'Africa's Lost Classics' in Context

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Culture & Creative Arts


This project aims to bring a number of screenings of 'lost African film classics' to UK audiences, complemented by public and educational events and activities to contextualise the films for audiences, in collaboration with the five UK African film festivals - Africa in Motion in Scotland, Film Africa in London, Afrika Eye in Bristol, Watch-Africa in Cardiff, and the Cambridge African Film Festival. The project arose out of two unanticipated outcomes of our work on bringing 'lost African classics' to audiences during the 2006 and 2007 Africa in Motion Film Festival (supported by the AHRC in 2006):

1. The width and breath of classic African cinema, which was unknown to us as we started our work on recovering classic African films, but became evident from the edited collection we published on our research in this area, "Africa's Lost Classics: New Histories of African Cinema" (Legenda, 2014), and a desire to give more of these classic African films a new lease of life through making the films accessible to film festival audiences and film scholars alike.

2. The successful collaboration between the five UK African film festivals, which did not exist when we commenced with our work on recovering African film classics in 2006.

Our ongoing work on recovering neglected and forgotten African film classics has always had innovation and public impact at its core, with a direct link between our research and publications on the one hand, and public engagement and knowledge exchange on the other. This follow-on funding will allow us to expand and extend the impact of the project through bringing a further selection of little-known African films to UK audiences, and providing an intellectual and historical context to the films which will open up discussions on African cinema among cinephile audiences, film practitioners, students, school children, researchers and scholars of African film, and develop new audiences for African cinema, scholarly and otherwise.

This project builds on the achievements of our original AHRC-funded 'Recovering Lost African Film Classics' project, which screened four neglected/forgotten films from Francophone West Africa as part of the inaugural Africa in Motion (AiM) Film Festival in 2006. The aim of the project was to develop a more complex history of Francophone West African filmmaking and, in addition to screenings at AiM, we published a special dossier on these films for the prestigious film journal Screen in 2007. This modest AHRC project led to almost a decade of further research in this area: it was initially complemented in 2007 by a Carnegie-funded programme of films by female directors from across the continent (Algeria, Senegal and Angola), and the desire to uncover the lost histories of African filmmaking across the entire continent eventually led to the publication in 2014 of our edited volume.

As our research over the past decade has revealed, indigenous cinematic production emerged at different times and at different speeds across the continent - 1920s for Egypt; 1950s for South Africa; 1960s for Francophone West Africa - and we propose to screen a further selection of classic African films drawn from across the continent and from different periods at the five UK African film festivals in Oct and Nov 2017. Our aim is thus to bring to a wider audience the full complexity of African film history, something of which we were only dimly aware of at the outset of the Lost Classics project, and to incorporate further innovative screenings, public events, and educational activities around the lost classics. These screenings and events will historically and culturally contextualise the films for our audiences, provide a space for discussion and debate about Africa, enhance audiences' understanding of the historical development of African cinema, and ultimately increase access to African cinema to cinema-going audiences and as such create new audiences for African film.

Planned Impact

This project's impact agenda is driven by:

1. The early successes of screening a small handful of 'lost African film classics' at the Africa in Motion film festival in 2006 and 2007.
2. Our awareness of the ongoing marginalisation of African cinema in British film-going culture on the one hand, and on the other hand our awareness of the rich range of classic African films, many never seen in the UK previously, or only at one-off screenings, which came to light through our decade-long research into classic African cinema (which commenced in 2006 with our initial AHRC grant).
3. The successful collaboration between the five African film festivals in the UK, which did not exist with the inception of our lost classic project in 2006.

The project activities will benefit a range of communities:

1. Young people: We will develop educational activities - including screenings, workshops and educational resources - for primary and secondary learners across the UK, which will be hosted in collaboration with a range of schools and the educational film charity Into Film. The screenings and workshops will educate learners about African stories, histories and cultures, linked to the National Curricula in Scotland, England and Wales.
2. Teachers: Our educational resources will provide opportunities to teachers to continue the learning potential of the films screened to schools, and will incorporate a range of educational activities in line with the National Curricula.
3. General public: Film-going audiences in the UK with an interest in non-mainstream and world cinema will gain multiple opportunities to engage with African cinema, through innovative 'pop-up' screenings and complementary events, discussions, and exhibitions. We will also specifically target African diaspora audiences in the UK, through holding screenings in community centres and other venues used by the African diaspora as gathering spaces.
4. The five UK African film festivals: The reach and effectiveness of the UK African film festivals will be enhanced and increased through this project, which will see a collaboration between the five festivals in hosting the screenings and accompanying events. All these festivals have been working tirelessly in bringing African cinema to their respective regional audiences, many through a mostly volunteer-based staffing system, and this project will strengthen the collaboration between the festivals, while also strengthening the work of the individual festivals, increasing future possibilities for funding, partnership building and audience development.
5. The third sector and public sector: The project will engage with a number of third and public sector partners, including cinemas, libraries, community centres, galleries, museums, educational centres and others, providing opportunities to these partners to develop their portfolios of activities though an engagement with African cinema.

The links between African film scholarship and public impact are integral to this project, as it will bring classic African films to UK audiences that they would not otherwise be able to see. Through an extensive publicity and marketing campaign it is anticipated that the project will sustain existing audiences and create new ones for African cinema. Through the collaboration between the five UK African film festivals, the reach of the project will be maximised, with the films screened in partner cinemas and venues. Bringing these little-known African films to UK audiences will enrich British film-going culture, work to counter the marginalisation and under-representation of African cinema in the UK, and offer new insights into and understanding of African cultures and histories.


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