“I was gripped by a need to ‘discover’ Africa. Not just Senegal, but just about the entire continent… I became aware that I had to learn to make films if I really wanted to reach my people. A film can be seen and understood even by illiterate people – a book cannot speak to entire populations!” ~ Ousmane Sembène (1 January 1923 – 9 June 2007), at the 2005 Cannes International Film Festival.
Competing at the Cannes Film Festival is as important as making the nominations for the Oscars.
"Cannes is a showcase for excellence. And when the spotlight is placed on me or Philippe Lacote here, it extends far beyond us…. It is important as far as Africa having a presence and having visibility and A place in the festival. Africa is very rarely visible on the world scene.” ~ Mauritanian-born, Mali-raised filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako, at the 2014 Cannes, http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/cannes-african-filmmakers-enjoy-spotlight-706760
"African cinema will be very present at Cannes," said festival director Thierry Fremaux during a press conference for the 67th Cannes Film Festival last May. And indeed Africa was well represented by Abderrahmane Sissako’s "Timbuktu" that competed for the Palme d’Or, and Philippe Lacote’s first feature film "Run" in the Un Certain Regard category.
Nollywood filmmakers have been attending Cannes Film Festivals, but more as mere spectators and not as competitors, except for the few Nollywood movies screened at the Nigerian pavilion, Marché du film and "Cinemas du Sud" (Cinemas of the South) pavilions. No Nollywood movie has made the selection for the competition or out of competition at the annual Cannes Film Festival. But a Nigerian filmmaker, Newton Aduaka’s acclaimed multiple award winning war film “Ezra,” in 2007, was at Cannes.
Of course “Ezra” is not a Nollywood movie, and the director is not a Nollywood filmmaker, but he is currently the most accomplished Nigerian filmmaker since the generation of Dr. Ola Balogun, Francis Oladele and Chief Eddie Ugbomah.
His first feature, “Rage,” in 2001 was the first indie film by a black filmmaker in the history of British cinema to make nationwide box-office, and won the Carlton Television Multicultural Award.
“Ezra” won the Etalon d’or de Yennenga (the Golden Stallion of Yennenga), the highest prize at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in 2007. “Ezra” premiered in the world cinema competition at the Sundance film festival and was nominated for the Humanitas Prize and screened in a special section of the Critics’ Week in Cannes, 2007. It was rated one of the most important anti-war films ever made and awarded the United Nation’s prize for Peace and Tolerance. This phenomenal film has won over 28 Awards, including 6 Grand Jury Prizes, including the Federation of International Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Award.
Aduaka’s new feature film, “One Man’s Show,” premiered at FESPACO 2013, and won the Critics’ Prize. Therefore if Newton Aduaka can make it, then other Nigerian filmmakers – whether in Nollywood or any other "wood" – can also make it.
The presence of African filmmakers at Cannes has been well documented over the years. See "Cannes Oui? Part One: Sub-Saharan African Cinema at the Cannes" and "Cannes Oui? Part Two: African Diaspora Cinema at Cannes," both published on the British Blacklist on http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/cannes-oui-part-one-sub-saharan-african-cinema-cannes/ & http://www.thebritishblacklist.com/cannes-oui-part-two-african-diaspora-cinema-cannes/. Also see "The African Diaspora Films That Have Won The Palme d’Or" by Tambay A. Obenson of this blog, May 20, 2014, here http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/the-african-diaspora-films-that-have-won-the-palme-dor-at-cannes-have-you-seen-them; And finally there’s "Africa at the Cannes" by Jean-Pierre Garcia, Editor of Le Film Africain & du Sud magazine published by the Cannes Film Festival on http://www.festival-cannes.fr/en/article/58043.html.
Many African films have been screened at Cannes, and among them are “Les Yeux Secs” by Narjiss Nejjar from Morocco, “Le Silence de la forêt” by Didier Ouenangare and Bassek ba Kobhio from the Central African Republic and Cameroon in 2003, “Khorma” by Jilani Saadi from Tunisia in 2003, “Heremakono” by Abdherrahmane Sissako from Mauritania in 2002, “La Saison des Hommes” by Moufida Tlatli from Tunisia in 2000, “La Genèse” by Cheick Oumar Sissoko from Mali in 1999, “Kini et Adams” by Idrissa Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso, “Le Destin” by Youssef Chahine from Egypt in 1997 and “Po di Sangui” by Flora Gomes from Guinea Bissau in 1996.
The first and only African film so far to win the Palme d’Or was “Chronicle of the Years of Fire”, 1975 Algerian film by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina.
“Yeelen” (“Brightness”), by the Malian director Souleymane Cissé, was the first African film to win the coveted Jury Prize or Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival in 1987.
Idrissa Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso Ouédraogo won the Grand Prix for his film "Tilaï" ("The Law") at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, and premiered at the 1990 Toronto Film Festival. He also won the FIPRESCI Award for his 1986 film "Yam Daabo" ("The Choice"). His 1993 film "Samba Traoré" won the Silver Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival.
And in 2010, “A Screaming Man” (French: "Un homme qui crie") by Mahamat Saleh Haroun also won the Jury Prize at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
Except for Newton Aduaka, Ngozi Onwurah, Andrew Dosunmu and Akin Omotosho, no other Nigerian filmmaker has taken up the challenge to compete on the world stage of the major international film festivals, and until Nollywood movies can compete at the highest levels in the world, from Cannes to the Oscars, then the best is yet to come in the biggest and largest film industry in Africa.
Other African filmmakers who have competed and also won awards at the Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto and at the Academy Awards are not better than Dr. Ola Balogun, Francis Oladele, Chief Eddie Ugbomah, Afolabi and Adedeji Adesanya, Tunde Kelani, Lancelot Imasuen, Teco Benson, Tade Ogidan, Kunle Afolayan, Izu Ojukwu, Jeta Amata and other leading filmmakers in Nigeria, but they have proved themselves to be more ambitious, and have refused to settle for less.
So Nollywood filmmakers should be ambitious enough to fit into the big picture of Cannes and other major international motion picture awards competitions. And I hope they are ready to compete at the 68th Festival de Cannes: from 13 to 24 May 2015.