SISTERS OF THE SCREEN(West Africa/USA, 2002, 73 min.), directed by Beti Ellerson, image and sound by Christophe Poulenc. In English and French with English subtitles.
African women filmmakers are warriors. They face a lot of obstacles. Theres this picture of a Kenyan filmmaker. She was behind the camera, she had her with baby tied behind her back, and she was directing. That was the most powerful image. It stayed with me. And to me that is African women filmmakers. -- Lucy Gebre-Egziabher, Ethiopia
I am female; I have a female sensibility; I make female films; and when I die, God will explain to me what the difference was. Ngozi Onwurah, UK/Nigeria
Over the years of the Cascade Festival of African Films, we have shown a number of excellent films by women directors: Flore Mmbugu-Schelling, Anne-Laure Folly, Ngozi Onwurah, Moufida Tlatli, Shirikiana Aina, Ingrid Sinclair, Salem Mekuria, Gloria Rolando, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Queenae Taylor Mulvihill, Nadia Fares, Anne Mungai, Safi Faye, Sarah Maldoror, Wanjiru Kinyanjui, Frances Reid and Deb Hoffmann, Farida Ben Lyzaid, Cilia Sawadogo, Mama Africa, Raja Amari, Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbar, Fanta Régina Nacro, Zulfah Otto-Sallies, Bridget Pickering, Yamina Benguigui, Danielle Smith, Zola Maseko, Yamina Bahir-Chouikh, and Julie Dash.
In our post-film discussionsand particularly when we had Safi Faye here as our guest, we have often talked about the triple-challenges faced by African women filmmakers: (a) the many production/distribution difficulties faced by all directors working in Africa, (b) the obstacles they face because of their gender, and (c) the problems inherent in trying to reconcile the various roles in their lives. We have talked about ability that women filmmakers have, particularly in North Africa, of penetrating and bringing us into feminine worlds that are off-limit to men. We have talked about the way that women filmmakers can expose us to the intimacies and frustrations of womens experience.
Tonight, we are pleased to offer a film that foregrounds these and many other questions regarding the situation of African women filmmakers, and seeks answers from the filmmakers themselves. The product of tremendous effort by Howard University professor Beti Ellerson, Sisters of the Screen brings together women from all over the African continent, and the inquiry is clearly that of a woman engaging with other women.
In between the two quotes above, which serve to frame this film, we see and hear from the following women:
Aïssatou Adamou, Niger, Director
Shirikiana Aina, USA, Director/Producer
Gyasiwa Ansah, Ghana, Director
Chantal Bagilishya, France/Rwanda, Producer
Marie-Clémence Blanc Paes, France/Madagascar, Producer
Tsitsi Dangarembga, Zimbabwe, Writer/Director
Zeinabu Irene Davis, USA, Director
Hélène Maïmouna Diarra, Mali, Actor
Mbissine Théeèse Diop, Senegal, Actor
Alexandra Duah, Ghana, Actor
Safi Faye, France/Senegal, Director
Anne-Laure Folly, France/Togo, Director
Lucy Gebre-Eqziabher, USA/Ethiopia, Director
Valerie Kaboré, Burkina Faso, Director
Aï Keïta-Yara, Burkina Faso, Actor
Amssatou Maïga, Burkina Faso, Actor
Sara Maldoror, France/Guadeloupe/Angola, Director
Ouméma Mamadali, France/Comoros, Director
Salem Mekuria, USA/Ethiopia, Director
Zanele Mthembu, USA/South Africa, Director
Thembi Mtshali, South Africa, Actor/Singer
Catherine Wangui Muigai, Kenya, Producer
Anne Mungai, Kenya, Director
Fanta Régina Nacro, France/Burkina Faso, Director
Ngozi Onwurah, UK/Nigeria, Director
Franceline Oubda, Burkina Faso, Director
Monique Phoba, Benin/Congo, Director
Horria Saïhi, Algeria, Director
Naky Sy Savane, Cote dIvoire, Actor
Cilia Sawadogo, Canada/Germany/Burkina Faso, Director
Wabei Siyolwe, USA/Zambia, Director/Producer
Naiwa Tlili, Canada/Tunisia, Director
Prudence Uriri, Zimbabwe, Director
Zara Mahamat Yacoub, Chad, Director
Florentine Yaméogo, Burkina Faso, Director
In addition, we get to see excerpts from a number of films, some directed by women, others made by men and featuring powerful performances by women actors: Selbe by Safi Faye; Sidet by Salem Mekuria; Women with Open Eyes and Women of Niger by Anne-Laure Folly, Dilemme au Feminin by Zara Mahamat Yacoub; Anna From Benin by Monique Phoba; Body Beautiful and Mondays Girls by Ngozi Onwurah; Buud Yaam by Gaston Kaboré, with actor Amssatou Maïga; Guimba the Tyrant by Cheick Oumar Sissoko, with Hélène Maïmouna Diarra; Taafe Fanga by Adama Drabo, with Hélène Maïmouna Diarra; Mapantsula by Oliver Schmitz, with Thembi Mtshali; Finzan by Cheick Oumar Sissoko, with Hélène Maïmouna Diarra, Saikati the Enkabaani, by Anne Mungai, and Awara Soup by Marie-Clémence Blanc Paes.
The interviews are not simply grouped by filmmaker; rather, they are organized thematically. A lot of ground is covered in 70 minutes, including
While inspiring, the statements and testimonials in these interviews show these filmmakers as real women, facing real difficulties. They dont necessarily have all the answers. As you can see from the above list, two of the final sequences in fact focuse on some of the issues that divide these women filmmakers. Still, the overall thrust of the film is clearly their identification with all that brings them together as women and as filmmakers.
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Beti Ellerson teaches visual culture courses in the Art History and Visual Culture Program at Howard University. From 1997 to 2000, she produced and hosted Reels of Colour, a 27-episode series about filmmaking by people of color made for public-access TV in Washington, D.C.. As a 1996-97 Rockefeller Humanities Fellow she conducted research on the cultural politics of African women in the visual media. The research culminated in the book, Sisters of the Screen: Women of African on Film Video, and Television (Africa World Press, 2000), which features most of the women in the documentary, and several in addition. In addition to these works on African film, Dr. Ellerson has published several works on African and Diasporan visual culture.
--Notes by Michael Dembrow
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