African Screens:Celebrating The African Sense of Self Through Cinema

Posted on February 7, 2010

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Interview by ‘Seun Johnson. Photograph by Don Omope.

From his passion for telling stories through cinema, Donald Dewale Omope, an accredited NUJ journalist, skilled photographer and filmmaker has co-established a first of it’s kind platform to celebrate the African Identity. As he points out in this interview with Jamati Entourage ‘Seun Johnson, his African Screens, an online film publication creates a forum for articulating ( in a robust discourse) the plurality of views. This platform facilitates a better understanding of Africans via cinema while garnering respect for African stories and her peoples.

Jamati: Your background (Family and Education).

Don: I was born in London, grew up in Nigeria, attended undergrad at Westminster university (TV production) and postgrad at the University of London, Goldsmith College (Online Broadcast Journalism).

Jamati: What is African Screens all about?

Don: Africanscreens.com is an online film publication aimed at everyone with a keen interest in African Cinema and the wider industry. Through in-depth discussions with influential players in the African movie world, as well as film buffs, we fill a gap in the market for a rich discourse that brings together a plurality of views, contextualizing African films. In one sentence – African screens is a celebration of the African sense of self through cinema.

Jamati: What were the circumstances that led to the creation of African screen?

Don: I came across the film Ezra by Newton Aduaka; a couple of years back and was amazed at its film-making artistry and quality. As a journalist, I became curious how an African could make such a beautiful film and we never heard of it? I asked myself are they other films of such quality out there? I did my research and discovered that they were many filmmakers doing great films – at that point, I knew I wanted to create a film magazine. However, Africanscreens.com is a joint project between our other editor Chinaka Iwunze and myself. We both harbored individual passions for cinema and shared pan-African views. We both knew we wanted to do something involving films and Africa but we individually lacked the robust skills needed to create such an online project to the standards you see today. By coming together as a team, we were able to cover all the skills needs for a site like ours.

Jamati: How long has it been up?

Don: Africanscreens.com has been up for 3 months and counting, but it feels longer, the response and support from film buffs, critics and film organizations since our launch has been very encouraging. We were selected as the official magazine for the African film festival last year and we are discussing partnerships with numerous organizations including the BFI, ICA about working together on African Cinema.

Jamati: Why did you choose to celebrate Africa and Africans via the cinema?

Don: We choose to use cinema because we are both passionate about films, I studied television in my undergrad days at Westminster and shot many short films and from that point on I knew I wanted to create projects that brought together my passion for cinema and my sense of self as an African.

Jamati: What’s your take on the present state of African filmmakers as compared to the past, like say 5 years ago?

Don: Africans films have improved a great deal in the last five years, there are so many beautiful films being released across the continent. For example, From a Whisper is an amazing film by the Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu; the film won 5 awards at African Movie Academy Awards in 2008. The Figurine by the Nigerian Kunle Afolayan was the film of 2009; it had huge commercial success across the world and sold out in London. Ezra by the Nigerian Newton Aduaka, was well celebrated for its artistry in story telling and cinematography. White Wedding the romantic comedy by the South African Jann Turner, is a joy to watch and among the films hopping to be nominated for the best foreign film category at the Oscars this year. This is just to name a few, you and I know we still have a long way to go before we can start competing for the Oscars but so far we are on the right path.

Jamati: What vacant role or spot do you think lies ahead for the African filmmaker to fill from a (macro) world wide perspective?

Don: As a matter of priority, African filmmakers need to champion the continent and tell our stories in ways that don’t de-humanize us as Africans. We have been bashed at every opportunity by the foreign media to the detriment of our collective sense of self as a people. We need to be proactive in fighting such stereotypes through our films to help portray a different image of the continent.

Jamati: I dunno if you’ve noticed, over the years most Nigerians have grown to prefare local songs to international one’s. But this cannot be said about the film industry. what do you think might be responsible for this?

Don: Africans are crying and longing for their culture to be expressed in a different light to be proud off. They want to see their own culture celebrated with good production values by Africans and that’s why music is well supported. The same cannot be said of films because there are bad production values and no structure in the film industry. Too many bad films are released weekly that the good ones are drowned out of the market. Film fans get discouraged when 95% of the films they buy are poorly made, as a result, they feel they are not getting value for money and go for foreign films they can’t relate to but find amusing. However, film fans are there nonetheless, and when good filmmakers like Ozu Ojukwu, Tunde Kelani, Kunle Afolayan produce films, people come out to express their support for such films because they know they are going to get value for money. The film industry is years behind the music industry but the gap is closing faster than most people will attest to. Governments across the continent are getting involved in the film industry, with an aim to help restructure it – if this succeeds, we will have a robust film industry that will compete well with the success of the music industry.

Jamati: Do you think pirates have any significant effect on the film industry at large?

Don: The scourge of film piracy is the single most important existential threat to cinema in Africa presently. Filmmakers are in a losing death roll with film pirates and I can only refer you to the article on http://www.africanscreens.com about this same issue, it is a serious issue that needs urgent attention.

Jamati: Asides the film industry, do you have other facets in the industry you’re also involved in?

Don: Yes, I am an avid photographer and journalist .

Jamati: What makes Don Omope tick?

Don: A passion to tell stories through cinema.

Jamati: What do you do for a living?

Don: I am a NUJ accredited journalist, and a skilled photographer and filmmaker.

Jamati: Any childhood experience or lifestyle you can relate to what you do presently?

Don: From a young age, I have always loved the media, I was a reporter for my school press club, and I worked as a presenter on Eko Fm in Lagos at the age of 16.

Jamati: What do the non-African communities stand to gain from the contents of Africascreen.com?

Don: Africanscreens.com is an African film publication for everyone, African or not isn’t really important at this point. People in general are still curious about African cinema and don’t know what to make of it, that’s why as a film publication we are never interested in the gossip but in the issues. If you understand us as Africans, you will respect our stories and us as a people; Africanscreens.com creates a forum were films can be articulated in such a robust discourse with a plurality of views that facilitates the understanding of us as Africans through our cinema. If you want to learn and develop an understanding of African cinema, then africanscreens.com is the place to be – we will help you understand our cinematic heritage, discuss our present challenges and share our aspirations with you as filmmakers.

Jamati: What story would you want to be told about you or your works now and in the future?

Don: That I played my part, in the re-engineering of the African sense of self.

Jamati: Some words of advice to peeps in the film making industry.

Don: Filmmaking is a craft, which you must horn your skills at, no one can tell the African story like an African, so use your language and your culture and people to create films that will be loved by Africans and celebrated by westerners. These are the words of Ousmane Sembene, the father of African cinema.

Jamati: What’s presently on Africanscreens.com that everyone should go see now!

Don: We have an interview on the site now with the Director General of the National film and video censors board, Nigeria – about restructuring Nollywood. We also have a fantastic interview with the director of an animation web series called Mark of Uru; this is a-must-see for every African. We have reviews of quality African films as well as tutorials for people who want to write their first film script. In addition, we have many more contents, like behind-the-scene pictures of African films in motion, commentaries by leading African film insiders and a lot, lot more.

Jamati: Thank you for hanging out with Jamati Online.We wish you all the best in 2010 and further.

Don: Thank you.

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