Montreal's African film festival puts ladies first this year

This year's Vues d’Afrique International Film Festival focuses on highlighting female filmmakers and challenges world-views of the continent of Africa.

Female voices at forefront of 34th Vues d'Afrique International Film Festival starting Apr. 13

I Am Not a Witch is one of the dozens of female-produced films being showcased at the 34th edition of Vues d'Afrique International Film Festival. (Vues d'Afrique International Film Festival)

If you've had enough of the UNICEF commercials and media reports focusing solely on war and famine across the continent of Africa, you should spend some time checking out the offerings at the 34th edition of Vues d'Afrique International Film Festival.

From the descriptions in the programming, and from the few films I managed to get as screeners, the variety of African stories told on film challenges some of the world's engrained attitudes towards the people of its largest continent.

88 films from 33 countries

You can choose by your preference of genre, style, length, country or even themes. That includes films about human rights, films that focus on family, international documentaries and more experimental work like movies made in a hundred hours. 

There's also a section dedicated to work produced by Canadian filmmakers exploring African stories outside of the continent.

Quebec filmmaker Helen Choquette's movie, Un caillou dans une botte, brings viewers all the way to Florence, Italy where Senegalese merchants are trying to thrive.

One of the main goals of this year's lineup is to highlight female filmmakers and will feature 35 films made by women.

Women's perspective

"Putting women in front, finally. [Female] directors and creators are at the forefront of the festival — and this is a first," said the festival's co-spokesperson and owner of V Kosmetik, Vickie Joseph.

Some of the women filmmakers celebrated at the 34th Vues d'Afrique International Film Festival: Moufida Fedhila (Left), Angélique Gokoko Pitteloud, France Zobda and Hélène Choquette. (Vues d'Afrique International Film Festival)

"As a businesswoman, as a woman working in a man's world, it's hard enough," she said. "If we're taking more and more space economically, we're going to grow globally." 

In addition to honouring female filmmakers, the festival has planned a day-long conference on Apr. 17 to highlight their work.

Must-see flick

A Day for Women, by director Kamla Abu Zekri, had me in stitches. I was cheering the entire time for the three heroines — and the entire cast, really. I'm even more appreciative of this film, knowing that one of the talented main actresses, Elham Shahin, is also the film's producer.

Set in a neighborhood in Cairo — that the residents call "the alley" — a scandal is unleashed when a public pool opens and Sundays are designated as the only day women can swim.

But at this standard outdoor pool, as well as in the alley itself, we witness beautiful stories of sisterhood, love, loss, realities of poorer communities and the importance of family bonds. 

The feminist messaging is effortless, just making it a natural way for women to behave — speaking up for themselves, with or without headscarves, marital status or formal education. The male characters are equally diverse.

The film also features some popular Egyptian actors — namely, father and son, Farouk and Ahmed El-Feshawy.

The fest is screening the French subtitled version of the film. 

Diverse lineup

Most films at Vues d'Afrique have two screenings and are mostly subtitled in French. But there are seven films targeting an English-speaking audience.

You're also in luck if you speak Arabic, Wolof, Swahili, Chewa, Bemba, or other Indigenous languages from across the ontinent and within its diaspora — there are a few films in Haitian Creole, as well as Madagascar Creole.

The 34th edition of Vues d'Afrique International Film Festival kicks off Friday, Apr. 13, and runs for ten days, with screenings at both the Cinemathèque and Cinéma Imperial.

About the Author

Nantali Indongo

Nantali Indongo is CBC's Arts & Culture contributor and host of The Bridge. Follow her on Twitter @taliindongo.