Saturday,16 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Saturday,16 December, 2017
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Cry, the beloved continent

On his visit to Egypt as a member of the jury of the Luxor Film Festival, the South African cultural management icon Peter Rorvik spoke to Soha Hesham

Rorvik
Rorvik
Al-Ahram Weekly

“The Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF) was good. We really appreciate every platform we can attain for African films, because that is the focus of African film festivals when we’re still struggling to develop audiences for African cinema, that’s why we – the Africans – are happy to witness a festival like that. And personally I am happy to see such a newly born festival in particular. In its second edition, I think there is still a long way to grow, while we hope the festival will continue to support films, consequently becoming a famous platform for people to participate in from around Africa. However, organisationally, I think it’s still young. Impressive enough, the festival gathered guests from around the world. But I think they need to develop a stronger presence of locals from Luxor to be exposed to African cinema. You have to know your target audience so that the local population will start to appreciate a new taste of cinema. I don’t think there is an official cinema in Luxor, but with a festival like this it’s a way to start to gather interest from the public, also targeting people from Cairo. To get the local population involved would be a great success.
“This continent has such a diversity of people and cultures and that’s what is so wonderful about it. When the films at a festival come together you have the opportunity to see something from Zimbabwe or West Africa or North Africa; each has its own flavor and it’s the diversity of cinema that gives us the chance to explore Africa through the medium of cinema, through the different stories. I was very impressed with the selection of films chosen at the LAFF and I want to congratulate the festival on their effort in putting this together.
“For 13 years, in 1999-2012, I was director of the Centre for Creative Arts (CCA), affiliated to Kwazulu-Natal University in Durban, which holds four annual festivals. And I was pleased to help in developing these festivals and make them successful events in my city. Not just in Durban but in the country and in the continent, they have developed a strong reputation. There are two literature festivals, one called Time of the Writer. We bring a number of writers to the city for a week to discuss issues, engage with young people at schools so that we can inspire them to become readers and then writers. We had a number of Egyptian writers who were guests of the festival such as Nawal Al-Saadawi, Bahaa Taher, Sahar Al-Mougi, Sonnallah Ibrahim. Another festival, called Poetry Africano, focuses on poets and the performance of poetry and that’s been very successful also. In fact we’ve developed a satellite programme that goes outside of the city to Zimbabwe, to Malawi, to Johannesburg, to Cape Town, to Mozambique, the Reunion Islands and Kenya -- expanding the reach of poetry.
“The third festival is called Jomba Contemporary Dance Experience, and it really supports performances in 12 days of intensive contemporary dance, innovative dance with meaning and messages coming from around the world. However, we try to focus on Africa. There is some wonderful stuff coming from Zimbabwe, Mali and Senegal. Inevitably, the biggest festival between the four is the Durban International Film Festival that was established in the last decade. And I’m proud to say that’s a strong landmark for film audiences and is now considered one of the strongest. It’s not only about screening films, but there are workshop programmes held and a talent campus programme that gathers 50 African filmmakers from around the continent for training and offers young film critics the opportunity to participate. There is the Durban Film Mart that aims at providing funding opportunities for filmmakers; for example, the independent Egyptian filmmaker Ibrahim Al-Batout received funding for his film Hawi (Sorcerer), so did the animation film maker Mohamed Ghazal...
“So that was my work as director of the CCA. Now that I’m part of Arterial Network which was founded in 2007, our first meeting with cultural organisations took place in Senegal to explore the challenges facing arts and culture and how these cultural organisations should communicate more. Nevertheless, the organisation has been formally constituted with ten board members from around Africa and it has 40 official chapters in various countries, but that work is more behind-the-scenes. We’re just trying to facilitate networks so the information is flowing within a country but also between countries from Africa to the world. We hope to have markets that haven’t been tapped before, so the culture products are music, films, books and opportunities. We’re concerned about the state of arts and culture across the continent, when in some places art is not supported enough by governments, some countries don’t even have culture policy. We have training programmes and culture policy is one of them. People receive development skills programmes to be qualified to have discussions with governments in reference to that matter. On other occasions people attack their government when it fails to live up to its promises...  
“The African Creative Economy Conference is one of the annual events of the Arterial Network. It’s a conference regarding the state of the creative economy because Africa is not well presented in this sector as less than one per cent of the global creative economy comes from Africa -- and in the future we hope to see stronger production. These are the kinds of battles that we fight, so the conference is held annually to discuss the latest updates in such crucial matters that could take place in October in Cape Town in order to spread the idea. It’s a shame we don’t see enough African films in world festivals, but I think the Africans have to make better films: the more you make films the more chances to find special films.
“That brings us to the challenge of funding as African filmmakers are struggling to find money for their films, and most of the funds are coming from Europe. It’s a terrible situation that you have to depend on Europe to fund your product. I think every country needs to recognise the importance of cinema as a development tool and as a possible economic driver because the film industry holds other activities around it that might be in the transport sector, catering , hotels, flights and employment of local personnel: a lot of money can be raised from that sector. So increasingly I think governments are starting to recognise the role the film industry can play as a powerful economic driver in the region. Hopefully the Middle East can stimulate such an experience. In South Africa the government recognised that and created a special programme for people who invest in cinema to encourage such investment.
“As for Egyptian cinema, when I look at the statistics of the box office in Egypt, I admire the fact that the top films in the box office are Egyptian films and that’s fantastic because that doesn’t happen in many countries in Africa. However, they’re of the commercial type, I’d like to see more appreciation of artistic films, films with a message. It’s good that a lot of production is taking place. However, Egypt is facing huge challenges because it’s still using 35mm film while the world is rapidly shifting to digital technology, and that’s changing how people make and view cinema. We know Egypt has been the strength of Arab cinema in the region: when Arab countries make films they often want to use the Egyptian accent because it gives the work authenticity and it opens itself to a diversity of audiences. So we wish the best for Egyptian film and that it will develop much further.
“I was very impressed with one film I saw at the Luxor African Film Festival: Al-Khoroug Lel Nahar (Coming Forth by Day) by Hala Lotfi. I thought it was a tremendous film, I think the film deserves greater appreciation than it received at the festival, but I’m sure it will be invited to many world festivals, in fact I think it’s already had great success. Of course, with the present government in power, there is a concern; film is such powerful medium as it becomes a voice for your messages and I think the worst thing that can happen is for censorship to be enforced on cinema in Egypt. The film that won the LAF competition was a Tunisian film called Hidden Beauty, nonetheless. It dealt with the contemporary issue of the veil and how some characters in the film were resisting the veil and were looking for a modern life style, and the debate between another character who doesn’t want to take the veil off. It even discussed marriage issues. This film was able to present the complexity of this issue in an Arab society. It’s essential that society should seize the opportunity to address those concerns openly and hopefully the Arab governments won’t intrude and enforce any kind of censorship. There is a positive spirit among the independent filmmakers that is very encouraging.
“That’s why an organisation like Arterial Network comes in when there is repression against artists by governments not allowing them to work. The Arterial Network has been known to represent artists and gather the art community to discuss the issue and then address the matter, sometimes with governments. The network acts as a collective voice working with 40 chapters around the continent and about 30 thousand members according to the database; and it is considered a significant part of arts and culture, so we hear about those issues in many parts of Africa: artists are often in straits and discriminated against and we need to defend the rights of artists. Regarding Egypt, where audience awareness must be encouraged, I appreciate any kind of cooperation. Though we’re individual countries, one continent unites us. We seek cooperation and we have wonderful examples of it: we listen to mixed styles of music coming from different parts of the world; I truly believe that when cultures meet, this meeting point can be very inspiring to create new forms of art -- up to and including ones that Egypt will hopefully engage with in the future.”

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