Any African Film Aficionados in the Crowd?

It’s tax return time, which means that my husband and I get to spoil ourselves just a little bit before we spend the rest on things we’ve needed forever, then put the rest into savings.

My husband spends his share of fun money on his passion for woodworking: tools, how-to books, wood for projects.

I generally spend mine on books or movies.

But not just any old movies.  I buy foreign films that no one else will want to watch unless I beg them, or that I just end up watching by myself.  My reasoning is, if I ever get the chance to teach French or Spanish, I’m going to be able to use film clips to grab the attention of my students and have some good conversation starters as well as snippets of culture for them to experience.  Of all the foreign movies I’ve seen, I African cinema is dearest to my heart.

I studied a lot of foreign film in college, which is where I got turned onto the genius of the director and writer Sembène Ousmane (read my tribute to him here).  He is well-known as the father of African film, a reputation which any one of his movies will back up.  I’ve purchased everything of his on the market, so this time around I had to find something else.

I settled on Madame Brouette, which turned out to be a bit of a detective story centered on male/female power struggles, which is a common theme of movies of all genres and regions.  I think one element that makes many African movies accessible to Americans is the recognizable themes that can be compared and contrasted to movies they are familiar with.  This link is vital because there are so many differences in style as well as cultural content, not to mention the language barrier which inevitably leads to the annoying lament, “But there’s subtitles…”  As though I’d asked the spectators to consume raw warthog entrails as they watched.

A Sembène film it is not, but Madame Brouette is nevertheless a good example of West African cinematic storytelling: lots of music tying the plot together with lyrics acting almost like a narrator, recurrent use of proverbs as a way to provide motive to and reveal inner thoughts and feelings of characters, the use of many languages to give information about plot and character.

It also contains enough language that Americans consider inappropriate that I wouldn’t be able to show the whole thing to a high school class.  Hence, my idea of carefully chosen snippets.

But the main result of watching this movie is a re-igniting of my desire to share my passion for African film with others.  I really like movies in general, but I feel like audiences are liable to run across the other kinds, maybe even French or Spanish-speaking, on their own.  These others are like hidden jewels, of infinite value to the project of understanding our fellow humans in order to participate in the world in an informed and compassionate way.

I wish I knew how to go about hosting a film series.  I’d love to gather people once a week for a few months and show many different films, get people’s reactions and help them see what’s been going on in the rest of the world.

Do you have to ask and/or pay anyone for permission if you’re not charging to show the movie?  How can I get anyone with a large enough venue to agree to donate the space?  How can I cheaply (or at no cost!) spread the word to the right people, and by that I mean, people who would actually consider taking a gamble on something they’ve never seen before to show up and give it a whirl?

This is a project that’s been in my heart for a long time.  If anyone has any helpful ideas or experience with any such venture, please tell me how you did it!

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4 responses to “Any African Film Aficionados in the Crowd?

  1. Elena It’s a great idea..with one proviso in order to increase value both perceived and received (psychologists might be able to explain it better) I would certainly charge for it.
    I would imagine a ‘foreign film festival’ to raise money for charity (disasters nz and japan might have greater response) would be extremely well received even a nominal charge or donation.
    A church or community hall or local college/Uni would very likely give you the space for something like that and then if you’re worried about copyright contact the relevant producers etc and explain the idea perhaps?
    Good luck and I look forward to hearing all about it!

    • I do understand the philosophy behind charging for things, but since money makes me feel uncomfortable I tend to ignore the reality that many people won’t value something unless they have to pay for it! For me personally that is absolutely not true. Honestly, if I get something for free it feels like this incredible gift, whereas if I’m being charged it always feels like too much and it always makes me resentful. I refuse to charge my friends for anything, for example. Whenever I move and I’m trying to get rid of extra things, I will charge strangers a very small amount, but I will give things to my friends.

      As my monetary neurosis applies to these movies, many of them (especially Sembène’s) have really important messages for the poor and oppressed of the world. The thought of barring the gate to anyone without cash in their hands is horrible to me. Sembène began his artistic life as a writer, but changed to filmmaker because he realized that his vital messages to his people were not getting through because of the barriers of language (many people were illiterate) and the cost of the book. With a movie, even the illiterate could get the message; even if they spoke a different language than what was used in the movie, the images on the screen would speak to them. And the movies could be shown in public, free of charge (not that he never charged…) I don’t see how I could play the pompous American and decide that in order to force people to see the value in his movies, I have to make them pay.

      Do you see how messed up I am in the head! 😀 Now you see the obstacles I create for myself to completing projects. And I don’t disagree with you at all, I just have to fight this opposing voice in my head!

      The charity thing makes a whole lot of sense, though. Maybe if I could get together with some kind of charity organization that wanted to do a fundraiser, I could have some help putting it all together.

      Thank you so much for your response! You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  2. Hi Elena

    I’m sort of off topic again…
    but have you seen the French film titled Malabar Princess?
    Highly recommended.

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