So it has been a roller coaster of a ride with the first African Film Festival Australia launch in Sydney and Melbourne. From shattering lows to exhilarating highs, there have been moments when I would have pulled out my hair.
It was a memorable experience bringing a small selection of African films that I had viewed a million times and then presenting it to Australian audiences. I kept thinking, ‘Will people like the films?’, ‘Will they get the vision of the Festival?’, ‘Will they consider the films worthy?’.
That kind of thinking would have eventually driven me crazy, so I decided earlier on that film was film. Some people were going to hate and were going to love.
The standout film definitely was Kinshasa Symphony, a soaring film about the Democratic Republic of Congo’s only symphony orchestra left audience members speechless and grinning from ear to ear. This film highlights the tenacious and discipline of these orchestra members as they go through their day to day lives completely in love with the music they perform.
One aspect of presenting film screenings to audiences that I really enjoyed and did not expect was the discussions with audience members after the films. People would ask me questions about a particular film or about African films in general. There were some heated debates, notably Restless City and Liberia 77. In terms of Restless City, some viewers thought it was ‘too arty’, ‘too silent’ and ‘lacking a story’. While Liberia 77 had a few audience members incredibly upset by the ‘white savior’ mentality.
One thing that became clear to me during the two weeks of the Festival was, for 2013 we are going to screen films from across the region. Though the films we had were diverse in subject and content, it is only appropriate that the African Film Festival Australia has a selection of films which educate and touch on experiences from across the continent thus giving audiences a little bit of everywhere. Also, we are going to have a heavy focus on films made by African film makers. While it is necessary and practical to have films made by non-Africans, it is important that the Festival continues to promote work by African film makers and allow Australian audiences to experience artistic work by African film makers.
The final highlight for me was meeting African film makers and creatives in Australia who came from the screenings passionate and inspired that they could do this and in some cases I felt fortunate enough to be able to link them to potential networks and contacts.
At the end of the day one of the visions of this Festival was to support, promote and encourage African Australian film makers by giving them a platform to screen their films. Hopefully we can keep on achieving that.
PHOTOGRAPHY: DAVID CHENG