Humanities 211
Culture(s) & Literature of Africa
(Oral Arts &  Film)
Cora Agatucci

6 October 1998: Learning Resources

African Film Contexts 
Links and article references for background on African film

Contexts for Afrique, je te plumerai; for Keita: l'heritage du griot; & for Yeelen (see also descriptions of COCC 's African film holdings)

Fespaco (Pan-African Film Festival held biannually in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)

Bibliography for further study

CONTEXTS for Keita: The Heritage of the Griot


The Legend of Sundiata
This link offers a summary of Sundjata Keita's epic story, part of which is told in Keita: The Heritage of the Griot.
What is a Griot?
"Griots are historians, praise-singers and musical entertainers. And yet, none of these descriptions quite captures their unique status in Manding society." Click this link to learn more . . .
Mali: Africa's Empire of Empires
"Africa has known many empires, but none is so well remembered as the Empire of Mali, sometimes called the Manding Empire [1235 – ca. 1468]. . . . If the memory of ancient Mali still burns brightly today, that's largely thanks to the work of griots, professional historians, praise-singers and musical entertainers among the Manding people. . . . [who are] spread throughout at least six West African countries: Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Cote D'Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Guinea Bissau." The Manding "still rely on their griots to remind them of their glorious place in history. And the most cherished of all the griot histories is the story of Sundiata Keita, the first king of the Malian Empire."  

African Timelines Part II: African Empires

[Available:] offers commentary by Dr. Brigitte Reinwald and includes citations from interviews with Dani Kouyate and his father Sotigui Kouyate (cast as the griot Djeliba in the film), part of the Workshop: Orality and Literacy in African Societies, held at Institute for African and Ethiopian Studies, Univ. of Hamburg, July 4-5, 1996 [available:]
The Workshop site includes several more online articles, including Katrin Pfeiffer's "Editing Mandinka Spoken Art"

California Newsreel's Library of African Cinema titles offers a synopsis and some reviews of the film Keita, and the Third Annual New York African Film Festival offers a brief announcement on Keita as well. To browse a complete listing of the festival's offerings, click here. Of special interest to Hum 211 study of Keita: The Heritage of the Griot and African praise songs of West African cultures is the 21-string kora, one of the traditional musical instruments Mandinka "jalis or griots, traditional historians, praise singers and master musicians" play " to accompany their epics and songs." Follow the links to "What is a Kora?" and "Tuning the Kora," with illustrations, and follow links to learn more about (with photos) the lives of kora musicians.

See CIA map of Burkina Faso, homeland of director Dani Kouyate


Racevskis, Maija. "Applications of African Cinema in the High School Curriculum: A Secondary Teacher's Views of 'Three Tales from Senegal,' 'Ca twiste a Poponguine,' 'Udju Azul di Yonta,' 'Hyenas,' and 'Keita.' Research in African Literatures, 27.3(Fall 1996): pp. 98(12). Note: The full text of this article is available from  Infotrac (Article A18635808). Abstract provided by Info Trac: "African movies can be used to enrich high school curricula for French language and other subjects, as shown by a high school French teacher's use of five films. These are 'Udju Azul di Yonta,' 'Keita, The Heritage of the Griot' 'Hyenas,' 'Three Tales from Senegal,' and 'Ca twiste a Poponguine.' The two favorites are 'Keita,' which is from Burkina Fasso [sic], and 'Three Tales from Senegal.' 'Keita' has pithy sayings to appeal to students. "

Excerpts from Racevskis' article: "
If I could choose but one African film for all my French classes, however, the choice would be between ThreeTales from Senegal and Keita, The Heritage of the Griot, from Burkina Faso. In director Dani Kouyate's Keita, a traditional story-teller named Djeliba Kouyate relates the 13th-century epic of Sundjata, legendary founder of the Malian Empire, to his 20th-century descendant, Mabo. The arrival of the griot, whose tales of Mabo's ancestor distract the youngster from his schoolwork, causes conflict with his Westernized parents. Through these parallel storylines told in Jula and French, Kouyate examines the role of traditional values in the face of modernity. My students followed both stories avidly. When the 94-minute film was over, their only complaint was that it was too short, because it did not complete the story of Sundjata."

"Mabo must endure the ridicule and opposition of the Westernized parents, neighbors, and teachers of African society in order to define Mabo's place in the lineage of Sundjata Keita. Mabo's mother finally succeeds in exiling Djeliba. But it is too late. As the storyteller forewarned, "... this story is like the wind; you cannot stop it." Mabo knows that without looking to his past, he cannot know who he will become in the future."

"My students enjoy proverbs, idioms, and pithy quotes," and Keita "revels in them. These are just a few more that I have caught so far:

The same truth can have many versions.

An empty belly has no ears.

You cannot run and scratch your foot at the same time.

Not everything can be seen, but everything exists.

Man is always in a hurry.

Knowledge is ungraspable.

No matter how strong you are, you always find someone stronger.

The giant tree grows from a grain.

It is the hunter who always beats the lions, because it is the hunter who always tells the stories.

The future emerges from the past.

Discussion questions suggested by Racevskis: "Each of these sayings is thought provoking and lends itself to lively classroom discussions and projects. Are there similar proverbs in Western culture? Find some parallels . . . in English. In what details do the sayings differ? What might be the reasons for those differences?"

Sullivan, Margaret Lo Piccolo. "The Epic of Sundiata: Using African Literature in the Classroom." [Includes related article on teaching activities using the epic.] Social Education 62.4 (April-May 1998): p201(6).Note: The full text of this article is available from COCC Library through Info Trac [Article A20834337].
Abstract: 'The Epic of Sundiata' is helpful in introducing students to African culture because its entertaining story can provoke student interest. It narrates the rise of the Empire of Mali in the 13th century and how various historical events shaped the contemporary African region. The epic can be used in secondary level teaching to demonstrate how traditional African religion can exist simultaneously with Islam and extract competing loyalties from the same people."

Conrad, David C. "A Town Called Dakajalan: The Sunjata Tradition and the Question of Ancient Mali's Capital." The Journal of African History, 35.3(August 1994): p355(23). Note: The full text of this article is available from COCC Library through Info Trac [Article A16475707]. Conrad argues for Dakajalan as the location of ancient Mali Empire's capital.
Excerpts from Conrad's article:
"Perhaps prior to the monopolization of authority that characterized the western Sudan's imperial periods, dominant lineage heads would set themselves up in various short-term power locations. Authority would be imposed by establishing superior martial and spiritual credentials (which were virtually synonymous), thereby 'eating' the power of one local chief before moving on after a few years, at least partly according to the diviners' prognostications.(22) A familiar theme in legends of founding ancestors is that they moved from one place to another, forming marriage alliances as they went. Ancestral perambulations are also reflected in the Mande fasaw (songs for heroes), in which bards address the pre-imperial era. In the fasaw they praise the ancestors of royal lineages (mansarew) including Sunjata's, as itinerant hunters and warriors who took up the bow and quiver -- later the most essential royal symbols of Mali -- to roam the country seeking zones of power, matching themselves against rival chiefs and occult forces alike.(23)"

"There are not many points of convergence between Arabic descriptions of western sudanic cities and Mande griot references to towns of Malian kings. One reason for this is that the interests of bards recounting events of the distant past have been different from those of foreign chroniclers. The griots have usually been more interested in exalting the memories of ancestors of distinguished lineages, especially the royal ones, than in describing cities. In accurately reproduced texts related to Sunjata, references to cities and towns are largely incidental, mentioned as being in the vicinity of a memorable event, as the birthplace or settlement of a distinguished ancestor, or among the conquests of a certain hero. Specific towns are not normally associated with people or events with the consistency that will be seen applying to Dakajala…."

"On a visit to Keyla, Youssouf Tata Cisse asked the patriarch of the Diabate bards to tell him where Dakajalan was located. The elder threw his hands in the air and cried: 'This is too large for my mouth!'(113) Perhaps the man simply did not know Dakajalan's location, but the source of his emotion might well be explained by the remarks of an informant at Niani in 1918, who declared that people who violated the secret places would be killed by the spirits. This man was especially worried about white men because they do not know how to keep secrets. He goes on to say,

"‘The day the whites arrive at [the site of ancient] Mali will be the end of the world; the sacred places will be known to all the curious people, who will come to disturb the repose of the spirits; they [the spirits] will become angry then and turn over the earth, and it will be too bad for the idiot who acts as a guide’".(114)

"As a locus of activity for Mali's larger-than-life founding hero and possibly his burial site,(115) Dakajalan would be a sacred place and it appears to have been protected as such.(116) Perhaps it has been shielded from rival Malinke clans seeking the occult power that could be derived from boliw, the important ritual objects that would be even more than usually threatening were their components to include relics intimately connected with Sunjata.(117) There would have been reason to shield Dakajalan from Muslims as well -- not just pious local clerics, but nineteenth-century jihad campaigners like Alhajj 'Umar and Samory Ture who would defile objects and sites of animist ritual significance.(118) Dakajalan would also have been shielded from damage threatened by the French colonial presence, and most recently from inquiring researchers, African and non-African alike."

COCC Library link to access Infotrac, FirstSearch,
and other periodical databases
click here.

Top of this page

CONTEXTS for Yeelen:


A very informative piece on the plot, background, and significance of Yeelen is offered in Patricia Aufderheide's Cross-Cultural Film Guide (The American University, 1992). "Lights on Africa: A Film Series, " from the Guggenheim Museum's 1996 exhibition, presents an overview of several contemporary African films, with still photographs, including mention of Souleymane Cisse, director of Yeelen..

US-Africa Film & Music Services – African Country Demographics offers context information on specific African countries, their geography, peoples, government, and much more: see the Mali page, for more background on the homeland of Souleymane Cisse, director of Yeelen. Or let African Studies WWW (U Penn) direct you to pages where you can learn more about specific countries, like Mali. Another resource is City Net on Mali.

Souleymane Cisse
was born in Bamako [Mali] in 1940, lived for a time in Dakar, Senegal, with his parents, then returned to Bamako in 1960, at the time of the break up of the Mali Federation into the independent countries of Mali and Senegal. Cisse identifies himself as "Soninke, but I express myself in Bambara . . ." (cited in Leahy, Yeelen 344). In 1961, Cisse received a grant to study photography and [film] projection in Moscow; a second grant enabled him to enroll in VGIK, the state film school, for a five-year course working with Mark Donskoi (Leahy 348). Cisse made student films at VGIK, including L’Aspirant (1968), a short film dramatizing comparison of modern and traditional [African] methods of medicine, involving a young doctor and his father, a traditional healer. He had returned to Mali by 1970, first to direct newsreels and documentaries for the Mali State Information Service. His first feature film Cinq jours d’une vie (1972) presents traditional Koranic education as failing Bambara youth. Den Muso (1975) exposes the "plight of the countless child-mothers that one sees in most African countries today, wandering the streets . . . . I wanted my heroine to be dumb in order to point up something that’s fairly obvious: that women in our society do not have the right to speak" (Cisse qtd. in Leahy 348). Baara (1978) sketches the "problems of a working-class in the process of formation. To me it seems important to broach from there a key question for the futures of our countries. How are the respective problems of the peasantry and this unborn working-class going to articulate themselves? . . . . For me, the central character is not the engineer . . . [despite his] great political consciousness. The central character is the porter. . . . To tell the truth, back home the gulf between the intellectuals and the mass of the people is not very deep" (Cisse qtd. in Leahy 348).

Of Finye (The Wind; 1982), Cisse explains:
"In Mali there’s no theatre, no school of performers. One is thus reduced to finding one’s interpreter while walking down the street. Occasionally this gives surprising results. I found my principal actor, a sixteen-year-old lycee student, remarkable gifted . . . . I hope in the future to be able to make films in which the ancient depths of African culture will surge up again. To this end, I spend my time visiting old men who tell me stories of the past, true or mythical. A[n African] cinema imitating America or Europe will be in vain. We must immerse ourselves in our own sources" (Cisse qtd in Leahy 348). Cisse’s next feature film was Yeelen (1987).

Sources: James Leahy, "Stories of the Past--Soulemane Cisse" (p. 348) and "Yeelen (The Light" (pp. 343-344), both in Monthly Film Bulletin (of the British Film Institute, London) 55.658 (Nov. 1988).


"High on its [Fespaco's] list is Malian director Souleymane Cisse, whose 1987 film Yeleen (Brightness in Bambara) has been termed "one of the great experiences of world cinema" by the Los Angeles Times and "an astonishing work of great virtuosity" by The Village Voice. In it, Cisse reaches far back into his country's rich oral tradition to tell the ancient story of a son's 300-mile trek across the Sahel fleeing an evil father sworn to kill him. Highly skilled in visual narrative and not afraid of addressing the role of fetishism in West African society, Cisse is the only two-time winner of Fespaco's top prize, the estalon ("stallion"). He won in 1979 for Baara (Labor) and again in 1983 for Finye (The Wind) . . . "
From: Wright, Rob. "Africa's Film Capital." (Ouagadougou Pan-African Film Festival) Africa Report, 40.1(Jan-Feb 1995): p. 61(3). Note: The full text of this article is available from COCC Library through Info Trac (Article A16617606). For more on FESPACO and Rob Wright's review of the 1995 festival, see "CONTEXTS: FESPACO - Pan-African Film Festival" below.

MacRae, Suzanne H. "Yeelen: A Political Fable of the Komo Blacksmith/Sorcerers." Research in African Literatures, 26.3 (Fall 1995): p57(10). Note: The full text of this article is available from COCC Library through Info Trac (Article A17403889). MacRae argues that some Western critics have misinterpreted Yeelen as simply "a fairy tale,".while "African audiences recognize serious contemporary issues in the narrative and perceive the direct relationship of the film to their own social and political problems." She maintains that "Yeelen is so firmly rooted in West African Mande culture that the full resonance of the plot, characterization, artistic intent, and social/political significance cannot be understood outside the cultural and historical context. Yeelen is a profoundly West African film, an epic Bildungsroman centered on a dynastic struggle within the distinguished Diarra family of the Bambara branch of the Mande people," a family whose "glory . . . has been celebrated in oral epic poetry," and who are still politically prominent in Mali today." Further, MacRae explains background on the complex "lore and practices of the Komo," which Cisse simplifies "to indict abuse of power by the current rulers of Mali"--i.e." the corrupt and violent regime of President Moussa Traore, who came to power through the 1968 military coup." "Subtly but clearly, Yeelen demands a return to the traditional ideals of beneficent governance. Cisse hopes that his film will arouse the conscience of his audience to cleanse the government of corruption and restore the ethical integrity of the ancestral Mali commonwealth." MacRae also believes Cisse uses mythic material and style in Yeelen " to celebrate the values of traditional West African culture as a model for contemporary Mali," identifying "the search for contemporary inspiration in the roots of African culture [being] a major thrust in African filmmaking . . . ."

Frodon, Jean-Michel. "A Patchwork of Time." [Rev. of Soulemane Cisse’s latest film Waati (trans. Time)].
World Press Review
, 42.9 (Sept 1995): 44. [Rpt. Jean-Michel Frodon, "Le Monde" (liberal), Paris, May 18, 1995.]
Note: The full text of this article is available from COCC Library through Info Trac [Article A17218091]:
Abstract provided by Info Trac: "Souleymane Cisse's latest film is representative of African movies and also reveals the problems of African filmmaking. 'Waati' makes full use of African history, geography, and language. Political and financial problems prolonged the making of 'Waati.'"

From Frodon's article:
"In the following excerpts from an interview, Cisse tells about the hurdles and challenges that both he and African cinema are facing:
"’The initial idea for Waati was the situation in South Africa, which was still under apartheid when I began writing. I tried to raise an overall question about ethnic tensions. I was born in [Mali], where racial mixing is fairly common. Neither my father nor I ever knew any inter-ethnic conflicts comparable to those taking place today." In Waati, "[w]hat I show is the beginning of forgiveness, which starts with talking to one another. I can't go beyond that; I can't put myself in the place of the South Africans. I can only observe and try to understand."

"’African culture is not one of writing. We have an oral culture that is translated into images, and those images are powerful because they are unexpected. Of course, the supernatural plays a part, whether one believes in it or not. There is a force that forges links among ideas, people, communities. Nandi [the lead character of Waati] knows about these powers from her grandmother and from the stories on which she was weaned. When she is hard pressed, Nandi can call on those powers.’"

"’They say that it is impossible to produce a film like Waati with African money, that the continent is too poor. That's not true. There are rich people in Africa, and they squander considerable sums. The problem is that African businessmen do not understand or do not want to understand. They are not interested in cinema. ‘"

"’ To date, I have not succeeded in creating the environment I need to make my films as I would like. I am disappointed with African cinema. We have to create ways of consolidating what has been achieved, or we will always be at the mercy of a handful of young people short on talent but big on ego who can thrust themselves into the limelight. We have to create the future. For me, the most important thing is to create a film school. That is what we need most. What remains to be done is more important than what already has been accomplished.’"

COCC Library link to access Infotrac, FirstSearch,
and other periodical databases
click here.

Top of this page

CONTEXTS for Afrique, Je Te Plumerai:

"Cameroon Comes Alive," from The 40th London Film Festival (7 - 24 November 1996) features an interview with Cameroonian director Jean-Marie Teno. "People in Europe need to know more about Africa," Teno begins. Available: [accessed Sept. 1998].

African Studies WWW (U Penn) will direct you to pages where you can learn more about Cameroon. See also Africa Update's articles on Cameroon (Fall 1996 issue), the quarterly newsletter of the Central Connecticut State University African Studies Program; and UNESCO's exhibit of Human Settlements in Cameroon from Africa Revisited. In the film, Teno introduces Sultan Njoya, who "spent twelve years to invent his own alphabet, made of eighty symbols. He wanted to be able to write in the Bamun language the kingdom's history. At this time, the oral tradition dominated. The Sultan Njoya is known to have said to his subjects: "I will give you a book that talks without any sound". He even established schools to teach his language. Njoya revolutionized agriculture by introducing European plants, unknown to Africa. He instituted the beginnings of a civil state through a system of birth and death certificates, built a blast furnace, and founded a religion, the 'Novat Kovot.' In 1913, while Cameroun was still a German colony, Sultan Njoya equiped himself with his own printing house" (click here for the source text with photo of Sultan Njoya's modern descendent, inheritor of the Bamun throne).


Ukadike, N. Frank. "African Cinematic Reality: The Documentary Tradition as an Emerging Trend." Research in African Literatures, 26.3(Fall 1995): 88 (9 pages). Note: The full text of this article is available from COCC Library through Info Trac (Article A17403897).
Abstract provided by Info Trac: "African cinematic development is analyzed in terms of its relationship to historical circumstances and general film practice. The deviation from a traditional viewpoint of truth and the gradual acceptance of a reformed view that is closer to reality has marked African cinema for the last two decades. A new documentary tradition has emerged that redefines African cinematic 'reality.'"

From Ukadike's article: Afrique, je te plumerai "reveals the colonialist and neocolonialist methods of exploitation and subjugation. At times, the artistry renders some of the mesmerizing sequences of torture too ethereal or attractive for the viewer, but it is this enchantment that also compels the viewer to examine, confront and contemplate the real images behind the illusion." The film "is an intensive study of one nation's history - that of Cameroon. However, Afrique does offer a continent-wide critique of colonialism, especially cultural colonialism, and openly calls on Africans to reclaim what is theirs. According to Angelo Fiombo, ‘Africa today is linked to the past by a close cause/effect bond: from colonial violence to the single political party, from repression to intolerance.’ It is from this perspective that Afrique verifies this claim with cinematic pyrotechnics. Fiombo notes: ‘In a skillful melange of contemporary images, fiction, important period documents and precious reconstruction, the director venturing into the corridors, often forbidden, of the memory of his country, with a will to reaffirm that "right to speak" which has been denied too long." . . . ." Afrique employs multiple conventions, mixing elements of caustic satire, comedy, music, straightforward didacticism, and neorealistic camera work. The film does not simply ask Africans to wake up to the challenges ahead, it indicts tyranny through a critique of colonial decadence made comprehensible from colonial and neo-colonial histories." Jean-Marie "Teno, the filmmaker, had originally intended to make a film about African publishing. After witnessing the brutalsuppression of public demonstrations in Cameroon, however, he decided ‘to examine language as either a tool of liberation or of domination.’ He goes on to state that ‘in confiscating language, in reducing language to codes accessible only to the minority, it becomes easier to silence and exploit the people.'"

"Afrique inundates the viewer with a barrage of images. They are not collages of images in the usual sense, but historical documents and political manifestoes. This strategy is a calculated way of presenting complex histories. The film is carefully researched, emanating as it does from the filmmaker's understanding of the colonial history before his birth, extending into his present life, and made more incisive from his hybrid stance - his status as an exile living in Paris. Teno creates a metacinema that draws from the archival propaganda newsreel images of the colonial media. This media, constituting an unintentional critique of its own history, is evolved by powerful images compelling the viewer to understand the media's impact upon African consciousness; it shows how that consciousness was eroded over the years, paving the way for the creation of more young evolues.(4) Too often Western news media - including films and documentaries - have failed to probe African problems; rather, they report them in a prejudiced and biased manner:

Quotation from Teno’s voiceover in the film: "’I wanted to trace cause and effect between the intolerable present and the colonial violence of yesterday to understand how a country could fail to succeed as a state which was once composed of well-structured, traditional societies.’"

"The many kinds of presentation within the films, such as dramatic narrative, allegorical monologue, and film within a film, diversify the authoritative voice. These forms are also evocative of multiple voices as in Africa's oral tradition, which appropriates many forms of representation in its abundant use of culturally established . . . codes of explication. Since the inception of African cinema, oral tradition has formed the basis of its cultural and aesthetic grounding." "Afrique . . . position[s] the African filmmaker and his audience in a world dominated by injustice, and offer[s] a vehement and sardonic critique of the oppressive mechanisms of power." using "a variety of cinematic approaches to examine history, the self, and the collective in that history, as do many African fiction films."

Allen, Joan. "The African Film Festival Addresses the Issues of Struggle and Culture." Special to the AmNews: The 4th Annual New York Film Festival spotlight[s], among other African filmmakers, Jean-Marie Teno, "who returns to the festival to present two films and a program of shorts." Review of Teno's film "Gypsy Cab" (CLANDO, 1996). (Available to COCC Library authorized users through FirstSearch: FastDoc, 1992-1998 OCLC.)

Of related interest on topics addressed in Afrique, je te plumerai:

Rasebotsa, Nobantu L. "Teaching African literature in the Department of English, University of Botswana." (Teaching African Literatures in a Global Literary Economy) Women's Studies Quarterly 25.3-4 (Fall-Winter 1997): 178(10pp. ) Full text available from Infotrac 2000 Expanded Academic Index Article A20754343.
Abstract: "The University of Botswana's English dept has been required to offer English literature classes to students who will later become literature instructors in junior and senior high schools. Botswana students are thus being exposed to African cultural heritage as well as English literary tradition. The teaching of African texts includes the nature of colonialism, its contradictions and negative effect on traditional African cultures and its tendency to relate colonial education with civilization."

Pigeon, Gerard. "Black Icons of Colonialism: African Characters in French Children's Comic Strip Literature." Social Identities 2.1 ( Feb 1996): 135 (27pp). (Full text available to COCC Library authorized users through FirstSearch: FastDoc, 1992-1998 OCLC.)

Mitchell-Powell, Brenda. "Booksellers, Librarians Celebrate African Literature at ZIBF'95." American Libraries 26.9 ( Oct 1995): 880 (2pp). The Zimbabwe International Book Fair (ZIBF), held in Harare, is "the premier publishing-trade rights event on the African subcontinent and a collective celebration of African writing and culture." "Participating luminaries included Nobel laureates Wole Soyinka and Nadine Gordimer, as well as Jack Mapanje, Yvonne Vera, Paul Tiyambe Zeleza, Abdulrazak Gurnah, Ninotchka Rosca, and Adewale Maja-Pearce." The theme of the 12th annual ZIBF'95 (1995) was "Human Rights and Justice," with seminars, workshops, and exhibits devoted to topics such as "Freedom of Expression" regarding individual and collective rights, and "the legal and economic implications of free speech for writers, publishers, and the media." Ironically, Gordimer caused an uproar when she exposed ZIBF trustees' decision "to rescind their acceptance of an exhibition by Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ)." While hopeful progress is being made on several fronts, "[t]he legacy of colonialism haunts many commercial endeavors in Africa." Tade Akin Aina, representative for CODESRIA Books (Council for the Development of Economic and Social Research in Africa) and APNET panelist on academic publishing for library markets, remarked that urban perspectives are favored over rural (which for example represents 75% of the population of Zimbabwe), and "'inbuilt structural prejudices favor British over American, European over Asian, and Asian over African publishing,' thereby diminishing indigenous perspectives and values." "Ravaged by centuries of exploitation, mired in debt interest, and plagued by environmental and human catastrophes, Africans cannot afford to squander limited resources" on libraries, for example. Among the obstacles are named " subsistence survival,....inadequate support systems, limited professional education options, meager funding,...complicated order and distribution systems," [p]olitical instability, widespread illiteracy,...undervalued African scholarship, and the absence of a recreational reading culture...." (Full text available to COCC Library authorized users through FirstSearch: FastDoc, 1992-1998 OCLC.)

Mulder, Jan. "Children's Literature in African Languages-A Unique Project." Lantern 39.3 (Aug 1990): 72 (2pp). "The year 1990 is Year of the Reader in South Africa and World-wide it is the Year of Literacy. Not all people have had the privilege of learning to read. Illiteracy is still an immense problem in our community -- an ever-increasing problem!" begins this article. "Nowadays a high percentage of Black children in South Africa go to school where they are instructed by way of their mother-tongue for the first four school years, after which the medium of instruction is English." But more than the ability to read must be taught, according to Mulder: "even more important is [to teach] the desire to read." "The young should be surrounded by a wealth of beautiful, colourful children's books -- in their own language!"--and this is the focus of "one of the most ambitious projects ever in book production: the Class Library Project of the Department of Education and Training." (Full text available to COCC Library authorized users through FirstSearch: FastDoc, 1992-1998 OCLC.)

Roman, Susan. "Children's Literature Delegates Meet with South African Colleagues." American Libraries 27.1 ( Jan 1997): 19 (2pp). Under the auspices of the People to People Citizen Ambassador Program, U.S. and South African delegates met "to discuss strategies for the promotion of reading and family literacy in the changing nation." "The South Africans shared their concern for introducing books into a society with a history based on an oral tradition and an illiteracy rate of between 60 and 70%. The challenges facing librarians, teachers, publishers, and parents would appear to be overwhelming, but South Africans see this as an opportunity to support a democratic society, and they were optimistic that with some help any obstacles could be overcome." (Full text available to COCC Library authorized users through FirstSearch: FastDoc, 1992-1998 OCLC.)

COCC Library link to access Infotrac, FirstSearch,
and other periodical databases
click here.

Top of this page

CONTEXTS for FESPACO - Pan-African Film Festival
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso


Wright, Rob. "Africa's Film Capital." (Ouagadougou Pan-African Film Festival) Africa Report, 40.1(Jan-Feb 1995): p. 61(3). Note: The full text of this article is available from COCC Library through Info Trac (Article A16617606).
Abstract provided by Info Trac: "The biannual Ouagadougou Pan-African Film Festival (Fespaco) will be held in Burkina Faso from Feb. 25-Mar. 4, 1995. Since 1969, Fespaco has been featuring indigenous African full-length films expounding on the continent's diverse cultural identity. However, the 1995 festival will give out awards to new categories such as short film, documentaries, technical considerations and a special Paul Robeson award for films made by African filmakers."

Excerpts from Wright's article: "It's a funny thing, culture. Three Africans have won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the past eight years. Western rock stars have brought African musicians a wider international audience then ever before. African dance troupes find an enthusiastic audience when they tour the U.S. But ask even an ardent film lover to name the African directors who have won plaudits from critics worldwide in recent years, and you'll probably draw a blank.

"What a paradox, then, that African film is the subject of an affair at the end of February that many now consider the continent's leading cultural event. It's called the Ouagadougou Pan-African Film Festival, or Fespaco. Held every two years in Burkina Faso's capital city, this year's 25th anniversary extravaganza version runs from February 25-March 4. Two years ago, a reported 400,000 cinema enthusiasts flocked in for the 200 films that were shown. According to Howard University expert Francoise Pfaff, full-length African filmmaking had only begun the year before [1968]with the release of Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene's Mandabi (Wolof for The Money Order). A former railroad worker, soldier, and longshoreman/trade unionist on the docks of Marseilles, Sembene had earlier published several novels in French. But since the early 1960s, he had considered film the best vehicle for bringing his artistic vision and Marxist social critique to a wider audience in his own country. Using the language most people spoke was an obvious first step, and one others elsewhere on the continent would eventually follow.

"Widely considered the father of modern African film, Sembene was the key director featured at the first Ouaga film fest. Today there are several African filmmakers who win high praise from international critics, and Fespaco has become the essential place to discover their work. With consistent support over the years from the Burkinabe government and European donors, the event has also spawned the continent's only film library and training school.

"’This is the premier festival for people of African descent worldwide. People come from the U.S., Britain, other parts of Europe, the West Indies,’ said Cornelius Moore, preparing to go to his third Fespaco. ‘The idea of being in Africa at a cultural event run by Africans is an empowering thing.’"

"’Fespaco is working for cultural integration, which beyond Africa embraces the black diaspora throughout the world,’ Philippe Sawadogo has written. ‘It does so with true images of a black civilization which has suffered too much raping, too much theft, and many handicaps and insults during the past centuries. Fespaco is therefore taking an active part in the restoration of black civilization through images.’"

Zacks, Stephen A. "The Theoretical Construction of African Cinema." Research in African Literatures, 26.3(Fall 1995): 6 (12 pages). The full text of this article is available in COCC Library through Info Trac (Article A17403883).
Excerpt from the Zacks article
: "[Ousmene] Sembene's Guelwaar (1993) demonstrates the capacity of African texts to be more than the expression of folk culture, an opposition to some specific political situation, or to be embedded in a critical debate regarding the hegemony of the Hollywood film industry, as Sembene says: "’We are not trying to define ourselves in relationship to any specific cinema. We want to borrow from each one whatever we can and transform it to make up our own cinema. We know that there is a difference between America and Africa, but we don't want to spend our time trying to define ourselves in relationship to America.’" (qtd. from Teshome Gabriel, Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetics of Liberation. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1982. 116.

Ransdell, Eric. "Where The Vultures Don't Wear Armanis." (14th Panafrican Film and Television Festival, Ouagadougou, Burkino Faso) U.S. News & World Report, March 13, 1995, p. 67. Note: The full text of this article available from COCC Library through Info Trac Article A16620597
Brief Summary provided by Info Trac: "The 1995 festival, known as FESPACO, featured 116 films from 37 African countries. Many of the films tackle pressing social issues such as AIDS, poverty and crime, though limited freedom of speech restricts their political insight. Quite a few films represented a growing African optimism."
From Ransdell's article: "Says jury member Diallo: ‘These films are messages from islands of hope throughout the continent.’"

Kabore, Gaston "The African Cinema in Crisis." UNESCO Courier, July-August 1995: p70(4). Note: The full text of this article is available at COCC library through Info Trac (Article A17382441).
Abstract provided by Info Trac: "African films have failed to attract local audiences. Past efforts by the film industries of several African countries to remedy this situation has not yielded any positive results. Regional distribution structures would help solve this problem. Gaston Kabore, of Burkina Faso, is the director of Wend Kuuni (The Gift of God), which won a French Cesar award in 1985 . . . . Since 1985 he has headed the Pan-African Federation of Film Makers, a professional organization that promotes the development of the art of film and the film industry in Africa."

For more internet resources for African Studies research,
go to Hum 211 Links.

Top of this page

More Sources for Further Study:

Alea, Tomas Guttierez. "The Viewer's Dialectic." Jump Cut 30.3 (1995): 48-62.

Anderson, Martha G., and Christine Mullen Kreamer. Wild Spirits: Strong Medicine: African Art and the Wilderness. Ed. Enid Schildkrout. Seattle and New York: U of Washington P and New York Center for African Art, 1989.

Armes, Roy, and Lizbeth Malkmus. Arab and African Film Making. London: Zed, 1991.

Armes, Roy. Third World Filmmaking and the West. Berkeley: U of California P, 1987.

Boughedir, Ferid. "The Principal Tendencies of African Cinema." African Films: The Context of Production. Ed. Angela Martin. London: British Film Institute, 1982.

Burton, Julianne. "Marginal Cinemas and Mainstream Critical Theory." Screen 26.3-4 (1985): 2-21.

Cham, Mbye B. Ex-Iles: Essays on Caribbean Cinema. Trenton, NJ: Africa World, 1992.

Cham, Mbye, and Claire Andrade-Watkins, eds. Black Frames: Critical Perspectives on Black Independent Cinema. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1988.

Clark, Andrew F. "Lumumba: Death of a Prophet." American Historical Review 98.4 (1993): 1156-58.

Diawara, Manthia. African Cinema: Politics and Culture. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1992.

Diawara, Manthia. "Oral Literature and Film: Narratology in Wend Kuuni." Pines and Willeman 199-211.

Gabriel, Teshome. "Third Cinema as Guardian of Popular Memory: Towards a Third Aesthetic." Questions of Third Cinema. Ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen. London: BF1, 1989. 53-64.

Gabriel, Teshome H., Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetics of Liberation. Ann Arbor: UMI Research P, 1982.

Gabriel, Teshome H. "Towards a Critical Theory of Third World Films." Questions of Third Cinema. Ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willemen. London: British Film Institute, 1989. 30-52.

Gavron, Laurence. Y'a pas de problème. Impressions du cinéma africain. Documentary. France 1995, 65 min.

Gerima, Haile. "On Independent Black Cinema." Black Cinema Aesthetics. Ed. Gladstone E. Yearwood. Athens, OH: Center for Afro-American Studies, Ohio U, 1982. 106-13.

Gray, Christopher. Rev. of Keita: The Heritage of the Griot.. American Historical Review,101.4 (Oct 1996): 1144-1146.

Gugelberger, Georg M., ed. Marxism and African Literature. London: Currey, 1988.

Imperato, Pascal James. Buffoons, Queens, and Wooden Horsemen: The Dyo and Gouan Societies of the Bambara of Mali. New York: Kilima House, 1983.

James, Caryn. "Yeelen Based on Myths from Mali." New York Times 8 Oct. 1987: C37.

Kabore, Gaston, dir. Wend Kuuni. 1982. Distr. California Newsreel.

Katz, John Stuart, and Judith Milstein Katz. "Ethics and the Perceptions of Ethics in Autobiographical Film." Image Ethics: The Moral Rights of Subjects in Photographs, Film and Television. Ed. Larry Gross, John Katz, and Jay Ruby. New York: Oxford UP. 1988. 119-34.

Lane, Jim. "Notes on Theory and the Autobiographical Documentary Film in America." Wide Angle 15.3 (1993):21-36.

Leahy, James. "Yeelen (The Light)." Monthly Film Bulletin 55.658 (1988): 343-44.

Library of African Cinema 1995-1996. San Francisco: California Newsreel, 1995.

McNaughton, Patrick R. The Mande Blacksmiths: Knowledge, Power, and Art in West Africa. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP. 1988.

McNaughton, Patrick R. Secret Sculptures of Komo: Art and Power in Bamana (Bambara) Initiation Associations. Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1979.

Mudimbe, V. Y. "African Gnosis." African Studies Review 28.2/3 (1985): 149-233.

Nichols, Bill. Representing Reality. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991.

Parmar, Pratibha, dir. Warrior Marks. 1993. Distr. Women Make Movies.

Pfaff, Francoise. The Cinema of Ousmane Sembene: A Pioneer of African Film. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1984.

Pfaff, Francoise. Twenty-Five Black African Filmmakers. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1988.

Pines, Jim, and Paul Willemen, eds. Questions of Third Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1989.

Schissel, Howard. "No More Room for Maneuver." Africa Report 29.5 (1984): 63-66.

Sembene, Ousmane, dir. Camp de Thiaroye. 1988. Distr. New Yorker Films.

Sembene, Ousmane -----, dir. Guelwaar. 1994. Distr. New Yorker Films.

Solanas, Fernando E., and Octavio Gettino. "Toward a Third Cinema." Movies and Methods. Ed. Bill Nichols. Berkeley: U of California P, 1976.

Taylor, Clyde. "Film Reborn in Mozambique." Jump Cut 28 (1983): 30-31.

Taylor, Clyde. "Light from Darkness." Arete 2.5 (1990): 55-57.

Traore, Biny. "Keita and the Storyteller's Cultural Function." Écrans d'Afrique/African Screen 12.2 (1995): 25-30.

Trinh T. Minh-ha, dir. Reassemblage. 1982. Distr. Women Make Movies.

Trinh T. Minh-ha. Woman, Native, Other: Writinq Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989.

Ukadike, Frank Nwachukwu. Black African Cinema. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Weaver, Harold W. "The Politics of African Cinema." Black Cinema Aesthetics. Ed. Gladstone Yearwood. Athens: Ohio U Center for Afro-American Studies, 1982.

Zahan, Dominique. The Bambara. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1974.

Zahan, Dominique. The Religion, Spirituality and Thought of Traditional Africa. Trans. Kate Ezra and Lawrence M. Martin. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1979.

Zuesse, Evan M. Ritual Cosmos: The Sanctification of Life in African Religions. Athens, OH: Ohio UP, 1979

HUM 211 Home Page

You are here: African Film Contexts
URL of this page:
Last Updated: 20 October 2003  

Copyright © 1997-2003, Cora Agatucci, Professor of English
Humanities Department, Central Oregon Community College
Please address comments on web contents & links to:
For technical problems with this web, contact