Galway African Film Festival
It is an unusually hot weekend in Galway. Without a cloud in the sky, everyone is on the beach or seeking shelter in pubs, cafés and under trees along the river. It feels like summer has finally begun, and while most people would be happy about the weather, organisers of film festivals tend to hope for the opposite. Especially those of the 5th edition of the Galway African Film Festival which is taking place this weekend. But, armed with an impressive set of African films running over three days, the festival soldiers on through the heat.
“Why Galway?” you might ask. Is there an audience for African cinema in such a relatively small city, on the opposite side of the country to Dublin, the capital and most populous city in Ireland? Well, Galway is officially the most international of Ireland’s five cities, and has a large residential population comprising of various cultures, backgrounds and nationalities, as well as a never-ending stream of international tourists. Judging from the interest at the festival, it is surely the perfect place to hold Ireland’s only African film festival.
… the festival’s programme is a mixture of feature and documentary films from countries that span the length of the continent from Morocco to South Africa …
In Nuns Theatre, an unassuming hall near to the city centre, the festival has found its modest, but very adequate home. With four screenings a day, the festival’s programme is a mixture of feature and documentary films from countries that span the length of the continent, from Morocco to South Africa. Each film on the programme offers a very different experience of what African film has to offer. VIVA RIVA (Democratic Republic of Congo), a huge hit around Africa over the last year, is the hard-hitting, action packed tale of an ex-criminal who returns to his hometown of Kinshasa, to find that his past has not forgotten him. GLITTERBOYS AND GANGLANDS (South Africa) is a unique and eye-opening documentary following the contestants of the Miss Gay Western Cape pageant, showing how these brave women maintain their alternative lifestyle in South Africa’s most dangerous areas. ANCHOR BABY (Nigeria) is the story of a pregnant woman who is determined to stay in America beyond the restrictions of her visa so that her child might be born into more opportunities – exploring xenophobia, racism and immigration issues. TAMANTASHAR YOM / 18 DAYS is a collection of 10 films from some of Egypt’s best directors, presenting different stories surrounding the January 25 Revolution. This is not only an insightful, often harrowing, record of the events from different perspectives, but also serves as a decent short films programme for the festival.
Although the rest of the UK has been able to experience the hugely successful TOWN OF RUNNERS (Ethiopia), documenting the town of Bekoji where a record number of Olympic athletes have emerged, the film has not had a general release in Ireland. Its inclusion in the programme is a wise choice and a sell-out performance at the festival.
The programme is therefore a very interesting and diverse blend of various genres and themes. By following the other African film festivals, which tend to roll out towards the end of October, the festival has been able to select the best of African film. However, it does not feature festival favourites which had appeared at a number of African festivals, which if anything, feels novel and fresh. In addition to this, films like VIVA RIVA display a desire by the organisers to show films that were not only popular to Western audiences in an arthouse capacity, but also films that were popular and even mainstream in Africa. Therefore the combination of films is not simply diverse through content, but is also showing Western audiences what African audiences are going to see.
Importantly, an educational aspect of the festival is underlined by two apparent facts; firstly that the festival has shown free screenings of particular films to local schools, and also the rather kind decision to show the first two films of each day for free. Part of the motivation for any African film festival, as well as being a dedicated channel through which African filmmakers might find an audience, is to educate, and thereby inspire a change in thought of stereotypical views of Africa in the modern world. However, to continue the educational element a step further, the festival might benefit from more audience interaction, such as pre- or post-film discussions exploring these issues and where the films might fit into the continent’s film output from the last year.
… Nuns Theatre is perfectly suited to the occasion. Between screenings, the courtyard becomes a centre for African cinema in the city
Despite the weather, the turnout to each screening is encouraging and Nuns Theatre perfectly suited to the occasion. Between screenings, the courtyard becomes a centre for African cinema in the city; not only lending itself well to conversation about the films, but the delightful Maryanne Wangari-Mullen from the Harambee Charity Shop, is outside each screening, selling delicious and fresh Kenyan cuisine.
The Galway African Festival is building its own identity and finding its place on the periphery of the more established festivals in the United Kingdom. Yet there is much in place already and many plans are going forward. There is an effort to bring together those with an African background and interest within Galway, and with the continued exploration of funding options, which is a difficulty for such a niche festival in Ireland. But the future is nothing if not exciting. One can’t help but think that this little-known secret, tucked away on a side street in Galway, will soon be a prominent feature on the African Film Festival circuit.
The Galway African Film Festival took place from 25 – 27 May 2012.
If interested in finding out more about how to help with Galway African Film Festival through donation, please visit Fund It: Galway African Film Festival
- The 2nd Jozi Film Festival by Mike Boyd (Editor-at-large)
- Notes on African Cinema by Mike Boyd (Editor-at-large)
- African Cinema and the London Film Festival by Mike Boyd (Editor-at-large)