art, Interviews, Interviews, Lifestyle

Seeing Ourselves In An Archive Of African Film

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The newly launched Africa.film site signifies an exciting time for the African film industry. Started by publicist and writer Kevin Kriedemann and Bryan Little of production company Fly on the Wall, Africa.film is a burgeoning archive of the best film and videos made in Africa, about Africa or by Africans.


Seeing Ourselves In An Archive Of African Film


Africa.film aims to be a watchable, searchable resource for critically acclaimed African film. The ever-growing archive covers African-made entertainment ranging from short films and series to full-length features. Significant brand films and talks, such as Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story, are also included to widen the breadth of African narratives on the site. Videos that are available to watch online are embedded into Africa.film to watch then and there, while trailers play for those that aren’t.

Unfortunately, once a local film has left the festival circuit, it becomes almost impossible to watch. Worse still is that geo-blocking on sites like iTunes means that African classics such as South African Oscar‐winner Tsotsi, while streamable outside Africa, aren’t available to stream on the continent. Africa.film has launched with a petition calling for iTunes to make the notable African films on their platform available to stream legally in Africa. You can sign it here.

There’s a lot to celebrate about African film, with offerings being celebrated around the world at film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance. Building this archive is a gigantic task. Where there are gaps in the founders’ own knowledge, they call on industry players to put forward their own favourite pieces of African film. This way, the platform will grow and evolve over time. We caught up with Kevin Kriedemann to fill us in on where Africa.film could lead.

How did Africa.film come about? 

I’ve been a fan of Bryan Little’s work ever since seeing his award-winning documentary Fokofpolisiekar: Forgive Them For They Know Not What They Do at Encounters South African International Documentary Festival. A few years ago, I started doing the PR for his production company Fly on the Wall, which led to lots of discussions about the media and distribution landscape in South Africa, and also about the kind of films we enjoy.

Three things kept coming up. Firstly, how difficult it was to watch the Africans films we wanted to see. We kept hearing distant rumours of things that sounded amazing, but if you missed them at Encounters or the Durban International Film Festival – or during the one week they were on circuit – there often wasn’t another chance. Secondly, how hard it was to monetise the potential audience of a billion Africans in Africa, let alone the 150 million plus in the diaspora. And thirdly, how we could generate lots of local media coverage. Often coverage didn’t necessarily turn into views, which implied a breakdown of trust between the media and our audience. So Africa.film is a response to all of that: we want to make it easy to find and stream good African films; we want to help filmmakers monetise their films through self-distribution on platforms like YouTube and Vimeo On Demand; and we want to build trust with the African film audience, so that when something is featured on the site, we know it’s going to translate into views. 

Who are the curators providing recommendations?

We’re working on a chain mail curatorship model, so we ask one of our favourite filmmakers per genre what their favourite African video is, then we ask the person they recommend to return the favour and select their own favourite – and so on, and so on.

In my experience, African films are high-risk and high-reward. Many of my favourite films are African, but many of my least favourite are too. So we wanted to find a way to reduce the risk and build trust with our audience. Taste isn’t universal, so we can’t promise that every video on Africa.film will be your favourite. But by using the African film industry as curators, we can at least promise that it’ll be someone’s favourite. We’ve very aware of how much we don’t know, so reaching out to others to fill in the gaps just always made sense to us, in a way that having two umlungus defining an African film canon never did.

What did you discover (or have validated) about African-made film in the process of launching Africa.film? 

The obvious one is that Africa has a proud film history, dating back to the 1890s, and that African films have won almost any accolade you can imagine, from Cannes Lions to Oscars. 

But I’ve also been struck by two opposing truths. On the one hand, it’s amazing how varied the films are; there’s definitely no single African narrative. But on the other hand, it’s been interesting to see how relatable the films have been and the way that I respond differently to them than to Hollywood or British films. When she was two, my daughter Charlie cried and cried when she realised that there wasn't going to be snow at Christmas, because it always snowed on Christmas in all her TV shows. Stories shape us, so there's something damaging when the narratives that dominate our lives aren't our own. And I like to think that there’s something healing when we’re surrounded by stories that resonate with us. 

The platform is still a work-in-progress – how do you see things evolving? 

Each month, we’ll be adding a selection of Africans films that have won awards at different festivals: so Berlin in February, the Oscars in March, Hot Docs in April, and Cannes in May, for example, as well as posting a new curator’s pick every day. We haven’t even made a dent in our list of what we want to feature, so expect lots more great films as well as some new sections, such as YouTubers and VR. 

Once we can demonstrate that there’s an audience for African film, we want to leverage that to encourage Showmax, Netflix and iTunes to help us get more good African content online, and we also want to help African filmmakers interested in self-distributing through Vimeo On Demand or YouTube. We’ve just posted our first documentary to Vimeo on Demand, I, Afrikaner, which is an incredible film by Annalet Steenkamp that was part of Bryan’s inspiration for starting the site, so we’d like to do a lot more of that.   

We’re also building the search functionality so that the site can double as a reference library for academics, journalists and production companies, and we’ll be introducing rankings for the directors and other talent who are featured on the site the most often via our curators.  

Find out more at africa.film.