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Art Council Of Amsterdam Concludes That African & Diaspora Cinema Has No Actual Relevance

by Heidi Lobato
June 21, 2012 12:17 PM
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Africa in the Picture Film Festival has once again been rejected their anual allowance by the Art Counsil of the City of Amsterdam.

The art counsil concluded that African and diaspora cinema has no actual relevance, has no quality and is not very fruitful. Another reason they give is that other big festivals in Amsterdam already show the few relevant international films therefore there is no longer any need for a special platform like Africa in the Picture.

Obviously, that's a lie, but how long are we going to take this? Consider that 24% of the Amsterdam population is African and/or African descendant and receives only 1.8% of the 82.6 million EUR that makes up the total art & culture budget Amsterdam has reserved for cinema.

Art & Culture budgets are built through our tax system.

Since 2005 we have been granted, and always with a fight, a small allowance from the City of Amsterdam per year (60,000 EUR to be exact). Every 4 years, institutions that receive a city or government allowance need to apply for the next 4 years, and the city or government assigns professionals to judge over the applications.

In all the cinema institutions that apply, we are the only film festival of color, and we are never granted much; most institutions are granted 2 to 15 times the money we receive. And we are the only (Pan) African Film Festival in the Netherlands, which also shows specifically films made by African or African diaspora filmmakers: fiction, documentary, animation, stop motion, experimental and all sorts of new developments coming from the total diaspora (Africa, West Indies, USA and Europe) like sci fi, horror etc...

We managed to build up a large personal network from continent like Morocco, Tunis, Egypt, Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali, Ghana, Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania - Zanzibar, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagaskar, Senegal, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Kenya etc. And also in Europe, USA and West Indies - where existing festivals often screen much of our selected work already, because we always manage, over the years, to find new, young promising filmmakers.

In the Netherlands we always have to fight for our allowances, because the Dutch film sector still won't believe that African or diaspora cinema is of any quality on cinematographic level, nor on technique and storyline. And according to these commissions, the FEW good quality African films make it to the big festivals anyway, and so, in their minds, other than those higher profile films, there isn't much else worthy of a showcase platform.

Consider Africa alone consist of 54 countries, so I always find it strange that here in Amsterdam we even dare to look down on art and cultural development from a complete continent, and compare it with our little country. Consider that we as Africa in the Picture bring around 60 to 70 films per year that are never to be seen in the Netherlands, including award winning films. Quite a feat worth acknowledging I would say.

You could call us specialized and a lot of institutions nowadays reach us for information on films, on filmmakers, and on regional or diverse community content. But the commission still concluded that it's all shallow. We inspire diverse communities into dialogue and specifically on a modern, based on today's reality, Africa and it's diaspora with today's visions, innovation and growing development. We also program in the context of our past and future legacy, and not according to the West's.

Africa and it's diaspora are still basically considered violent, poverty-ridden, un-educated, with diseases and massacres. And while Africa in the Picture doesn't close its eyes to these "dark sides," shall we not forget that the ones who often benefit the most from the existence of conflicts are those in the West!

And that's exactly the reason why we insist on stimulating an EQUAL dialogue for oncem between the 'North' and the 'South'. But maybe the North simply doesn't even understand the meaning of dialogue and would like to keep it one-sided.

Change never comes from the top but usually starts at the bottom of a society, and usually it's not massive at first. Our attending audience might not be a large number yet; we also were never granted the complete budgets we needed and applied for to begin with, and therefore our marketing budget is what is most affected (unfortunately); although our international outreach is rather big and so is our given inspiration for attending audiences and international African, diaspora artists and platforms.

For a Dutch film commission to conclude that African and diaspora cinema has no actual relevance, has no quality and is poor or unfruitful (dutch word used was 'schraal' and that has a number of translations :-)), and is considered fulfilled by the big (white) festivals, I consider that more and more as a personal insult. Because I am a migrant, African descendant born in the West Indies (Curacao), I know my history and my background which I didn't learn in any institution or on an educational level, so I feel my total legacy is rejected and a total continent not taken seriously.

Most so-called African cinema that reaches mass audiences in our country is often made by western production companies, made to fulfill conditioned western expectations, full of cliches and exoticism. I don’t necessarily mind that kind of cinema's existence, but if one continues to reject platforms like Africa in the Picture, which sets history, or simply sets the truth right, then yes, then I do mind. Our children are simply denied the truth, their role models and their history treated as if non-existence, again and again.

We are thinking of setting up an international petition where people can sign up for supporting us in our fight.

In the meantime, you can follow our progress on our Facebook page:

Or visit our website:

Heidi LobatoAfrica in the Picture (AITP) Director

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  • Niji Akanni | August 18, 2012 4:51 PMReply

    Yes, it's really a sad development for the sizable African population of the Netherlands which is hereby being denied a veritable platform for cultural rejuvenation. But in the long run, it is sadder for the nation of Netherlands for choosing this path to decline. History has an abundance of nations or races which, similarly afflicted by such deadly virus of cultural arrogance and political myopia, began to think that they had nothing to learn from others. What happened to Cathage, Greece, Rome, Shonghai and more recently, Britain?

    My multiple award-wnning film, ARAMOTU, has been selected to feature in this year's AITP, but if the recent administrative witchcraft in the Art Council of the City of Amsterdam makes the film's screening impossible, I make bold to say here that the Netherlands is the loser for it. This is not a boast. It is the simple truth.

    Meanwhile, I wish Heidi Lobato and the AITP crew more strength and will-power as they fight the forces of retrogression.

  • Miles Ellison | June 21, 2012 11:29 PMReply

    About what I would expect from a country that trots out a bumbling blackface Santa's helper on an annual basis.

  • Samira | June 21, 2012 10:51 PMReply


    To be honest, I can't say I am surprised, just a bit taken aback that they were so blunt in their assessment that African cinema holds no relevance for anyone. We had the same comments raised to us when we began the African Film Festival in Australia but we are proving them wrong. Though comments like ones mentioned in the article are a large part why the ''ethnic' film festivals in Australia go the corporate sponsorship route rather than government funding which unfortunately supports the same old institutions and projects each and every year.

    I will be following your progress Heidi and good luck.

  • Heidi Lobato | June 22, 2012 5:10 AM

    You are right and we do hear these type of comments all the time and a lot coming from the so called film professionals, mostly never have seen any of our films to begin with. Governments are not very innovative but the city of Amsterdam has always been, historically, one of large diversity and they should put their money where their mouth is. We are going into corporate sponsorship as well but our tax system is not an easy one and they are making it extremely difficult for art & culture to survive. And it's true they like to support the same old institutions and projects, probably afraid for innovation I guess, why do we still vote I wonder? Thanks for your comment, keep you all posted.

  • Heidi Lobato | June 21, 2012 5:57 PMReply

    Thank you for posting!
    I forgot to mention that this year edition of Africa in the Picture will be from 19 till 28 of October in Amsterdam no matter what. We still have fans and friends :-) And the city council of Amsterdam, the politicians themselves, do have the final decision in their hands and it's now up to them to make a more justified decision. The biggest argument nowadays is off course the crisis in Europe, but for some years in a row the ethnic organizations are always the ones who get the biggest blows, like they only exist as some sort of luxury item. And if you just look at how the art council divided the money it wasn't necessary at all to reject only our organization in the film section, they could have saved us all. And in answer to Ava, that is so true about the Dutch. Next year for example it will be 150 years memorial of the abolishing of slavery by the Dutch and the oddest thing is that the only national institute we have on slavery, NiNsee a black institute as well, has to close their doors because the government and the city of Amsterdam cut down their allowance! So much for respecting differences by the 'different'. But o yeah they are expected to show up for celebrations on the 1st of July, the memorial day (01 - 07 - 1863) on the abolishing of Dutch slavery. So I guess the Dutch can still feel good about themselves by keeping up appearances for the outside. Welcome to my city....

  • BluTopaz | June 21, 2012 2:04 PMReply

    Wow, I thought all European countries are blissfully immune to racism.

  • DL | June 22, 2012 11:35 AM

    LOL! dutch= south africans.

  • Emmanuel | June 21, 2012 1:26 PMReply

    What a shame. I'll add Amsterdam to the list of places in the world I don't need to visit.

  • troy | June 21, 2012 1:09 PMReply

    Dutch Apartheid! Are we supposed to be surprised or protest?

  • Ava | June 21, 2012 4:39 PM

    Definitely not surprised, Troy. Everyone talks about the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese brand of slavery and colonialism but people forget that the Dutch enslaved and colonized parts of the West Indies and South America. For awhile, though, it almost appeared as though they were succeeding in cultivating their image of being a liberal country that respects differences. The veil has been lifted and the once gauzy image is now crystal clear and quite stark.

  • the black police | June 21, 2012 12:21 PMReply

    Wow, that's sad.

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