By Heidi Lobato | Shadow and Act June 21, 2012 at 12:17PM
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: http://www.facebook.com/africainthepicture
Or visit our website: http://africainthepicture.nl/en/
Heidi Lobato, Africa in the Picture (AITP) Director