Cinematic voices: African women filmmakers at the Créteil Women’s Film Festival

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To celebrate its twentieth anniversary, the Créteil International Festival of Women’s Film commendably organized a homage to Africa’s too frequently ignored women’s films. Centred on a retrospective of the Senegalese filmmaker Safi Faye’s films, one of sub-Saharan Africa’s pioneering women directors, the festival proposed a vast and heterogeneous selection of work that nonetheless sadly and inexplicably excluded North African films.
One of the most striking aspects of the work shown was the directors’ manifest desire to bring the marginalized voices of Africans, of women, and especially of African women – « The Forgotten » to cite the title of the Togolese Anne Laure Folly’s latest documentary – to the screen.
The filmmakers’ multiple voices interweave, clash even at times, but above all express themselves, often with unusual intimacy. Their gaze remains respectful, capturing faces, glances, the sensuality of bodies, without ever violating or abusing their subjects as they unveil hidden faces and new perspectives. In all their diversity, these films share the same desire at last to tell their hitherto repressed stories, to produce images that represent women there where the existing images and stories fail to valorize them and the realities they live, experience…
By taking control of the camera, these filmmakers have appropriated the word, represent themselves, and express their feelings on issues that concern them as women: forced marriage, polygamy, patriarchal oppression, female circumcision, health, education, work, the right to vote, religion, war. Like their male colleagues, whose support and shared struggle simply to make films is frequently acknowledged, their films avoid the superfluous as they seek to blend the functional, the aesthetic, and even the entertaining. Above all, these directors portray survivors, not victims, women who are mobilized, who resist, who stand up in the face of adversity. In short, women who « take their destiny in hand with the force of their arms« , as one woman says in Safi Faye’s Tesito.
Créteil’s selection at last enabled the public – and the women filmmakers from all over this vast and disparate continent – to appreciate not only the diversity and the force of these films, but also to realize that far more African women are filmmakers than is normally thought. This is highly significant in a Western context so used to defining Africa in terms of hardship and suffering, rather than recognizing its plurality and wealth, and for Western women who often condescendingly consider their African sisters to be more oppressed and certainly more submissive than themselves.
The films in the selection displayed a range of innovative new forms. Some are clearly marked by the narrative codes of the oral traditions, as can be seen from the use of music rhythmically to punctuate the narrative of Safi Faye’s stunning Mossane, the reenactment of the transmission of local memory in Fad’jal, or the Malian director Kadiatou Konaté’s use of animated puppets to narrate the famous West African tale L’enfant terrible. Others mix mediums (drawings, paintings, films, photos…), or voluntarily blend genres (documentary and fiction, or fictional reconstitutions), forging what the Ethiopian critic Teshome Gabriel refers to as « a nomadic cinema » that meanders freely between classical boundaries as it seeks an appropriate expressive form that, in the words of the South African director Lindy Wilson, will better « tell the stories we need to tell. »

///Article N° : 5598

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