Getting African films seen by school-children - Africa in Motion on a Scottish Tour

Top Story

There’s a strange paradox operating around African film. Outside of Nollywood, which is largely telenovelas-style episodes, only relatively small number of people see African film, either in Africa or elsewhere. Those that do get a chance to watch it are more often than not art-house cinema or festival visitors. Scottish Festival Africa in Motion (AiM) set out to make a small change in this uneven viewing pattern by touring African films around schools. This sounds such a good idea that it leaves you wondering why African schools don’t show African films in a similar way. Balancing Act’s Sylvain Beletre interviewed Isabel Moura Mendes, one of the managers at AiM to find out how the tour went and if it could be replicated in other regions and countries.

Most of the population in Western World knows what a Hollywood or a European film looks like. But only a very tiny percentage has seen an African film. This is what Africa in Motion (AiM) is all about. Africa in Motion is one of the most popular African film festivals Europe, founded in 2006 by Lizelle Bisschoff and Melissa Trachtenberg and takes place in Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. Africa in Motion recently went on a Scottish Tour to showcase African cinema to students in Schools.

Q: What is AiM about and how did it all start?
A: AiM started in 2006, when Lizelle, who had just commenced a PhD in African cinema, came to realisation of how difficult it is to access African films. Not wanting to keep her research to the academic realm only, she founded the Africa in Motion film festival in order to create more opportunities for Scottish audiences to see African films and to provide a platform to African filmmakers to exhibit their work in Scotland. Lizelle directed the festival from 2006 to 2011, with Stefanie Van de Peer co-directing the festival in 2009 and 2010. In 2011 I became part of the festival management, and this year I took on the directorship of the festival, alongside Natalia Palombo, who is now co-director.
The main aims of the festival have been, since its inception, to introduce Scottish audiences to the brilliance of African cinema and to overcome the under-representation and marginalisation of African film in British film-going culture. We believe that the best way to learn about Africa is to listen to African voices and to view representations created by African themselves, as these often counter the stereotypical representations we see from Africa in mainstream media in the West. But our main reason for screening the films is because we believe they are great films which should be seen the world over. Over the past six years we have screened over 200 African films to audiences totalling around 15,000 people!

Q: Tell us more about ‘AiM School Tour 2012’.
A: In the span of 7 days last February , Africa in Motion implemented its ‘AiM School Tour 2012’  and visited 12 schools - 7 Primary schools visited with students aged between 6 to 12 y.o., and 5 Secondary schools visited, students aged between 12 to 18 y.o. - in Edinburgh, the Lothians and Fife, in what was our first ever AiM Schools Tour.  The rate was 2 schools per day: 5 days in one week and two days on another.
In the past we paired up with community cinemas and students who came to local cinemas in our Rural Scotland Tours - where we toured to the Highlands and Islands -   but this was the first time we went into schools .   Our aim was simple: to screen African films - ten fantastic African films were selected -, talk to the children about Africa and teach them through discussions, workshops and stories from the most amazing places in the continent, to be aware of their own role in a globalizing world. When we presented our proposition to the schools, the response to our challenge from Head Teachers, teachers, educators and pupils could not have been better.  The reception we got from school was extremely positive because it was in line with educational programmes and the Global Citizenship goals of the current teaching curriculum.
And so, after 7 days of visits to schools, we are proud to have made around 800 students travel through film to places they have never been before like Burkina Faso (The Tree of Spirits), Ethiopia (Lezare) or South Africa (Where do I Stand?), to name a few. In return, the students granted us and the African filmmakers we featured in the tour, the gifts of attentiveness, curiosity, respect and enthusiastic participation in the storytelling activities (by the brilliant Mara Menzies) and conversations which followed the screenings.

Q: did anything trigger the set up of this school tour?
A: In 2011, the theme of 6th edition of the Africa in Motion Film Festival was ‘Children and Youth in Africa’. We explored the challenges experienced by the young generation in the African continent, and the similarities and differences with younger audiences in the rest of the world. We invited teachers and their pupils to attend the festival and they did. We organized the schools screenings in partnership with the National Schools Film Week, had post-screening activities (storytelling and Q&A's), and provided teachers with Educational Resources prepared by the AiM team led by an arts educator, so the classes could follow up on what they learned on screen, back in the classroom. We also programmed and screened African films for children during the festival on our Children's Day programme, so it only made sense that our tour in 2011 would also target young audiences and schools, in particular.

Q.: What is typically required to organise this kind of tour?
A.: First a good concept and a bit of money. This Schools Tour was funded by the British Film Institute Transition Fund. 
We selected the films and produced educational materials for teachers and students and made these materials available to teachers and educators during our visits, and also through our website. The educational resource packs provided teachers with a number of suggested activities around the films we screened. We also created different film package options, so that teachers could pick what was most appropriate to their classes and students’ age groups and were able to customise the learning programme.
In the planning stage, we handled logistic details with each school ahead of our visits, we selected the right films relevant to the students’ age groups and level, prepared the educational programmes, arranged for transportation, and prepared a schedule of the school visits, based on their availability (stated in their booking forms) and geographic location. Regarding the films we screened, we obtained permission from all the filmmakers to use the films for these educational purposed and cost free events. We also had films made available online in a password protected web location, so that we could show those films through the web if schools were equipped for this.
Some of the schools in Scotland had set up associations with schools in Africa and so we helped customise the film programmes with those countries.

Q: Was it technically difficult to show the films? Did you have to carry a lot of audiovisual equipment to schools?
A: No, in fact we did not need to bring video projectors and screens as, fortunately, most schools in Scotland are very well equipped and were able to set up dark rooms, with different levels of success. We brought our films, our teaching materials and our expertise . 

Q: who was key to the tour’s success?
A: It is clear for us that the staff, teachers and pupils of the schools who hosted us in the last two weeks, played a crucial role in the success of this initiative as well. They warmingly and enthusiastically welcomed the AiM Schools Tour this year. We are truly thankful to everyone that supported the AiM schools tour in the visited schools (see the full list on AiM's website) 
Q: what kind of feedback did you get from students and teachers?
A: So far the feedback that we received has been very positive. On our site we posted some of what the teachers and pupils had to say about the 2012 AiM Schools Tour:
'I learned that Africa is actually quite rich and peaceful in some places' - Whitburn Academy student.
'I learned that there are more words to describe Africa than just poverty' - Whitburn Academy student .
'I learned that Africa has over 50 countries and looks like a strawberry with a bit cut out' - Craigroyston Primary School student.
‘I think it was very successful. It gives students a chance to view films that are not always shown in mainstream cinemas and generates lots of discussion. Bringing films to schools really helps us bring them to a wide range of kids. Thank you.’ - Annie Scanlon, Librarian, Drummond Community High School.

Q: do you think that your tour concept could be exported anywhere else?
A: I believe this tour uses an interesting model which can be replicated anywhere else where there are people interested in contributing to counter-act the under-representation of African film, in their part of the world. Having said this, there are many other similar models already in place which could also serve as inspiration, not only in Europe but also in Africa. A good example is the 'Open Air Cinema' initiative, led by the Rwanda Cinema Centre, which brings films to rural communities in the country, using portable inflatable screens. So there is certainly a panoply of different models that could be put in place. Whenever we get requests from organisations that have a goal to showcase African films, we are always open to be of help.

Q: where do you find the money to set up those tours?

A: We are a non-profit organisation, so we applied for public funding and were awarded a grant, which covered the project's costs, so the tour had no cost for the schools that took part.

Q: What do you need now to grow your activities and make them more successful?

A: Our main activity is the AiM festival and the school tour is secondary but also very important to us.  As an arts organisation, we are moving to a more professional structure to strengthen our festival. One of the examples of this growth is the expansion of the festival to Glasgow this year.

Q: Do you use social media to promote your activities?

A: We have a dedicated and regularly updated Facebook page coupled with Twitter. We use and promote videos via our online TV channel.

Q: When is the next AiM and what’s this year’s theme?
A: The theme of the seventh Africa in Motion (AiM) film festival is ‘Modern Africa’.  We will host screening and events looking to encapsulating and representing Africa as part and parcel of the modern, globalised world in the 21st century: the urban, the new, the provocative, the innovative and experimental. The festival will primarily deal with manifestations of African cultures in the contemporary era, moving away from the stereotypical view of a continent locked in ancient traditions and superstition. We regard “modern” not as belonging solely to the “West”, and through the festival we want to emphasise Africa’s important role in the modern world (More info here:). African filmmakers are invited to submit documentaries and fiction films of 31 minutes or longer related to this theme to be considered for inclusion in the 2012 festival. Africa in Motion 2012 will take place from 25 October to 02 November 2012. Call for entries is open right now on our site. 
More info here:

To follow the exchanges about this news, you need to be on Twitter. Follow us on @BalancingActAfr

A bumper crop of video clips this week on Balancing Act’s You Tube channel:

Jeremy Nathan, CEO, DV8
on its new crime series for MNet, Mshika-Shika and its feature film, Layla Fourie, directed by Pia Marias with Pandora Films

Deon Maas, Meerkat Productions on its latest film, Punk in Africa

Bertil van Vugt, Manager, Africa Interactive on its series, Spark Africa

Cajetan Boy, film-maker and script-writer on the importance of script-writing in Kenya

Kennedy Odhiambo on the online Africa Slum Journal

Chiaka Orjiako, Editor, FilmBizAfrica on giving a face to African film

Kenyan film-maker Atieno Odenyo on her new documentary project Nusu Nusu

Roukaya Kasenally, Director of Communications, African Media Initiative
on its new mobile news apps incubator

Watch the following in French:

François Thiellet Thema (TV) et l'Afrique

François Thiellet, Dir. Théma: Les Comores