- Curating Africa in the Age of Film Festivals by Lindiwe Dovey
by Lindiwe Dovey
Palgrave Macmillan, 2015.
xvii + 270 pp. 9781137404138 cloth.
Original and meticulously researched, Lindwe Dovey’s Curating Africa in the Age of Film Festivals brings the scholarship of African screen media into conversation with film festival studies and offers an entirely new way of analyzing African cinema. The book moves beyond formalist analyses shaped by auteur theory as well as representational or ideological approaches to film texts, methodologies that have been dominant in African film criticism for decades. Dovey, for the first time, investigates the materiality of the African film festival circuit, a cultural formation that has enabled and constrained African filmmaking since its earliest years. Here, film festivals are not conceptualized as static components of a flat production and distribution context. Instead, the book treats festivals as dynamic sites of meaning creation. Dovey describes festivals as “multi-authored entities, influenced equally by their organizers, their curators, and their ‘professional’ and ‘ordinary’ participants” (177). It follows then that audiences become crucial to our analyses of film festivals and to the films they showcase. As the book notes, “the meanings of films are contingent on the contexts in which they are shown, and are—in this sense—coauthored by their filmmakers and spectators” (177). Given that audience-based research tends to be uncommon in film festival scholarship and African film criticism, Dovey’s book provides a crucial intervention by incorporating the responses of actual audiences, instead of the audiences constructed by film texts or assumed by scholars.
Dovey’s book is deeply interdisciplinary, engaging with writers and theorists from several fields. Throughout, her approach is sophisticated, historical, and firmly grounded in years of ethnographic research at many film festivals, including Dovey’s own experience as a cofounder and curator of the Film Africa festival in London. An impressive range of interviews with filmmakers, curators, and members of festival audiences inform the questions she explores and the conclusions she reaches. The focus, however, remains on Africa, and from this position, Dovey arrives at several important insights. For example, the first chapter situates the development of film festivals within the history of the European museum and similar practices of collection, display, and knowledge creation. Dovey is not the first to elaborate this association, but she retells this history with a focus on the colonization of Africa, noting that museums “have long been bedfellows of conquest” (31). World fairs, colonial exhibitions, and similar spectacular displays of worldliness signified power and possession and constructed “new ways of looking at, thinking about, and also behaving in the world” (31). Chapters two and three similarly narrate the history of the “A-list” film festivals, such as Cannes and the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, through the African cinematic presence. Taking into account the selection of certain films and filmmakers and exclusion of others, the naming of programs, the promotional materials, and the statements [End Page 189] made by those involved in festival events, the book puts forward a nuanced critique of the image of Africa produced in these settings.
Chapters four and five, loaded with detail and insight, describe African film festivals that take place inside and outside Africa, beginning with colonial film exhibitions. The book’s discussion of the Festival Pan-Africain de Cinéma et de la Télévision de Ouagadougou (FESPACO), Africa’s major film festival, and the Journées Cinématographiques de Cathage (JCC), a lesser known festival, demonstrates the centrality of African audiences to the history of African film festivals. Chapter five explains how African film festivals outside of Africa have been important venues for the promotion of African film and have fostered conversations and debates unique to the African diaspora. The final chapters of the book examine “the global phenomenon of festivalization” (131) in relation to African film. Chapter six takes a wide view of the African festival landscape, while chapter seven adopts a narrower optic and looks at a few case studies. Describing the Durban International Film Festival (DIFF), the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), the Rwanda Film Festival (RFF), the Dockanema Film Festival...