In an energetic, thought-provoking Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) discussion moderated by Nataleah Hunter-Young, TIFF International Programmer (Africa and Arab West Asia), esteemed filmmakers and industry experts Apolline Traoré (filmmaker, Burkina Faso), Chioma Onyenwe (producer, Nigeria), Mehret Mandefro (producer, Ethiopia/USA), and Tshepiso Chikapa-Phiri (producer, South Africa) delved into intricacies of contemporary African cinemas and industries.
They explored themes of storytelling, representation, production, distribution, international collaboration, nurturing talent, and more, while also reflecting on their own journeys and the challenges they’ve encountered in the industry.
Here’s a summary of the hour-long panel which took place on Monday, September 11, 2023.
1. Authentic Representation in Hollywood:
The panelists expressed concern over Hollywood’s portrayal of African cultures, often highlighting the oversimplification or misrepresentation of African identities. This isn’t just about getting the costumes or accents right; it’s about understanding the nuances, histories, and diversities of African cultures. Authentic representation was framed in the context of combating stereotypes and providing audiences with a richer understanding of Africa in all its diversity.
2. Economic Power and Unity in African Cinemas:
The idea of forming a united front among African filmmakers and other stakeholders serving the continent is not just about collaboration but also about economic strength. By pooling resources, sharing distribution networks, and co-producing films, African filmmakers can reduce costs, increase production quality, and negotiate better deals with international distributors and platforms.
3. Skill Transfer and Talent Development:
The emphasis on skills transfer underscores the importance of mentorship and training across African film industries. By ensuring that experienced professionals pass on their knowledge to the next generation, individual industries can sustain growth, innovate, and reduce the talent drain to other continents or industries.
4. Colonial Legacy and Its Impact:
The lingering effects of colonization are still felt. This isn’t just about borders or languages but also about power dynamics, access to resources, and global perceptions of African stories. Overcoming this legacy requires a conscious effort to reclaim narratives, redefine identities, and challenge historical biases.
5. The Role of Co-Productions:
Co-producing films with international partners can bring in funding, technical expertise, and access to global audiences. However, it’s crucial that these collaborations don’t dilute the authenticity of African stories. Balancing global appeal with local relevance is key.
6. Audience Development and Engagement:
For African cinemas and industries to thrive, strong local audience bases are needed. This involves making films more accessible, affordable, and relevant to African viewers. It’s not just about exporting African films to global audiences but also about celebrating and supporting them at home. Beyond representation, stories should resonate with African experiences, histories, and aspirations. Authentic storytelling is about capturing the essence of African identities, celebrating diversities, and challenging monolithic perceptions.
7. The Role of Streaming Platforms:
While platforms like Netflix offer new opportunities for distribution, there’s a need for these platforms to do more in promoting and supporting African titles, especially globally. This includes further investment in original and diverse African productions, offering fair compensation, and understanding the unique challenges and needs.
8. Personal Journeys and Inspirations:
The panelists’ personal stories highlighted the diverse paths into filmmaking, the challenges faced, and the passion that drives them. These narratives underscore the importance of perseverance, vision, and the belief in the power of storytelling.
The panel conversation offered comprehensive insight into the challenges, opportunities, and aspirations faced by African cinema stakeholders. It was a call to action for all (including African audiences) to come together, champion authentic narratives, and ensure that African cinemas claim rightful spots on the global stage.
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