Concise, critical reviews of books, exhibitions, and projects in all areas and periods of art history and visual studies
August 21, 2018
Lindiwe Dovey Curating Africa in the Age of Film Festivals Framing Film Festivals. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 13 b/w ills. $95.00 (9781137404138)

The topic of film festivals seems poised to be an emerging field of study, and Curating Africa in the Age of Film Festivals is dedicated to the festivals of Africa and to African film festivals elsewhere in the world, subjects not often considered fit for a book-length monograph. The book is also a contribution to African studies in general and to film and media studies. Author Lindiwe Dovey lets us know that she traveled to a large number of film festivals over the past twenty years, conducted interviews during these events with their organizers and filmmakers, and even engaged in audience and reception research by running simple surveys. Dovey was involved in the organization of two African film festivals in the United Kingdom (she is cofounder of Film Africa, for which she was also the codirector and film program director in 2011 and 2012, and founding director of the Cambridge African Film Festival, said to be the UK’s longest-running annual African film festival) and became involved in some way in a few others that took place in Africa. It is as a curator of African films that she presents herself in this study.

The subject of the first three chapters of the book is the well-advertised and well-known A-list film festivals in Europe and the extent to which Africa and African cinema has been represented in them. The first chapter discusses the origins and history of film festivals in Europe between the two world wars; the motivations for the patronage of the state and different sectors of society; the notion of a festival as a live event; and the connection of these European developments to colonialism in Africa. Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the Cannes film festival, “the global gold standard” and the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, respectively, providing accounts of their development and organization and the contrasting and evolving place of African cinema in them. Chapter 4 explores the origins of film festivals in Africa, the Pan-African Cinema and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO), its major focal point. The description of the festival includes its history, founding philosophy, connection with the city population, national pride, and African filmmakers. One of the topics covered concerns the commercially successful Ghanaian and Nigerian video dramas (“Nollywood”) and their offshoots in other anglophone countries as compared to the older filmmaking practice of the continent, which is more visible in the festival circuit. Chapter 5 analyzes the film festivals outside the African continent, mostly in Europe and North America, created to showcase African films, a trend that started earnestly in the 1980s. The discussion touches upon several dimensions: the difference between the series with a diaspora orientation that include “black” in their name, usually started by citizens of African descent or by established migrants versus festivals with “Africa” in their name, generally created by cinema fans or advocates who are white; the place of large numbers of recent migrants from Africa in the thinking and organization of such events; and the burden of having to speak for Africa. Dovey bases some of her observations on her own role in the Film Africa festival in London and her attendance at the Tarifa/Cordoba festival in Spain.

Chapter 6 focuses on the more recent trends in international film festivals organized in different parts of Africa, especially in the southern part of the continent. The most successful example is the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa, its origins and evolution are well examined by Dovey. The Zanzibar International Film Festival and a few others also receive good coverage. The imbrication of artistic aspirations, commercial orientation, and impact on tourism in varying degrees is explained, and an evaluation is offered of their consequences for filmmakers, local audiences, and the different meanings of internationalism. Chapter 7 continues this discussion by noting the contingent factors impinging upon the character of each festival, local elements, and processes affecting the character they take. It returns to the 2013 staging of the Durban festival  to describe the censuring of the film of Jahmil X. T. Qubeka, which was slated for the opening, and how the defense of the film in terms of its social problems led to overlooking its technical and artistic qualities. Another section presents Dovey’s participation in the 2013 FiSahara Film Festival in the Dakhla camp for Western Saharan refugees in western Algeria. The event was sponsored by Polisario, the government in exile of the Sahrawi liberation movement, and European advocates, who were mostly from the Spanish-speaking world, and billed as the only film festival to take place in a refugee camp.

Curating Africa in the Age of Film Festivals has four appendixes, which list in table format the film festivals in Africa; African film festivals outside of Africa; international festivals supporting African cinema; and black film festivals. The bibliography is extensive, although a few significant francophone sources could be added, despite the good discussion on FESPACO.

The topic of the book is original, and a wealth of themes are reviewed with a good dose of reflexivity. Some readers might wish for a more straightforward and confident style, less digression, fewer and shorter quotes, and sparser use of the distracting “I” pronoun, all of which would have brought out the book’s best qualities.

Mahir Şaul
Professor, University of Illinois, Department of Anthropology