I Was There: Movies in the desert sand

25 years on from the first Festival of African, Asian and Latin American Cinema, we are moved. We want to tell you about some moments of this adventure: the ones that made us laugh most and that moved us the most, the ones we learned from, the ones that allowed us to discover worlds and directors whose names are on everyone’s lips but were then unknown. We decided to call these good memories “I WAS THERE” and our voices are those of Annamaria Gallone and Alessandra Speciale, the two artistic directors. We invite everyone who was there, who have passed by and who crossed our paths, to join us in a collective story, perhaps the first ever by a Film Festival, by sending a message to festival@coeweb.org, including “i was there” in the subject.

For the third edition, we decided to dedicate the retrospective to Niger. The films were sent from the so-called “National Film Libraries”. A consignment of rusty cans arrived, containing the reels of film completely covered by the desert sand. I remember our editor’s hair standing on end a she stood over the open cans… I would like to mention here the mythical artisan filmmaker Mustapha Alassane who came from Niger with his totally experimental objects that he himself had made.

In 1993 we dedicated to retrospective of the African Film festival to women: PINK AND BLACK. Zalika Souley, the actress from Niger, was unforgettable, having given us a hand to recover the films by Niger’s filmmakers. She was Mustapha Alassane’s favourite actress and had starred in an Afro-Western…You can imagine our hilarity at the scenes where we see her riding gracefully into the savannah as a cow-girl, whereas we had always met a veiled Muslim lady who had grown somewhat stout as the years had gone by…

The Jury of the third edition was made up of Gabriele Salvatores (freshly consecrated by an Oscar), Giacomo Gambetti (impeccable in his very formal raincoat) and Ayuko Babu, an African American from Los Angeles, we had met at the Pan African Film Festival in L.A. which he founded and directed. A representative of the African culture that claimed and reappropriated its rights in the USA, Ayuko disconcerted everyone in Italy by his behaviour and appearance that were not exactly in line with certain traditionalist milieus of film journalism and criticism. We loved him. We followed him to the PAFF in Los Angeles cinema periodically moves (including ourselves).

On year, the PAFF was organized at the Magic Johnson Theatre, and the African American presence was total. At the nearby South Central Mall, we realized that we were the only two white women in the crowd! It had never happened before, not even at the various African festivals! We cannot help telling you about Ayuko: we met him again at FESPACO in Ouagadougou: a super emancipated African American, with an American’s mania for hygiene. A real laugh! Not to mention the Mercedes he rented to move around the crowded and chaotic city, covered in the red dust of the desert…

Annamaria Gallone e Alessandra Speciale

Gabriele Salvatores, presidente di giuria nel 1993

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