13th Cambridge African Film Festival, 2014
Launched in 2002, the Cambridge African Film Festival (CAFF) is the longest running festival of its kind in the UK, with the aim of bringing the best contemporary African films, increasing knowledge and awareness of African and black culture in the UK, providing a UK audience for African filmmakers, and offering an important counterbalance to the Western media's stereotyping of Africa.
This year the festival saw a new lease of life with the efforts of an enthusiastic team led by festival director Estrella Sendra. The film programme was made up of 12 feature-length films and 9 short films, including 3 UK premieres (Market Imaginary, Le Voyage d'une Vie & Die Welt) and 5 Cambridge premieres (Timbuktu, El Problema, Gone Too Far, Miners Shot Down & Hear Me Move). Engaging discussions followed all but one of the films at CAFF, giving the audience and filmmakers a chance to delve deeper into the subjects raised in each film, and we were lucky to welcome guest filmmakers, scholars and students from South Africa, Mali, Senegal, Tunisia, Cameroon and Nigeria.
The festival kicked off with a sold-out screening of the beautiful and powerful Timbuktu, which won director Abderrahmane Sissako 'Best Director' at the 50th Chicago International Film Festival this year. CAFF received great audience feedback for this screening, and for the accompanying short film Dankumba, the first UK tribute to young Malian filmmaker Bakary Diallo, who was killed in the crash of Air Algérie Flight 5017 last July.
The programme continued with a focus on political and social issues, with the hard-hitting documentaries El Problema, Roadmap to Apartheid, and 1994: The Bloody Miracle. Entertainment was also an important part of the festival programme, with a lively screening of the comedy Gone Too Far, and gangster action move Four Corners gripping audiences at the Arts Picturehouse, and both followed by director Q&As. Next, a special focus on migration brought audiences in Cambridge two free screenings - the France/Cameroon co-produced documentary Le Voyage d'une Vie and the feature film Die Welt, filmed in Tunisia by Dutch director Alex Pitstra.
The programme themes of politics and migration were placed side by side on the penultimate day of the festival with the films Miners Shot Down and Princesa de Africa. Closing the festival was the first street dance movie from Africa - Hear Me Move - introduced by CAFF founding director Lindiwe Dovey, and discussed with director Scotnes Smith and choreographer Paul Modjadji after the screening. Their optimism and entrepreneurial spirit accompanying this entertaining film brought a distinctly celebratory and energetic end to the diverse and carefully curated programme of some of the most relevant, innovative and engaging films from the continent.
Accompanying the screenings was a programme of parallel events including:
The 'Más Morena' photo exhibition and photography seminar with Spanish guest Javier Hirschfeld at the Fitzwilliam Museum, marking his first exhibition in the UK. The artist's flight was sponsored by Key Travel.
South African Popular Songs Workshop with Lyric Soprano Joyce Moholoagae
'Visions to be Heard' Short Film Screenings and Panel Discussion at The Humanitarian Centre
Live Music Performances at the Pre-Closing Party from Nouria Bah & Anna de Mutiis & Les Freres Chapalo
Audiences and Impact
The 13th edition of CAFF saw an increase in audience numbers, attracted an average of 45 people at each screening, as well as a sold-out opening night. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, and comments from social media and the feedback forms demonstrate an enthusiasm for African film and the importance of the festival for our audience – see some examples below:
'Hearing about the long process of South Africans realising their own worth, post-apartheid, was fascinating'
'The directors were honest and engaging'
'impressed by quality and scope'…' So many interesting films and topics'
'I discovered similarities between lives of people in different countries'…'we are all so alike and human'
'Stunning film. Fascinating cross-cultural debate'
This year CAFF has joined forces with other UK African film festivals to put together, for the first time ever, a touring season called 'South Africa at 20: The Freedom Tour', marking the 20th anniversary of democracy in the country, with the support of the BFI, awarding funds from the National Lottery, and the SA-UK Seasons, which is a partnership between the Department of Arts and Culture, South Africa, and the British Council. The partnership was exciting and beneficial for CAFF, and brought 5 South African titles to the festival as well as 3 film directors.
The well-organised screenings and events could not have happened without the invaluable support of wonderful group of local volunteers from age 16 upwards, who dedicated their time to making the nine days of screenings and events a success.
The University also played a significant part, who the support of the African Society of Cambridge University and the East Africa Society of Cambridge University, as well as scholars and lecturers who enriched the director Q&As and panel discussions by bringing to bear their knowledge and research interests.
Further support of local partners The Humanitarian Centre and Menelik Education made possible the 'Visions to be Heard' seminar and the CAFF pre-closing party respectively. CAFF is very grateful to all the festival funders, including Trinity College and The Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge, and supporters, particularly the Advisory Board members, Tony Jones and the Cambridge Film Trust, and Lindiwe Dovey.
Next year, the 14th edition of CAFF aims to build on the success of 2014, and to continue celebrate the diversity and richness of African cinema for audiences in Cambridge.