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It is good for the future of cinema that Africa exists

Deborah May, Shadow Curator at Africa in Motion Film Festival, made good use of a Film Hub Scotland bursary to visit Durban International Film Festival in July 2015. She reports back on her experience here...

I have been absorbed throughout my festival experience by conversations on the current state of African cinema at home and abroad, on festival processes, on African cinema’s lost classics, on new waves of African cinema, on star systems within the industry and on the Nollywood industry model.

‘It is good for the future of cinema that Africa exists.’

These words by Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambéty (1945-1998) resonated triumphantly throughout the 10-day celebration of world-class cinema in Durban, South Africa.

Now in its 36th year, the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) programmes over 90 features and 70 shorts, making it one of the biggest film festivals to serve Africa. It was the first time I had attended a film festival with the sole purpose of watching films. It was also my first film festival experience as a programmer for Africa in Motion Film Festival, an annual festival which brings African cinema to Scottish audiences and next takes place from 23 October - 1 November 2015.

Over the past 10 days I have vigorously consumed an abundance of incredible stories and filmmaking from the continent. I have also enjoyed the unique spectacle of the film festival experience — the delight of watching films on a large screen in complete darkness and silence, in the presence of the films’ directors, producers, actors and screenwriters. A personal highlight has to be the Sudanese documentary Beats of the Antonov (awarded Best Documentary) which looks at the traditions of singing, dancing and music rooted within Sudanese culture, in the face of war and conflict, which was followed by a passionate Q&A with director Hajooj Kuka.

What has been most inspiring about this festival, which takes place against the backdrop of Durban’s beachfront, is the privilege of being able to take part in discussions about challenges and opportunities within African cinema. The continent's cinema spans 54 countries, many with their own film industries, each offering original perspectives and thus creating avenues for people to watch and engage with African stories told by Africans themselves. What came up in many of the discussions I attended is the wealth of stories that African is sitting on, in comparison to Hollywood which can tend to fall back on the re-telling of already familiar stories.  

As well as an audience festival, DIFF is also renowned as a market place for those working within the film industry; the Durban Film Mart engages with filmmakers, programmers, producers, film academics, writers, artists, film buffs, cinema-goers and more. I have been absorbed throughout my festival experience by conversations on the current state of African cinema at home and abroad, on festival processes, on African cinema’s lost classics, on new waves of African cinema, on star systems within the industry and on the Nollywood industry model. These engaging conversations were led by industry experts, such as Dora Bouchoucha, the Tunisian director of Carthage Film Festival (Africa’s oldest film festival); Egyptian directors of the Luxor African Film Festival, Sayed Fouad El-Gennary and Azza El Hosseiny; Guyanese/British Pan African cinema archivist June Givanni; Mozambican producer and director of DIFF himself Pedro Pimenta; and Senegalese filmmaker Samba Gadjigo, biographer of pioneering Senegalese director Ousmane Sembène—to name but a few.

So on a last note I can truly say that 10 days, 15 feature films, 6 documentaries, 15 Q&A sessions, 4 seminars and many, many conversations later I am 100% convinced Djibril Diop Mambéty's words are true: it is ESSENTIAL for the future of cinema that Africa exists, and I am truly thrilled to be part of it.

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