Films from and about Africa. That's what Cologne's Africa Film Festival “Beyond Europe” is all about. The movies are packed with humor, social and political satire, and are meant to do away with African stereotypes.
Cologne's Africa Film Festival began in 1991 with only 21 films and four guests. 20 years later the festival features a total of 85 productions, runs for ten days and includes 20 film makers who discuss their work with the public.
From animation to psychological thrillers, feature films to documentaries, “all genres are represented, "says Christa Aretz ,one of the organizers.
The festival is organized in association with the “Film Initiative Koln”, an association of local journalists, media educators and cinema enthusiasts. "Apart from this festival, it's very hard to find African films out there” Aretz says.
“Television and movie theaters tend to prefer American and European productions.”
Despite this, there is great interest among the public in African films. "African cinema offers a different perspective and that appeals to me, “said one of the visitors to the festival.
Presenting the 'real Africa'
The festival aims to provide new perspectives, staying away from typical African clichés, and to enable African film makers to present their perspective to German and European audiences.
For this year's festival organizers selected 85 films that portray daily life and social problems as experienced in African countries. “We want to tell authentic stories about Africa,” Aretz said.
Some of those stories include political films on Egypt's Arab Spring revolution, as well as Algeria's 50th independence anniversary. For example the Algerian documentary film "Ici on noie les Algériens - October 17, 1961" (“Here is where the Algerians are drowned - on October 17, 1961”) features previously unknown material from eye witnesses.
Another thought-provoking film is the thriller "Omar m'a tuer" ("Omar killed me"). It tells the story of Omar Raddad, a gardener from Morocco who was charged with killing his French employer, Ghislaine Marchal, a wealthy widow. Although no one can prove his guilt, Omar is nevertheless convicted. The film is based on a true story.
Then there is “Yoole” ("Sacrifice") by Senegalese director Moussa Sene Absa. He tells the story of young men from Senegal who sail to Europe in small, overcrowded fishing boats in search of work and money. For some of them, the journey ends with a new life but many others die. "With my film I wish to present another side of Senegal that is not usually shown“, Moussa Sene Absa told DW in an interview.
Africa is more than just a continent, it is made up of of many different countries, says the director. "I hope that people outside Africa will start to see it this way."
A tough industry
Moussa Sene Absa's film has been screened only twice in Senegal, “We don't have film theaters anymore; the government has closed them down,“ he said.
In many African countries cinema is a luxury just for a few.
Many film makers have to struggle to achieve their goals. Moussa Sene Absa, for example, says his film was financed completely out of his own pocket.
The problems of African films are featured in” Sinema Leo”, one of the documentaries shown. It tells the story of Tanzanian movie lover Elisonguo Kiwia. He has made it his life's mission to drive through his home country and show films to as many people as possible.
But many viewers have a hard time differentiating between fiction and reality, Kiwia reports in the film, "People believe everything they see on the screen, it is not a copy of something for them, but part of reality, Kiwia says.
“There was a lion in one movie - and someone in the audience without hesitation threw his spear into the screen."
More than 2,000 spectators took part in pre-festival screenings in small movie theaters in various Cologne neighborhoods. The festival which runs up to 30 September is expected to attract a further 3,500 visitors.