FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
(1) Why did you make the film?
The film actually came about by accident. It was originally intended to be a short 5 minute film for the website of a London-based charity called The Africa Centre that wanted to relaunch and revamp their image. This was back in 2007. My thinking as their creative consultant was that in order to get people excited about revitalising a Centre dedicated to all things African you need to get people excited about Africa. Re-imagine Africa, if you will.
Mention Africa to many people outside the continent and a host of uninspired cultural references as well as negative connotations are summoned. We in the West are constantly confronted with the bleak realities that blight the continent so this is no surprise.
But whilst it is vital that Africa’s problems are reported and tackled, I have always felt the need to balance the overall picture. By far the easiest way of doing this was by turning to my own backyard – so to speak. As an African I am party to some amazingly warm, thoughtful, dismayed, hilarious, searing, blistering and heartfelt conversations about “the state of Africa” amongst my peers and my parents’ generation. On the global stage “Conversations About Africa” are held between world leaders, pop stars, NGOs. Not between ordinary people that love the continent. I want to push these more private, nuanced and passionate conversations into the public realm to add subtlety to the public dialogue.
For this reason I thought if I knitted together some of these conversations it might make an interesting (short) statement perfectly suited for the web. I wound up interviewing 21 people and as I transcribed the resulting 10 hours worth of material, I realised this was never going to be a 5 minute film.
During the editing process I also realised that this was my opportunity to share something about African culture so I ended up including more in-depth overviews of arts and culture than I was originally planning. I have found - and to some extent still find - that African cultural life isn’t expressed and represented in a way that I personally find a turn on. So in this film I wanted to represent it in a way that is engaging and personally satisfying. Furthermore, there has been a problem with easily accessing information about African cultures and I wanted to be part of the solution. I hope I have created a film that is an easily digestible, passionate and impressionistic introduction to African cultures. A 50-minute crash course if you will. A jumping off point for the culturally curious. I certainly learned a lot by making it…
(2) How did you choose the people in the film?
The were two criteria that were most important to me: (1) each interviewee had to have something unique and interesting to say and (2) they needed to be available for interview within the four day window we had to shoot! Quite a few of them I know personally, the upside of which was that I knew what kind of conversations we could have in front of the camera. I knew they would not deliver platitudes. Oh and all of them have a kick-arse sense of humour.
(3) Why didn’t you go to Africa?
The chief reason that the bulk of my interviewees are British Africans is because the film was only ever supposed to be a short 5-minute film for a London-based organisation. We had a tiny budget and 4 days to shoot so it was only ever going to be shot in London. But most of the people in the film were born in Africa, many have lived in Africa or live there now, some write about it, create art that relates to it, some have travelled around the entire continent as part of their jobs, but more important than the accident of their particular accent is the fact that they all had informative and surprising perspectives to share.
(4) Was it important to you to balance North, South, East, West and Central Africa?
Yes and no. There are 53 countries in Africa and it was going to be impossible - not to mention foolish - to try and reflect every single one in a 50 minute film! There is no such thing as perfect representation but I did attempt to avoid wildly egregious imbalance and I hope I did.
Also balance is multilayered notion. There many ways to divide up the continent. By tribe, by nation-state, by region, by language group. And many of these overlap. So this is one problem. And of course balance isn’t necessarily achieved by having representatives from each region or country give interviews. For example there are no black francophone Africans in the film yet Francophone culture is very much represented. (I do, however, bemoan the fact that Lusophone Africa is nowhere represented. I did try and include some Mozambiquan music but found it impossible to clear the rights for it).
But ultimately the film is called This Is My Africa and not This Is Africa. The “my” indicates the subjective nature of the endeavour and quite frankly I could have made the film with 21 people from Azerbaijan and it would still be valid. It is about the Africa that exists for the people that I interview. Moreover it is there to provoke debate, ignite interest and really just set people off on a journey to explore the continent’s 53 countries and myriad cultures for themselves.
(5) You focus quite bit on culture. Why?
One of the most important statements in this film, for me, was made by DJ Duncan Brooker who says that Fela Kuti is the reason he loves Africa. And that to me is the point of offering up more facets of Africa's realities through culture. Culture is a way of offering a wider range of opportunities to connect emotionally with Africa. AIDS prevention and poverty alleviation may not inspire everyone to visit or experience Africa (and that to me is OK) but a particular piece of music or a book might be your way of connecting with a culture which will inspire you to either buy a product or even go to that place and experience it for yourself (leading to injections into the economy by the by). It was the music of Gilberto Gil and the books of Jorge Amado that made me interested in Brazil for example. Rainforests and football and carnival before that had not been enough to ignite such a passion. Everyone has something different that turns them on to a place. I hope This Is My Africa either offers up a similar match or leads to the discovery of another match that ignites an African passion, so to speak.
Overall I am a passionate advocate of the power of culture. The economic and political narratives of Africa loom large but to my mind culture also has a powerful role to play in development. Within grassroots development I feel that pity politics will only get you so far and if it goes on unchecked it does not allow the African people in question their full humanity. Culture plays an important part in wider macro-economic development too. The stories broadcast about a nation determine how investors feel about it. It affects confidence levels. Culture affects the political economy, the direction and flow of resources. Every successful nation-state knows the power of culture and exploits it. Africa should be no different.
(6) You do realise that Africa is a continent and not a country don’t you?
Unbelievably there is always someone that asks this question! But I understand. I think the reason this is brought up is because it appears that I am dealing with ‘Africa’ monolithically and most Africans I know, myself included, are sensitive to people who treat it as a country and not a continent. In this film it is true that I ask my interviewees what their favourite ‘African’ music is and who their favourite ‘African’ writer is etc. But I do this partly because of ease. I cannot do a run down of people’s favourite Guinean artist, music, food, writer then their favourite Zimabwean artist, music, food, writer etc. I ultimately leave it up to the interviewee to make their answer more specific to a nation or region.
(7) Will you do other This Is My Africa’s?
If I can raise the money, yes! Two more ideally…