By David Jenkin

RapidLion, started in 2015, celebrates films from Africa and BRICS nations. Director and founder of the festival, Eric Miyeni, in partnership with Brand South Africa, gathered five filmmakers to debate issues facing the industry. They were David Mboussou, Gabon (I am Congo); Vincent Moloi, South Africa (Skulls of my People); Steve Gukas, Nigeria (93 Days); Arthur Musah, Ghana (Naija Beta); and Daryne Jones, South Africa (Noem my Skollie). The title of the debate, and the over-arching question, was “How Should Cinema Reflect Africa Today?”

The discussion, facilitated by Miyeni, started on the topic of authentic story-telling versus the tendency of outsiders to tell Africa’s stories in a voyeuristic fashion. The panellists responded with very similar views, each with statements on how important it is for Africans to tell their own stories.

Mboussou said, “We are facing global challenges, and when facing global challenges, not only one voice can be heard. That’s why I think that African people, and people from around the world, should say how they perceive the world so that we can find common ground.”

Jones said he believes balance is important. “It’s important that people from outside the community come in, make a film about your people and take it back to their people and explain to them what they’ve seen and what they’ve experienced. I think the chief thing of cinema and storytelling is communication between cultures and generations … At the same time, there’s got to be a balance with people from the community themselves being able to tell their story, to show what it’s actually like.”

Even Africans need to be careful in telling their own stories, it was discussed, in order to avoid falling into pitfalls of misrepresentation to gratify foreign audiences.

Musah said, “In my own filmmaking, I’m constantly sweating how much the decisions I’m making towards creating my film are influenced by the narratives that have been put out there in the world that I myself, being an African, have been affected by. How do I see myself, the places I come from, the people I grew up with, in a new light, in a light that’s truer … I think there are preconceived notions of what an African story is, or what’s interesting about Africa.” He explained that the films he had made were about ordinary people, such as youths coming of age and figuring out life, and to him that is interesting.

Negativity and hardship in African narratives are overused, the panellists agreed. Jones said there was a need to “shine a light”. Moloi spoke about his experiences, internalising a stereotype in childhood which still persists to some degree – of whites as clean and respectable, and blacks as dirty and less intelligent. He said that audiences don’t see enough of the beautiful side of Africans. “I think it’s our responsibility, pretty much obligation, to change the perspective in how we tell our story,” he said, “We’re not just vulnerable victims.”

Gukas said, “We have not portrayed to ourselves that we have capacity, and we have power to do a lot of things. And, therefore, we tend to believe that narrative of us that’s been given … where is the love and romance that’s going on in Africa? Where are the new, hip young guys bringing change from Nigeria to South Africa? Where is all that?” He went on to speak about how the standard look and feel of Africa on screen is tired, dusty and brownish – something used by African filmmakers themselves.

“However,” Gukas continued, “I think the bigger question we really need to be asking – is it that positive films or newer narratives of Africa are not being made? I think they are being made, the question, for me, is do we have platforms for them to be seen?”

The discussion continued around topics of business models and alternative funding methods, and about audiences and accessibility. The debate concluded with an audience question and answer session which brought forward a number of salient points. The participants were in agreement about the importance of such discussions, and for initiatives like the RapidLion festival itself.

RapidLion 2017 runs until Saturday, 12 March at The Market Theatre in Newtown, Johannesburg.

For more information, visit rapidlion.com.