Documenting Africa: A Report on the Continent’s Emerging Documentary Landscape

(Photo above is from “Nous, Étudiants!” (“We, Students!”, 2022)

ACP-EU Culture has released a new report titled “Documentary: A Look from Within,” to provide an overview of the new generation of documentary filmmakers in Africa and their contributions to African cinema. ACP-EU Culture (ACP stands for Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific regions) is an initiative funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the Secretariat of the Organization of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (OACPS).

The report discusses the challenges that African documentary filmmakers face, such as a lack of resources, and the importance of documentaries in addressing taboo subjects and capturing the hopes, distress, anger, struggles, and daily moments of Africans continent-wide.

The report also highlights the emergence of films that address subjects that would have previously been ignored by European filmmakers and can only be adequately addressed by Africans themselves.

Finally, the report emphasizes the important role of European support systems in encouraging ACP co-productions and increasing the visibility of African filmmakers on the international stage.

“Le Loup d’or de Balolé” (“Balolé, the Golden Wolf,” 2019) by Chloé Aïcha Boro

Here are highlights:

  • African documentary filmmakers are increasingly telling their own stories, from their own perspectives, and in their own languages.
  • This is due in part to the support of European funding programs, which have helped to make documentaries more affordable and accessible to African filmmakers.
  • As a result, there is a growing body of African documentaries that are exploring a wide range of topics, from social and political issues to personal stories and experiences.
  • These films are providing a valuable platform for African filmmakers to share their perspectives on the world, and they are helping to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about Africa.

The report goes on to discuss some of the challenges that African documentary filmmakers face:

  • The lack of resources is a major challenge for African documentary filmmakers. It can be difficult to raise money to finance a documentary, and even when funding is secured, it can be hard to find the equipment and personnel needed to make a high-quality film.
  • The difficulty of distribution is another challenge. African documentaries often have difficulty finding a distributor, and even when they are distributed, they may not be widely seen. This is partly due to the fact that African films are often screened in small, independent theaters, which are not always accessible to everyone.
  • The political climate in some African countries can also be a challenge for documentary filmmakers. In some countries, the government may censor films or even imprison filmmakers who make critical films. This is a serious challenge, but it has not stopped African filmmakers from telling their stories.

Despite the challenges, the report makes it clear that African documentary filmmakers are making progress. There is a growing body of African documentaries that are being screened at film festivals around the world, and these films are helping to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about the continent.

“Au Cimetière De La Pellicule” (“The Cemetery of Cinema,” 2023)

Filmmakers and films highlighted include:

  • Thierno Souleymane Diallo: a Guinean filmmaker whose first feature-length documentary, AU CIMETIÈRE DE LA PELLICULE, explores the country’s lost film history, including a 1953 short by Mamadou Touré, which is considered the first film directed by a Francophone African. It premiered at the Berlinale this year.
  • Ousmane Samassekou: a Malian filmmaker who directed LES HÉRITIERS DE LA COLLINE (2015), which explores corruption within student unions at the University of Bamako, and LE DERNIER REFUGE, which addresses the issue of migration between Africa and Europe.
  • Moïse Togo: a Malian filmmaker who is currently working on the documentary VAISSEAU FANTÔME about families waiting for news of loved ones who embarked on a risky journey between Mali and Tunisia.
  • Cyrielle Raingou: a Cameroonian filmmaker who directed LE SPECTRE DE BOKO HARAM, which won the Golden Tiger award at the Rotterdam Film Festival and the Paul Robeson Perspectives award at FESPACO, and explores the atrocities committed by jihadist groups in Cameroon.
  • The emergence of a new auteur documentary cinema in the Central African Republic (CAR), with Makongo Films playing a key role in the production of two successful films, CAR filmmaker Elvis Sabin Ngaibino’s LE FARDEAU and DRC filmmaker Rafiki Fariala’s NOUS, ÉTUDIANTS!

These are just a few.

The report also mentions two Haitian documentaries, SIMITYÈ KAMOKEN by Rachèle Magloire and L’OUBLI TUE DEUX FOIS by Pierre-Michel Jean, which were produced with the help of the ACP-EU Culture program and explore tragic events in Haiti’s history.

“Nous, Étudiants!” (“We, Students!”, 2022)

A notable omission is Cameroonian filmmaker Rosine Mbakam whose documentaries including THE TWO FACES OF A BAMILEKE WOMAN (2018) and DELPHINE’s PRAYERS (2021) have toured the international film festival circuit, drawing much critical acclaim. Her narrative feature debut, MAMBAR PIERRETTE, is set to premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar.

Also, there’s South Sudanese filmmaker Kuol de Mabior whose profound debut NO SIMPLE WAY HOME became the first ever South Sudanese film to be screened at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Finally, the report discusses the increasing number of initiatives supporting documentary filmmakers in Africa. One example of this is the Africadoc program, which has supported over 100 films produced in 20 African countries since 2002. Another initiative is the Impala project, which aims to strengthen the documentary film industry in Central Africa by providing support for education, production, and distribution.

Overall, the report suggests that there is a growing willingness to revisit and give a voice to African history and culture through documentary cinema, with a focus on intimate, personal stories that shed light on broader societal issues. The emergence of new initiatives and filmmakers in this space bodes well for the continued growth and development of African documentary cinema.

However, as I see it, to ensure the continued growth and success of African documentary cinema, especially on the international stage, several actions need to be taken. One is the establishment of a stable and supportive funding system, especially for filmmakers from regions with limited resources. This support should include funding for training, production, and distribution of films.

In addition, there needs to be a focus on preserving African cinematic works for future generations. This includes creating archives and digitizing existing works, which would allow younger generations to learn from and build upon the works of their predecessors.

Furthermore, it is crucial to prioritize the voices and perspectives of African filmmakers themselves, rather than relying on outsiders to tell (and finance) their stories. This can be achieved through increasing the visibility of African filmmakers on the international stage, promoting South-South co-productions, and creating opportunities for African filmmakers to collaborate and share their knowledge.

Finally, it is important to recognize the diverse perspectives and experiences of filmmakers across the continent and to provide support for filmmakers who are working in regions with unique challenges, such as those who are operating in conflict zones or dealing with censorship.

By taking these steps, African documentary cinema can continue to grow and flourish, offering unique and important perspectives on the continent and its people.

Download the full ACP-EU Culture initive report here.

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