Hyde Park Picture House has worked in collaboration with Watershed, Black Cinema Project and Ajabu Ajabu to develop and tour an exciting film programme, a focus on five women’s stories from Morocco, Cuba, Venezuela, Angola and Tanzania.
Curatorial collaborators Mosa Mpetha (Black Cinema Project, Hyde Park Picture House), Darragh Amelia and Jesse Gerard (Ajabu Ajabu) presented five recently digitised or restored works from the Global South that are written by and about women in Cinema Rediscovered Film Festival July 2022. Surrounding each film from this selection existed a uniquely challenging story of ownership and distribution, opening up discussion around the imbalance of power within film cultures perpetuated globally and locally. The strand includes Sambizanga the first film by a woman to be restored by the African Film Heritage Project, an initiative created by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, the FEPACI and UNESCO – in collaboration with Cineteca di Bologna – presented in person at Cinema Rediscovered by Annouchka De Andrade, daughter of director Sarah Maldoror.
All Titles include: Door to the Sky (Morocco, 1989), De Cierta Manera (Cuba, 1974-77), Araya (Venezuela, 1959), Maangazimi: The Ancient One (Tanzania, 2001) and from Angola Sambizanga (1971).
Launching at this year’s festival – the package of films is available to book for cinemas and festivals across the UK from August 2022 to January 2023 with support from BFI awarding funds from The National Lottery and MUBI.
Hyde Park Picture House screened Araya in the City Varieties on 1 November 2022, and A Door to the Sky is showing on 29 November 2022.
We have an interview between Robb Barham (HPPH Operations & Programme Manager) and Mosa Mpetha (HPPH Creative Engagement Officer) about the curational process for this programme.
Robb: So, tell me how this strand came about, how you were invited to participate in Cinema Rediscovered, and how you built the strand together with the people that you were collaborating with.
Mosa: The strand came together through several separate streams of work, and it ended up being much bigger and better than I initially anticipated.
It started with the film Sambizanga; my friend Samra Mayanja and I created Black Cinema Project together a couple of years ago, and we were really obsessed with this film because it was the first film that we showed to our group. On researching the film we came to learn it had a particularly interesting backstory due to the fact that the filmmaker and her daughters were trying to reacquire the rights to get it taken off youtube where a shoddy version was available, and they were trying to get the rights back so they could restore it. They basically wanted people to see it in its full glory. But the producer of the film had sold the rights to a French distributor in a 50 year contract, and the French distributor wasn’t doing anything with the film.
So it really sparked our interest and when we were researching this, we started to wonder about the politics behind film rights and restitution in the film industry. What are the circumstances that allow a film to become locked away in individual, any individuals basement, uncared for and unseen? So we were particularly interested in this story and followed its journey. Unfortunately, the filmmaker, Sarah Maldoror died in 2020, after which her daughters continued on trying to get the film back. Eventually they did, largely because they got support from Scorsese’s Film Foundation and a wider funded project – the African Film Heritage Project.
They managed to get the rights back in order to restore the film which was screened in Bologna in 2021, and it was just a really exciting moment. So essentially, we knew this film had to be seen and appreciated by lots of people, on multiple big screens, and to be treated with the respect it deserves.
Robb: So it started as a kind of passion project?
Mosa: Yes and it prompted a much bigger conversation about what’s happening behind the scenes in the film sector. What’s happening with film rights and who really owns the film? Is that the filmmaker? The producer? The right holder? Is it the country of origin? Who gets a say on how people access films?
Then I met Darragh Amelia from Ajabu Ajabu audio visual collective (based in Tanzania). She and her colleague Jesse Mpango were distributing a Tanzanian film called Maangamizi: The Ancient One (2001). Darragh had a really interesting story that in some ways was in reverse to Sambizanga. The filmmakers of this film had managed to hold on to their rights, but they had a really limited initial distribution of the film, which is a seminal piece in Tanzanian film history. So the filmmakers gave Ajabu Ajabu the right to redistribute the film in 2021, and they took a really radical approach. They sent it around the illegal video ‘bandas’ in the country. These are please where people were going to access their films, kind of like dodgy DVD shops. The film was very widely circulated and accessed many people who had never seen it before and were not likely to otherwise.
So Ajabu Ajabu were looking at alternative methods of distribution, and challenging what was right and fair in access to heritage films.
We thought these two films were really nice in conversation with each other, and so I took this idea to Cinema Rediscovered Film Festival. They were very much behind the idea, but also had a selection of other films that felt fit in quite nicely with an overarching theme of women’s films from the Global South and ownership.
Robb: So you actually expanded on what you were first interested in as the theme was relevant to some other films too?
Mosa: Yes, and in doing that we got to collaborate with lots of other programmers who put forward other film ideas. Sitting under the larger umbrella of the main strand meant there were lots of individuals who contributed to it who had really specific knowledge about each of the films, and that was a great pleasure, because it meant that it was it was a much more well-rounded programme.
Robb: How did you navigate the pulling together of these films with all those collaborators as well as the live element to the festival ?
Mosa: Once the films were confirmed, we then had a meeting with all the programmers, and had a really lovely discussion with each other about the topic as a whole. Then each of the programmers talked about the film that they would be presenting and how it related to the main theme. The important thing was each programmer had their own viewpoint on the film, but they were also reflecting on its barriers to access, ownership and distribution as well. So they all related to the initial ideas Samra and I were thinking about with Sambizanga.
One of the partners we worked with was Twelve30 Collective (Lisa Harewood and Jonathan Ali). They are amazing programmers who look at Caribbean cinema, with a focus on retrospective films, and they are working hard to bring these films to light – especially when we are talking about Black cinematic history. They made a really interesting contribution to the strand, and the film they presented was a Cuban film, De Cierta Manera (1974) by Sara Gómez. They contextualised the film through time, place and how it was made, but also how overlooked the filmmaker was as a Black woman, in the history of Cuban cinema. Now this film has been recently restored, there is renewed interest and access to the film, both internationally and in Cuba.
Another curator we worked with was Lorena Pino Montilla who presented Araya (1959), a beautiful Venezuelan film which has also been recently restored, but again has a really interesting back story. The film was extremely well received on release and shared the Cannes International Critics Prize, but was curiously never released in its country of origin or North America. Lorena gave a fascinating introduction and presentation all about the film at the festival.
Robb: And did you cover aspects in the introductions of how these films are perceived over here, in both independent cinemas and the wider film community, and how that links to how they might then be ‘returned’ to the countries of origin to be shown?
Mosa: Everybody’s introduction was different and had its own focus, but I think yes, there was some reflection on the fact that it was being screened in the UK. However, I think it was more about enlightening UK audiences that there’s interesting backstories behind these films, and they’re not just as easy to see as we might think. There was more of an emphasis on the respect that we should give these films by and about women that have been historically so overlooked, and how we need more people to support them. They are hard to screen and can be expensive for cinemas and exhibitors.
Which is what makes it extra exciting that we got funding from the BFI to tour this particular strand nationally to cinemas across the country. As a part of this tour we have been able to negotiate really reasonable rates to book the film, which then makes it easier for the cinemas to show them to a wider range of audiences.
Ultimately my goal is to normalise seeing global south films, especially old films, and for more cinemas to try screening them, and for more audiences to understand how special and important they are.