Africa in Motion Film Festival: 2018 Preview

Africa in Motion is back for its 13th edition and it's in a rebellious frame of mind with a diverse programme of African cinema from 28 countries taking over Glasgow and Edinburgh

Feature by Sanne Jehoul | 09 Oct 2018
  • Rafiki

For 13 years now, Africa in Motion has been working to expand the perception of the vast continent in audiences’ imaginations. “People are often surprised that African countries make films,” Justine Atkinson, AiM's Festival Producer tells us, “or they expect them to be wildlife or political documentaries.” With the media still largely framing Africa through the lens of poverty and violence, the festival sets itself an ongoing task to break down misconceptions through showcasing the immense variety of Africa’s film industries. “We provide the opportunity for people to gain a more nuanced view on the continent and for people from the African diaspora in Scotland to view films that relate to their home country or heritage,” Atkinson adds.

With AiM now entering its teenage years, the festival team aptly chose to look at ‘rebellion’ as an overarching theme for 2018. Exploring African cinema’s resistance against dominant narratives as well as rebellion in art and political movements, the programme ranges from genre-defying South African western Five Fingers for Marseilles and female-directed gangster film Mayfair, to Kenyan lesbian love story (and festival opener) Rafiki, which Atkinson notes was “banned by the Kenya Film Classification Board for its queer focus, but has won hearts of viewers internationally.” The latter ties in to a wider Queer Africa focus at the festival, which will culminate in the closing party Kiburi (Swahili for ‘pride’), a night of performances and DJ sets curated by LGBTQ+ people of African descent.

One year on from the start of the #MeToo movement, AiM this year particularly foregrounds women in film. “We have given precedence to female filmmakers and female-led narratives within the programme in an effort to address their underrepresentation in film,” Atkinson says. Part of this focus will see a red carpet showcase of the newest Nollywood films directed by women, with filmmakers Blessing Egbe (The Women) and Tope Oshin (We Don’t Live Here Anymore) both attending the UK premieres of their newest works.

AiM opening film Rafiki

This edition of AiM also celebrates the legacies of two historic South African anti-apartheid activists: Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, both of whom would have turned 100 this year. “We’re using the centenary of Sisulu to look at powerful female activists in South Africa,” Atkinson explains. She highlights Standing on Their Shoulders, a documentary that traces female resistance in the country from the 1950s up until today, which will screen alongside a conversation with South African activist Firdoze Bulbulia. Another key event will be a symposium centring on the concept of pan-Africanism through Nelson Mandela’s legacy, followed by a screening and Q&A of the new documentary Nelson Mandela: A True Pan-Africanist. “Scotland took part in a number of strategic political acts during the anti-apartheid campaign, the most prominent of which was renaming the street the South African embassy was located on as Nelson Mandela Place,” Atkinson elaborates. “We have drawn on these links to curate a series of screenings and events.”

Also dealing with reflections on the past is the festival’s ongoing Reviving Scotland’s Black History project, which casts a light on our country’s connections to the slave trade through walking tours. “Much remains to be done, as Scotland is built on the legacies of the Transatlantic Slave Trade and colonisation, which have seeped into contemporary societal structures,” Atkinson says. With a focus on involving BAME participants, the festival worked with four aspiring programmers who engaged in lectures, walking tours and site visits exploring black heritage, and then curated events inspired by their experiences. One of these is AYE-dentity, a collection of short films that looks at sexuality, image and belonging across different cultures, programmed by Natasha Ruwona, and followed by a discussion exploring identity within Scotland.

‘We have created a non-hierarchical space for a variety of voices to curate and suggest films for the festival’ – Justine Atkinson

This is only a small dent in a ten-day programme stacked with screenings and special events, such as Make a Zine, an afternoon of short films followed by a zine-making workshop; Scratch Night Africa, which gives aspiring filmmakers, musicians and cooks a platform to try out their work on the audience; and a performance by West African percussion and dance group Ayawara, which will follow the screening of Finding Fela, a documentary about the late, great Fela Kuti. AiM is also shining a spotlight on Moroccan films in its Transnational Moroccan Cinema strand, as well as offering a free experimental documentary workshop led by Moroccan artists Ali Essafi and Touda Bouanani.

Over the years Africa in Motion has reflected on its own position and practice, leading to a collaborative programming approach. As Atkinson acknowledges, the festival used to be dominated by white curators, which required rethinking their organisation and bringing in new voices. “We have created a non-hierarchical space for a variety of voices to curate and suggest films for the festival,” she explains. That space has been realised through involving community groups, BAME artists and curators, and programming traineeships targeting BAME candidates. This too ties in with 2018’s festival theme, Atkinson reflects, as it shows “rebellion against the dominant hierarchical model of curation through our participatory programming strategy. It really has infiltrated all aspects of the festival.”

Africa in Motion, 26 Oct to 4 Nov, Glasgow & Edinburgh, various venues. For a comprehensive list of AiM's programme and to buy tickets, head to