Nigerian, South African and cinema in the Maghreb region in the North, tend to dominate conversations on African cinema (especially conversations had by non-Africans) – and with good reason, as they are the most active and have the strongest international presence, when it comes to prominent film festival exposure, and traditional distribution.
But there certainly are film industries (budding, rebuilding and otherwise) in other countries within the continent that we should acknowledge – like in Cameroon, which sits west-center of Africa, and doesn’t exactly have a rich cinema history (relative to countries in the west), with output of not much more than 40 feature films over the last 40 years, and a list of filmmakers that isn’t much longer than about 2 dozen (including industry veteran Bassek Ba Kobhio, who’s featured in the series below); Jean-Pierre Bekolo may be the most internationally recognizable in terms of contemporary Cameroonian cinema, thanks, in part, to boundary-pushing, genre-busting recent works like “Les Saignantes” (“Bloody Women”), released in 2005, and mentioned quite a bit over the years, on this blog.
There are also up-and-comers like Francoise Ellong, who made her feature directorial debut with “W.A.K.A.” (an acronym for “Woman Acts for her Kid Adam”), a film shot entirely in Cameroon, and tells the story of of Matilda, a 30-something-year-old single woman abandoned by her family, whose life is shaken up after her boss finds out that she’s pregnant, and opts to fire her. The film debuted on the international film festival circuit last year, and continues to travel.
Victor Viyuoh is another Cameroonian filmmaker with a recent international release – the drama titled “Ninah’s Dowry,” his feature film debut.
The film tells the story of Ninah, a wife who flees her abusive husband. When Ninah’s husband discovers that she is pregnant, he goes after her, determined either to recover his dowry payment or to bring her home.
It too toured the international film festival circuit, debuting at FESPACO in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 2 years ago.
In terms of even broader awareness here in the USA, Cameroon has submitted just one film for consideration in the entire history of the American Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film: In 1981, “Notre fille” (“Our Daughter”) by Daniel Kamwa, considered to be one of the fathers of Cameroonian cinema.
The film was adapted from a radio play by Guillaume Oyono-Mbia.
It starred Stanislas Awona, Elise Atangana, Nicole Okala, Berthe Mbia, and the director, Daniel Kamwa, who did do some other acting as well.
Kamwa’s feature film debut, 1975’s “Pousse-pousse,” is one of the earliest full-length films from Cameroon to be recognized internationally.
Unfortunately, you’ll have a hard time finding his work. Not that you can’t get your hands on his films; they’re just not readily accessible; in order words, don’t expect to find them on Netflix, Amazon.com, etc. You’d have better luck on the college/university circuit.
But, today, there’s a local film movement in the country (Cameroonian filmmakers making films set in Cameroonian, starring Cameroonian actors) that doesn’t get much coverage outside of the country (unlike neighboring Nollywood in Nigeria, for example), and to assist in drawing further attention to contemporary Cameroonian cinema, “Inside Africa” (CNN International’s award-winning program that covers the continent), went to the country to uncover what most of us on the outside likely know little to nothing about, with regards to what film production, distribution and exhibition are like over there.
So I encourage you to check out the documentary series that follows below (in 3 parts), as a window into contemporary Cameroonian cinema (with some history as well):