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.
1997: In the jury we had Alain Robbe-Grillet, a well known French writer and director and France Zobda, a well known film and theatre actress. There was also Annette Mbaye D’Enerville, the expression of African female writing: Senegalese, a screenwriter, feminist and the first female African journalist. Our career achievement award could only go to her! Then there was Carlo di Carlo, assistant to Antonioni and Pasolini, Roberto Ciccutto, producer of remarkable Italian films and the founder of Mikado, the first production company open to less traditional films…
The seventh edition was above all about the retrospective on Angola (Portuguese-speaking cinema) and the section on African comedy: Africa Felix. Comedy is a genre snubbed by festivals and directors, because it is considered minor. We find some little “gems”, recovering Egyptian comedies from the 1950s. For example, we discover the series dedicated to the pair Matamata and Pilipili (a sort of Laurel and Hardy), irresistible in their gags. It was a series filmed by a Belgian missionary in Congo which Congolese children went crazy about and, even without having television at home, they would crowd around to follow the open-air screenings held in the villages.
We decided to present the first African comedy on polygamy “Bal Poussière” by Henry Duparc, from the Ivory Coast. The subject is difficult but approached in a light-hearted way. This year Alessandra Speciale met Fatou N’diaye, a virtually unknown Senegalese actress who was seeking her fortune in Italy and Alessandra put her up on her couch for a year and a half. She was able to find some decent roles (with Monicelli for example) but without ever becoming really successful.
If we think back to the Portuguese-speaking selection, we cannot forget “Nelisita”, a beautiful film in black and white by Rui Duarte, ethnologist, anthropologist and a very important scholar who made this fiction film based on the oral tradition of southern Angola. Recourse to black and white accentuates the dreamlike dimension of the film and let Duarte give us a clear metaphor of the conflict taking place between traditional and modern African culture.
In 1998 the jury included: Sergio Rubini and the Chinese billionaire TV producer Mr. J Sun, who was amazed by our “poverty”, expecting to find an atmosphere more like Hollywood. There was also the Moroccan actor Said Taghmaoui – from a street child to the famous star of the French film “La haine” (a brilliant career) was also in the jury. It was the eighth festival, the one of novelties: the first film shot in China by an African filmmaker. the first film from South African by a black director, the first film by an Algerian author completely produced by Italian television, the first film by a French-speaking director shot in English…A phenomenon of novelties, but above all, beyond the intrinsic artistic value, the encounter with the cinema of Africa continued to be for us a cultural instrument of mediation of the various forms of integration possible, in the respect of differences.
In 1998, Gaston Kaboré returned with “Buud Yam”, the film which the same year had given the director the greatest award at the FESPACO: the Etalon de Yennenga.Idrissa Ouédraogo was also back with “Kini & Adams”, the first film made with African actors directly in English. Annamaria Gallone had followed the director on the set the year before, having a great time: “Idrissa is an entertaining and funny man and the shooting always ended in a bar with prostitutes and the day ended in great drinking sessions. We can say that Kaboré is as serious as Ouédraogo is light-hearted, friendly and fun, starting from the relationship that he established with all his cast. “Idrissa does not lose his temperament of an undisciplined youngster and an over the top character, but when he directs he is a god, a real natural talent” said Annamaria. The saddest thing is that since 2003, after the Cannes Festival refused his “La colère des Dieux”, he has stopped making films and has never got over it. He went back to Africa and his greatness is over.”
To be remembered from the same year was the presence of “Taafe fanga” by Adama Drabo, who passed away prematurely. We had seen this film at FESPACO: it was a comedy inspired by a Dogon legend. It relates how one day the women used sacred masks to take possession of power and invert the roles in society: men forced to submit to hard chores and a humiliating and submissive code o behaviour and women wearing the trousers who met to chat over beer. The confusion between genders to the point of cross-dressing gives rise to some irresistible gags.
This was also the year we presented “L’albero dei destini sospesi” by Rachid Benhadj, the first Algerian film produced wholly by Italian television and Filmalbatros by Marco Bellocchio. Said Taghmaoui (La haine) is a Muslim Arab youth, who has immigrated to Italy with great difficulties of adaptation. This couldn’t have been further from the real life of the actor who ate and drank endless amounts of meat (including pork!) and alcohol!
We see the first steps of a new generation of young filmmakers who today are present at all the most important international film festivals: Nabil Ayouch, praised at the Cannes Festival in 2013 for his “Les chevaux de Dieu”, presented “Mektoub” in 1998 in Milan. As always, we were right!
Annamaria Gallone, in China in that period, was able to organize an African Film Festival in Beijing and invited Joseph Kumbela, who decided to make a short film and settled down in her house. The result was “Feizhou Laoway” (The foreigner who came from Africa) which was then presented at the festival in Milan and many others, due to the originality of the subject. Since then, Joseph has insisted Annamaria produces another film to make in China…
In 1999 we had two very well known jury members: Mira Nair and Jafar Panahi. We met Mira in South Africa, where she was living at that period. Despite her Indian origins and her studies at Harvard, she was very much into African culture. Two years later she was to win the Golden Lion in Venice with Monsoon Wedding, but in 1999 she was already very famous. Jafar, who won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale this year with his film Taxi, was an emerging filmmaker when he came to Milan: he had won the Golden Pardo in Locarno, but had not yet won the Golden Lion in Venice with “The Circle” (2000). Today, as is known, he is in prison in Iran.“He had asked me to produce “The Circle” sighs Annamaria “but I said no and you can imagine how sorry I was about that…”In short, two prima donnas. Panahi objected to the selection that year but we realized it was a position without any real grounds. We had presented the first feature film by A. Sissako “La vie sur la terre”, a beautiful film of great poetry. We had worked well. And from that film, we took a phrase which for us has become dogma: “La communication c’est une question de chance”.
For emotional reasons, we do not want to forget mentioning that in 1999 we also presented “African Violet” by the great African photographer Koto Bolofo.
(Alessandra Speciale e Annamaria Gallone)