13 October 2015
Why is making documentaries important?
Documentaries have been a significant part of Africa in Motion Film Festival since the beginning, with around 37% documentaries out of the total number of films screened in AiM’s history.
We believe that documentaries are a powerful way for African filmmakers to address some specifically African issues, but also universal themes. In order to keep nurturing and supporting young and emerging African filmmaking talent, we have decided to introduce a brand new Documentary Film Competition at this year’s festival.
Our documentary filmmakers have kindly agreed to answer interview questions about their films and filmmaking style. After collecting their stories around the genesis of their documentaries, we have asked them to talk about their documentary filmmaking practice, the audience they intended to resonate with, and the significance of documentary style in their addressing specific topics.
Finally, we have asked each of the filmmakers to say a few words about why the audience should see their film and give it their positive vote for the Audience Choice Award…
Join us for the screenings in Edinburgh and Glasgow to find out which short-listed documentary film will win the jury award with a cash prize of £500, and which one will be crowned as audience’s favorite for the Audience choice award!
Rosa Rogers and Merieme Adou (Pirates of Salé, Morocco, 2014)
A heart-warming documentary about Morocco’s first circus and the young and talented people who perform in it, Pirates of Salé is essentially about “being able to pursue a dream on a creative journey of discovery”, according to filmmakers Rosa Rogers and Merieme Adou. When they first came across Cirque Shm’sy, Rosa and Merieme immediately found the young performers to be “wonderful characters creating an amazing story”.
Why did they choose the documentary format to tell this story? “We wanted to bring this to the wider world. Documentaries can open doors on the experiences of others and connect people across cultures and countries”. Rosa and Merieme wanted this story to “resonate with audiences all over the world”, but they particularly targeted young people.
To the question “Why do you think the audience should vote for your film?”, Rosa and Merieme reply with modesty. “We hope that people will like it and connect with the hopes and dreams of the young people in the film. This is a story which is both specific and universal and that has hope and a positive message at its heart. We hope it will inspire audiences in the same way that we were inspired by the circus and the young people in it!”
Jawad Rhalib (The Turtles’ Song: A Moroccan Revolution, Morocco/Belgium, 2013)
The Turtles’ Song, another Moroccan documentary, sheds light on the Moroccan “long revolution”. For filmmaker Jawad Rhalib, the documentary format was the best way to “share and follow the action and the evolution of the movement”, to be “at the heart of a real action that took place for more than two years”. The movie showcases a reality that, according to Jawad, is “hard to show in fiction”.
Jawad also made a fiction film about the same topic, Insoumise, which will be released in 2016. Overall, he considers himself “a social and political filmmaker”, who wants to “change the world through cinema and documentaries”, and tries to reach “the largest audience” he possibly can, not only Moroccans.
Jawad chose not to reply to the question “Why do you think the audience should vote for your film?”. “There are other documentaries in competition and as a kind of respect for the other directors, if you allow to me, I’ll not respond to this question. Thank you for the selection, it is already a victory for the documentary.”
Teboho Edkins (Coming of Age, South Africa/Lesotho/Germany, 2015)
Coming of Age follows the lives of four teenagers as they grow up deep in the rural Southern African mountain kingdom of Lesotho. “I chose the documentary format because it was the best way to tell the lives of my protagonists with empathy and honesty”, says filmmakers Teboho Edkins. “This is not because I think documentary is necessarily more true then fiction, but because a fiction film would simply not have been possible to make with the male characters as actors. They were simply too shy.”
Teboho further explains that he does not believe in an inherent distinction between documentary and fiction. “I have though in my past films often blurred the lines between fiction and documentary, where scenes with ‘real’ people felt more fictional than the written or ‘fictional’ scenes.” For Coming of Age, he chose “a more classical documentary approach”. However, there are parts of the documentary, especially with the two girls, where Teboho adopted “a more fictional filmmaking method”, directing “their actions and conversations quite deliberately and obviously as if they were two actresses.”
Despite obviously hoping that his film “finds an audience”, the most important for Teboho is that he was able to make the film that he wanted and that “the protagonists also feel good with the film”. To the question “Why do you think the audience should vote for your film?”, Teboho modestly replies he cannot truly answer “without having seen the other films”. He simply states: “The film was really well received at the premiere during the Berlinale Film Festival in Germany as well as in the villages where it was filmed. We set up a screening with generators, and the boys realised for the first time that we had actually been making a film with them.”
Michel K. Zongo (La Sirène de Faso Fani/The Siren of Faso Fani, France/Burkina Faso/Qatar/Germany, 2015)
“My first documentary film told the story of a blind violinist who lives in my hometown”, explains Michel K. Zongo. “All my films are destined to the citizens of the world even if the story comes from a local fact”. This is also the case for his documentary La Sirène de Faso Fani, which collects testimonies around the former factory of Faso Fani in Michel’s hometown Koudougou (Burkina Faso). Because of restructuring measures imposed by the IMF and the World Bank, this once successful weaving factory had to shut down and left thousands of employees jobless.
The importance of documentaries for Michel? “For me the documentary format makes things more obvious”, he explains. “It seems important and even urgent to me to make documentaries because above all, I believe that the documentary is a genre of utilitarian cinema. It is, for me, a way of telling my stories to the rest of the world in a responsible manner.” Michel has “always dreamed” of building this relation to reality: “observing it, filming it, and staging it”.
To the question “Why do you think the audience should vote for your film?”, Michel responds by highlighting the universal nature of his film’s message: “I think the public should vote for my film simply because despite the story being about a factory in Africa, the film raises the universal question of global economic governance to which our contemporary world is confronted. The case of Greece is a perfect illustration of this.”
Marion Edmunds (Troopship Tragedy, South Africa, 2014)
When asked why she chose the documentary format to address the sinking of the ship Mendi during WWI, during which many South African men drowned for a foreign war, Marion Edmunds replies: “I have been telling stories all my adult life through journalism, and this was a wonderful opportunity to develop my documentary-making experience through a very interesting hundred-year-old story, involving not only a journey in real time, an investigation of a wreck but also dramatic reconstructions.” On the usefulness of this filmmaking format, she reminds: “Documentaries are an extremely successful way to tell stories in South Africa, despite the lack of funding for them”. Indeed, “reading is less prevalent than in countries like the UK, due to decades of poor schooling”.
Beyond the educational purpose of her film that explores a tragedy in both British and South African history, Marion also wanted to pay homage to the dead: “I see my documentary as a more permanent monument”. She believes that this film can be interesting “to many people in different countries”, but especially South Africans, and “people from countries involved in the First World War, not just in the UK, but also in the Commonwealth.”
To the question “Why do you think the audience should vote for your film?”, Marion replies: “I think the audience should vote for Troopship Tragedy because it is a very moving personal journey about an event distanced from us by a hundred years of history. (…) The sense of loss of loved ones is universal. (…)There has also been a great deal of media coverage about the centenary of the First World War, but the coverage of participation of the Commonwealth countries in that conflict, let alone black Africans, has been marginal. (…) The documentary is heartfelt so I hope it will move people. (…) Nobody is marketing the documentary except me, so this is my one chance to get the story out there, to be noticed and to persuade somebody to buy the rights to broadcast it, even in South Africa. An audience award at the Africa in Motion festival would assist me greatly in getting that right.”
Ahmed Nour (Moug/Waves, Egypt, 2013)
Waves explores the painful history of the Egyptian revolution and of post-revolution repercussions on the lives of the inhabitants of the lively city of Suez. Despite this specific topic, filmmaker Ahmed Nour says he hopes that the film “interests all audience”.
For Ahmed, “documentary is magic”. Making documentaries, he says, changed him as a human being. “I learned and still learn a lot from documentary film making. (…) I learned to listen much more than to speak, to expect more from reality than from fiction, to wait and be patient, to be ready to deal with any situation, to try always to be honest with people and with myself, not to judge anybody because there is no black and white characters, and to realize the value of silence as a very powerful expression. I really think it is very nice to be a documentary filmmaker.”
When asked “Why do you think the audience should vote for your film?”, Ahmed says he prefers not to give the audience any specific reasons. “It is always a great honour to get an audience award, but I do not prefer to give the audience reasons to vote for my film, since I find no reason but to enjoy the film, and this is something I cannot guarantee. All I can say is to invite them to watch the film and vote for it if they enjoy it and find it worth to get a great award like the audience award.”
Edinburgh College of Art: Tues 27 and Thurs 29 Oct - Free entry
CCA (Glasgow): Sat 24 and Sun 25 Oct - BOOK NOW
TICKET DEAL (Glasgow screenings): Buy tickets to any two of the documentary competition screenings and get a third one free.
The Documentary Competition aims at encouraging and supporting young and talented African filmmakers. The winner will be selected by our jury of acclaimed film practitioners and academics and will be announced on Friday 30 October. The audience will also have the opportunity to vote for their favourite film with the Audience Award winner announced on our website at the end of the festival.
Our thanks go to The Scottish Documentary Institute for sponsoring this competition.