How to own history

Five films pointing to new directions for African cinema -- by some of the most exciting young filmmakers from the continent.

From the poster art for Kibwe Tavares' "Jonah."

Stockholm’s CinemAfrica Film Festival is Scandinavia’s biggest and longest-running African film festival. The 2014 edition of the festival marks a rejuvenation of sorts, with some of the most exciting young filmmakers as guests, including Kibwe Tavares’ “Jonah,” art-world superstar Wangechi Mutu, multivalent director/producer Jim Chuchu, debut-directing literary artist Abdellah Taïa, and Frances Bodomo, fresh off Sundance success. In addition, special focus events – centering on everything from music video aesthetics, via the late Stuart Hall, to Pan-African feminist activism – add context to what we hope is an interestingly diverse film program.

I’d like to recommend a set of films that may be new to readers of this site (full disclosure: I’m a member of CinemAfrica’s board and program committee). Literally first up is the opening film, “Soleils,” co-directed by Burkinabe veteran Dani Kouyaté, which perfectly encapsulates the festival’s tagline, “own history.” Packaged in a seductively didactic fable lies an intellectual and conceptual challenge to the way the history of Africa has been written, with the young woman Dokamisa’s (literal and historical) amnesia being cured by a magical, griot-guided journey through time and space, palaces and prisons, dreams and frightening realities.

The trailer, with English subtitles, is here.

Another one of the exciting young filmmakers visiting the festival is Nevline Nnaji, whose background as a YouTube blogger combines in an exciting way with traditional film schooling in the documentary “Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights.” Using an amazing collection of interviews and archive footage, the film examines the intersectional power issues faced and fought by black women in the US civil rights struggle of the 60s and 70s – including sexism in the civil rights movement, racism in the feminist movement, and invisibility in both.

The director talks about her visit more thoroughly in this YouTube blog video.

In-competition films are Africa is a Country favourites “Crop,” “The President,” “Of Good Report” and “Under The Starry Sky” – as well as the brilliant “The Rooftops,” directed by Algerian great Merzak Allouache. Entirely different from his Cannes-hyped chamber drama road movie The Repentant, this large-scope ensemble piece boils down all of Algiers society into the microcosm of life on its roof terraces – its class differences, its joys and sorrows, the hypocrisy and the human decency.

There’s also plenty of short films on offer, including a “Future/Past” packet of films where science fiction ties into history, with a director Q&A conducted by AIAC’s Megan Eardley. A key film there is the multi-levelled, psychologically impactful Twaaga by Cédric Ido, about a young child’s superhero obsession, explicitly set against the background of (and contrasted with) Thomas Sankara’s revolution in Burkina Faso.

Finally, my personal favourite of all the films on offer is Electro Chaabi – quite simply, Hind Meddeb’s film is one of the best music documentaries I’ve ever seen. About the new electronic mahragan music emerging in working-class Cairo neighbourhoods in the wake of the Arab Spring, it comes incredibly close to its subjects in a way few extrinsic documentaries do. During an entire year, culminating in national fame and its inevitable seeds of discord, the filmmaker lets us follow the daily lives and the deep personal thoughts-turned-music of many of the scene’s key players.

Further Reading

The entitlement of Bola Tinubu

The Nigerian presidential candidate’s claim of ’emi lokan’ (it’s my turn) reveals complex ethnic politics and a stagnated democracy. Most responses to it, humor and rumor, reflect how Nigerians enact democratic citizenship.

Father of the nation

The funeral of popular Angolan musician Nagrelha underscored his capacity to mobilize people and it reminds us that popular culture offers a kind of Rorschach test for the body politic.

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.