TAKING a city or region as their exhibition venue, film festivals showcase cinematic arts and are often exciting spaces to release new and frequently independent cinema to the world.
They are global art events that inspire travel and the consumption of a medium that has only grown in power from the invention of the first motion picture camera in the 1890s to today. The oldest film festival in the world is the Venice Film Festival, which began in Italy in 1932.
The Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), founded in 1969 in Burkina Faso, is the oldest biannual film festival dedicated to African films that are made by African filmmakers and primarily produced on the continent. The Durban Film Festival, which began in 1979, continues to be one of the most prestigious African film festivals and a competitive venue for African filmmakers and filmmakers the world over, to screen their films.
Today, African cities, filmmakers, and producers are establishing film festivals that shed new light on the art forms burgeoning power in the region. While you may have heard of some of the prominent festivals around Africa, particularly in regions renown for film, such as South Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria, here are some up and coming film festivals to watch out for.
Maisha African Film Festival, Uganda
In a region of the world whose reputation is beleaguered by the memory of warlord Joseph Kony and a twenty-year war, Maisha Film Lab (founded by Hollywood filmmaker Mira Nair) is re-branding Northern Uganda, as a go to destination for new African cinema. The call for submissions of African narrative short and fiction, as well as documentary films is out, and this year’s Maisha African Film Festival shall take place August 5 and 6 in Gulu, Uganda. This small town in Northern Uganda is a sunny destination, which will enjoy the change from NGO-traffic to welcome film buffs and visitors ready to consume culture.
Addis Video Art Festival, Ethiopia
Pushing the medium of film one artistic step further, Ethiopia’s Addis Video Art Festival is a new initiative in its second year. Accepting submissions from around the world, this festival screens its content on street corners, rooftops, in conventional art spaces and in novelty locations around Ethiopia’s capital city.
The festival focuses on a different theme each year and aims to promote a digital media culture, and put that in conversation with the everyday Ethiopian. Last year’s festival contained a truly diverse selection of films from countries such as Palestine, Thailand, Colombia, Romania, Tanzania, Lebanon, among many others. The festival is a reminder that the film is an art form, and it is an invitation to experimental and conventional short filmmakers to think outside the box.
Udada Film Festival, Kenya
Udada, a Swahili word for sisterhood, is an all-women’s film festival that takes place annually in October in Kenya’s capital. It is ideally situated in Nairobi, which is a city that produces a lot of female film talent, with an impressive bevy of female film directors, actors and producers. The Kenyan film and television scene is dominated by female-driven production companies, such as Dorothy Ghettuba’s Speilworks Media, which was recently lauded in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation address as one of the drivers of Kenya’s creative economy. The Udada Film Festival is in its third year and is spearheaded by three women, one of whom Wanjiru Kinyanjui is the organiser and founding chair of the 1st to 5th editions of the Kenya International Film Festival.
FiSahara International Film Festival, Algeria
Since 2003, the FiSahara festival has been taking place in Sahwari refugee camps in Southwestern Algeria. With over 30,000 people exiled from Western Sahara and living in these Algerian camps, the festival is an unlikely location for movie stars, producers, human rights activists, and the numerous journalists that travel by way of charter planes, and escorted military buses to arrive at this remote location.
The six day festival features films by some of the teenagers in the camps, and also screens internationally heralded cinema, attracting some Spanish-language film celebrities, which in the past have included guests such as actor Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men, Skyfall), and has been supported by the likes of Penelope Cruz (Vanilla Sky, Volver) and film director Pedro Almadovar (Bad Education, The Skin I Live In).
Salaam Kivu International Film Festival, Democratic Republic of Congo
For over ten years, SKIFF has been a festival that not only promotes the arts but also advocates positive protest and social critique through all art forms. Though a film festival, the ten day gathering includes theatre, dance competitions, and music; it witnesses audiences in the thousands. Taking place in the Eastern Congolese city of Goma, aware of the political volatility and civil unrest in the region, SKIFF aims to harness the rebellion, fatigue and frustrations of the youth into productive creative positive expression.
In the past decade of existence, the festival has overcome threats from various rebellious factions and still managed to produce a celebration of the arts that engages the community in digital media education. Training residents of Goma in photojournalism, experimental filmmaking, music scoring and a host of other filmmaking skill sets, SKIFF is a one of a kind festival in a place ready to tell new stories.