African Cinema and Revolution: Part III

Attending the Here & Now: African American Art & Film Conference @ NYU, November 16-17, felt a little like sitting at the kids table at Thanksgiving. There were a lot of things said about revolution, language, and representation that I have only dealt with theoretically in film school.

As John Akomfrah so eloquently stated:

"Post-independence, in many countries with no financial support, large parts of African cinema died. In its wake in Nigeria and Ghana we have had offshoots. But are these really cinemas or post-cinemas? In the wake of technological transformations, the stories emerging are post-cinematic. They are very little touched by the great narrative questions of classical cinema. We have to move beyond a language of representation to a cinema of embodiment. What could it be?"

Maybe someday, when I am a veteran, I will posit some solutions to that challenge. It seems that the act of making films breeds a familiarity with the rhetoric of cinema that can only be described as masterful. To grapple with the system on a daily basis, as a practitioner and cultural producer, enlightens one in a way that can never be approached through rote learning.

And herein lies my ambivalence toward film school. Weighing the financial cost of tuition against the benefit of an education -- typically consisting of anecdotes from long-retired filmmakers, which could also be gained in the field -- leaves me short on pros and heavy on cons. Especially when the focus at NYU isn't on the storytelling, which is what I love most about the whole process.

Moussa Sene Absa said it best when he noted:

"We are not filmmakers, we are storytellers. We have people go into a room and it is dark and we say, 'I'm going to tell you a story.' It is a great pretension!"

I suppose that even now, as I sit here writing this blog, trying to inform and inspire you, I am pretending. Pretending that I have something essential to impart, a rare gem that you might not have encountered otherwise. I must possess audacity, mixed in with raw ambition, to make this insignificant blog seem great in scope.

And I think we should all practice that kind of audacity daily.

I don't believe that only privileged white men should engage in this grand pretense of filmmaking -- and writing, painting, photography, archaeology, anthropology, or deep sea diving. Hollywood production companies spend tens of millions of dollars on movies about Santa Claus while African filmmakers struggle to find one million to make a sociopolitically significant film. Fighting tremendous odds to tell their stories, African filmmakers hold themselves to a higher standard, taking their role as cultural producers very seriously.

Even so, I look forward to the day when some of us own the means of production and don't have to take ourselves as seriously any more. Can make nonsense films about nonsense things just like whites do. Even Zola Maseko said he would like to make a film about a man and woman falling in love, but it doesn't seem to be in his vocabulary.

Why I really got into filmmaking: because if the world color codes films, then children will have color-coded dreams. They might not be able to envision themselves as doctors, lawyers, business people, even the President. Might only conceive of themselves as thugs and criminals, as opposed to the poets and writers they could be.


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