Working mothers ‘motorbiking’ with a child in tow in the West African sun, and an unlikely friendship between two Black German-speaking women – one an engineer – the other a human-like android, were two in a series of film shorts to emerge from this year’s Film Africa London festival.
Film Africa described the six film shorts, entitled ‘Wahala Dey – There’s a Problem’, as a “reflection of life’s troubles through a modern West African lens”. But for me, they were a visually positive endorsement of how far African cinematography has come.
African films do not need to be confined to the narrative of war, poverty, white saviourism, or reductive stereotypical storylines about fetishism and witchcraft. They also don’t have to be delivered in the traditional film format either. So, it was refreshing to see animation and documentary-style films captured as part of that list.
Get outta here, man
‘You Matter To Me’ directed by Immaculata Abba captures that in her documentary-style narration of unbridled Black joy. Nowhere is that most apparent than within family.
Her 11-minute-long story, a European premiere at Film Africa, centres around her parents, the loss of her father and how, despite this grief, her mum and her were still able to capture the ’joy’ of life.
My favourite line of all time will forever be her mum’s description of American films. She explains that when she was flagging, she’d delay going to work by watching a “get outta here, man” aka an American film. I just loved that….
The celebration of the everyday was visible in another film short too.
In ‘Burkina Babes’ (also a European premiere), we watch working mums, young girls and older women negotiate daily life on their motorbikes – all captured through the lens of Nigerian photographer and director Kagho Crowther Idhebor.
For many of us looking on from the West, the idea of women using something that has long been tied to maleness and masculinity was a refreshing and welcome shift.
Using graphics to showcase the graphic
Not one to shy away from the challenging topic of sexual abuse, award-winning British-Ghanaian director Comfort Arthur turned to animation.
Her five-minute ‘untitled’ film was a hard-hitting exploration into the raw experiences of anonymous African women who had been abused as children or young adults.
Telling their stories through the vehicle of animation was not only powerful but also educative. The animation highlighted the weight of responsibility and often blame that women still endure when it comes to speaking out about sexual abuse.
Love and death
The theme of death was visible in ‘Egungun’, which followed a young woman’s return to Nigeria after the death of her mum and charts what happens when she meets her childhood sweetheart in a neighbouring village.
Directed by Olive Nwosu, this, for me, was a story about young love, innocence and what happens when rigid societal views and practices create boundaries between how two women should show love. Delicate, intimate, and stunning.
But the two shorts that blew my mind for different reasons were ‘I Am’ directed by German-based Jerry Hoffman and Rehearsal, directed by Michael Omonua.
‘I Am’ tells the story of Noé – an engineer that lives alone in a secluded and forested part of Germany. On one of her runs, she discovers a robot lying on the ground. She brings her home and ‘nurses’ her back to ‘health’ while a bond between the two start to form, while also opening old wounds.
I learnt German up to A-Level so seeing a fellow Black woman speaking in a language that typically some people don’t expect us to know or speak so fluently, was fantastic to see on screen.
What got me the most was, during the Q&A session, director Jerry recounted an experience where he had asked audiences in Germany what they had thought of the film. One white German woman’s first thought was: why these two Black women were in HER forest.
Illuminating! Particularly as her view cements the notion that for some white folk, we will always be the outsider – even if we are fluent in European languages, born, raised there, or claim Europe as our home.
Church and theatre
Shifting from one preconception to another, I found ‘Rehearsal’ to be one of my stand-out favourite short films.
In just 15 minutes, director Michael was able to tease out the theatre and drama that often follows faith and worship in churches most often found in parts of Africa.
We see in one scene a man, sitting in a wheelchair but who is not disabled, being coached on the right way to show is gratitude to being healed from his so-called disability. When he wasn’t enthusiastic enough, the ‘pastor’ got him practising the scene again!
Where extortion and misdirection have become part and parcel of the theatrics of certain religions, this film helped to strip these activities bare. It got me thinking if films like this that get us to challenge our beliefs could be more widely available to could be something that would encourage churchgoers to be a bit more discerning in their acceptance of creating these theatrics in religion.
Wahala Dey was screened on Saturday 29 October 2022, and was part of the Royal African Society’s Film Africa festival between 28 October and 6 November. This was the 10 edition of the festival and included 48 films across seven London venues, including 22 UK, European and world premieres.
The opening screening was a UK premiere called ‘Our Father, The Devil’ by director Ellie Foumbi. This film looks at the trauma of one former child soldier through her eyes as both a perpetrator and survivor and has a powerful twist.
During the Q&A, the director explained that the film resonated with a lot of former child soldiers and particularly impacted those who continue to face current conflicts in countries such as Ukraine. Ellie explained that for many former child soldiers, they have not always been able to reconcile their past causing some to live with these nightmare and others commit suicide.
The showcase included several Ghanaian films including:
· ‘When Women Speak’ by Aseye Tamakloe – which gives a fantastic historical account of the role women played in shaping post independent Ghana.
· Ampe: Leap into the Sky, Black Girl by Claudia Owusu & Ife Oluwamide, which highlights that Ampe is not just a game in Ghana but a sport that requires tactical prowess and has its own association.
· Amansa Tiafi by Kofi Ofosu-Yeboah
· Locked-in by Stephanie Boateng
· And Spirits We Dance by Natalja Gormalova