African film festival hits campus for second time
The Washington University African Film Festival will be screening eight films – four short films and four feature films – from African filmmakers this weekend. The festival, taking place for the second time, is sponsored by the African Students Association, the African and African American Studies program and the Film and Media Studies program.
Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, Assistant Dean and Academic Coordinator in the College of Arts & Sciences, organized the first film festival last year to initiate discussion about Africa among university students and the St. Louis community.
“The first time [for the festival] was last year, when I was teaching a cinema class,” said Diallo. “I wanted to find something to expose people in St. Louis to a different kind of film history, and to bring a serious conversation about Africa without the contexts of charity or romanticization. It was also a way for African filmmakers to showcase their work.”
This year, the African Film Festival will cover a variety of themes, including the role and identity of the African woman. Female filmmaker Fanta Râ€šgina Nacro’s “The Night of Truth,” for instance, will be among the featured films, as will films by Mehdi Charef and Shelley Barry address issues of women and sexuality.
“A lot of our films are woman-focused. “The Night of Truth” is the first feature film by a woman, and there will be conversations about women and global standards of women, questioning standards of beauty and the assumption of what authority is in Africa along the lines of gender.”
Despite the popularity of last year’s festival, Diallo suggested some skepticism over whether the University would be able to have the event every year. The frequency of the festival, which may change to once every two years, depends on local interest in Africa and African film.
“Last year, we exceeded the expectations of [attendees]. There were a lot of Washington University students, but also a lot of St. Louis citizens there. We needed to see if there is a continuous interest, and I think every other year is best, but there is an interest.”
Diallo added that the film festival could aid students enrolled in African studies courses. She noted, however, that discourse about Africa would have to extend beyond war and infighting and into reconciliation and the construction of African identity.
“We could complement a lot of the classes here. When I was teaching African history, it was good [for students] to connect to a visual image. At some point, you have to talk about reconciliation and forgiveness with neighbors, with families, with ethnic groups and with generations. We need to talk about building a nation and an identity.”
In addition to the eight films, a discussion with Senegalese filmmaker Ben Diogaye Beye will be held after the screening.
“Beye’s exciting because he can talk about his film and his experience,” said Diallo. “He has a lot of experience in the whole African film genre, and I think it’s important to talk about problems filmmakers encounter in West Africa; he…can talk about the challenges for filmmakers.”
In a press release for the festival, the African Students Association President Olawale Hassan endorsed the event to the student and St. Louis community.
“The African Film Festival provides a unique opportunity for the St. Louis community to share in the experiences of African peoples and cultures. We get to look beyond the superficial images that pervade the mainstream media and develop a more dynamic understanding of what the multifaceted African experience is really like.”
The African Film Festival will take place over three days, from March 22 to 25 at 7 p.m., in Brown 100. Admission is free.
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