There has never been a greater interest in African film. The Nigerian video film industry, Nollywood – now the second largest in the world after Bollywood in terms of number of films produced – has revolutionised film production and distribution on the continent.
Celebrating the best of these productions, the UK's largest annual festival of African cinema, Film Africa 2012, opened in London on Thursday night, offering 10 days of 70 African films, film-maker Q&As, professional workshops, and nine nights of African music.
With the African-born residents of London including 105,000 Nigerians, 80,000 South Africans, 53,000 Zimbabweans, 44,000 Somalis, 39,000 Ghanaians 25,000 Libyans, 18,000 Mauritians, 15,000 Kenyans, and 12,000 Eritreans, it is the perfect place to host the festival.
Film Africa 2012 confronts issues that are not entirely specific to Africa, but that are explored from a uniquely African perspective. Africa is not a single, monolithic entity, however, and nor are its films. Alongside the distinctive energy of Nollywood, there are also the unique flavours of African films from country to country.
To demonstrate this, Film Africa gives special attention to certain African countries; this year it is South Africa, with 17 South African films scheduled. The programme comprises fiction, documentaries, and shorts, covering all aspects of the country: from victimisation and its inspirational overcoming; surfing and coming of age, the psychological fallout of apartheid, music and creativity, the contemporary struggles of gay people, the recent xenophobic riots, football and journeys of discovery, and the power of social movements to hold the government to account.
Like the London film festival, Film Africa 2012 is divided into separate thematic focuses: in addition to continental crossings, there is elections and democracy, Mama Africa, spotlight on sexualities, sports, public space and citizen journalism.
The opening night film, Nairobi Half Life, is an unlikely collaboration between leading German director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The International) and rising Kenyan film talent David Tosh Gitonga. Other notable UK premieres include: The Education of Auma Obama, a portrait of the Kenyan half-sister of US president Barack Obama who introduced him to his Kenyan roots; the multi-award winning Call Me Kuchu, a devastating tribute to the Ugandan gay activist David Kato; and Sons of the Clouds, which explores the refugee camps after the colonisation of western Sahara, starring Javier Bardem.
The festival will close with a screening of Mama Africa, a documentary about Miriam Makeba – one of the most outspoken opponents of apartheid who is also affectionately known as the empress of African song – directed with the transnational and global consciousness of Mika Kaurismäki.
Film Africa is hosted by the Hackney Picturehouse, with screenings also at the BFI Southbank, Rich Mix in Shoreditch, The Ritzy in Brixton, Screen on the Green in Islington, and The South London Gallery. It is supported by the Royal African Society and London's School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas). Film Africa 2012 runs from November 1 – 11.