Diverse cultures and traditions featured in African Movie Festival in Manitoba

The richness and diversity of African cinema is on offer this weekend for a Winnipeg audience.

Festival features 18 films from 11 countries, including one from local filmmaker Tope Babalola

Zombie is a 14-minute-long film set in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo and directed by BALOJI. (Submitted by Ben Akoh)

The richness and diversity of African cinema is on offer this weekend for a Winnipeg audience.

The third annual African Movie Festival in Manitoba is the biggest to date, featuring 18 films from 11 different countries.

Although the festival is international in scope, the founder and executive director says it's important for locals to check out as Winnipeg grows to include more newcomers from around Africa.

"Africa is not a country, as most people think. Africa is a continent with diverse backgrounds and cultures. Countries in it that are very resilient and struggling hard to succeed in today's globalized world," Ben Akoh told Nadia Kidwai on CBC Radio's Weekend Morning show Saturday.

The festival at the Gas Station Arts Centre is featuring films made by Africans starring Africans, and for Africans, Akoh said, that's key.

Ben Akoh is the executive director of the African Movie Festival in Manitoba, which is in its third year. (Submitted by Ben Akoh)

For so long, any Black characters in film were tokenized or portrayed with stereotypes, he says. That's changing slightly as Black actors, writers and directors are taking up space, and as films from Nigeria's Nollywood are making it on to streaming services like Netflix.

The festival is Akoh's attempt to change the narrative around Blackness in the media.

He even hosted a symposium, or a mini-town hall on racism in cinema to kick off the festival.

"I wanted to be able to change most of the stereotypes and the kinds of stories that were being told, especially with the camera. And I thought that the festival would be just one way of doing that," he said.

"Let's have some time to chat together. Let's have some time to discuss about people, about cultures, traditions, and let's have some time to understand each other so that we can benefit from each other."

Balole Golden Wolf looks at the working conditions of a quarry in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and the revolution that allowed the men, women and children who worked there to sell the granite they collected themselves. Chloé Aïcha Boro is the director. (Submitted by Ben Akoh)

Of the 18 films, one is by a local filmmaker.

Winnipegger Tope Babalola is screening his comedy Popular Vote on Sunday afternoon, featuring a cast of pre-teens taking part in a school election.

Akoh also highlighted Everything But a Man. It was screened later that day, exploring cross-cultural relationships, immigration and citizenship and the complex status of Black men in American society.

Innocente by Frank Lea Malle is about a young female police officer who, despite the challenges of living in a male-dominated society in Cameroon, fights stereotypes to solve an attempted murder case between an underage girl and a politician. That's screening on Sunday evening.

Akoh hopes his festival is a way to diversify the film landscape in Canada.

"I think with a lot of diversity comes a lot of strength, a lot of innovation. And by having a better understanding of each other, we would be able to explore those diversities and become a lot more innovative, especially in this cultural mosaic we call Canada."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


With files from Nadia Kidwai