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A Book Every Cinephile Should Own – ‘Dictionary of African Filmmakers’

A Book Every Cinephile Should Own - 'Dictionary of African Filmmakers'

A quickie book recommendation for all you film enthusiasts out there, especially those interested in cinema beyond these United States…

It’s titled “Dictionary of African Filmmakers,” and while a few years old (it was published in 2008), it’s the most comprehensive database on African cinema that I’ve ever come across. And I mean damned comprehensive!

It was compiled by African film scholar Roy Armes – a process that I imagine involved plenty of research and years to finish, as it includes coverage of feature filmmaking within the continent, starting from the earliest days with the first locally-produced films decades ago, to recent titles and filmmakers (up to 2008; but, despite the 6 years that have passed since then, it’s still very much a requirement for every cinephile’s library, with a listing of over 5,400 films, and more than 1,200 filmmakers from 37 African countries).

It’s in an easily digested format, sorted, first, in alphabetical order, by the names of the filmmakers who made at least 1 feature film, providing other info on them, like date and place of birth, training and/or film experience, followed, of course, by the films they made. Part 2 lists, also in alphabetical order, the 37 countries to which the filmmakers are conventionally aligned. In each case, a summary list of filmmakers is followed by a chronology of feature film output. And Part 3 is an index of film titles, using both original titles and distribution variants, together with English translations where necessary.

It’s an absolutely essential reference tool that I think many of you who read this blog will appreciate. I certainly do! I reach for it often. There’s an incredibly rich history of African cinema that’s not widely recognized nor appreciated, and that we’ve barely scratched the surface of on this blog, and I’m taking the time to educate myself, so that I can continue to introduce many of the filmmakers to you, as well as their work, providing some context for many of the African films and filmmakers we write about today.

I flip through the pages of the 400-page book and I’m overwhelmed, because there’s SO much that I haven’t seen. And it’s doubly frustrating when I realize that many of these films are not readily available for the average person to watch if they wanted to. I’ve made some inquiries into how we can gather as many of these films as are still available, and put on the web, even if it’s via a pay-to-view, or subscription service, so that folks almost anywhere in the world can have access to them. Certainly there are a few sites that stream African films online, typically for a fee, but, in my experience, their libraries are dominated by films made in recent years. For example, good luck finding Beninese filmmaker Pascal Abikanlou’s only feature film, “Under the Sign of the Vaudon” anywhere online. It’s not even available to buy on any home video format, like DVD, or even VHS. From what I gather, prints for a lot of these films likely don’t even exist anymore, which is unfortunate. But I’d love to invest the time and money (it’ll probably require lots and lots of money) in building an online database, using Roy Armes’ book as a source.

In the meantime, you can pick up a copy of the book on Amazon.com here. It’s not cheap, but given the work that went into its creation, you shouldn’t expect it to be. But it’s not too expensive either. Think of your typical college text book costs. Amazon has it for $55, but you can also get it cheaper, used from other Amazon merchants.

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