AFRICA IN MOTION FILM FESTIVAL BY LIZELLE BISSCHOFF
Dr. Lizelle Bisschoff is a South African researcher who founded the Africa in Motion (AiM) Film Festival 11 years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the start of her PhD research in African cinema. Her academic work soon led her to found a festival to make African cinema, then hugely marginalized, more accessible to British audiences. Today, the festival showcases the best of African cinema from across the continent in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other parts of Scotland, and the United Kingdom.
The festival takes place annually in October and early November and over the past decade, has screened almost 500 African films to audiences totalling around 30,000. In addition to the public outreach and dissemination platforms, AiM has strong academic and research elements through symposia and panel discussions with invited international film scholars.
From 2006 to 2011, Lizelle Bisschoff directed the AiM festival and presently serves as advisor and a member of the board of trustees. Bisschoff holds a PhD in African Cinema from the University of Stirling (2009) and a MSc. in Cultural Studies from the University of Edinburgh (2005). She has written extensively on African film and carried out comprehensive field research in various African countries including South Africa, Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. She also regularly attends several African and international film festivals as a speaker and jury member.
Congratulations! You celebrated AiM’s tenth year anniversary last year, how have you been able to sustain it and what have been your challenges?
Thank you! The festival has primarily been sustained through hard work by a number of dedicated people, and by loyal audiences who come back year after year to support the festival and watch films. As any other
small film festival will affirm, funding and infrastructure are the main challenges in sustaining a festival. In Scotland we are quite lucky to have Creative Scotland, the main public funder for the arts, which has
supported the festival as core funder since 2007. Creative Scotland recognizes our important work in making African cinema available to Scottish audiences, and has consistently supported us.
How would you evaluate the impact of your festival in the last 10 years on African cinema and have you achieved your aims?
I would like to think that the festival has played an important role in making Africa cinema more widely available to Scottish audiences, and develop audiences for African cinema. I think our statistics showing that we have reached over 30,000 people over the past decade attest to this. We also provide a crucial platform to African filmmakers to show their work to international audiences, as we all know that
distribution and exhibition of African cinema is a constant challenge on the continent and beyond. The festival has grown into one of the most important platforms for African cinema worldwide. Our key aims have always been to show brilliant African films, and bring African stories, told by Africans, to cinema screens in Scotland. We have certainly succeeded in fulfilling these aims.
In your opinion, what can be attributed to the increasing global recognition of African cinema?
I think there are a number of factors at play here. Firstly, the quality and quantity of film production on the continent is consistently increasing. Over the past few years we have had brilliant films out of countries such as Kenya and Uganda, where there has previously been very little film production. Nollywood is starting to make higher quality films that can be seen internationally, sometimes called “New Nollywood”. South African filmmaking has proliferated since the end of apartheid 20 odd years ago. So audiences are
starting to recognize this increase in quality and quantity, and these films are becoming more visible internationally, often winning awards at major international film festivals.
Secondly, digital technology has made cinema available worldwide in a way that would have been inconceivable a couple of decades ago. Through VOD streaming and online platforms, any film can now be seen anywhere in the world, and African cinema is part of this new development. There are a huge number
of African VOD platforms out there and even major international platforms such as Netflix have started to recognize African cinema –Netflix bought a number of Nollywood films to go onto their platform last year. I would also like to think that people worldwide are realizing more what it means to live in a global world, and how important it is to be informed about other cultures and societies. This is so crucial in these troubled times that we live in, with continuous immigration crises, religious fundamentalism, war and conflict, and so on. We all need to know and learn more about each other to live in a more tolerant and harmonious world, and film is a wonderful way to facilitate this.
What improvements on previous editions should we expect from this year’s AiM festival?
I don’t like to think of the progression and development of AiM as “improving” each year on the last, and I don’t think that would be fair to each year’s organizational team which works so hard on making the festival happen! So rather than “improving”, what we do attempt each year is to develop the festival in new and interesting ways. For example, in 2015 we introduced a documentary competition strand and an
African TV lounge, which showed African TV shows and music videos throughout the festival. From starting the festival in a single cinema venue in Edinburgh in 2006, by 2015 the festival took place in 26 venues across Edinburgh and Glasgow. In addition to conventional cinema screenings, we increasingly do innovative pop-up screenings in non-cinema venues, for example African restaurants, churches, galleries, community centres. So we are continuously growing and innovating and the 2016 edition would be no different – audiences would be able to look forward to a range of different types of exciting screenings and events. We pride ourselves that our festival has something for everyone!
Full interview published in Omenka magazine issue 2 volume 4.
April 14, 2021
March 25, 2021