Could one small step for African doc-makers lead to one giant leap in the decolonisation of nonfiction filmmaking itself? That seems to be the premise behind Generation Africa, «a documentary film project to produce a new narrative on migration through stories made by African filmmakers». Comprised of 25 films (of various running times) from 16 mainly West and East African countries, this cinematic brainchild of STEPS (Social Transformation and Empowerment Projects) in South Africa is currently making its global mark through two extraordinary features.
Malian director Ousmane Zoromé Samassékou’s The Last Shelter (screening both CPH:DOX, winning its Dox:Award, and Hot Docs) is a rich glimpse inside the House of Migrants, a way station on the edge of the Sahel desert where hopeful travellers headed to Europe cross paths with those returning home lugging dashed dreams. Aïcha Macky’s (Visions du Réel and CPH:DOX-selected) Zinder – its title taken from Niger’s second-largest city from which the filmmaker herself hails – is an eye-opening dive into the lives of a group of lawless bodybuilders (raised to embrace a toxic masculinity perhaps best exemplified by naming themselves the Hitler gang).
To find out more about Generation Africa, from origin story to global distribution strategy, Modern Times Review reached out to STEPS. And via email from several time zones away, the project’s executive producer Don Edkins and producer Tiny Mungwe graciously gave us the scoop on this righteous Pan-African cause.
So how did Generation Africa come about?
Don Edkins and Tiny Mungwe: Africa has the largest demographic of youth in the world, with a median age of 18 years old. We wanted to create a project that would focus on issues affecting youth in Africa and help give them a voice.
In addition, we saw the need for growing capacity for creative documentary film, in terms of production, storytelling and distribution. Generation Africa aims to address all these needs in a project that upskills filmmakers and producers, and introduces them to an international market.
Why did you choose the theme of migration – and why especially focus on West and East Africa?
Edkins and Mungwe: The rise in migration to Europe in 2015 involved many young people risking their lives, but documentary films about this were not being made by African filmmakers; the media stories were mostly coming out of Europe and North America.
Through our pan-African documentary platform Afridocs.net, wherein we curate African and international documentary films for an African audience, we saw that there is a lack of a perspective on migration that comes from the inside.
We put out a pan-African call for proposals for films for the project, and most of the submissions and strong stories came from West and East Africa.
Who exactly are the gatekeepers? Is this an all-African endeavour, from storytellers to decision-makers?
Edkins and Mungwe: The filmmakers and the authenticity of their story was central to the ethos of the project.
This is an all-African endeavour, with collaboration from European and African professionals, coproducers, broadcasters and funders. For instance, the editorial group that made the final project selection was made up of both Africans and Europeans, and there are European coproducers involved in some of the films. All the stories are from African directors, coproduced with local production companies, and (through STEPS coordination) the final decisions are made in Africa.
Who is the audience for these films? Are these projects by Africans/for Africans, or is a global audience more the aim?
Edkins and Mungwe: While the African audience is the primary one, the project is also aimed at a global audience. Migration is a major global issue, but the African voice is largely missing. Our leading broadcaster is Arte in Europe – with all three documentary departments collaborating in coproductions, and to screen all the films on their web-based platform. Other European and international broadcasters, though, will also be involved. In Africa, the films will be shown on our streaming platform AfriDocs in collaboration with local broadcasters.
I watched both The Last Shelter and Zinder – which are incredibly cinematic – though I read that you’re also open to work shot on mobile phones. That said, the call for projects wasn’t targeted at first-time filmmakers, as applicants had to have one or two docs with festival screenings or broadcast distribution under their belts. So was there ever a concern that you’d only be elevating filmmakers who already had access to the market?
Edkins and Mungwe: There are so few opportunities for African filmmakers to produce creative documentary films that our main objective was to make this possible for as large a number of filmmakers – and to help build the community across the continent, involving both Anglophone and Francophone filmmakers.
With 25 films in the collection there is a range of experience and exposure amongst the filmmakers, and the project was designed to create more access to the international market for all.