New African Media — Collaboration & Images
New African Media — Collaboration & Images
written by Marva Jackson Lord for
independent film and video distributor Full Frame’s New African Media Reception, celebrating the launch of a new tour
published in the Metro Word, March 1994
Many of us are all too familiar with TV broadcasts reflecting narrow viewpoints of present-day tensions within Africa. We also live with pervasive influences of Benetton academics and popular media promoting stifling exotica of idealised African images. Yet there continues to mature amongst continental Africans and throughout the Black Diaspora a richly divergent Black cinematic tradition, seen rarely in schools, in theatres or on TV. Our challenge in the 1990's is to increase audiences and economic support for continental African film and video makers’ innovative dramatic and documentary works. Works which tell their stories influenced by African analysis of immediate economic, social and political conditions, in refreshingly un-Hollywood fashion. Unfortunately these visionary women and men, as with artists from Native, Latin American, Asian, Caribbean and other marginalized groups, rarely reach broad audiences due to poor access to wide, effective distribution and adequate funding. As an independent film and video distributor, Full Frame is always struggling with these issues.
In Toronto for instance, we usually find African films and videos ghettoised at occasional ‘special’ film and video events by mainstream and ‘alternative’ institutions or during African/Black History Month screenings. I’m not saying that special events are unnecessary or wrong. I am saying that they mustn’t be the only time that African audio-visual work is promoted. Special events are usually accessible only to small percentages of the population. Such activities will benefit African film and video makers more if speciality screenings occur in social and educational environments that encourage greater continuous public access to this work. In Canada, French TV networks have historically left English TV behind, in the dust, when it comes to regular screenings of continental African films and videos. Still these materials aren’t easily available to the majority of Canadian viewers. And considering that our multicultural society includes close to a million people of African descent, this situation must change if Canadians are to have truer audio-visual reflections of our peoples.
This New African Media project aims to increase public awareness and critical consciousness about the multifaceted issues and concerns of today’s Africa. To generate more understanding about contemporary vibrant realties of African youth, women and men dealing with a lot of the same problems we are and many that we need to learn about. Initially funded by Partnership Africa Canada, Full Frame hopes that New African Media will contribute to strengthening cross-cultural and inter-cultural communication within Canada and between Canadians and Africans through public screenings in theatres and on TV, community workshops, school and library use, etc.
Now, there are Canadian distributors of African films and videos. The trick is how to get more African films and videos to more people. Full Frame, formerly DEC Films, has a 20 year distribution history which is the basis for the New African Media tour and promotion. This demonstrated commitment to bringing Canadian and international educational and innovative films and videos to broader audiences is evident this weekend with the launch of the New African Media tour. Groups like Full Frame Film & Video traditionally provide exciting audio-visual materials to Canadian audiences through schools, libraries, community groups, TV networks and other organisations. In this tradition, the New African Media tour begins an extensive promotional campaign geared towards increasing Canadian audiences for African films and videos. Acting as Canadian representatives for these African film and video makers, we’ve seen a unique, organic collaborative effort develop around this project. New African Media tour and promotion couldn’t have happened without the central involvement of continental African producers/directors, community groups, print and electronic media sources, non-governmental and government agencies — at home and internationally. Across Canada many people from continental African communities, other Black groups, francophone film agencies (special mention to generous input from Carrefour, Video Terre Monde and Vues D’Afrique in Montreal) and other interested groups, participated in the growth and co-ordination of the New African Media project.
As Africa, and other so-called Third World nations continue to struggle under the inordinate weight of a questionable debt to countries like Canada, the US etc., the political and economic significance of developing larger Canadian audiences for these African film and video makers cannot be underscored enough. Full Frame’s central goal for the New African Media tour and promotion is to bring contemporary African-produced and directed works to broader Canadian audiences — by all means possible. For everyone participating in New African Media activities as the filmmakers travel to six other Canadian cities, this is no empty moment of shallow prestige-building. Few independent distributors in Canada are able to organise such a promotional event. This tour is a crucial part of launching Full Frame’s major promotional effort to expand audience and increase sales of African film and video. And like all small distributors we operate with limited funds and resources, but remain adamantly committed to this work and to communities. For instance engaging in a vital decision-making power-sharing process in building local coalitions following the goals of the project. This has resulted in community groups working with universities, NGOs, embassies, and many others to set the promotional agenda in each city. So in each city we not only have screenings happening in university settings but we have several different activities hosted and coordinated by local groups. Activities such as open community workshops where participants will recognise all components of film and video making — the writers, producers, directors, technical people and others.
In these very cynical times, the effort that has made the New African Media tour and promotion a reality is inspiring and uplifting, and proudly so. Establishing and maintaining a truly collaborative process, no matter how loose the associations, is no easy task — when there are so many groups involved with many different needs and perspectives across so many miles. Too few of us, under the pressures of hierarchical oppression, take up the challenge to forge collaborative efforts that do indeed build respect, trust and critical consciousness within and between our communities. Our present and our futures are dependent on our ability to work with each other to make dreams become realities, for ourselves and for each other, young and old alike.