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Oualata motifs

6 December, 2008

‘La grâce des femmes’ – Oualata, Mauritania

Yet another festival to add to the London winter events calendar is soon drawing to a close. The London African Film Festival, screening its last feature on Sunday, 7th December at BFI Southbank, has had a successful run thus far in showcasing an incredibly well-curated collection of forty films from a continent whose cultural scene is thriving as people increasingly voice their life views and experiences via the vehicle of cinematography en route. Hosted in partnership between the Royal Africa Society, Africa at the Pictures and the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, it has served to introduce emerging African talents alongside highly celebrated African directors whose classic films from over the decades are also featuring in revival. A mix of underground contemporary and rare archival work, the nine-day event has been funded, amongst several others, by the Commonwealth Foundation and Centre for African Studies. In the aim of reaching wider audiences than ever before whilst inspiring international dialogue and fostering cross-cultural understanding, ten of the continent’s most promising filmmakers have been scheduled to hold panel discussions related to their work and the great potential of African cinema. And as with events in the past including Channel 4’s landmark Digital Africa workshop, the 1991 ‘Filming Against the Odds’ conference on African film, and the 1993 African Women Film Makers Seminar (the latter two held at BFI Southbank), the African Film Festival 2008 is set to be the largest, most celebratory of its kind in London this year.

A highlight of the films featured and closing the festival on Sunday will be La Vie sur terre (Life on Earth), the 1998 debut directed by writer Abderrahmane Sissako, following Sissako from France to his family’s home in Mali to examine the Occident’s ‘Y2K’ hysteria as experienced and heard by the locals in radio broadcast emmissions. A thought-provoking comedic drama painting the juxtaposition of cultures and the rural versus urban contrasts of the age through colourful imagery and music by Anouar Brahem, Sissako’s film is a memorable study of post-colonial Africa. In addition, the film I have perhaps looked most forward to (screening at the ICA this afternoon at 4pm) is a documentary directed by the Senegalese, Brussels-based director Katy Léna Ndiay. An hour-long feature set in the red deserts of Oualata in the Mauritanian Sahara, En attendant les hommes (Awaiting for Men) captures the society of the small city so rich in tradition and dominated by the intricate rules of societal gender roles and religion. Zooming in on the lives of three women kept economically afloat through the trade and practice of traditional wall-painting (see photo above), the 2007 film intimately examines the dialogue and dynamics between them and their relationships with the society in which they are governed. Winner of the African documentary FNAC award and Best Documentary Award at the Real Life Documentary Festival in Accra, 2008, it will be screening alongside the experimental film Gubi – The Birth of Fruit.

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Africa at the Pictures

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