Mama Africa: A Season of Films; Beverly Andrews on an Exciting New Show of African Cinema Mounted by the British Film Institute

Article excerpt

With African cinema now in the forefront of Britain's year-long celebration of the art of the continent, many of Africa's most renowned filmmakers are getting a welcome opportunity to screen their work in the UK. London's British Film Institute has recently held a month-long season of the work by the legendary Sengalese director, Ousmane Sembene, while his latest film Moolaade, which looks at the controversial issue of female circumcision, was given a general release.

Part of this celebration of African cinema has become a touring show mounted by the British Film Institute, entitled Mama Africa. It showcases the work of some of Africa's most respected female directors. These films provide complex and challenging portraits of women's lives throughout the continent.

One of the key films in the season is The Night of Truth, an outstanding first feature from the Bukinabe director, Fanta Nacro. The film is a heartbreaking look at an unnamed African country just emerging from a genocidal conflict. The echoes of Rwanda are clear and intended as the film looks at the difficulty of peace after such a catastrophic event.

The story focuses on a period of a few hours where a feast of reconciliation is planned. During the initially strained meetings between the former enemies, the director shows in subtle ways how communities are so often divided against each other. In this case, both groups actually speak distinctly different languages and find that their only means of communication is to speak French, ironically the language of their former colonial master.

Yet, ultimately, what divides both groups even further is their misguided perceptions of each other. One character actually refers to the other group as "cockroaches", echoing the hate fuelled propaganda that filled Rwandan radio stations, days before the massacres began.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The director also addresses the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation suggesting that for some, it is a painful but necessary task in order to stop the cycle of violence, while for others it is something impossible to do.

Women in African films are often portrayed as the embedment of reason. They are often seen as being the living soul of a community. It is, thus, interesting to note that Nacro, to a certain extent, subverts this notion in The Night of Truth where although there is one female character who is shown trying to hold the truce together, there is another who simply cannot forget nor forgive, and is hell-bent on vengeance. …