Thursday, April 05, 2007

Film festival in Segou

I am currently assisting Malians in the very initial stages of creating a film festival here in Segou, Mali. Essentially, the mission of the festival will be to provide an opportunity for Africans to watch films either made by African film-makers or on subject matter related to Africans. While attending the Festival sur le Niger in Segou, this past February, it occurred to me what a great venue Segou could be for a film festival. I decided to pursue the idea further and recently went to the biggest film festival in Africa, FESPACO, in Ouagadougou, Burkina-Faso to do some research and talk to film industry professionals. The overall response was very positive, and I was able to make many useful contacts. Preliminary research, talking with local Malians and brainstorming with film industry professionals has reinforced my initial idea that Segou is an ideal candidate to host a successful film festival.

The premise to the festival would be thus: Africans rarely have the opportunity go to the cinema because they are often living in poverty and do not have the disposable income to go to the movies – let alone afford basic health care, education, etc. The primary goal of starting a film festival in Segou would be to provide locals the opportunity to watch films, especially films made by Africans or depicting African-related themes. After the festival is established, a longer-term goal would be to create educational opportunities for Africans to make short films (often a jumping-off point to a film career). Eventually, the festival would expand to start screening films one night a week throughout part of the year (e.g. Sunday nights from November to February) further broadening the local community's access to films. All of this would be aimed at promoting cinema as an art form and method of confronting social issues in Africa.

The site for Segou's already well established Festival sur le Niger would serve as the film festival's main venue – thus, the films would be screened on a floating barge while people sit on the edge of the river to watch. Segou's two other movie theaters would be used to further expand the festival's reach and screen more films.

I am currently seeking suggestions on how I might go about getting this off the ground, people I should talk to, organizations I should contact, things I should do/think about, etc. African Cinema is on the springboard to worldwide popularity, and the recent Hollywood releases of Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland have only furthered interest in African issues. The film Les Fespakistes by Francois Kotlarski and Eric Munch, filmed at FESPACO from 1999-2001, profiles all the film-makers who were there during those years with their films. In this film, they depict the extreme challenges of African film-makers in creating and financing films. It explores the struggles African Cinema faces – few can afford to go to movies, and many of the theaters have closed resulting in a limited venue for the African market. And this market - the African people - is what the films are intended for. Essentially these are the issues the Segou festival would aim at addressing.

Most festivals offer some sort of financial prize to the winner(s). Initially, this would be difficult for the festival in Segou to offer. I propose forming a partnership with a well-established film festival where the winning film(s) could be screened as the grand prize. This would offer exposure to the winning film(s) and provide publicity for both the Segou festival and the partner festival. Ideally, the partner festival could additionally provide some logistical and educational support.

I am currently working with the Ministry of Tourism and hopefully will be working with the Ministry of Culture to start this project. My counterpart, the regional director of OMATHO, is very excited to explore this idea and really thinks it could happen. The two initial challenges we have identified will be finding funding and finding Malians to take ownership of running the festival. I do not consider myself a film expert by any means, but truly feel this festival idea could become something great.

I gladly welcome any ideas, suggestions, or questions you have that could help this project attain its full potential.


William said...

You're new film festival project sounds amazing. I wish you the best of luck! Keep it up.

PCN July '07

Anonymous said...

Film festival sounds like it would be a revitalizing force in the community.

(I left a comment about it on the March 15 entry--- oops!)

Peace (no pun intended)

Anonymous said...

You know, you could always try Aspen... do they have a sister city in Africa???

Then, there's always Robert Redford over there in the Land of the Salt Lakes...

Where I've Been...