As the African narrative starts to take its place on the global stage, African produced documentaries will be more and more important in cultivating and articulating African voices.
In the past, and even in the current environment however, many of the documentaries that look at Africa are effectively doing just that – looking AT Africa and in many ways objectifying its people.
Regardless of the topic, too often foreign funded and produced documentaries are litanies of grief and victimisation that tend to talk about Africa and Africans, rather than creating spaces and platforms for Africans to share our own stories and speak with our own voices.
Thankfully, this is starting to change, and as I have written about before, African filmmakers are pushing the boundaries of documentary film in ways that bring to life rich characters, and diverse cultures, and through a depth of approach, are able to transcend the negativity and stereotypes even when dealing with painful subjects.
For many years organisations such as STEPS (Social Transformation and Empowerment Projects), a non-profit organisation, passionate about the power of documentaries to disrupt, shift and move the world around us, have been working with, and developing the skills of African filmmakers to enable them to produce exactly these kinds of documentary films.
Through their various workshop and development projects, STEPS works on the production side of the process, and with their AfriDocs free streaming platform, they also push distribution and develop audiences for these films.
One of the topics that STEPS will be focusing on for the next few months is that of migration. Once again, much of the content that currently exists on this issue has been created from a Western perspective that sees the situation quite literally in black and white terms, and cultivates the view that a crisis of epic proportions is taking place as a mass exodus of Africans try to reach Europe.
This content often portrays Africans as homogenous, one dimensional victims of forces out of their own control, masses with little or no agency.
In an attempt to disrupt this dominant narrative, STEPS is currently launching two major initiatives both on the production and distribution fronts. AfriDocs will be presenting six powerful documentaries focused on migration that share a diversity of stories, voices and experiences.
These films will be available to stream from mid-October via the AfriDocs free streaming platform and also will be broadcast in Nigeria, Ghana, Somalia and Ethiopia on free-to-air TV, as well as the LifeTV satellite channel across West Africa.
By making these documentaries available across these multiple platforms, AfriDocs aims to open up the dialogue and re-frame the narrative. The films that will be streamed and broadcast include the following:
My Escape, directed by Elke Sasse, is a film made up from mobile phone footage of migrants or refugees from Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea during their escape journeys to Europe, plus interviews after their arrival in Europe.
Revenir is a collaboration between the filmmaker David Fedele and Kumut Imesh, a political refugee from the Ivory Coast, currently living in France. Part road-trip, part memoir, part journalistic investigation, this film follows Kumut as he returns to the African continent and attempts to retrace the same journey that he took more than ten years ago.
Days of Hope, from filmmaker Dittte Haarløv Johnsen, tells three immigrant stories that interlace to offer a portrait of the brave souls who leave Africa for Europe but who always stay connected with home.
When Paul Came Over the Sea follows filmmaker Jakob Preuss as he becomes enmeshed in the life of Paul, who has made his way from his home in Cameroon across the Sahara to the Moroccan coast. When Paul decides to continue on to Germany, Jakob has to make a choice: will he become an active part of Paul’s journey or remain a detached documentary filmmaker?
Those Who Jump from director Moritz Sebert visits northern Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla: Europe on African land. On the mountain above, live more than a thousand hopeful African migrants, watching the fence separating Morocco and Spain.
Aji Bi, Under the Clock Tower, directed by Raja Saddiki, follows the small community of Senegalese women who are living and working in Casablanca, in limbo between “regularisation” in Morocco, or attempting to “cross” to Europe.
As many films on migration (including most of these) are not being produced by Africans, it is clearly imperative to promote and develop opportunities for African filmmakers, and particularly for young Africans who make up the majority of the continent’s population.
To foster this process, STEPS has launched Generation Africa, that, in its own description, “is a documentary film project to produce a new narrative on migration through stories made by African filmmakers”. Whether on the move or at home the spotlight is on this generation of young Africans and how they see their future.
The call for submissions for stories has gone out across Africa with a focus on West (Anglophone and Francophone) and East Africa, but open to all.
The brief to filmmakers is simple, submit story concepts that are original, fresh, authentic, moving and even revolutionary or challenging. It’s through a multitude of young voices that Africa’s stories will be told and that the dominant narrative will be subverted.
Applicants whose stories are selected will have the opportunity to take place in intensive workshops and development. Filmmakers are encouraged to submit up to three stories. All of the relevant information can be found on the STEPS website: http://steps.co.za/