Current Issues in African Moving Images and Their Preservation

By Convents, Guido | African Research & Documentation, January 1, 2009 | Go to article overview

Current Issues in African Moving Images and Their Preservation


Convents, Guido, African Research & Documentation


Preservation policies for moving images made in Africa by Africans was, for a long time, not an issue for most librarians and archivists in Europe with an interest in Africa. They thought of 'African moving images' as moving images made on that continent (mostly by non Africans). But in recent years they have become aware that there is a (huge) amount of audiovisual production by Africans, and that makes a difference. For studying and understanding Africa, these are important sources. But it is not easy to find them, or to get to them and to know where and how they are preserved.1 This issue is of course linked to the state of archives and libraries on the African continent. It has to be said that for most people the definition of an African film is a film made by an African. But this is not always certain.2 Some films made by non Africans are considered by Africans as African because they take an African point of view. These are such films Battle of Algiers made by the Italian Gillo Pontecorvo, (but it was made with the Algerians), Lumumba by Haitian Raoul Peck (but he lived his childhood in Kinshasa) or even Afrique 50 from the French director René Vautier. So the definition of 'African moving images' sometimes depends also on the content and the political view on African history.

Most projects for preservation of African moving images are launched by the former colonisers (or Europeans) and directed towards films of the colonial period made in or about the colonies. Is it because the Africans are not interested in their audiovisual heritage? Of course they are! 3African film and TV makers are very concerned about saving their audiovisual heritage for future generations. It is about their way of looking to the world and to thensociety.4 One thing is certain: Africans have audiovisual holdings which date from their Independence Day - the fifties to the eighties. In some cases they even go back to the nineteen twenties or thirties. The problem is that for most African governments preservation of archives in general and of audiovisual items in particular is not a priority, even the archiving and preserving of documents on paper which is far easier and less expensive than audiovisual documents. The saving, restoration and preservation of audiovisual archives is more demanding then the preservation of documents on paper given technology and expertise requirements. In many African countries there are no specialised audiovisual archives with an appropriate staff, equipment and budget. Recently African audiovisual holdings have attracted more attention from specialised international institutions. It has to be said that few studies have been done at African universities on the local audiovisual heritage, but there is a growing interest. Technological developments are partly responsible. The digital revolution has a lot of advantages (but also disadvantages) for accessibility, restoration and short term preservation. Disadvantages include fragmentation and explosive growth in production, issues of long term preservation and rapid technological evolution with a variation of standards. Some predict that the digitisation of moving images, just like that of books and even archives, will make the existence of libraries and archives in Africa superfluous: everything will be available on line and through internet, somewhere preserved on servers. But what to do with the original audiovisual productions? Destroy them? Every archive which digitises its holdings takes care about the original documents and wants to preserve them as long as possible. This should be made possible also in Africa. There is also the uncertainty of the new and costly technology, which is considered by some as very fragile compared with the simple technology of moving images on film.

Current issues in African Moving Images and their Preservation

Current issues in the politics of preserving African moving images are complex. Not every 'African moving image' automatically enters programmes for preservation, and is made accessible for researchers, TV and filmmakers or the general public.

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