Despite the increasingly difficult situation in which African directors are creating and distributing their work, their lofty mission has held steadfast, as that is to recontextualize and re-imagine Africa in a contemporary postmodern world. The early works of African cinema sprung from the energy of impedence movements in the 1960’s and reflected a desire to awaken to the critical challenges of reaffirming a cultural identity and restoring psyches violated by colonialism. Deriving its material from the everyday reality of its peoples, African cinema began its journey with a unique pact to embrace the sensibilities, problems and unique character of its people.
As African cinema evolved, it next took to the challenge of evaluating its own substantial progress and the many limits encountered in that process, both internal and external. It has charted the frustrations and misfortunes as well as the perseverance, imagination, and cultural vitality of African peoples.
The majority of African filmmakers do not shy away from taking aim at the burden posed by some traditional beliefs and practices and the internal corruption that has hindered prosperity. Nor do they celebrate western concepts of modernity with an uncritical eye. In this time of increased pressure on debt-straddled nations to embark on rarsh economic structures and large modernization projects devised by the world Bank and the IMF, African filmmakers have joined the ranks of academics, activitists, and artist world-wide who critically question these notions of “development”. Now more than ever, audio-visual media remain an important means of democratizing public discourse on such important and related matters of politics, culture and history.
By exhibiting films from Africa and the Diaspora, the African Film Festival has presented global stories as told from the perspective of the people, of African descent. Inserting these voices into the often one-way stream of media production that flows from North to South African images acts as invaluable counterpoints to Western media, which focus on famine and war but offer little or no analysis on the larger structures, which reproduce these situations. In contrast African images give a more holistic account of the continent, full of the rich complexities of culture and history that have not only nourished African people, but also invigorated and animated every other culture with which they have come into contact. When tracing the legacy of the multiple and continuous migrations of African peoples across the globe, we must not forget that one of the most important effects has been the web of shared culture that has nurtured them on their journeys. The common threads of mythology, spirituality, and art which have evolved and flourished in different forms in the Caribbean, Brazil, in the US, and Europe are nonetheless branches of a tree rooted in the continent.
Much like the griots of West Africa who are traditional raconteurs of oral history, African filmmakers act as bulwarks against the historical erasures of slavery and colonialism. The great lesson that oral history has given to the world is to be constantly aware of the existence of multiple and competing views of reality. Too often this competition has been stacked in favor of those with greater means and fewer scruples. Nonetheless, there remain a few steady voices refusing to be quelled, and with tools of cinema, their visions can travel across the continents. Like the fleeting spoken word, the flickering images of cinema never simply reflect reality, but force us to see the fragility and contingency of our own prevailing views of reality.