Creativity & Cultural Labour, Media Industries

Estrella Sendra participates in ‘African cinema and cinephilia’ at the Leeds International Film Festival

Estrella Sendra

CMCI Lecturer Estrella Sendra has recently participated in a panel discussion on ‘African Cinema and Cinephilia’ at the Leeds International Film Festival, hosted between 3-17 November 2022 in Leeds.

The panel discussion was part of ‘New Voices in Cinephilia’, an event series led by Dr Rachel Johnson and Prof Stephanie Dennison (University of Leeds) that brings together academics, postgraduates and industry practitioners to scope recent developments in inclusive and decolonising film cultures expressed in new practices of film production, curation and criticism.

The panel discussion on ‘African Cinema and Cinephilia’ followed the launch of a co-curated strand entitled ‘Women Creators of the Future’ within the Leeds International Film Festival in collaboration with the Senegalese Films Femmes Afrique, where Estrella had organised a double-bill screening and roundtable with two debut Senegalese women filmmakers. This collaboration is one of the case studies of the ‘Decolonising Film Festival Research in a Post-Pandemic World’ project funded by the New Frontiers Research Fund, led by Prof Sheila Petty (NPI) and Dr Estrella Sendra (CO-PI). This aims to trial and test an innovative methodology to increase self-reflexivity between students and researchers as they prepare to conduct research fieldwork, as well as offer a toolkit with an interview guide to address questions around decolonisation in event and festival management and curation.

In the panel, Estrella was accompanied by Amayel Ndiaye, co-organiser of the Films Femmes Afrique Festival in Senegal, Mosa Mpetha, from Cinema Africa! At Leeds, in conversation with the co-curators, Dr Rachel Johnson and Prof Stephanie Dennison. The discussion followed the screening of Anisia Uzeyman and Saul Williams latest co-production, the Afro-futuristic film Neptune Frost, Special Jury Member in the Films Femmes Afrique Festival in Senegal 2022, released in UK cinemas on 4 November.

The event started with introductory words by Molly Cowderoy, Senior Programmer at the Leeds International Film Festival, and co-curator of the collaborative programme ‘Women Creators of the Future’, welcoming her co-curator, Amayel Ndiaye, from the Films Femmes Afrique Festival. Ndiaye started by enjoying the process of discussing which films would be “more suitable” for audiences in Leeds, as compared to those in Dakar and Senegal, more broadly.

The discussion started with responses by each speaker to the film. This was described by both Mossa and Amayel as very “rich”, very “poetic”, which aligns with Saul Williams identification as a poet in the recently published interview in The Guardian, and very beautiful. Estrella recalled the first time she saw the co-directors on screen together, precisely in Senegal, in Alain Gomis’ film Tey / Today (2012), a film which she first saw in the African Film Festival of Cordoba-FCAT, and then in Film Africa in London, exactly ten years ago, on 9 November 2012. Then, she saw Dreamstates, in 2016, a film by Anisia Uzeyman following Saul Williams’ music tour in the USA, where they were again together on screen (and behind it), a film entirely filmed by an iPhone, so in line with the technology theme in Neptune Frost. But it was a film that also revolved around the idea of dreams. “I dreamt about you and then you appeared”, was said in the film. Apparently, those dreams started in Tey, by Alain Gomis. I highlight those references to the dream in Neptune Frost, “is this a poet’s idea of a dream?” “This is a dream”, or when Neptune says: “Matalusa and I shared a dream that took me here”. So this film is almost the third of a trilogy of both creators in collaboration, daring to dream about their own future.

Amayel shared curatorial strategies in FFFA, very audience-centred, stressing novelty, discovery, and reflection: “we select films that bring people new ideas”. “Women creators of the future” is described as their favourite festival theme, because it is one that brings new ideas that can lead to new conversations as well as new directions. It is a theme that celebrates the agency of Africans to create their own future: “It was the whole feeling of an Africa that is modern and leading the future, thinking about it, not letting that happen”, in the words of Amayel.  Mosa Mpetha shared the vision and mission of her project Cinema Africa!, born in response to a lack of access to African films. These are curated and circulated through the project, after having experienced different stories of loss. African films often have different ownership and different ways of getting lost, like was the case with Sambizanga, by Sarah Maldoror, recently restored by the Martin Scorsese Foundation project at Cineteca di Bologna, and now part of a broader project led by their daughters to ensure the legacy of their mother is not lost.  This is the story of many African films, as it was also shared by the co-curators of Tigritudes, the anthology of African cinema co-curated by Dyana Gaye and Valérie Osouf, as I add. And it is also why the Screen Worlds project toolkits have been created to direct people to where they could find some of those African films.

When asked about cinephilia, the responses, inspired by the film, were informed by affect. Mosa starts by sharing: “I love film because it makes me feel humble”. But there was a turning point in her love for cinema: watching an African film. “Then I watched an African film and that was a different kind of love, a new love.” And when watching more African films, she wanted to do this collectively: “I wanted to connect, and understand more about myself”. So, cinephilia in this case is connected to identity, and positionality, and it was that feeling which inspired her curatorial work: “Through curating, I want to expand that”. Amayel started by sharing her love for stories. “African cinema is mainly about stories. I have always loved telling stories and being told stories”. From there, the discussion on love for cinema moves towards “emotions”, and the feeling she had when watching feelings, the realisation of how “thoughts could shape the body”. She also. Says that the aim of her curatorial work is to start conversations through cinema. Estrella also shared her love story, starting with a reference to the film El Sur, by Victor Erice, after which she was named, and how the connotations have increased over time. And like Mosa, she felt a different kind of love when she studied African cinema for the first time at SOAS with Prof Lindiwe Dovey in 2012, because there were stories that had never been told in the Spanish media, which led to frustration and then to making a documentary film on migration back in the days.

This was a very enriching space, insightful of the advantages of engaging in collaborative curatorial practices, and in the diversification of the films in the programme by bringing a focus on African women filmmakers.

To read more about this programme, please consult the festival website.

Speakers from the panel discussion (9 November 2022)
Names of all panellists featuring the screen prior to the screening of Neptune Frost, by Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman (2022)