SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE:
The recent news regarding many film festivals in Africa could leave one despairing at the current state of affairs. Apart from some of the good news emanating from the recent Durban International Film Festival, there has been very little to celebrate within this space.
However, any negativity I may have been feeling has been replaced after I recently returned from Kigali, Rwanda, where I was part of the Ladima Foundation team conducting a three-day training session. In my role as CEO of The Ladima Foundation, along with co-founder Edima Otuokon and board member Lydia Idakula-Sobogon, we hosted in-depth strategic training for some of the senior management from the Ladima’s Women’s Film Festival Network.
Attending the training were some of the amazing women at the helm of these diverse festivals, including Matrid Nyagah from the Udada International Women’s Film Festival in Kenya, Sarah Kizza Nsigaye of Celebrating Womanhood Festival in Uganda and Cornelia Glele from the International Women’s Film Festival Cotonou (FIFF Cotonou) in Benin.
These relatively small and mostly newly-established festivals, with their passionate founders and dedicated teams, reflect hope for a new generation of film festivals, led by women and focused on women’s content, stories and successes.
These festivals, over time, and with proper support, training, and partnerships, can become models for best practice for film festivals in Africa and their unique challenges. The training started with a strategic overview of the current state of the film festival space, and then went on to work specifically with each festival to ensure that they strongly position themselves through a relevant and authentic vision that drives forward their specific objectives.
Throughout the intense training, all of the Festival Directors openly shared their challenges, many of which are similar to all African festivals, and some unique to women-focused events. This spirit of sharing and honesty has led to a strong foundation for the collaboration that will drive these festivals forward.
All of these festival teams realise the amazing potential for their events, especially with the recent and rapidly-intensifying spotlight being shined on women in the film industry.
During the training sessions, the Festival Directors worked towards creating specific and relevant strategies and identities to ensure that they can each become impactful and important festivals, not just within their regions, but also on a Pan-African scale.
By working with each festival to stake a claim within the space of women’s filmmaking in Africa, and by acknowledging that by working together as collaborators we become supporters within the larger network, the Ladima Foundation believes that these three festivals can be catalysts for their regional film industries, and for the overall African film festival space.
The FIFF Cotonou, in its first edition this year and taking place from 13-17 September, led by the incredibly dynamic 22-year-old, Cornelia Glele, is a beacon of hope on the festival landscape. Their small yet passionate team has managed to secure the necessary funding to run a short, compact, focused and thematic festival that includes 13 films and a workshop programme built around cinema that addresses violence against women. With sponsors that include Canal+, the festival has quickly established itself within the region, and with the strong support of the Film Festival Network partners and others is sure to become a major festival event in the next few years.
The Celebrating Womanhood Festival, part of the Native Voices project in Uganda, has been around for a number of years and Festival Director, Sarah Kizza Nsigaye, has been working closely with the Ladima Foundation in order to sharpen the festival programme’s focus, and identity. As an immensely respected journalist and filmmaker, Kizza has a renewed vision for the 2020 vision of the festival, and the support and input from other network members will prove invaluable in increasing the profile and reputation of this important event.
Kenya’s Matrid Nyagah is a young, dynamic and celebrated filmmaker who was, most recently, recognised as the producer of Watu Wote (nominated for an Oscar in 2018 for Best Short). Nyagah has been the Festival Director of the Udada International Women’s Film Festival for its five previous editions, and is excitedly planning the relaunch of the festival for 2020 with a specific focus and mission that will be announced in October this year. Working closely with the Ladima team and her fellow women festival directors, Nyagah’s vision for the future of the festival will ensure its sustainability and relevance within the rapidly-growing Kenyan film industry space.
All three festivals are poised for significant growth and development in 2020. Seen as a holistic network that will work towards sustainable regional collaboration, they will also provide the foundations of a women’s festival infrastructure that will not only support each other, but also work to promote other festivals and filmmakers with a similar vision and strategic approach.
In my role as CEO of the Ladima Foundation, the formation of this Women’s Film Festival Network is the most rewarding project that I have been involved in. The amazing passion and dedication from the various festival teams is inspiring, and their willingness to be self-critical, open to learning and development and enthusiastically collaborative bodes well for the future of these events.
It will be through collaboration, continued learning and a shared vision that these festivals, with support from their local film communities and from The Ladima Foundation, can become the models of the next generation of successful film festivals.
These festivals can learn from their own mistakes, as well as from the mistakes of others and rather than strive to be the biggest, boldest or loudest, they can rather focus on being relevant, inclusive, and authentic.
I believe that it is festivals like these that will drive the future of the festival space on the continent and I am both proud and excited to be on the journey with them.
Watch this space.