowledges that he brushed
the question off at the time, but upon reflecting on it more carefully
later drew the conclusion that there are not enough films that simply
entertain, or that offer African audiences identification points with
hero-figures (although he is not looking to reproduce Hollywood cliches).
He acknowledges bluntly the problems film-makers encounter in relation to
the power structure, and yet sharply warns against a certain contemporary
tendency "to present a mythical Africa outside any geographical or
historical context" (63) that in his view, if expanded into a genre, would
run the risk of reinforcing historical stereotypes about the continent. All
in all, a very stimulating essay.

The third section, on history and political economy, includes a somewhat
overlong but certainly informative piece by Ndugu Mike Ssali on the
development of cinema in South Africa, and a couple of very interesting
essays by Claire Andrade-Watkins, one on Lusophone cinema from 1969-93, and
the other on the role of the French Bureau of Cinema between 1969 and 1977
in the production of African films. The detailed story of the various
French government agencies' roles in this process right up to the present
has still to be told, and will one day undoubtedly make a fascinating read.
The practical problems in getting all those who know that story to actually
contribute to telling it, are of course legion. Another essay in this
section, by Emmanuel Sama, presents a useful if thoroughly depressing
overview of the continent's pathetic current distribution mechanisms for
African films.

In the fourth section, four essays offer particularly challenging
perspectives. Tomaselli's argument concerning the inappropriateness of
standard critical approaches to cinema for handling African cinemas begins
the section, and is followed by a pithy chapter by Rod Stoneman that
quickly gets to the nub of a series of issues, including dependency and
auteurism. Farida Ayari writes on cinematic images of women, and Petty on
the emergence of feminist themes in African cinemas.

The final section contains essays by Pfaff on Kabore's and Ouedraogo's
films as anthropological sources, and on eroticism in sub-Saharan films,
together with a piece by Mamadou Diouf on history and actuality in Ceddo
and Hyenas. All three essays have richly detailed commentaries that will
repay study.

This volume is therefore to be welcomed as a solid contribution to
understanding and scholarship of African cinemas. It is likely to be a
permanent fixture on the shelves of those concerned with this subject.

John D.H. Downing
Department of Radio-Television-Film
The University of Texas at Austin

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