New Directions: Expanding the African Film Spectrum

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Heartbreak. Abuse. Abandonment. Difficult choices. That’s what confronts the young Camara upon his return from war. He is not a hero received with ululation song and dance….. he’s a child soldier shunned by his family and loathed by the community for atrocities he has had to commit and to endure against his will. Troubled by his actions in a war whose cause he did not understand nor support, Camara tries to live a normal life, hoping that things will get better. Returning home half-man half-child, set on changing the world around him, Camara’s determination to do forget the past pushes him into a fatal mistake of ignoring the reality- his childhood friends who are foes in the war bring back the terrible nightmare that was the war.
This is the story of the return of child soldiers to their families could happen anywhere. Everyday, across Africa, many children are kidnapped from their homes. Unwillingly dragged from their childish dreams and loving homes, these children have been forced to fight wars for causes they know nothing of. As young as five years of age, they are forced to kill and rape. They are young and impressionable and very afraid, which makes them the perfect military candidates for the cruellest of wars.
Shunned by their families upon return for the cruel things they have been forced to do during the wars, they search for meaning to life. Various NGOs try to rehabilitate them with varying degrees of success…… and when they turn to their own kind… they find both love and hatred. This story could be taking place anywhere in the continent and beyond. It has also been captured on film by the Kenyan team in the latest edition of M-Net’s New Directions film project. The film, which will be released anytime this year, highlights Camara’s sad story carefully crafted by Andiah Kisia will definitely give the ignoble question of child soldiers, a face and a social context as Camara tries to fit back in a civil society, which is a recurring problem in the continent.
Since inception in 1994, New Directions initiative has produced 26 short films and two full-length feature films by emerging filmmakers from Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and South Africa.
The initiative is founded upon principle of skills development through interaction with established African filmmakers and the films have been well received in almost all the major film festivals in the world.
« Our films have come to the attention of major film festival organisers and we now receive invitation from every corner of the globe, » pointed out Richard Green, film expert associated with the project since inception. « The New Directions slate has become globally recognised as a veritable selection of new wave film making in Africa. »
« Three years ago, Chikin Biznis- The Whole Story won the Grand Prix at the Vues D’Afrique film festival in Montreal Canada, » pointed out Bongiwe Ngcobo, the initiative’s supervisor, during last year’s Zanzibar International Film Festival, where three films- A Barber’s Wisdom from Nigeria, Surrender from Tanzania, The Father from Ethiopia- from the project were used to launch the Festival.
New Directions is founded upon the principle of skills development through interaction with established African filmmakers. The New Directions slate of films is a substantive collection of a new wave of filmmakers in the continent giving Africa an opportunity to tell her own story.
The projects draws on the rich creative talent of Africa and provides an opportunity for writers and directors and other filmmakers to have their work funded and screened on the M-Net Channel on DStv. These films, shot on a limited budget, have been beautifully produced and showcased at various film festivals around the world and some films have won numerous awards.
Originally designed to identify and nurture first time scriptwriter and directors, the initiative has organically changed in response to the needs of a growing pool of talented filmmakers across Africa. The early films were made in South Africa and then Kenya and Nigeria were later on incorporated. Ingolo wa Keya, the director of the Yes Say For Children musical video that won the Emmy award early this year, wrote and directed his film the Baiskol.
In 1999, New Directions Africa (NDA) second phase was launched at the Pan- African film festival- Fespaco held every 2 years in Burkina Faso.
NDA II included participants from seven countries across the continent and culminated in a landmark master workshop held in Goree Island, Senegal in January 2000.
Out of this experience, three films that were used were produced and they have been well received. The first to be made was the Nigerian story A Barber’s Wisdom written by Paul Emema, produced by Tajudeen Adetokunboh and directed by Amaka Igwe. Next into production was Ethiopia’s The Father written by Manyezewel Endashaw. Produced by Majida Abdi and directed by Ermias Woldemlak, it was filmed in Armharic and has subtitles for international screening.
The film, which won the Silver Dhow Award in the short feature film category in the last edition of the now popular Zanzibar International Film Festival, is considered as one of the best films from the New Direction initiative.
Set during Ethiopia’s dark ages under the derg, the film take a critical look at the crazy things that many people had to do to escape incarceration. It is told by its star Alazar, an artist, who shelters his friend, a political activist Jonas, from the military. There is a heavy personal price for both Alazar and his wife Rahel to pay for this action. Alazar is imprisoned and later released, but Jonas is killed and his sister later returns from exile to revisit the chain of horrific events that led to his death. The last of the film trio was the Zanzibar based Surrender. Written by Kiiza Kahama, the film was produced by Tanzania’s Nasra Hillal and in a cross-country collaboration, it was directed by talented Zimbabwean director Celine Gilbert. Surrender made a brave attempt to tackle a sensitive issue of homosexuality, which is a touchy issue in Zanzibar. « It has been screened in almost all the gay film festivals in the world, » Mr. Green told us. « In the latest edition of the initiative, we will produce a record number of films this year made possible by the use of new technology, » Mr. Green told us.
Apart from The Aftermath from Kenya, the Initiative has shot films in Nigeria and South Africa during this new season. These are Nigerian Femi Adesoye’s Prize Maze and South Africans Teddy Materra’s Waiting for Valdez, David Max Brown’s A Drink in the Passage and Carmen Sangion’s Living in Limbo.
The new season introduces the more cost effective digital video, which is meant to allow greater participation amongst the continent’s emergent talent. « Embracing digital technology is both progressive and a logical next step for the continued growth of films industries both local and international, » added Green. « Digital video has proven itself to be more than a buzzword in the industry, » he further added. « It is not only a reality but also an advantage in an increasingly competitive film environment in which quality as well good cost benefits is at a premium. Digital Video is an accessible, inexpensive, creative new medium and as such is positive development for the continued success of New Directions. »

///Article N° : 5627


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