by Omanza Eugene Shaw

For a long time Africa was perceived from the west as a dark continent with peoples and traditions beyond the understanding of the average westerner. With the world's population growing ever more intimate in recent times, stories of Africans who live in Europe or attempt to leave Africa for greener pastures abroad have become a topic of interest to many Europeans, particularly film producers and directors, who seem to find their trials and tribulations interesting enough to document.

Last month, May 19-23, Accra was the venue of a festival that presented films about the African experience from a European view. Titled"Africa Through European Movies: Two Perspectives---The German and the French", the week long program turned out to be a hugely successful collaboration between the Goethe-Institut Inter Nationes Accra, Alliance Francaise and the National Film and Television Institute (NAFTI), with the gracious support of Novotel.

Eight films by German and French directors were screened during the festival and included the following: Nowhere in Africa, Chocolate, Clean Slate, Headhunting, Black Mic Mac, Ananse, Fatou the Malian Girl and Otomo. According to Abdon Berthelot, director at Alliance Francais, these films were selected because they all dealt with serious issues Africans currently face while living abroad or trying to get there. "We thought the subject matter in these films would provide entertainment and debate for film students and the general public", he said, "especially since they were being presented from a cinematic French and German viewpoint".

A surprisingly large audience attended the film showings (more than 2,000 over the five days) and were given a special treat with the presence of some of the directors and African actors appearing in five of the films. Under the smooth moderation of Kwame Akuffo Anoff-Ntow of the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation and the German director Martin Baer, participants were able to quiz some of the special invited guests, among them veteran actor Isaach De Bankole, who played quite different characters in three of the films. Renowned on the international film circuit, Bankole was born in Africa but raised in France and now appears in French, German and American movies. Many saw his participation as one of the highlights of the festival.

Comments on the screened films were mostly favourable, prompting Goethe director Petra Raymond to disclose that the festival may become an annual affair, but next time expanded to include films from other European countries. While Richard Crabbe, an assistant lecturer at NAFTI, was impressed by the technical quality of most of the productions, "highly motivating" was the assessment of David Yebuah, a third year animination student. Martin Baer, speaking on behalf of himself and his colleague Fritz Baumann, another invited director, said they were both happy for "another opportunity to discuss films and film-making with filmakers and film students from West Africa". Actor Bankole was meanwhile "grateful for a chance to share his experience with an eager and very interested audience".