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 firstname.lastname@example.org, including “i was there” in the subject.
Here we are in 2000. The 10th edition is the last to have the Colonne di San Lorenzo as its backdrop. It is a place where we loved to be and we were sorry to learn that it could no longer be the venue for the annual programme of which the Festival was the highlight. Alessandra: “We had activities there all year round and during the Festival we occupied the whole area: the Cinema De Amicis, the Centrale and the Eliseo. Every evening we would meet up at the Circolo Entropia which we nicknamed, in an untranslatable pun “entro-pia, esco-porca”…(something like I go in a nice girl, I come out blasted…”)
The real turning-point of that year is the “Windows on the World” section: we were beginning to feel that Africa was too small and we felt the need to overstep boundaries”, perhaps also because thanks to our participation in international festivals we had come into contact with many worlds that it seemed a pity to exclude them. Crossing borders into other continents, towards a less contaminated cinema; we wanted to follow Western directors who went to shoot films in Latin America, the Iranian cinema in its golden period, the first independent Chinese productions…Opening Windows on the World” allowed us to bring in fresh air.
We presented Jia Zhang Ke – today he is the greatest Chinese director: Still Life, 2006, A Touch of Sin, 2013 – in 2000 he was unknown and we invited him to present his first feature film, “Xiao Wu”, shot in 16 mm.
With “Windows on the World”, we took our first steps which were to lead us to the Festival of African, Asian and Latin Americal Cinema, with the name becoming official in 2004. “I cannot forget,” says Annamaria, “that in 2000 we have Katayoon Shababi, a well-known Iranian film distributor and an exceptional woman and friend, in the jury. Katayoon helped distribute Iranian cinema outside Iran and make it famous all over the world. She is our landmark for Iranian films, and we still cannot do without her today. We were sorry for her when two years ago she was imprisoned by the regime and we took part in the movement advocating her release.”
If on the one hand, 2000 represented the end of an era – goodbye to San Lorenzo – on the other it opened up the festival to cinemas from outside Africa that give us greater scope and feed and satisfy our insatiable curiosity. The new feature of 2000 is also the opening of the Schools section and our new educational commitment with children.
Alessandra: “as I look at the calendar for 2000; I realize the many mistakes it contains: non-existent activities, wrong names, haphazard dates… I wonder what happened… I cannot remember why we were so distracted!” Anyway… our search for the African origins in Caribbean and Brazilian cinema continues. In 1999 we had presented a selection of Afro-Brazilian cinema and in 2000 FRO-Cuban cinema…We opened up international collaborations and our retrospectives on the cinema of the diaspora in Cuba and Brazil went to Geneva and Paris, to our great satisfaction for the recognition given to us.
Alessandra raised her eyebrows and thought of 2001 when Florinda Bolkan was in the jury. Why was there Ms. Bolkan? She came with her female partner and created a great rumpus. I remember,” she says,” that in 1999, one of our guests was ZeZè Motta, who Roberto Silvestri of Il Manifesto in his review defined as the “famous transvestite”. We read the article with incredulity. Zezè a Brazilian transvestite? Was it true? Was it false? It was repeated ad nauseam that year.” No that we were prudes! But Silvestri too…
Going back to 2001: it was a very “African “ year from the biographical point of view, conditioning this 11th Festival: both Annamaria and Alessandra made documentaries in Africa thanks to the collaboration of RAI 3 and brought their experiences to the Festival. The phase started where we devoted ourselves to producing and directing documentaries, and we started research in the field, in the first person. Alessandra: ”I had made a documentary with a Cameroonian director, “Fantacoca” on the theme of African women who lighten their skin, I am not Coca or Fanta, I am “Fantacoca”. I discovered and followed a world I did not know about on the toxic mixtures that African women used and use to try to become light-skinned.”
Annamaria: “We presented “Dauda e la miniera d’oro” which I produced in Burkina Faso, directed by the young Raso Ganemtore. We filmed in the hell of the mines oin the border with Ghana where hundreds of children are exploited. Adamà, the small main character, dreamt of being able to continue his schooling. After incredible efforts, I was able to bring him to Italy, where he was adopted in Puglia by a marvellous family. Today, after brilliantly completing his studies, he is the first African Italian to do civil service in Cameroon in a COE project. A fairy tale with a happy ending, which are increasingly few and far between today.”
The cover of the 2001 catalogue confirms out migration to worlds other than the usual one: the image vaguely recalls elements of African art, but in turn migrates towards more abstract forms. All the approach gravitates around two fundamental concepts: that of Nomad Cinema and that of Metisse Cinema. The idea of Nomad Cinema in which we want to identify ourselves is that of a cinema which refuses every geographical characterization, just as that of Metisse Cinema reflects the “wandering” tendency of all independent cinema the world over.
Confirming our intolerance for all definitions: “ethnic”, “black”, “African”…. We invited Marie Binette to the Festival, a director from Brittany who completely by chance discovered she had black origins and who became our symbol with her film “Noire comme”. The crossings over we are looking for are also to be found in the directors we invited to the 11th Festival: Rachid Bouchareb took us to New York and more precisely to Little Senegal, with the film of the same name, with Soutigui Kouyaté. And Raoul Peck, a great Haitian director, with his film shot in Congo: a biopic on Lumumba.
It was 2002 and we were at the 12th edition. How could there not be a wind of change blowing after what had happened a few months earlier, on 11th September 2001? The WINDOWS ON THE WORLD section becomes increasingly well-established, to the extent of becoming the focus of the Festival and being accompanied by a separate publication: “A PLACE ON EARTH. Cinema to (r)ex(s)ist”. We moved towards places of conflict which from local have become global. We concentrate on the Middle East to better investigate what is happening and that involves everyone. We no longer only select recent films, but we look for politically engaged filmmakers with a retrospective eye, that help us to better understand the human and social conditions, then unknown to the majority.
The Israeli Amos Gitai appears in our selection with “Kadosh” and “Yom Yom”, together with the Syrian Omar Amiralay with “There are so many things still to say”, and the Palestinian Michel Khleifi with “Canticle of the Stones” and “Wedding in Galilee”. We decide to present the book “ A PLACE ON EARTH” at the Feltrinelli bookshop and we make the mistake of inviting too many filmmakers to speak. This mistake is the representation of our need to fight fear, to give everyone a voice and to consider culture and the cinema as a space for free expression. We understand how important this is for the Arab artists.
(Alessandra Speciale e Annamaria Gallone)