For too long the West has told stories and spoken on behalf of Africa. However, a new list of 25 documentary films by African filmmakers titled Generation Africa is currently making waves at international film festivals and is expected to change perspectives on migration within and from the continent.
This is the latest initiative from a Cape Town-based organization called NOT. For 20 years, the NGO has been innovating in the use of cinema as a tool for social change and in the development of talent on the continent. They produce ambitious thematic collections of films that tackle pressing issues, in this case migration. The 25 new documentaries feature diverse and nuanced insider perspectives of people moving both between African countries and from within Africa.
Filmmakers from across Africa have been invited to submit film proposals specifically to address the missing perspective of Africans on this controversial global issue. Several of the films have been completed, including those that gathered media Warning for high profile film festival selections and awards. The Last Shelter (Mali) had its world premiere at CPH: DOX in Denmark in 2021, where it also won the Dox:Award, the festival’s top prize. No U-Turn (Nigeria) received a Special mention of the Berlin International Film Festival jury in February. No Simple Way Home (South Sudan) recently won the DOK.horizonte price at the DOK.fest Munchen.
Premiering at one of these premier festivals would be the crowning achievement of a documentary from anywhere in the world. But the success of the festival is only the beginning of the plans for these films. From the outset, STEPS wanted compelling stories that would offer images of Africans as active agents of change shaping their own destinies, whether they choose to move within or outside the continent, stay abroad or to come back.
NOT stands for projects of social transformation and empowerment. The organization laid the groundwork in South Africa for what many then called awareness raising and is now called make an impactthe design and implementation of a social change strategy with a film at its center.
His first program in 2001, STEPS for the future, focused on Southern African stories about people living with HIV/AIDS and pioneered the use of mobile cinemas to deliver films to hard-to-reach rural and semi-urban audiences. Although it often makes shorter films in collaboration with communities, STEPS also has a long history of high-profile international successes, such as the 2008 co-production Oscar winner documentary Taxi to the dark side as part of his why democracy list of 27 movies.
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STEPS wants each of the Generation Africa documentaries to have an impact campaign designed to effect targeted social change centered on the issues raised in the film. Socio-political, economic and climate change crises are driving many Africans to move to new countries as migrants, refugees or asylum seekers. Many Generation Africa films have the potential to help lobby for policy change, raise funds or secure material support for affected communities.
The STEPS method relies on creating meaningful conversations by organizing engagements with the audience after a screening. These sometimes include filmmakers and participants in the films and aim to influence social change at the individual, community and political level.
Three of the new movies
The last refuge focuses on several characters at the Migrant House at the edge of the Sahara desert in the city of Gao in Mali. Some are about to undertake a perilous attempt to cross the desert, others seek refuge after having failed. It is clear that the Malian filmmaker Ousmane Sammassekou had privileged access to the people in the shelter.
By paying attention to structure and storytelling, Generation Africa films offer new insights by revealing the personal stories, circumstances, challenges and achievements of some of the people behind anonymous migration statistics. Films are able to move the audience in such a way that there is potential for change. But the impact strategy relies on much more than just showing a film.
To kick off the design of their impact strategy, STEPS organized an “impact lab” with the filmmakers of Generation Africa. Best practices were explored on topics such as facilitating conversations with audiences, working with partner organizations, creating impact goals for activist filmmakers, engaging with policy makers.
The Last Shelter’s impact producer, Giulia Boccato-Borne, has already launched an impact campaign. The film offers a meaningful way to engage in conversations with potential migrants before they leave their country of origin. And also with communities that pressure young people to migrate in order to financially support their extended families.
A specific individual-level objective is to help Esther, a 16-year-old girl in the film who is fleeing a family situation so bad that she chose to risk crossing the desert instead. She successfully crossed into Algeria after the shooting of the film but then fell into the hands of human traffickers. Khadidja Benouataf, one of the impact team members, used her Algerian connections to find the girl and place her in foster care. They are working on getting asylum for her.
No U-Turn, which is still in the early stages of designing an impact strategy, is particularly well suited to a European audience as it reveals the dreams and goals that drive people to migrate. After watching the film, it is much more difficult to see migration from Africa as a systemic problem that needs to be ‘solved’. On the contrary, we are invited to dream with each of the characters during the road trip vignettes that make up the film. The director reflects towards the end:
The countries of our birth do not leave us enough opportunities to dream. So we move on to the next frontier, hoping that there will be room for our dreams there.
No Simple Way Home’s impact campaign has been supported by influential organizations such as DocuBox Kenya, DocSociety, The Good Pitch and The Wickers. Their community screenings in South Sudan will begin in July, led by impact producer Jacob Bul. Impact goals include opening intergenerational conversations about the future of South Sudan and strengthening the role of women in leadership in Africa.
By contributing to conversations in Africa and around the world about identity and home and the experience of being physically detached from one’s country of origin, Generation Africa films play a role in changing the contemporary narrative on migration and people who move from country to country, and continent to continent, dreaming of a better future.