The 3rd African Traveling Film Festival in Colombia – MUICA – reveals how the African continent is narrated through cinema and other artistic expressions. We spoke with Salym Fayad, co-founder of this exhibition that seeks to connect and disseminate the creations from the ‘other South’.
Courtesy of Otro Sur / MUICA
“Stories of our lives” recounts five stories based on real experiences from the LGBTQ community Kenya where homosexuality is illegal. Director: Jim Chuchu, Kenya, 2014. Courtesy of Otro Sur / MUICA
C&AL: What was your motivation for conceiving a show on African cinema in Colombia?
Salym Fayad: The Muestra Itinerante de Cine Africano (African Traveling Film Festival), MUICA, emerged from a variety of aspects and from my own experience of living and working in South Africa and other African countries. One was an aesthetic motivation: many artistic expressions of the African continent are challenging the labels of traditional genres. Another motivation was to try to get a bit closer to one another through this “other south”. It is not in vain that the organization behind MUICA is called Fundación Otro Sur. Colombia has a great deal in common with this other global south; at a social, cultural, and even historical level. Although the contexts are different within each country of the African continent, some of them also derive from a similar colonial history. As in Colombia, certain African countries share a history of a traumatic or armed conflict.
The idea is to connect countries through cultural dialogue; to come closer to one another and to understand what cultural projects exist in the different places. There is also a historical motivation as well as a connection at the racial level, although I don’t much like using that word. In Colombia there is a very large population of African descent and yet, we know very little about contemporary African culture.
C&AL: In your opinion, which is the importance of MUICA in the country?
SF: MUICA began as an experiment, in Colombia there was no such platform. It is not the first time that African cinema was shown in Colombia, but it had never been done on this scale. It was extremely gratifying to see how people from all backgrounds and origins share an interest in cinema, and the reaction from people of African descent in particular was very positive.
Always unblock YouTube
Muica 2019. Courtesy of Otro Sur / MUICA
For the second edition of MUICA in 2017, we brought in the Cameroonian director and avant-garde filmmaker, Jean-Pierre Bekolo, who works with science fiction and experimental cinema. It was very inspiring to see him interact with Afro communities in Colombia and discuss postcolonial narratives, the political situation in Cameroon and the relationship with the French colonial past as well as with the rest of the West African community. It worked so well that Jean-Pierre Bekolo began working with Colombian filmmakers to create his own productions with Afro-Colombian artists from departments such as Chocó, Valle del Cauca, Palenque, Cartagena and Providencia.
C&AL: What is MUICA’s responsibility when it comes to showing the African continent, with all its complexities, through cinema?
SF: MUICA hopes to open a window to the complex realities of Africa, which are often perceived in a reductionist and stereotyped way – in Colombia and in the rest of the world. MUICA wants to provide a platform for cinema but also for different artistic expressions from various parts of Africa. It goes without saying that Africa is an indefinable continent: with 54 countries and different regions, some of them with hundreds of languages. Nigeria alone is home to 500 languages and South Africa has 11 official languages, just to give you an example. So, reducing this to one name, one word, is absurd.
Our responsibility is to bring to the table audiovisual content that passes through our curatorial filter; a result of the experience we have had from living and working in Africa. We try to ensure that the films are curated in a way that relates to the Colombian context. Ultimately, we hope to establish a genuine dialogue so that the spectators won’t feel that they are watching something hyper-alien that has nothing to do with them and so we try to present content that help reveal the similarities between the two realities.
C&AL: In each of the three sections of the festival’s program, Made in Africa, Diaspora and Other Looks, a very diverse cinematographic panorama is perceived. What were the criteria when selecting the 21 films for the 2019 festival?
SF: The three sections summarize some of the questions we want to address. The section Made in Africa favors the films produced and narrated by African filmmakers about different regions of the continent and a variety of topics that we consider relevant. These are high quality and largely recent productions. They are shown in Colombia for the first time and touch on a number of different topics such as history, social resistance or creative risks. In Other Looks we have a section of African stories told by non-African filmmakers. These films are not only very relevant to the audience but also made with respect, without paternalism and without condescension. Diaspora offers a platform for the voices of Afro-descendants around the world, about how ‘Africanness’ is reinterpreted in the diaspora by people either living in exile or Afro-descendants who have never been to the African continent, as in the case of the majority of the Colombian population. Apart from the films, this year we are including a photographic exhibition of old cinemas in Angola, built during the colonial era and that form a very interesting architectural document. Finally, there is a sample of virtual reality.
C&AL: In times when cinema, above all in Europe and the USA, loses its cultural hegemony, what is the importance of cinema in Africa?
SF: When we talk about cinema in Africa we are talking about a tool that has played a very strong social and political role since the beginning. The first African films were produced in a colonial context or just when countries were gaining independence, so between the sixties and seventies of the last century. Although fiction films were made, it was impossible to separate the narrative tool from the immediate reality. Today, films from African countries are being made on a high budget – in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria for example, productions are very similar to Western ones. Still, cinema has not lost its social power.
C&AL: How do you see the African film scene developing in the future?
SF: I see an evolution both at a technical level as well as at the budget level. Paradoxically, funding comes largely from the West. I also see a development in the stories themselves: there are increasingly more avant-garde narratives trying to escape from conventional genres and breaking with the common stereotypes still widespread about the continent. In addition, more cinema is being produced in Africa than before and there is more international exposure at African film festivals. The African Film Festival of New York (AFF), for example, the existence of MUICA or the Wallay Festival of African cinema in Barcelona.
C&AL: Regarding cinema in Latin America: what is the situation of Afro communities and their stories?
SF: It seems to me that cinema on Afro-related topics is still very young and, above all, in need of more support and international projection. Among Latin American film programmers there is often a void, a blind spot if you will, when it comes to programming Afro-Latin American movies. There are some Brazilian filmmakers as well some Antilleans with international exposure. In Colombia you have Jhonny Hendrix Hinestroza and his movie Chocó, as a reference of Afro cinema in the country. Exposing the Colombian public to this type of high quality products and creativity can be inspiring and lead to more films being produced in Colombia.
MUICA 2019 takes place in Cali from 2-5 May; Buenaventura from 7-10 May; Cartagena from 14-18 May and in Bogotá from 23-29 May.
Interview by Ana Luisa González, Colombian journalist.
Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen.