WU to host film festival

| News Editor

A selection of African films will be shown on campus Friday through Sunday as part of the eighth annual African Film Festival at Washington University.

The festival was founded in 2006 by Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, a professor in the African and African-American Studies department. As a professor in New York, Toliver-Diallo had enjoyed the opportunity to take her students to a large African Film Festival in the spring after teaching them about African history through film during the academic year.

For the first two years of Washington University’s Film Festival, Toliver-Diallo worked with the New York African Film Festival’s traveling series, which selected and provided all of the films shown at the University’s festival. Then she began selecting the films herself.

“I’ve shifted to sort of curating my own selection, knowing what our audience likes here in St. Louis, knowing what kinds of films are being made here that would go over well,” Toliver-Diallo said.

Throughout the year, Toliver-Diallo makes contacts and follows trends in African film around the world, including large international festivals like Cannes and annual festivals in Burkina Faso and Morocco.

Since the 1963 production of “Lilies of the Field,” one of the first acclaimed African films, a great deal has changed, Toliver-Diallo said.

“There was a certain way that films were pretty much didactic, that had these moral stories and relied on African oral tradition as kind of a type of the way people tell their story,” she said. “But now, people have changed. They’re sort of more experimental; they use the camera a little bit more.”

In selecting the films, Toliver-Diallo said she looks not only for great stories but for interesting and novel ways of storytelling.

“So I look for, one, is it telling a story that people haven’t heard, but I also look at, two, how are they telling stories differently than how people are telling stories in Hollywood?” she said. “When we talk about African literature and sometimes African film, people will say sometimes, you know, what aspects of ‘Western’ filmmaking are they borrowing? And I’m trying to say, no, what is the way that they tell their story? Not just the story they tell, but how do they use their camera to give us notions of the local experience and local priorities.”

The films, all no more than two years old, include productions by established African filmmakers and more up-and-coming artists. A Kenyan film to be shown at the festival, “Nairobi Half Life” (2012), was on the short list for this year’s Foreign Film Oscar.

“At Washington University, we have a lot of students who are consciously engaged globally, through African Students Association, through [Sigma Iota Rho] and who studied abroad, and this is an opportunity for them to reconnect with their culture as they watch some of the great films,” Toliver-Diallo said.

For the third year, the festival will also feature a Saturday matinee of an animated film in hopes of engaging younger members of the St. Louis community. Toliver-Diallo said she hopes these films help to balance perceptions of Africa among young viewers.

“One of my big goals with starting the festival was, ‘How do we change the conversations about Africa?’ How do we develop it and challenge stereotypes, and so my other goal was…how do we get students who are six years old or seven years old to not grow up with misconceptions about the African continent and understand the diversity of the African continent?” she said.

Lamley Lawson, a senior and president of the ASA, was first exposed to the festival as a visiting student and has attended each year since.

“I’m already a cinephile—I love cinema, but just to see the variety of what people have been able to create, given what they have, I immediately fell in love with it,” she said. “Every year, there’s still something so new and cool to learn from each festival just because the films are always different, but they’re always quality.”

Lawson and other members of the ASA help to run the festival and are encouraged to provide input to Toliver-Diallo during the selection process.

Lawson said that film can be a powerful way of promoting global awareness locally.

“No matter what you’ve seen or heard in the media or in the news or from other sources, when you see a depiction of someone you can relate to that may be a world away, but you feel that connection, I think that’s huge in making strides and changing perceptions and establishing sort of a human connection,” she said.

There will be 10 films shown over the course of the weekend in Brown 100, all of which are free and open to the public.