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African visual artists urged to work with filmakers
Martin Chemhere, AfricanColours -
October 23, 2004

"The Perception of African Images, Towards a Collaboration Between Visual Artists and Filmmakers in Zimbabwe" - 5th September 2004, Harare, organized by Zimbabwe International Film Festival in Collaboration with the National Gallery of Zimbabwe.

Do African filmmakers appreciate the importance of incorporating visual art into their film productions? Do African visual artists realize their value in the film production industry? Is there a place for "art" films in Africa?

The above questions came out at a Harare workshop were a group of local visual artists met filmmakers from France, Japan, South Africa, DRC and Zimbabwe to discuss about engaging visual artists for purposes of incorporating their work into moving images.

The audience heard how a handful of African filmmakers have dared tackle their stories using the visual images by African artists as backgrounds in films.

The forum also looked at various ways of encouraging the use of art in film in order to produce rich African tales. However, many among the audience felt that it was high time that African filmmakers appreciated the use of visual arts to produce exciting and visually engaging African movies.

Invited guests heard the disappointing reality that despite the potential of African contemporary visual art images to transform the way audiences see movies if properly incorporated into film production, few filmmakers across the continent were still reluctant to engage in the business of "arty" films. Many participants in the discussion forum felt that "arty" films were popular overseas than in Africa.

Visual art forms such as sculpture, painting, metal art, still remain largely an unexplored area by the African film industry. Even leading musical names in Africa, who have the capacity to produce videos enhanced with artistic visuals have largely ignored the use of visual artists in their products. Usually, their performance stages appear unimaginative particularly in Zimbabwean situations where musicians do not readily accept criticism of their poorly designed stages.

A guest at the discussion urged filmmakers thus: "As African filmmakers you must use our culture and traditions to help built an identity with African films because these aspects enhance the African identity within African films.

Endowed with alluring rich textures, the artistic resources, particularly the medium of Zimbabwean stone sculpture, which has been acclaimed the world over since the sixties, remain largely unrecognized as a catalyst to the popularization of African film.

Everybody present agreed that there was need to harmonize the visual art and film sectors with a view to create and promote contemporary artistic films. But there was a hindrance factor, which arose from lack of appreciation by the people who had the means to incorporate the images.

"Some years ago I attended a music show by one of the leading Zimbabwean singers, who I recommended the use of a well designed backdrop for his stage. He shocked me saying: "For these people, I don't need to do much".

Another visual artist said: "Only a few months ago I had the opportunity to be approached by a well known female filmmaker. She asked me to come up with visuals for her film, which I did. But she went on to use the visuals in her film without paying me, and she has never said a thing about it since".

Some participants sited tight budgets as the major reasons why most filmmakers in Africa are not yet ready to utilize art in their films. "The other problem is that when the artist is used, it is either for free or half the fee paid to others mainly due to insufficient budgets or the general notion that the visual artist does not need much money for survival".

The meeting heard that the incorporation of African visual art into African films ensured a good approach to making "African movies" for the continent and the world.

Chikonzero Chazunguza, a well-known visual artist who has worked in the Zimbabwean short films said that Africa lacked the production of real African movies - ones that depict Africa through genuine African visual art images.

His view was that the fusion of African contemporary images would mean that film productions from the continent were exclusive in their portrayal of messages that would make them excel in the world of entertainment.

Kenji Shiraishi, a Japanese filmmaker told the workshop that throughout his travels in Africa in recent years, especially at Carthage (Egypt) and at Fespaco, Ouagadougou, he had never seen a film on African art or artists.

Kenji (and all the others present) believes that incorporating African visual art into films could help in creating an identity and definition for African movies and thus add value to their marketing abroad. Kenji said that it was "up to this day difficult to define African cinema". "At Fespaco someone said that an African cinema is something directed by a African", he said.

Doreen Sibanda, curator, visual artist and arts consultant who chaired the proceedings on the day urged African filmmakers to start incorporating contemporary visual arts such as sculpture into their projects. She said that the use of visual art backgrounds played a major role in enhancing the outlook and marketing of film products.

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