currently researching african animation : interested in compiling a database of practitioners in various sub-saharan countries : welcome any postings from practitioners

Friday, June 19, 2009

SCOLMA Annual Conference: Africa and the Moving Image: the Role of Libraries and Archives

The recent conference held at Newnham College, Cambridge, was a veritable attempt to begin to address the difficulties facing the future of African film, or rather specifically more so film made by African's for an African audience and its urgent need of suitable archives.

The lineup of guest speakers included:

Dr Guido Convents: Current Issues in African Moving Image and its Preservation

Mr Keith Shiri: African Film and Documentary: The Contemporary Scene

Prf. Vivian Bickford Smith : Film as Evidence, Film as istory and Film in History

Dr Emma Hunter: African History on Screen and in the Classroom: Moving Images in the teaching of African History

Dr Emma Sandon: Colonial Film: Moving Images of the British Empire. A 3-year AHRC funded project

Susanne Hammacher: Looking back - Looking Forward: Tasks ad Challenges of an Archival Ethnographic Film Collection and the Digital Future.


The opening paper by Guido Convents presented an overview of some of the problems facing the archival of African film within the local context, with a focus on the DRC. This was supplemented by a screening of documentary made by a young Congolese filmmaker about the current state of an archival unit in Kinshasa.

The presentation and documentary highlighted Convents; key arguement, that whilst there are archives of colonial film (for a European audience and also propagandist or educational film for local African audiences), there is hardly any interest in archiving film that was produced after colonialism.

He develops this further by later proposing that the archive within an African context could also include key films that have influenced early African filmakers, such as European Neorealistic films screened in the 50's, the Western film, etc.

Convents asks whether these films should be considered when thinking of the purpose of the archive within a local context, alongside the local post-colonial productions? That is to say, an understanding of the images that early African filmakers were exposed to, in some way provides an understanding of their own approach to filmmaking, and in turn their cultural influences that pervade all aspects of life. When talking of the diverse cultural influences, Convents gives as an example Papa Wemba's musical influences from the rumba, and his early exposure to the music of Luis Mariano.

Convents provided an exhaustive list of key organisations that have been involved in the archival of African film, FIAF, FIAT, URTNA, UNESCO to mention a few. However the successes of these organisations in prioritising archiving, would seem is dependant on finance and access to technologies that allow for the digital storage of these films, as well as sourcing the films themselves.

Convents' examples from the DRC point at two key problems with the current state of play in archiving African film: firstly the need of local archives for the local, and secondly the lack of interest by Western archives in post-colonial film, both as historical evidence and as a cultural narrative.


Keith Shiri, director of London's African film festival, "Africa at the Pictures", proceeded Convents with a brief personal account of his experience of African film, and a sample screening of the variety of work emerging on the continent ranging from Nollywood to higher production value "Relentless" see below:

RELENTLESS from Fortproject on Vimeo.

You can read more about this film by Andy Amadi Okoroafor at this blog:
Dodge and Burn

or go directly to the films official website:

Keith Shiri's presented his current project; the setting up of a UK based distribution company for African film which will be officially launching towards the end of the year. He believes that this will act as a platform to ensure that African filmmakers interests are best served and to promote African film in the UK.

Although the title of the scheduled talk was "African Film and Documentary : The Contemporary Scene", Mr Shiri's talked veered away from the topic, and focused more on the workings of the distribution company. It did not deliver the expected overview or flavour of contemporary African film or documentary, and was dissapointing to a degree.

The setting up of an official distribution company was met with support as it is clear that African filmmakers face an increasingly difficult task in disseminating their films to larger audiences. However there was little further discussion on what the greater implications of distribution:
such as creating audiences,
where they intend to screen the films,
what selection criteria they use for programming,
what are the problems African filmmakers face,
what are the current emergent technologies and how they are impacting on distribution, such as DVD or DV?

Although Mr Shiri evidently carries a knowledge of the contemporary landscape of African film, he was not clear in identifying some of these key issues.


Prof. Vivien Birkette-Smith's paper on film as historical evidence, and film as history raised some interesting salient observations about the uses of the moving image by the historian. Here he identifies three key ways that historians engage with film; film as evidence, film in history, film as history.

The questions that were raised here presented the difficulties that historians face when turning to the moving image as history, such as the possibility of error, oversimplification, a lack of context. He also provides the counter position in defense of film stating that it can draw attention to 'uncomfortable truths' and reveal a sense of history.

Birkette-Smith provides ample sources of literature in this field, and developed his arguement thoroughly, presenting a strong case for the possibility of seeing the uses of different types of film as history in history.

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