Putting Ideology Aside

African filmmakers discuss their urban realities in the Campus' “Set in the City“ session.

The panel 'Set in the City: Depicting Urban Africa'

“I want to put my own story up there on the silver screen”, said Kenyan filmmaker Tosh Gitonga at the panel discussion “Set in the City: Depicting Urban Africa“ at this year’s Talent Campus. Campus participant Gitonga made his debut feature NAIROBI HALF LIFE (Kenya, 2012) with the help of German producers and managed to conquer Kenya’s box office. He was joined on stage by French-Ivorian filmmaker Philippe Lacôte who is currently working on a short film for the series AFRICAN METROPOLIS and is preparing his feature debut RUN which is to be set in Abidjan.

The discussion primarily focused on how they set out to depict urban Africa which plays an important role in their work. Lacôte even went as far as to say that, “Abidjan is the main subject of my film, the story comes second.” Both Gitonga and Lacôte agreed that what they want to capture is urban landscape as they see it, in a more realistic way, rather than embellish it. The young Kenyan director was asked by fellow African filmmakers in the audience why he had chosen to focus on the city’s darker side: “I want to put Nairobi on the map as we see it, not as everybody else sees it.”

This opened the question of their responsibility in representing their long-suffering societies to the rest of the world and the potential of changing the problematic view of Africa which is present in such classics as Jean Rouch’s MOI UN NOIR (France, 1958) which Lacôte described as ”well-made but colonialist”. Both directors said they primarily focus on the stories they want to tell and try to put ideology aside. However, the key factor in their filmmaking is reality itself, they begin from it and keep going back to it, or as Gitonga put it: “I have a passion to show reality, to put a mirror in front of society.” It turns out, African filmmakers cannot focus on their private stories when there are disturbing truths to be told about the society they live in. And their societies are, just like all others, made up of individuals who have dreams and who dream in fictions. We can only hope that one day we will be able to see these up there on the silver screen too.