For some filmmakers hailing from Central Africa, the work they do is akin to speaking another language; telling their own stories, and the stories of others through the movies they make. What sets some of Central Africa's most innovative filmmakers apart is their remarkable ability to create a connection between their narrative and the audience viewing it, fearlessly doing so by exploring the storylines others have yet to seek out.
The seven filmmakers we have chosen to highlight are from the Central African countries of Cameroon, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Gabon, where the film scene is starting to really blossom. Across the continent, the film industry has undergone a massive transformation since the era of colonialism, replacing Hollywood stereotypes of Africa with a diverse set of films exploring the aftermath of living in a colonized world.
Though Nigeria is perhaps best known as the star of Africa’s film scene, this conception is rapidly changing and filmmakers from all over are sharing their countries’ stories.
While each filmmaker certainly brings something different to the table, they breathe similar themes into their films. Often with an African lens and a desire to share the stories of the continent with the world, the creators explore themes relating to migration, colonialism, womanhood, resilience, and self-identity.
Filmmaker Rosine Mbakam and Machérie Ekwa Bahango dive into the stories of resilient women from their native countries who have faced arranged marriages, immigration, and assimilation, and being survivors of sexual violence. Creators such as Petna Ndaliko Katondolo and Fradique examine the fraught process of achieving independence in their countries of Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Others choose to tell the stories of young people as they navigate the complexities of growing up.
Here are seven filmmakers from Central Africa telling their stories and charting their own paths as they rise to the top of the film scene.
Filmmaker Rosine Mbakam rose to prominence last year after debuting not one, but two documentary feature films, “The Two Faces of a Bamiléké Woman” (2016) and “Chez Jolie Coiffure” (2018). Born in Cameroon in 1980, Mbakam moved to Belgium in 2007 to study film and did not return to her home country until seven years later, where she was drawn to learn more about the resilient generations of women before her. Along with directing, she performs all of her own cinematography, and her intensely beautiful scenes and eye for detail immediately draw the viewer into her world of film. In both of her films, she is unafraid to shy away from her own experiences, and her own perspective as both an African and European.
Nkanya Nkwai is a screenwriter, producer, and actor from Cameroon with many highly-lauded films already under his belt. After studying film at LCC International University in Lithuania, Nkwai returned to Cameroon to pursue his career, where he acted in and produced the full-length films “The African Guest” and “Viri,” where he won a prestigious best actor award at the 2014 Ecrans Noirs film festival. Most recently, he wrote the screenplay for and directed the 2018 Cameroonian film “Nightfall,” which follows the story of a police inspector who gets caught up in a plot of deception when he starts a new job. Intent on forging a recognizable Cameroonian category of cinema, Nkwai wrote the script in a combination of English and French to garner a wider audience.
Petna Ndaliko Katondolo
Petna Ndaliko Katondolo is a documentarian and activist who explores the realities of post-colonial life in Africa through his films. Born in a small town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo near the Ugandan border, Katondolo’s childhood was marked by the Rwandan Civil War in the 1990s, which led him to flee his home country and eventually land at a refugee camp in Kampala, Uganda. He is known for his unique Afro-futuristic style of storytelling and highlighting sociopolitical and cultural issues on the African continent. Among his many short and documentary films, Katondolo is perhaps best known for 2013’s “Mabele Na Biso (Our Land)”, which follows a local community in the Isangi region of his country grappling with the issue of international aid while also trying to regain a semblance of autonomy in their country. His recent short, entitled "Matata", was released in 2019.
Machérie Ekwa Bahango
Machérie Ekwa Bahango released her 2017 debut film, entitled “Maki’la,” with a splash, and followed it with 2020’s SEMA, which hands over the narrative to victims of sexual violence in Bahango’s home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As a young law student, Bahango began to teach herself about the practice of cinematography from watching videos online, a hobby that eventually turned into a career as she began to connect with others in the small film community in DRC. In 2017, while working as a translator on a film in the capital city of Kinshasa, Bahango began to meet young orphaned children on the streets and hear their stories. After working round the clock to gain enough funding, this gave way to what became “Maki’la,” a fictional film telling the story of a teenage girl surviving on her own in the city after being left parentless.
Filmmaker Samantha Biffot grew up between Gabon and France, studying film in Paris before returning to the capital city of Libreville in Gabon. She is the founder and director of the production company of Princess M Productions in Libreville and has directed several acclaimed films and television shows. In 2013, she rose to prominence as director of the series The Eye of the City, which won Best Series at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou. In 2016, she released her first film, “The African Who Wanted to Fly,” a true story of Luc Bendza, an eventual world-class Kung Fu champion originally from Biffot’s country of Gabon. A fish out of water story, Biffot’s cross-cultural exploration of both China and Gabon has been widely praised as she beautifully documents the scenery, music, and local communities across both countries.
Angolan filmmaker Fradique, born Mario Bastos, premiered his first full-length feature film "Air Conditioner" at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) this year to rave reviews. Born in 1986, Fradique studied film and film directing in the US at the New York Film Academy and Academy of Art University in San Francisco, before returning to Angola to create films, which he produces under his production company Geração 80. His recent film "Air Conditioner" is a quirky tale of surrounding a mysterious case of air conditioners that detach from the wall and fall to the ground around the Angolan city of Luanda, while exploring themes of environmentalism and colonialism. In a similar vein, Fradique also directed the 2015 documentary entitled "Independence", which explores Angola’s years-long struggle to achieve liberation.
Not only is Hugo Salvaterra a co-collaborator with and close friend of fellow filmmaker Fradique, but he is also a multi-talented creator in his own right. Salvaterra was born in Luanda, Angola. It was not until his 30s that Salvaterra forwent his corporate day job and went on to study at the New York Film Academy. He describes filmmaking as a unique art form in its ability to explore the meaning of humanity and urges young filmmakers to continue challenging the accepted boundaries of cinema by creating confrontational and truth-seeking works of art. With several credits already under his belt, Salvaterra recently released the 15-minute short film “1999,” a coming-of-age story that explores the relationship between two young teenagers learning to understand their identities and grappling with the pressures of young adulthood. Salvaterra’s first short film,
Words by Olivia Starr