Wednesday, 28 March 2012

What the Sierra Leona International Film Festival Means For West Africa.


Film festivals have become a great art tool for any country and immediately the popular ones come to mind such as the Berlin, Cannes and Toronto film festivals. Our most prominent West African film festival is the Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) held every two years in Burkina Faso and recognised as the largest on the African continent. Nigeria, the birth-land of Nollywood also has the Eko international film festival and a couple of other festivals organised in some cities.  There are currently seven countries that have international film festival in the West African region. This list also includes Guinea which interestingly hosts The Papua New Guinea Human Rights Film Festival (PNG HRFF) described as a medium that ‘promotes greater respect, protection and fulfilment of human rights for all and creates a forum for debate to empower the audience with the understanding that personal commitment can make a difference to end discrimination. The festival brings to life human rights stories.’ Human Rights film festivals are known to take place in other parts of the world and we even have ours in West Africa. This is just another indication of the diversity of our West African festivals. There are two West African countries on the verge of hosting their first ever international festivals and these are Ghana, a nation with a springing film sector next to Nollywood. The second country on the path to owning their festival is Sierra Leone.

Sierra Leona is a country that has gone through a lot of development and difficulties in modern history. When I think of Sierra Leone I think of the recovery it has had to make as a result of the civil war on its soil. Every time Sierra Leone comes to my attention through the media or a light conversation with friends or colleagues, my mind immediately goes to my friend Maria, who had to go to the country and do a research about how the war had created a lot of physically disabled people, specifically amputees, so when this film festival came to my attention I was curious and I desperately wanted it to be successful not only for Sierra Leoneans sake but for all of West Africa.  This festival is yet another demonstration how the arts can trigger development and national re-discovery. A good example is what famous Nollywood has done for Nigeria, and for the fear of been accused of been too wide a request perhaps this festival can do likewise for Sierra Leone.

From the second the Sierra Leona International Film Festival (SLIFF) was announced I monitored the level of enthusiasm and spirit that went into the planning. The festival’s main organiser,  Layna Fisher, has announced that ‘ The festival will contribute to Salone's continuing development and re-branding through the filmmaking industries, employment, local goods and services, positive media presence, tourism and via its educational development program’. We’ve been ‘warned’ to expect big things from this event. Having had a few interactions with the organiser and individuals close to her I know this project has come out of her passion for the country, and her passion for the Film and Arts in Sierra Leone. This piece, however, isn’t about the organiser; it’s about all of SLIFF together. The exposure that some of the young filmmakers and the female filmmakers will get from this festival will hopefully see them take up film making as a full time role as you would expect in any sound country. The humanitarian aspect of this festival is so evident when you think of the sessions dedicated to highlighting women’s stories of survival. Sierra Leona women and indeed other women from across the globe have a lot of stories to tell, stories of strength survival and colour. The international charities and non-political organisations that have come on board to support are an indication that the world has been waiting for something like this to come out of Sierra Leone and they embraced it with wide open arms.

No piece can do justice to a film festival, you would just have to attend and witness all the shows yourself. I am always glad when I see a country or region that has gone through a lot come alive with an arts event that would change the face and image of that place. The SLIFF organisers have been so strategic to sell Sierra Leone as the hotspot to be, not only for the films but to indulge one’s self in the country’s richness and atmosphere.  Sierra Leona is now the ninth country to join the list of growing West African countries to host an international Film festival.  There are a few countries who haven’t yet managed to host such an event but I can’t see Mali joining this list anytime soon, given the political set back that has just happened in recent days.    

Click here to see official press releases and more information about SLIFF, which opens today March 29th in Freetown. A panel of jurors made up of local arts professionals will be judging the Sierra Leonean films. The top winner will be crowned 'Salone Star 2012', and will receive 10million leones towards the making of their next film. This prize money has been provided by Comium.

As at March 2012, see below for a List of West African countries who host an international film festival and those that don’t.

  1. Benin – (No)
  2. Burkina Faso - yes
  3. Cape Verde (yes)
  4. Cote d'Ivoire (yes)
  5. The Gambia (no)
  6. Ghana (emerging)
  7. Guinea (yes)
  8. Mali (no)
  9. Guinea-Bissau (no)
  10. Liberia (no)
  11. Mauritania (yes)
  12. Niger (no)
  13. Nigeria (yes)
  14. Senegal (yes)
  15. Sierra Leone (yes)
  16. Togo (no)