Thursday, 14 March 2013

Film festival returns to Wash. U for year eight

“The African Film Festival provides an invaluable opportunity for the St. Louis community to be exposed to African stories as told by Africans,” says senior Lamley Lawson, president of African Students Association.

The 8th Annual African Film Festival is bringing award-winning African films and filmmakers to Washington University in St. Louis next weekend.

“These films are means by which African filmmakers reassert ownership of their own narratives, providing a foil to the often one-dimensional viewpoints popularized by Western society,” Lawson said.

The festival will present 10 films over three days. All showings are free and open to the public. Short films, followed by feature films, will be shown nightly at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday, March 22-24. A youth matinee — featuring four short films — takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 23. There also will be question-and-answer sessions with two directors after the screenings of their respective films.

 “The first year we started the festival, people thought it was a great idea, but they told me not to expect more than 40 people,” says Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, the event’s founding coordinator, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and senior lecturer in African & African-American studies.

“So I was very surprised that first year when we averaged 200 persons each evening and had standing room only on Saturday. It shows that people want to see independent films, and they want to see films from other cultures.”

As usual, this year’s festival presents a vast reflection of the varying representations of the African experience on films from Morocco, to Nigeria, South Africa and Nambia, to name a few.

“The basic format has stayed four shorts and four features,” Toliver-Diallo says. “However, in the fifth year, we started a matinee and in the sixth year we made the matinee a youth program with animated films.”

The Saint Louis Art Museum has partnered with the festival to provide theme-related crafts for the participants. Grants paid for visits from filmmakers.

“I think about the changing nature of filmmaking since we started,” said Toliver-Diallo. “I remember in our second year, we had a filmmaker carrying the only copy of his [35 mm] film that he owned. Now, there are digital films, which have opened the market for younger filmmakers.”

Films in this festival — past and present — have won international awards, including prizes in the Cannes Film Festival and the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, which is the largest and oldest film festival on the continent. One of this year’s films, Nairobi Half Life, was submitted to the Oscars in the best foreign language category.

Toliver-Diallo is particularly excited about the Youth Matinee, which will feature the latest in animated shorts from Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria. The animated shorts will be followed by Lioness of Lisaba, a short narrative film about Nigerian women’s rights activist Funimolya Ransome-Kuti, who is the mother of musician Fela Kuti. The director of Lioness of Lisaba will participate in a question-and-answer session.

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