The arrival of Cinema Africa!
A new home for African films in Leeds
The roots of Cinema Africa!
I have been interested in African cinema for the past few years, watching films online, then setting up Black Cinema Project with my friend Samra Mayanja. We realised we needed to watch African films collectively, in social settings where we could share our responses, feelings and emotional connections to the film. Through presenting these programmes to our small and cosy group, I realised just how starved we are of seeing films that represent us, but also started to realise just how hard it is to actually screen these films to audiences.
There are a lot of films being made on the African continent, but UK film distributors are not selecting them for cinemas to book. There is an assumption that people might not want to see African films, but the cinema sector is so data and trend focused, and it doesn’t recognise that it doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. The success of Indian and Polish films in the multiplex tells us a lot about successfully reaching underappreciated audiences. Also, ‘diverse’ audiences (including Black audiences) tend to be significantly heavier film consumers when compared to the national average (31% are “heavy” film consumers compared to 12% for the national average). I think there is also a misunderstanding of what African cinema can look like – often people think of Nollywood as the only African cinema, but what excited me about African cinema is that in its relative ‘newness’, there is unique context and experience.
Essentially, I think there is a strong case for African films being shown on the big screen, I believe there is an audience, and that by committing to a new permanent strand of African films in our cinema and working collaboratively with programmers of African films across the UK, we can put pressure on the sector to follow suit.
How Cinema Africa! came about
Our strand, Cinema Africa! came about after a conversation with Leeds African Communities Trust (LACT). I was volunteering with this charity during the height of Covid in their foodbank in Little London that provides ethnically diverse food options for those in need. I explained my interest in African cinema and LACT president, Abdul Thomas, agreed to support the project by garnering audiences.
We started with a survey that was sent out to African folk in Leeds via LACT’s networks. The results told us that the majority of respondents watch African films on YouTube or Netflix and comment that there are not cinema options locally to watch these films. Of those who don’t normally watch African films, there were some that reasoned that African film was mostly Nollywood. When asked for responses to the idea of creating a permanent strand of African cinema, all the feedback was positive, with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.
Cinema Africa! On The Road
We then hosted a range of pilot screenings whilst the cinema was closed in our ‘On The Road’ programme. We screened Cook Off (2017) from Zimbabwe, Juju Stories (2021) from Nigeria, Khartoum Offside (2019) from Sudan, Faya Dayi (2021) from Ethiopia, Blind Ambition (2021) from Zimbabwe and Queen of Glory (2022) from Ghana/US. During these screenings, we trialled different types of film choices, varying marketing techniques, and extra activity and discussion. We also partnered with Leeds International Film Festival on their African film programme Films Femmes Afrique, by supporting a screening of Djibouti film Youth (2018) with an introduction and LACT special guests.
All of this activity was leading up to our reopening programme in the new cinema building.
Cinema Africa! at HPPH
I am so excited to be working with the inaugural Leeds International African Arts Festival by presenting three screenings this week! We worked with curatorial partners Maona Art and Durban International Film Festival to select the films. One of the films we will be screening is Money, Freedom, A History of the CFA Franc (2022), a film I saw in FESPACO Film Festival in Burkina Faso earlier this year. This is such an important and informative documentary that clearly lays out the complicated relationship between France and West Africa via its currency. We will be screening Air Conditioner (2020), a beautiful and gentle poetic film with magical realism, all about an unusual scenario where air conditioner units are falling from buildings in Luanda, Angola and no one knows why. The final film is This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019) and I am thrilled to finally screen this film for audiences in Leeds. It has been shown in film festivals all over the world, and it is celebrated for its dramatic photography, moving story and performances that will stay with you for a long time. The closure of the cinema and Covid has impacted the films of the past few years that have either been underseen, or underserved by their availability only on the small screen. It is an honour to present them to you with full the cinematic experience.
The official launch event for Cinema Africa! takes place on Saturday 29 July with a screening of the raucous film, The Wedding Party (2017). We decided, based on the survey results, that we would show a monthly African ‘blockbuster’ type film as part of the programme, and a monthly new release ‘art house film’, alongside other children’s and documentary films as they are released. The Wedding Party is a great example of Nollywood at its finest, it is a bombastic film that broke box office records on release. It has classic Nollywood elements including rampant humour, multiple storylines, and strong family values. This event will have live African music and introductions.
I really hope that this new regular programme of films reaches both African and non-African audiences, and that we can encourage our audiences to support and watch something they might not have seen before. This is an ongoing mission to change the sector and support the African film industry, and I can’t wait to experience these special films in our own special cinema.
- Mosa Mpetha, Creative Engagement Officer