Professor Niyi Coker of the University of Missouri, Saint Louis, United States, is the organiser of the Africa World Documentary Film Festival (AWDFF) which promotes African films across the world. In this interview with Adewale Oshodi, the professor of African and African-American Studies speaks on the vision behind the film festival and why it is important for the future of the continent. Excerpts:
YOU are the organiser of the Africa World Documentary Film Festival. Can you share with us what the festival is all about?
The Africa World Documentary Film Festival (AWDFF) is committed to the promotion of the knowledge and culture of the people of Africa, in a global pan-African context. Consequently, our films and submissions emanate from countries and regions of the world where people of African descent are populated and have undoubtedly influenced the cultural and historical landscape.
The festival has been hosted in the United States, Ghana, Barbados, and Lagos this year, while we will also take it to South Africa, Thailand and Jamaica before the year runs out. What do you intend to achieve by taking it around the world?
The film festival is committed to a global approach. We have submissions from every continent and just as we strive to have a presence on every continent to disseminate out truth and realities. Additionally, it is powerful for film makers to have their works curated and showing at several locations.
Documentary films are not popular in Africa compared to the Western world. What would you say is responsible for this?
There is not necessarily one single factor responsible for this situation. It can be due to a lack of film equipment or inability, the inaccessibility or affordability. It could also be the intimidation factor where uncovering and telling some really powerful stories are considered taboo subjects best kept hushed up. It can also be due to a lack of adequate training on how to make documentaries. Finally documentaries take months and years to make with no commercial rewards. The great reward is in contribution to the body of knowledge and the work lives on eternally and is less ephemeral like most narratives.
Since documentary films project true life stories, do you think African filmmakers have the capacity and technical knowhow to tell the stories of their people and the continent appropriately?
With adequate training, Africans can easily tell their own stories. The danger of not telling our own stories is that we allow other people’s perspectives to define our own humanity and that of generations after us. It is a colossal blunder if we don’t insist on defining our own reality, humanity and telling our own special truth. To put it simply, a majority of the most influential individuals in government or politics or banks who are responsible for policy that affects Africans have never been to Africa. The basis of most of their information is film and television news and documentaries about Africa. I know. I went to school here. I have been teaching in the university in the USA for three decades now. I encourage and lead trips to Africa with my students. They are always flawed by how the reality of witnessing Africa contrasts sharply and deeply with the perceptions and steady diet that the western produced television documentaries on Africa have etched in their minds.
As an expert in theatre and cinema arts, where will you say our nation is, in terms of documentary films. Is a great part of our history not already lost?
Nothing is lost if we reclaim it. It’s the work of documentary to ensure that those aspects of our past are properly documented. Unfortunately we are encumbered with governments in Africa that are ill-informed and misguided when it comes to the importance and significance of telling your own stories for the preservation of the sanity of future generations. This might be one of the major reasons that our nation is adrift and can’t anchor.
With your efforts, can documentaries become more popular in Africa, while the global world will also know more about the continent?
That’s the active plan and hopefully with the work that IREP is doing in Nigeria, we at AWDFF can continue our partnership to keep pushing the understanding and commitment to Africans telling the African story.
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