The Rise of Pan-African Film Festivals

A stage at the Pan African Fim & Arts Festical 2023.
A stage at the 2023 Pan African Film & Arts Festival. Photo by paff.org.

For decades, the portrayal of Africans in film was limited to caricatures of the mindless warrior or the lazy illiterate. Fortunately, we’ve moved far past the days of Old Hollywood. More and more, Pan-African film is taking its place in the diaspora. Movies are now one of the most powerful media in telling the rich and complex stories of people around the African continent.

In particular, Pan-African film festivals have played a key role in promoting African and diasporic cinema to global audiences. Let’s look at a few Pan-African film festivals around the world and their impact;

Film Africa – London, England

Film Africa is the biggest Pan-African film festival in London and one of the leading film festivals in England at large. Established in 2011 and run by the Royal African Society, it is one of the key stages for celebrating African cinema in the United Kingdom. It offers a platform for filmmakers from Africa and the diaspora to present their work to a global audience. The 2022 instalment showcased 48 films both in cinemas and online, from 16 African countries and around the diaspora.

On top of screenings, the festival includes events like workshops, masterclasses and Q&As with different directors. The Film Africa Festival also facilitates the Baobab Award for Best Short Film and the Audience Award for Best Feature Film. The awards feature cash prizes which encourage new voices in African cinema to take the stage. This is a biennial festival and its next instalment can be expected in 2024.

The Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) – Los Angeles, USA

This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the famed the Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF). Established in Los Angeles in 1992, PAFF is the biggest black film and Arts Festival in the United States. Started by Danny Glover, Ayuko Babu and the late Ja’Net DuBois, this festival has become a favourite of the African American community. Every year it showcases a staggering 200 films from Africa and the diaspora. Like most contemporary film festivals, it has a mix of physical and virtual screenings to cope with changes since the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to popular demand this year, there was a virtual encore screening several weeks after the festival ended.

The festival is not limited to only film. It also features showcases by talented black artists and craftspeople. PAFF is also known for its star-studded red carpets, workshops and panels with top film industry professionals. The festival is typically held in February so we can look forward to its next instalment next year.

Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) – Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

We cannot talk about Pan-African film festivals without going to Africa itself. We cannot go to Africa without mentioning the Pan-African Film & TV Festival of Ouagadougou, more commonly known as FESPACO, the acronym for its French translation. This biennial festival is the largest in Africa and was established in 1969. It has been kept running despite years of political instability and military violence. The Burkina Faso government specifically ramped up security for this year’s edition which took place from February to March. The fact that it has endured all odds exemplifies the strength of African filmmakers.

The unique aspect of this festival is that it only showcases works by Africans. Every two years, it attracts the big and small of the African film industry. More than the fame and prizes, the festival brings together Africans in Africa to enjoy the work of our own hands. FESPACO especially champions work of the youth and women, with about half of this year’s submissions being directed by women.

Keep in Mind,

These are only a drop in the bucket of Pan-African film festivals. Whether you are on the continent or in the diaspora, take advantage of the festivals near you to enjoy African cinema. With many offering virtual screenings, talks and workshops, you can attend wherever you are.

Also Read: The Rise Of Nigerian-British Filmmakers

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Cynthia Kinyera

Cynthia Kinyera is a Communications Specialist and Freelance Writer specialising in lifestyle and wellness. She uses her easy-flowing prose and digital marketing skills to craft engaging high-converting content. Find out more about her work at cynthiawrites.com.