Arts | Politics | Economy | Education & Sciences17 Nov 2017
Keep Africa in the picture!
Arts, 6 Nov 2008
Filmmaking in Nigeria

The Amsterdam Art Council has advised city councillor Gehrels to stop funding the annual Africa in the Picture film festival. A dangerous situation that suggests indifference, says Vamba Sherif.
The first time that I became acquainted with the Africa in the Picture festival was eight years ago. It was love at first sight. Or should I say, it was like meeting my first love again. Through the countless films shown at the festival, I could satiate my hunger for African films and culture to a large extent. That hunger had assumed manic proportions over the years: the more I tried to feel at home in the Netherlands and master the language, the more persistent and overwhelming became my hunger for my roots. Every immigrant knows this feeling: the attempt to find a balance between two worlds, one very close by, intensely present and often dominant, the other far away but nonetheless continuing to exert such a great influence over you that it sometimes determines the course of your life. From the very beginning, I needed a way of bringing Africa closer to me without having the feeling that it would make me alienated from my new home. I sought comfort in African novels, but many of these books were already known to me, they were like my backyard in which I knew every plant and flower, every weed. They were no longer a challenge to me. The other possibility was to search for African films.

In films, I could experience Africa in a more intense and special way than in books: I could see the images, the people, the stories, the music – all of the arts combined in one medium. But what was on offer in the Netherlands was limited; it was almost impossible to find films like Yaaba, Tilali and many others in video stores. There were indeed films on Africa but these were made by Westerners and often did not do justice to Africa and only confirmed the image that the West had of Africa: an exotic continent that mainly served as a setting – and its inhabitants as extras. My search almost ended in a disappointment when one day I heard about the Africa in the Picture festival. It was as if a dream had come true. I could finally smell and feel Africa through the characters that appeared on the big screen. The images were raw and hard, but also tender and always realistic – this was the Africa I had known during my childhood. Since then I have gone to the festival every year, and not only have I become a regular visitor but also a reviewer of some of the films. As a result, I have become involved with the festival, become a member of its large family that looks forward with excitement to the family reunion every year.

In addition to the personal reasons I have mentioned, I think that the festival is also a way for African filmmakers to come in contact with a Western audience. The craving for recognition is strong amongst these filmmakers. Some of them have studied in the West, and they are dependent upon Western money for making films – money that is often difficult to obtain. They want to become known and win awards, and they consider the audience that comes to Amsterdam and other cities every year to see their films as a means to achieving the needed recognition. The festival attracts Africans from the Diaspora – and by this I mean not only Africans in the West but also Surinamers, Antilleans and blacks from all over the Caribbean area – as well as whites, Asians and others. The festival is a meeting place for people from different backgrounds, an occasion par excellence for everyone who feels involved with the world. What the festival annually offers are often lacking in the lives of many: that intense delight, that almost intoxicating feeling that comes from seeing or experiencing aspects of another culture. It is also a way of meeting friends again, or of making new friends; but above all, the festival bridges two worlds. The idea that something like this could cease to exist is not only shocking to hear, but once again confirms the notion that everything African deserves little or no attention. Here is culture, here is a celebration of that culture, here is a festival that Africans can be proud of, here is an event that is already the largest of its kind in all of Europe but now is in danger of ceasing to exist. That danger suggests indifference on our part; and if we do nothing, if we do not give the festival the support it needs, then we are not a society in which dreams can be realized, a society in which we can cherish hope. This festival does not deserve such a fate; we must show that Africa counts and that this form of art is a way of bringing the world together. The festival asks nothing more.
Vamba Sherif
In the upcoming weeks (November/December 2008) the Amsterdam City Council will take its final decision on the funding of Africa in the Picture.

Vamba Sherif (born in 1973 in Liberia ) is a writer. He grew up in Kuwait and has lived in the Netherlands since 1993. After making his debut with the novel Het land van de vaders (The Land of the Fathers, 1999), he published Het Koninkrijk van Sebah (The Kingdom of Sebah, 2003), and Zwijgplicht (Bound to Secrecy, 2007).

Originally published in Dutch in ZAM Africa Magazine, September 2008
Translation Jane Bemont

(c) ZAM Africa Magazine, September 2008

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Sites for this article:
Africa in the Picture

Africaserver Special - Africa in the Picture 2008 (Dutch)

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