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Viewing African Cinema: Six Pointers

The films in the Library of African Cinema are often beautiful, sometimes humorous and always engaging. But to get the most out of them, you must look at them in a new way. The following six viewing tips can help you appreciate what is distinctly African in their point of view.

1. Many African films deliberately explore a different style from European and Hollywood films. Scenes unfold at a measured pace, with the deliberation of storytelling or folktales. Shots are often framed to reveal the larger social patterns of rural life. The acting sometimes seems a little formal, almost reticent. Don’t fight these differences; try to appreciate the timeless rhythms and ordered life of a less industrialized society.

2. Imagine what these stories would look like if they had been directed by Spike Lee or David Lynch starring Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington and Whoopi Goldberg. How would they be different? What would you be missing?

3. A recurrent theme in many of these films is the tension between self-assertion and group cohesion. Traditional agrarian societies need to preserve social harmony and continuity sometimes at the expense of the individual initiative and innovation so prized in industrialized economies. Notice how many of the characters in these films are torn between "tradition" and "modernity."

4. African films focus on social problems, personal concerns and cultural issues you would never see in a Hollywood film or a nightly newscast. How are Africans portrayed differently in Africa? How have these films changed your mental image of Africa and Africans?

5. Americans and Europeans often have only a small role to play in African produced films. Do you have trouble identifying with the problems and aspirations of African characters? What is local and indigenous to these cultures and what has resonance with our own?

6. Look in these films for linkages between African American and African cultures, for example storytelling, family structure and music. What also strikes you as notable differences between the two?

Library of African Cinema Collection

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