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Message from: owner-h-afrlitcine H-NET BOOK REVIEW Reviewed for H-Afrlitcine by John D.H.Downi (
About: FW: REVIEW:Bakari and Cham, 'African Cinema'

Wed, 16 Jul 97 10:40:00 PDT

Originally from: owner-h-afrlitcine H-NET BOOK REVIEW Reviewed for H-Afrlitcine by John,
Originally dated: Wed, 16 Jul 97 10:40:00 PDT

Published by
Date: June, 1997

Imruh Bakari and Mbye B. Cham, editors. _African
Experiences of Cinema_. Bloomington and London:
Indiana University Press, 1996. x + 276 pp.
Bibliographical references and index. $49.95
(cloth), ISBN 0-85170-510-3; $24.95 (paper), ISBN

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

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 degree of 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 commendable.

The film-makers' statements derive partly from the
1970s (Hondo, Cheriaa, Maldoror, Ki-Zerbo), and
partly from short essays presented at FESPACO
1993. 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 1960s and 1970s, 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" (p. 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
to 1993, 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.

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