How an African Film Festival opened my eyes

Attending events alone is something I’m used to ever since I started taking my journalism seriously 7 years ago. As an introvert, that’s a blessing too. I am used to going with friends and family, but with conflicting schedules and life, that had become increasingly difficult. I’d often miss events I would have loved to attend. However, I became more adventurous and I have attended some truly incredible events over the years. The Black Market and Film Festival (BMFF) is one such event.

Colourful. Vibrant. Educational. These are just some of the many descriptive words I could use to reference this event. The sights and sounds (and wonderful smells of food and products intermingling) were a treat for the eyes and ears.

There were many things to highlight from the stalls and the markets (I’ll go through what I purchased in a separate article on my website) but it was the films that drew me. Particularly the film Mama Rwanda. As I have mentioned in the past, I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and I am from Rwanda and was fortunate enough to escape the genocide with my family. I grew up in South Africa from the age of 6 and I loved every second, never having felt the effects of apartheid despite moving there in 1994.

I, falsely, believed that what we were taught in history was all that we needed to know. I was young. I was naïve. I learned today at the BMFF that despite being nearly 30 I still had a lot to learn. I will be systematically releasing the full reviews of each film so keep an eye out for them on my social media channels. I will also link to them below.

The list of movies that I saw are:

Mama Rwanda


Ota Benga: Human At The Zoo

Mama Rwanda was about my beloved home country. I am always apprehensive about movies about Rwanda as they often focus on one of the worst 100 days in our history – the genocide of 1994. We are, however, more than our genocide. We are top in the world for the most women in parliament – 64.5%. We are one of the best for coffee and long ago left behind our divisions during our forgiveness tribunals. Thank you Laura Waters Hinson for showing us that in this powerful film.

Next up was Profiled. A frightening and sobering look at the unfortunate and very present racial profiling of both our past and present. For people of colour. Director Kathleen Foster doesn’t set out to anger us but I found myself getting both increasingly angry and upset as the documentary continued. I hadn’t realised how many deaths there have been over the years. That Eric Garner is just one of many many thousand lost lives, often unarmed, often innocent. Rendering my Dear White People letter more poignant than ever. To draw parallels with what has been happening today only saddened me more as I realised just how much of an uphill battle this must be for some communities and families. No longer could I say I didn’t know.

By this point, I was running out of tissues and grateful that I didn’t wear makeup. I distracted myself with assisting organiser Charmaine Simpson with some projection issues. That alone ebbed the tears, or so I thought.

The next film broke my heart, rendered me speechless and unable to control my tears and quiet sobbing. Ota Benga: Human At The Zoo. Many know the history. Many know the name. I sadly did not. I grew up in Congo before moving to South Africa and this was not something I was ever taught. A young man was taken from his family (not far from where I was born) and his village and placed in various American museums and ultimately a zoo. Yes, that’s right, A ZOO. As the film unfolded and various reputable professors and anthropologists shared this story, I grew more and more horrified. Horrified that this is part of our legacy as humans. Horrified that this is part of my history, my people, my home. I know with the news these days and some awful historical moments, that I shouldn’t be shocked. But over 100 years later, I sat in a darkened theatre in North London, overwhelmed with sadness, intense pain and disbelief that this was what had actually happened.

On Saturday, my eyes were opened. I knew a lot already through my self investigations and studies but clearly there are gaps I have to fill. I have left armed with knowledge, business cards, websites and beautiful products. Were my wallet bottomless I may have left with the entire contents of the market in my already burgeoning backpack. I highly recommend finding out when the next film screenings are and study days and speaking to many of the vendors. Products that not only remind us and proudly display our heritage but that aims to educate so that we never forget. Not to make others feel guilty about but to make sure we never repeat those same mistakes again.

Thank you Black History Studies – it was a day I will never forget.

Did you attend the event or have you seen any of the films or heard the stories? Your turn on the soapbox in 3, 2, 1.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.