Wednesday – 21st September 2016
I arrived in Düsseldorf after many hours of taking turns watching images on a foldable screen on an airplane and then watching people shuffle through airports to reach or delay their desires and fears of the destinations to come. The Cologne African film festival was kind enough to send two representatives to receive me at the airport and then drive to Cologne, which is around 45mins away. I sat in a silver 2 door Peugeot 206, a car my family had driven in Dar es salaam around 10 years ago. I already felt at home.
Upon arriving, I met with Karl Rössel, the festival organizer and toured the city on foot, cable car and tram. From the botanical gardens to a nude pool, Cologne is a magnificent old town. We ended our tour at Museum Ludwig where the festival was screening its films and made it just in time for a documentary I have waited too long for – Sembene. Ousmane Sembene is considered the father of African cinema and being a huge influence on my personal and cinematic life, I was really glad that this would be the first film I get to watch at the festival. It revealed a lot that had been skipped in awe of the man in his biographies and interviews but it did feel quite setup as the main source of interview was a talking head of the director himself. Regardless, the footage was priceless and the love that surrounded Sembene, even from his adversaries, was as explosive as celluloid.
Thursday – 22nd September 2016
Aisha was screened today at 5.30pm in the evening. There was a fairly good turnout of around 40 people and a few stayed on for the discussion afterwards. Esther Donkor led the session in German but a translator whispered in my ear through a pair of headphones so it went quite smoothly. Questions were raised in regards to how the film was received in Pangani and whether it has had an impact yet. With Q&As I have come to realize that it is more of an open space for the filmmaker to say all the things that they have been holding in throughout the production process. Although it may seem that the person answering is going off tangent, it is actually quite fascinating to witness how the mind works and reflect that on the film style itself. I am not a fan of simple answers, as many of my colleagues may tell you. This meant talking about the film as an artistic piece that was confined to an agenda and watching the flag in a tug of war between the activists and artists in my team and I. I spoke of how this film was a communal effort, working with village leaders and the community was a priority that we had all agreed upon including giving the residents of Pangani first choice when it came to casting. Heads of each department in the crew were each captains of the ship in their own right and the team as a whole put in so much effort that I could not even dare to imagine repeating this process without each one of them.
After the screening, conversations and drinks I made my way to the hotel in what might be the best mode of transport I have ever used in Europe. Taxi Bamako is a rickshaw that you sit in the front in as the driver cycles through the city, at quite a pace if I may add, while listening to Senegalese and Mali Blues and slow flashing neon and red lights illuminate the noir of the night. An exhilarating experience which allowed me to ignore the confused looks of people who watched me smile from one ear to the other as we rode through to the rhythm of Youssou Nd’our. It wasn’t until later that I found out the shocked looks were coupled with the fact that this form of transport is meant for the elderly and watching a young brown man wiggle his feet is the air may have turned a few heads for a good reason!
Friday – 23rd September 2016
We met with the largest public TV channel in Germany today – WDR. Each filmmaker had a chance to present our films that were playing at the festival and current/potential projects. It was absolutely amazing to see the work of fellow African artists including documentaries that ranged from stories of enchanted rivers in Congo to personalized tales of struggles with parenthood, feature fictions that would give Hollywood crime genre a run for its money and a stop motion experimental piece that lasted four minutes in real time but keeps the mind churning for forever long.
Sunday – 25th September 2016
Most of the filmmakers who had been invited by the festival were present at the brunch today. Good conversations with good people. I came to learn of cimatheque – a film exhibition space in Cairo started by Khaled Abdalla and Tamer El-Said, the actor and director respectively behind In Last Days of the City. Their documentary is an interesting one, one that I would hesitantly call fiction. The idea behind the film was to talk about the relationship the director had with his city of Cairo, but without casting himself he had 150 auditions and finally met with Khaled who is also quite a famous international actor. Khaled led the film, which was scripted almost as Tamer’s life including using the director’s house and workplace as locations in the film. It is definitely worth watching and requires patience, which allows one to appreciate the stunning cinematography and the intricate sound design. Another film that’s worth a mention is L’orchestre des aveugles from Morocco. A social comedy with laughs, tears and a charming and inquisitive young boy as the protagonist.
Monday – 26th September 2016
A familiar train ride to Bonn where the Deutsche Welle Headquarters are. The building used to be where the parliament would meet so it has quite an official feel to it and also mostly large windows that makes it feel transparent, quite ironically. Three quick interviews later I’m back on the train, this time to Berlin. Upon arriving in Berlin, there was a protest happening right outside the main train station. Raised in a tradition of political curiosity, I pulled my broken suitcase along to see what the frustration was about. It should have clicked when I didn’t see any person of colour around that this was not a safe space. But the German chants were impossible to interpret and it wasn’t until I saw a Nazi flag attached to a bicycle of one of the protesters is when I realized that these handful of ‘protestors’ were neo-Nazis calling to ‘reclaim their streets’ and ‘throw out refugees’. I turned my back and walked the other way, half out of disgust and half out of disbelief.
Wednesday – 28th September 2016
After spending the day catching up with friends who had lived in Dar es Salaam but now are in Berlin, I headed over to Ballhaus where After the Last Sky was happening. To quote right from them “After the last sky is the first interdisciplinary and international festival in Germany to make the multi-faceted practice of contemporary Palestinian artists accessible.” It’s the first time this kind of festival has been organized incorporating all kinds of arts from musical performances to films, and it was on for the entire month. Unfortunately I missed the performance but was around for the Q&A and had dinner with the festival organizers and band members. Walking back to my hotel I constantly bumped into street musicians who rapped and sang and played their instruments with such vigour and talent surrounded by political graffiti on the walls and streets. I mean, you can’t walk five steps in Berlin without meeting some kind of expression. Berlin really is the art capital of the world.
Thursday – 29th September 2016
We screened Aisha. I do not sit in the cinema anymore, it’s a hard film to watch even for me and I have been with it since the first meeting with Uzikwasa when they wanted to make this film in July 2014. The discussion was brief with a smaller turnout than in Cologne but with similar questions being asked. I do believe that it is such a heavy film that a simple back and forth doesn’t suffice but rather a longer tête-à-tête works wonders. Friends who attended the screening took me out for dinner and then one location would lead to another somehow passing through an obsolete, worn-down warehouse that has now become a club/bar joint for the hipster community – yes, they are that many. A Brooklyn rapper was performing – Princess Nokia, who talent goes way beyond what that phone company has ever achieved and with politically conscious bars it made the experience worth the damning heat and sweat of the non-ventilated club.
I returned to the hotel in the quiet hours of the early morning to grab my suitcase, a second-hand one I bought at a Turkish street market, and head over to the airport. My trip ended here with good news about a project that has been in the pipeline for a few years. Now its time to focus on the new.