Africa At The Oscars: Best Foreign Language Film Submissions From The Continent - Cameroon

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by Tambay A. Obenson
November 14, 2012 11:39 AM
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Daniel Kamwa

As was announced about a month ago by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, a record-setting 71 different countries submitted films for consideration to be nominees for next year's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

A number of those countries are from continental Africa; in fact, one of them is submitting a film for the very first time (Kenya).

I'll get to that country in another post, as I continue a new series that looks at Africa's contributions to that specific Oscar category, since it was first introduced in 1956 (the 29th Academy Awards which were handed out in 1957), when a competitive Academy Award of Merit, known as the Best Foreign Language Film Award, was created for non-English speaking films, and has been given annually since then.

Prior to 1956, the Academy presented Special/Honorary Awards to the best foreign language films released in the United States; however, they weren't handed out regularly, and it wasn't competitive, unlike other categories. Although in the very early years of the ceremony, probably until after WWII, there was really no separate recognition for foreign language films.

And the film that would win the first official Best Foreign Language Oscar was Federico Fellini's La Strada, beginning a trend that would go on to see European films dominate in terms of wins in that category, followed by Asian films, with African films, and films from Latin America, rounding out the list.

I won't tell you exactly how many African films have won the Best Foreign Language category, but, as I'm sure you can guess, the number is low. However, I'm not just interesting in those films that won; I'm considering all the films that each country has submitted, since the award was first handed out some 55 years ago.

This series began about 3 weeks ago - a series that will be done in alphabetical order - starting with Algeria (read that post HERE if you missed it), and Burkina Faso (HERE).

Continuing with the list of countries in alphabetical order, based on my research, I had to skip over Burundi to get to today's country, which is Cameroon. Why did I skip Burundi? Well, simple. The country has ever submitted a film for consideration.

Cameroon, on the other hand, has submitted just one film for consideration in the entire history of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film just once: In 1981, Notre fille (Our Daughter) by Daniel Kamwa, considered to be one of the fathers of Cameroonian cinema.

Unfortunately, unlike the previous two films in this series (from Algeria and Burkina Faso) this is one that I've never seen! Good luck finding it for sale or rent anywhere. I couldn't even find it on Ebay, which is often a last resort for me when looking for media that's no longer in circulation - seemingly so anyway.

I did learn that a few universities here in the USA, and Europe have the film in some format - most on VHS.

So there isn't a lot I can say about it, but I've made a few connections and hope that I'll eventually get my hands on a copy of the film via one of these connections, and then I'll return for a more thorough read.

What I can tell you is, first, what the film is about. Here's the synopsis, itself also difficult to find:

Papa Mbarga, head of a big family and chief of a village, is getting ready to pay a visit to his daughter, Charlotte Mbarga who works in a big Ministry in Yaoundé. He's determined to prevent his daughter from getting married, in order to support her parents and her little brothers and sisters as African traditions demand.

It's described as a dramedy, which is said to be director Daniel Kamwa's primary milieu - comedies that address socio-cultural concerns. In this case, we could say it's the common tradition versus modernity theme. The daughter has obviously left the home (the village) and all of that tradition behind, to move to the big city, where she's a professional, with plans to start her own family. But the father wants her to give all that up, and instead return to the village and adhere to traditional customs. 

Needless to say, that's likely where the conflict lies - the push and pull between father and daughter.

The film was adapted from a radio play by Guillaume Oyono-Mbia.

Notre Fille, which was shot on 35mm film, was submitted for Academy consideration in 1981, but, unfortunately, it didn't make the short list of nominees that year. And it would represent the only time in Cameroonian cinema history (a rather short one, with good reason), that the country has submitted a film for Best Foreign Language Film consideration.

The film starred Stanislas Awona, Elise AtanganaNicole OkalaBerthe Mbia, and the director, Daniel Kamwa, who did do some other acting as well. 

Kamwa's feature film debut, 1975's Pousse-pousse, is one of the earliest full-length films from Cameroon to be recognized internationally.

Unfortunately, you'll have a hard time finding his work. Not that you can't get your hands on his films; they're just not readily accessible; in order words, don't expect to find them on Netflix, Amazon.com, etc. You'd have better luck on the college/university circuit.

But I'll return with a much more thorough write-up about Kamwa and his films in a future post, once I've done a lot more research.

Not much media available, as you'd expect. I did find the below poster on Ebay:

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