Sunday 21 April 2024


Alongside the exciting boom in writing from the Caribbean, the number of literary festivals has been growing throughout the region over the past two decades, and the newest event takes place April 27 on the north coast of Jamaica.

Named after the parish where it is being held, the inaugural St Mary Literary Festival is an addition to established lit-fests in the region, such as the Calabash and Bocas festivals, and it joins emerging celebrations in the Virgin Islands, St Martin and Cuba.

It will feature some 50 writers, including a dozen high school students, for a day of prose and poetry readings, panel discussions and live music, according to the organizers.

The one-day event is the brainchild of Paul Ward, a retired high-school teacher and college lecturer, who moved to Jamaica from the UK in 1970 and married a St Mary resident two years later. Both he and his wife (also a former science teacher) have worked in Nigeria and Zimbabwe as well the United Kingdom and the Caribbean.

An avid reader and non-fiction writer, Ward says he has long engaged in community activity, and the festival has grown out of that. In the following email interview, he tells SWAN about the background to the event.

SWAN: How did the idea for this new festival come about?

Paul Ward: Margaret Busby, author and the first Black woman publisher in the UK, stayed with me for a few days following the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach (Jamaica) in May last year. I was taken by her anthology of writings by women of African descent, New Daughters of Africa. I took her to speak with the children at our two local schools - and it went down well, especially at the primary school. Some grade-six children wrote stories after that visit, which I put together in a little booklet for them, Likkle Pickney Tell It So.

Treasure Beach is however a long way from St. Mary, and it makes attendance (at Calabash) very costly, being an overnight affair. Thus, the idea of a similar (though more modest community event) on this side of the island: easily within reach from Kingston, combining established writers with aspiring ones and also some schoolchildren.

SWAN: What are some of the literary activities programmed, and what kind of audience are you expecting?

PW: The intention is to have a series of spoken presentations, selected from those who submit written versions, to make a varied and engaging event, divided into three 90-minute sessions. Brief questions and comments after each presentation will be encouraged. If possible, a group discussion of some literary topic will be included in each session. Background music will hopefully be of the traditional kind, such as that provided by drum musician (and poet) Mbala at the meetings of the Poetry Society in Kingston each month.

Some submissions, especially those not presented verbally, will be displayed on notice boards. The hoped-for audience (no, participants) will include the writers themselves, others who already know they enjoy literature, those who didn't know, some schoolchildren and their families.

SWAN: How do you plan to tap into the wide range of literature being produced by Jamaican writers at home and abroad?

PW: We have a contact list of well over 100, including personal contacts, literary organisations in Jamaica and abroad, information in local media (already on IRE FM) and visits to high schools in the St. Mary / Kingston area

SWAN: Can you please describe the venue / general location of the festival?

PW: The venue is perfect. A spacious, hexagonal church hall (which can take 200+ chairs) right next to the sea in Port Maria, capital of St. Mary, and next to the Anglican Parish Church, the main Parish Library, and historic Civic Centre with plenty of parking space. It is within minutes’ walk from the town centre, a bustling busy place with all the charm and challenges of rural Jamaica, for those who don't know them.

SWAN: Literary events have blossomed around the Caribbean over the past two decades. How do you see the St Mary festival fitting into this tradition? 

PW: Most of such events in Jamaica take place in the Kingston area. It is important to make them more accessible for a wider-spread audience, for both enjoyment and edification, and for upcoming writers including schoolchildren as well as those already established. In any case St Mary is known as a special parish: “Is St Mary mi come from” - is a widely-used expression of pride.

SWAN: How can the Jamaican cultural community, both at home and abroad, be of assistance?

PW: By submitting writings (along with videos if attendance is not possible), by spreading the word, by attending (and bringing others along), by contributing ideas on how to make it work best, both this first time and in the future. Monetary contributions would help of course, despite it being a low-budget, community initiative. - SWAN

Photos (top to bottom): A flyer for the St Mary Literary Festival; editor and publisher Margaret Busby (left) with a colleague at the Calabash festival, photo by A.M./SWAN; the venue-by-the-sea of the St. Mary Literary Festival, photo by Paul Ward.

Wednesday 3 April 2024


Maryse Condé, the acclaimed Guadeloupean author, has died in France at the age of 90 - her death eliciting an outpouring of tributes across the world, particularly in the Caribbean.

Authorities in her homeland announced a community wake to be held April 6 in Pointe-à-Pitre, where members of the public could join in communion to celebrate the life and work of a writer who “always carried Guadeloupe in her heart”.

Born in 1934 on the island (a French overseas department), Condé studied in Paris, lived and taught in Africa and the United States, and wrote more than 20 books over her lifetime. She particularly addressed the history and legacies of slavery and colonialism and spoke out against racism, in Europe and elsewhere.

In 2018, she won the “alternative” Nobel Prize for her work, and she said she wished to share the honour with her family, her friends and, “above all, with the Guadeloupean people who will be so thrilled and touched by seeing me receive this award”.

(The honour replaced that year’s official Nobel Prize in Literature, which was postponed to 2019 following a scandal. Condé's award, formally called The New Academy Prize, was set up by “a wide range of knowledgeable individuals” who accepted the nominations of authors from Sweden’s librarians.)

In its citation for the award, the New Academy declared: “Maryse Condé is a grand storyteller. Her authorship belongs to world literature. In her work, she describes the ravages of colonialism and the postcolonial chaos in a language which is both precise and overwhelming. The magic, the dream and the terror is, as also love, constantly present.”

In paying homage after the announcement of her death on April 2, French President Emmanuel Macron wrote on X (formerly Twitter): “A literary giant, Maryse Condé paints a picture of sorrow and hope, from Guadeloupe to Africa, from the Caribbean to Provence. In a language of struggle and splendour that is unique, universal. Free."

Condé’s best-known books include the internationally lauded novels Ségou (Segu), Moi, Tituba sorcière (I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem) and, her final publication, L’Évangile du Nouveau Monde (The Gospel According to the New World). 

Her writing has been rendered into numerous languages, by translators including her husband Richard Philcox, and she will be remembered for work that moved readers across the world and influenced students at institutions where she taught - such as Columbia University in New York.

"Her life and writing have been an inspiration to many young scholars, students, writers - and will continue to be so," said Madeleine Dobie, professor of French and Comparative Literature at Columbia.

(For Columbia’s full tribute to Maryse Condé, see:

Although Condé wrote in French, her work has long transcended linguistic lines in the Caribbean. "Her contribution is beyond measure," Jamaican professor, writer and translator Elizabeth "Betty" Wilson told SWAN.

More than 30 years ago, Wilson and her sister Pamela Mordecai edited an anthology of Caribbean women writers titled Her True-True Name, which carried a story by Condé in English translation.

“I am so sad that she is gone,” Wilson said. “She lived life to the full.”

Sunday 24 March 2024


Spring is the season of film festivals in France, and one of the highlights is the always-stimulating Brazilian Film Festival of Paris, with its special guests, music features and topical issues.

Now in its 26th incarnation, the festival runs March 26 to April 2 this year and will screen more than 30 films at the Arlequin cinema in the famed Montparnasse neighbourhood. It is paying homage as well to the Brazilian actor and director Antônio Pitanga, acclaimed for a host of films from the 1960s to the present.

Spectators can enjoy some of the movies in which he has appeared and one of the films he has directed - Na Boca do Mundo (In the Mouth of the World) - as well as a documentary on his life and work, helmed by Beto Brant and Pitanga’s daughter Camila, a well-known actress in Brazil. 

“The most important element this year is our tribute to Pitanga,” says Katia Adler, founder and director of the film festival. “He has participated in more than 80 films, from Cinema Novo to now, and is an icon of Brazilian filmmaking.”

As honoured guest, Pitanga will be present on opening night for the showing of Nas Ondas de Dorival Caymmi (In the Waves of Dorival Caymmi), a documentary directed by Locca Faria about the famous composer, singer and musician, who blended elements of Bahian culture, samba and bossa nova.

Caymmi, who died in 2008 aged 94, composed some 100 songs over the 70 years he was musically active and is considered among the creators of the bossa nova movement.

Through the recollections of fellow artists, journalists, family members and friends, the documentary portrays his origins in Salvador, Bahia, the sources of his inspiration in the region, and his collaborations with other musicians and singers such as João Gilberto, Carmen Miranda and Chico Buarque. Caymmi also co-wrote songs with Brazilian author Jorge Amado, with whom he maintained a long friendship.

Other festival offerings on music include the gripping biopic Meu nome é Gal (My Name is Gal Costa) in which actress Sophie Charlotte plays the role of the “Tropicália singer, who died in 2022. Known for the hits "Coração Vagabundo”, “Festa Do Interior”, “Desafinado”, “Baby” and others, Costa's career was forged in turbulent times, and she's still recognized as one of the most influential voices in Brazilian music to this day, says Adler.

A filmmaker herself, Adler began distributing Brazilian films in 1998 “as a way to show a different picture and to help filmmakers at a time when culture was being pushed to the side-lines,” she has told SWAN. She launched the festival that same year, and films about music have been a mainstay since, with the spotlight in 2022 focused on pioneering musicians, for instance. (This came after difficulties in mounting the festival during the Covid-19 pandemic. See:

Along with the melodies, the wide-ranging programme has always included thought-provoking features and documentaries. This year, another standout in the lineup is Crowrã (The Buriti Flower), by João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora, a film that follows the indigenous Krahô people in the Brazilian forest during different time periods of their history.

Previously screened at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival in the “Un Certain Regard” category, the documentary is told from the perspective of its subjects, including Ilda Patpro Krahô, one of the screenwriters and an activist for her community. Reviewers have given the documentary high marks, with British film magazine Screen International writing that it “immerses us in the lives of a people constantly facing threats to their existence”.

For Cannes, reviewer Charlotte Pavard similarly wrote: “The Buriti Flower offers a reflection on resistance, the relationship between the Krahô and the earth, and the violence suffered over recent centuries to the detriment of their ancestral rites and practices.”

In addition to the issues faced by indigenous peoples, the festival is screening films that address gender topics and a range of other subjects, including democracy. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the 1964 Brazilian coup d'état which launched a two-decades-long military dictatorship, and several films focus on this period and its legacy.  

Spectators will get to discuss some of these themes with the filmmakers present (Pitanga and others) and will equally have the chance to attend concerts by Brazilian artists – an integral component of the festival over the years.

Being emotionally moved is “guaranteed”, Adler promises.

Photos / posters of the films provided courtesy of the Brazilian Film Festival of Paris.

More info: Festival du cinéma brésilien de Paris 26 - Festival - Jangada

Thursday 15 February 2024


Judging from the audience reactions at a screening of Bob Marley: One Love in Brussels, the music may touch international viewers, but the memories and some of the “insider” comments belong to Jamaicans and those closely connected with the country.

It was clear from discussions after the premiere that attendees who had lived in Jamaica understood the context of the songs, and got certain jokes, while others felt adrift, even as they appreciated the world-famous tracks such as No Woman, No Cry and, yes, One Love. This may account for some of the less-than-positive reviews that have started to emerge.

“The film was surprisingly authentic,” said Stefanie Gilbert-Roberts, a Jamaican communications and culture professional who resides in Belgium. “But perhaps so authentic that it might seem out of this world for those not connected to the culture.”

Bob Marley: One Love, directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green and coming nearly 43 years after the iconic singer’s death, focuses on the Seventies and on two concerts that Marley and his band performed in Kingston, the Jamaican capital. Both events took place amid surging political violence on the island and were aimed at unifying the population. But before the first concert, gunmen stormed Marley’s home and shot him, his wife Rita, and his manager Don Taylor – an assault that shocked Jamaicans and international fans.

The film depicts the attack quickly, without dwelling on what must have been deep trauma for Marley’s family. Watching it, one can’t help but wonder at the effects on those who have now gone on to co-produce this movie: his widow Rita, their children Ziggy and Cedella, and the other family members involved such as Stephen (music supervisor).

Bob and Rita performed with their wounds at the Smile Jamaica concert in December 1976, and then left the island: he eventually for London, and she with the children to the United States. The film shows Marley’s time in England, which is perhaps the least interesting part of the story – as viewers don’t really get an idea of how he dealt again with life away from “home” (he had lived in London before, in the early Seventies, signing to Chris Blackwell's Island label). Instead, we’re given scenes of him jogging, playing football with his bandmates, joking with record executives, and getting inspiration for the title of the album Exodus, a global hit after its release in 1977.

Marley’s “relationships” are also not dwelt upon, as a viewer remarked after the screening. The most well-known of these, with Cindy Breakspeare (Miss World 1976 and mother of Damian Marley), is shown fleetingly in a scene where she watches him perform in a studio. Breakspeare is named in the credits as a consultant to the film.

Following his self-imposed exile in England, Marley would return triumphantly to Kingston to play the One Love Peace Concert in 1978, when he brought Michael Manley and Edward Seaga, leaders of the opposing political parties, together on stage to clasp hands. It was a message again to Jamaicans to unite. By the time of the next general election in the country, in 1980, more than 800 people had been killed, and citizens were leaving the island in droves, taking with them their grief, and the music of their youth.

In the film, Rita (played by British actress Lashana Lynch) refers to one of the most shocking incidents during this period, when attackers set fire to a charitable institution, with residents inside burned alive. For those who experienced these turbulent years, the film brings the memories crashing back, of both the horrific incidents and the music. Marley recorded his island’s troubles in song after song: Johnny Was, Concrete Jungle, Rat Race, Ambush in the Night, Them Belly Full (But We Hungry) and others.

In addition, there were the more playful tunes such as Roots, Rock, Reggae (with the opening lyrics “Play I some music”), and then the love songs, which the film highlights as well: Turn Your Lights Down Low being among them.

In the movie, Marley is seen playing this on the guitar to Rita, and it is then that one realizes that the whole biopic might actually be a love song to her, formulated by her children.

As portrayed by Lynch, Rita is a force, an artist in her own right, who needs to be both a backing singer for Bob and a parent to their children (as well as to his “outside” ones) – a situation she angrily describes in one argument scene. Lynch’s performance is perhaps the most memorable, and the writers could have given her greater scope by including more of Rita’s story.

Playing Marley, British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir works hard to capture the intensity and charisma of the singer, and he gives a credible performance. But the script needed more substance for a complete portrayal. Not shown, for instance, is Marley’s stance on personal relationships. 

At an early interview in Kingston, he was once asked about these views, and his response was: if a woman loved him, she would love his other women. When questioned whether this might be acceptable were the situation reversed, he replied: She don’t do that. Still, he adopted the two children Rita had with other partners. One love, one heart? Fi dem business?

So, yes, artists are complex people, and certain aspects of his life might have been depicted, alongside the far-reaching and undeniable impact in addressing injustice, inequality, and marginalisation. This is a minor criticism, however. The film is absolutely worth watching - for the man, the music, the memories... and the question of how far the world still has to go in solving major ills.

At the screening in Belgium, co-organized by Paramount Pictures, Sony Brussels and the Jamaican Embassy, Marley’s importance was summed up by Ambassador Symone Betton Nayo, who gave a short speech before the film began.

“His ability to connect with people through his music, transcending cultural and geographical boundaries, has made him a symbol of unity, strength and hope,” Betton Nayo said. “He was not only a prolific writer of music, and a talented performer, but an inspiring messenger. Many of his anthemic compositions such as One Love, Get Up, Stand Up, Redemption Song remain relevant as we reflect on current global realities.”

With “Reggae Month” being celebrated in February, the film’s release is timely, paying tribute to an iconic Jamaican artist whose music lives on, with the call for peace, love, hope, and justice, Betton Nayo added. – AM/SWAN

Photos (top to bottom): A poster for the film; the Bob Marley album Songs of Freedom; Lashana Lynch and Kingsley Ben-Adir as Rita and Bob, courtesy of Sony Pictures Belgium; Kingsley Ben-Adir as Bob Marley, courtesy of Paramount; Ambassador Symone Betton Nayo at the premiere, photo by A.M./SWAN.

Bob Marley: One Love (Paramount Pictures) is currently in cinemas.

Monday 25 September 2023


Forty-two new sites, including memorials of the Rwandan genocide, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) announced at the end of a two-week meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The organization said its World Heritage Committee – which met from Sept. 10 to 25 – approved 33 cultural and nine natural sites, bringing the total on the List to 1,199 across 168 countries.

Rwanda had its first two inscriptions:  Nyungwe National Park, and the genocide memorial sites at Nyamata, Murambi, Gisozi and Bisesero, which include the locations of massacres in 1994.

Between April and July of that year, an estimated one million people were killed across the country by armed militias that targeted Tutsi but also murdered moderate Hutu and Twa people.

The Gisozi site in the capital city Kigali houses the 1999-built Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 victims have been buried, while the hill of Bisesero (western Rwanda) hosts a memorial constructed in 1998 to honour the fight of those who resisted for more than two months before being killed by the genocide perpetrators.

Rwandan officials welcomed the inclusion on the World Heritage List, stating that the “historic” inscription… “increases international visibility, and also honours the memory of the victims they represent throughout the world.”

UNESCO said that with the 2023 listings for Africa - five in all - the continent has “reached the symbolic milestone of 100 sites” on the List (which has a preponderance of properties in Italy, China, Germany, Spain and France). 

Over the past decade, the UN agency says it has been working to remedy under-representation on the List, urging member states to put forward sites for inscription.

This year, the organization emphasized new recognition for “Sites of Memory” - places in which an event occurred “that a nation and its people, or certain communities wish to memorialize”. It said the inclusion of such places on the List “makes them part of our shared global heritage, and recognizes the part they play in the peace process.”

The World Heritage Committee, for instance, also inscribed Argentina’s torture memorial (the ESMA Museum and Place of Memory - Former Clandestine Detention, Torture and Extermination Centre), and Belgium and France’s “Funeral and Memorial Sites of the Western Front in the First World War”.

Photo: Flame of Hope at the Gisozi memorial site.

For more information on the UNESCO World Heritage List, see: UNESCO World Heritage Centre

Wednesday 17 May 2023


Some movie scenes keep replaying in one’s mind long after one has left the cinema, and this is certainly true of Moon Over Aburi, a short film shot in Ghana that has been gaining accolades since its release earlier this year.

Based on a story (and script) by the prize-winning Ghanaian-Jamaican writer and poet Kwame Dawes, the film addresses subjects such as sexual abuse, society’s view of women’s roles, and the gender-based perspectives from which experiences are recalled and retold. It will have a special screening this month at the prestigious Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica (May 26-28), and while viewers can expect to be moved by the whole story, they will be haunted by one stunning, unexpected scene.

In its minimalist mise-en-scène, Moon Over Aburi is reminiscent of a play, with two main actors in the spotlight, or rather the moonlight, playing off each other: Ghanaian-British actress Anniwaa Buachie and her Ghanaian compatriot Brian Angels (whose credits include the 2015 feature Beasts of No Nation, starring Idris Elba).

Buachie plays a mysterious woman, the owner of a small food kiosk who seems tied to something in her past. Angels plays the man who visits the kiosk on a moonlit night and asks for a meal. As the two exchange cryptic words and stories, it becomes clear that the man knows more about her than he lets on, and the colossal secret she carries is gradually revealed, as enigmatic shots of the full moon emphasise the mystique.

Buachie, who produced the film and co-directed (with Sheila Nortley), has a background in both cinema and theatre, having performed at London’s Old Vic and other venues. She has also appeared in guest roles in popular television series such as Eastenders. But making Moon Over Aburi was not a shoo-in for her, she says. She and her team had to overcome certain obstacles for the work to see the light of day - because in a world where the number of films seems to be ever growing, only a selected few filmmakers acquire the resources to pursue their art.

In the following, edited, interview, Buachie speaks with SWAN about the film’s journey to the screen.

SWAN: Moon Over Aburi is a shocking, thought-provoking film that is beautifully made. How did it come about?

Anniwaa Buachie: As an actor, I provided the voice of the audiobook in the anthology Accra Noir, edited by Nana Ama Danquah [and published by New York-based publisher Akashic Books]. I fell in love with the story Moon Over Aburi by Kwame Dawes.

I remember when I started reading this story, I immediately had goose bumps. The story was honest, visceral, poetic, chilling... a dance of cat and mouse between two people, a man and woman, secret and lies, making one question whether two wrongs can make a right.

It sat with me, it was in my heart, my mind, my body. I had never read a story that highlighted the vicious cycle of domestic violence, but also explored how a woman ruthlessly and unapologetically takes back her power.

Society tends to excuse the faults of a man and blame the women in that man’s life. The woman who raised him, the woman who married him, the woman who rejected him. Power is given to a woman to birth and nurture a child, yet it is taken from her as soon as she seeks equality, acknowledgement, and respect. It is a story that pushes the brutal subject matter of domestic violence into the light, a much-needed conversation that often lies in the shadow, swept under the carpet. I had to bring this story to light.

SWAN: What were some of the challenges in adapting the short story to suit the demands of a different medium, film?

A.B.: Kwame Dawes’ writing is beautiful, lyrical and poetic, and it was important to me to ensure that the film produced stayed true to the mystical element of the original.

Many stories are written in the first person, and the reader already is biased as they often attach themselves to the main narrator / protagonist. However, with Moon Over Aburi, Kwame had already written it in a dialogue format. The story was a script in the first instance, so adapting it to film was a joy, to be honest.

What was tricky was deciding how much detail to pack from a 20-page short story into a 10-page script. The world that Kwame had created was so intricate, intimate through words, and heavily reliant on the reader’s interpretation. However, with a screenplay, you have to make definitive decisions and find ways to utilise camera shots, sounds, and the colour palette to influence the viewer’s perspective.

Film also demands a particular structure that a short story can forego. Screenplays require scenes that establish each character and a clear breaking point in the middle of the script that take characters to the emotional extreme - into fight or flight mode. The audience needs to be taken on an emotional ride, and this is influenced by the whole creative team: producer, director, cinematographer, etc.

Personally, it was a challenge for me to maintain a balance between being an actor and being the producer, and co-directing.

The actor inside me wanted to play forever and fully immerse myself in the character. However, there was a part of my brain that, as the producer, always had to be focused on the practicalities, thinking about if the budget is being used effectively, if everyone is happy on set, if cast and crew have been fed and have what they need to maintain a high quality! 

Also, once a film project is done, an actor can switch off and think about their next project, whereas the role of the filmmaker doesn’t stop there - now it’s about implementing, marketing, sourcing additional finance, distribution. Good thing I am a great multi-tasker!

SWAN: The shots of the landscape, the moon, and the setting overall, are artistic and evocative. Can you tell us more about the photography and where it took place?

A.B.: The story takes place in the Aburi, the eastern region of Ghana, and in Accra, the main city. Whilst the story leaves room for the imagination, I am so thankful to Ghanaian-based cinematographer extraordinaire Apag Annankra of Apag Studios and art director Godwin Sunday Ashong. Their knowledge of the neighbourhood and the scenery enabled us to find places within Aburi and Accra that provide a magical realism.

We used drone shots to capture the vastness of Aburi and correlated this with the earthy green and blue colours and rural setting in the country scenes, and juxtaposed this with our city location - with intimate shots, highly saturated neon colours, and an abstract setting. The city locations were based in Jamestown, the vibrant heart of Accra, and Cantonments.

SWAN: The films you’ve produced carry a social message - about the treatment of girls and women - but it is left up to viewers to draw their own conclusions, or to see the light, so to speak. How do you balance artistic subtlety and activism?

A.B.: It is important to me, as an artist, to present situations that encourage conversations, a reflection of self and to identify how one contributes or blocks the development of girls and women. The best teaching is when the viewer has space for analysis themselves, as opposed to being force fed an opinion.

I simply ensure that the films I produce have in-depth perspectives, of extreme impactful situations, drawing the viewer in on an emotional, human level. 

SWAN: What are some of the difficulties in making a film without major studio backing, and are things changing?

A.B.: Budget. A studio-backed film would have a large budget and with that the creative team has space to make mistakes, to experiment, to spend hours on a scene taking multiple shots. With a big budget you can secure your ideal location, block off streets and build a set if needs be, to get the right look for the film.

Whereas when you are working on an independent or a low budget, everything you do has to be specific, and with the right intention, because the repercussions are greater. Planning is key, and ensuring everyone in the crew and cast understands the overall vision of the film is important. There cannot be a weak link, everyone needs to work together to bring their A-game. You cannot go back and re-shoot, money is tight, which also means time is limited. You just have one chance to make sure you get the right shots, the right lighting, etc.

I do think things are changing but not quickly enough. Independent filmmaking is an art that is not given the same respect as the big studio movies and TV. Which is a shame, because independents are a great way to platform new and upcoming talent and inject society with stories that are often forgotten, hidden, or discarded. But nowadays the art of filmmaking is more about the return on investment, and for that reason independent filmmaking is always a risk, but that is what makes it exhilarating and rewarding… if you make people's heads turn in an age where attention is so competitive, you know you have something really special.

SWAN: What do you hope viewers will take away from Moon?

A.B.: This film focuses on giving attention to overlooked narratives, concerning social issues such as: gender-based violence, misogyny and gender inequality, which shroud many cultures. It will open doors to a diverse audience offering intelligent insight into the social and political consciousness of the invisible and the marginalised. While this story is in a fiction anthology, it is a reality that most women face. Through the screenings, I am hoping viewers can identify how cultural constructs contribute to the way in which women are viewed, and how this can change, how this MUST change and, ultimately, that it’s down to us, the new generation to take control and rewrite the social narrative. A narrative that allows us, me, as a woman, to learn from the present, and construct a future that uplifts gender equality, suppresses elitism, and eradicates poverty. This is the foundation of social cohesion and the start of a new African legacy.

SWAN: What’s next for you?

A.B.: Kwame and I are touring with this short in many film festivals in the UK, Ghana, and the States as well, developing Moon Over Aburi into a full feature and exploring production companies and talent. Personally, I have my show coming out on the BBC (teen drama Phoenix Rise), and I have a couple other things in the works that I can’t announce yet, but it’s an exciting time! – SWAN

Photos: top to bottom: Anniwaa Buachie; scenes from Moon Over Aburi.

See too: Interview with Anniwaa Buachie - The Making of a Ghanaian Short Film | Inter Press Service ( 

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Monday 27 March 2023


It’s a new direction for UNESCO, getting involved in movies, so to speak.

The United Nations' cultural agency and Netflix - the global streaming and production company - have partnered to “support” and “promote” Africa’s new generation of filmmakers, and the results will be revealed to the world from March 29, when six short films by young directors will be available in 190 countries via the video-on-demand platform.

The films are the winners of an “African Folktales, Reimagined” competition that was launched by both entities in 2021, attracting more than 2,000 entries, according to UNESCO.

Ernesto Ottone Ramírez, the agency’s assistant director-general for culture, said the joint initiative “pays homage to Africa’s centuries-old tradition, passing wisdom from generation to generation, from elders to the youngest”. He acknowledged that this is a departure for UNESCO whose work with streaming platforms have mostly focused on regulatory and policy issues.

Tendeka Matatu, Netflix’s director of film for Sub-Saharan Africa, said the company believes that “great stories are universal and that they can come from anywhere and be loved everywhere”. He said that what Netflix and UNESCO have in common is the desire to "promote the multiplicity of expression". 

The submissions to the film contest went through a first selection process, before being narrowed to 21 candidates, who presented their projects to an international jury. The judges - including film mentors - then selected six finalists: from Kenya (Voline Ogutu), Mauritania (Mohamed Echkouna), Nigeria (Korede Azeez), South Africa (Gcobisa Yako), Tanzania (Walt Mzengi Corey) and Uganda (Loukman Ali).

Each finalist won $25,000 and a production grant of $75,000 to create their short movie with a local production company, UNESCO said. The films were completed earlier this year, and their streaming (as an “anthology”) will begin with the 6th Kalasha International Film and TV Market in Kenya, a three-day trade fair taking place March 29 - 31.

Speaking at an in-house “advance” showing of the films at UNESCO headquarters in Paris, Ottone Ramírez said the agency was “particularly pleased” that the short films captured “not only the culture of Africa, but also the cultural diversity within Africa”.

Some observers privately expressed concerns, however, that any association with global streaming platforms could lead to formulaic storytelling or could undermine local film ventures - a fear that Ottone Ramírez said was unfounded.

He told SWAN that the filmmakers had complete freedom, and that the films were their own vision. What Netflix “put at their disposal”, he said, was access to an experienced film partner, as well as financial and technical support. (The “Netflix-appointed supervising producer” was Steven Markovitz from Big World Cinema, an African production company based in Cape Town, South Africa.)

UNESCO says the partnership illustrates a “shared commitment to the continent’s audiovisual industries, which generate jobs and wealth” and that the creative industries “are an asset for the sustainable development of the continent”.

The creative industries are also an opportunity for companies seeking to expand into new markets, which could be mutually beneficial, observers say. While Nigeria and a few other countries have well-established filmmaking sectors, many African directors might benefit from international support.

Anniwaa Buachie, a Ghanaian-British actress and filmmaker, told SWAN that “budget” is one of the biggest constraints for independent films. “You cannot go back and re-shoot, money is tight, which also means time is limited. You just have one chance to make sure you get the right shots, the right lighting, etc.” 

Some of the industry challenges are highlighted in a report UNESCO produced in 2021 on Africa’s film sector, titled The African film Industry: trends, challenges and opportunities for growth. The report found that the sector could create some 20 million jobs and generate 20 billion dollars in annual revenue on the continent. With the survey, UNESCO could identify the need to create capacity building and to “scale up” efforts by policy makers - using Nigeria as one model, Ottone Ramírez said.

(Read here: The African film Industry: trends, challenges and opportunities for growth - UNESCO Digital Library)

It was on the completion of the report that UNESCO decided on the current project, Ottone Ramírez told SWAN. At the same time, Netflix was also seeking to launch a project in Africa, so talks began on a partnership, with “months” of discussion about the format and the call for applications, he added.

As for “priorities”, UNESCO hoped to include indigenous languages and gender equality in the project, he said. Alongside English and French, the winning films are made in a variety of languages including Hausa, KiSwahili, Runyankole, Hassaniya Arabic, and isiXhosa - reflecting the UN International Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032).

Many of the stories also centre on women characters, with topics including domestic violence and the struggle for equality within patriarchal structures.

“It shows us how important this subject is for the young generation of African filmmakers,” Ottone Ramírez said. “I would say it was the main theme in each of the 21 pitches before the final selection. We’re seeing another way of storytelling.”

Part of the aim was equally to boost opportunities for women filmmakers - something that has already been happening with the long-running FESPACO film festival in Burkina Faso - and to focus on directors living in Africa, Ottone Ramírez told SWAN.

During the selection of the winning pitches, UNESCO and Netflix acted as observers, leaving the choice to the international jury, he said.

Aside from being able to produce their films, perhaps the biggest advantage to the winners is that they have access to a global platform, which Netflix said it is “proud” to provide.

“We know Africa has never lacked in talent and creativity” said Matatu, the Netflix director. “What has been in short supply, however, is opportunity. Emerging talents often struggle - they struggle finding the right resources and the visibility to fully unleash their potential and develop their creative careers.”

The winning short films will potentially reach some 230 million subscribers of the video-on-demand platform around the world, he said - an unprecedented opportunity for these young filmmakers. - SWAN

Industry mentors were Bongiwe Selane, Jenna Bass, Pape Boye, Femi Odugbemi, Leila Afua Djansi, and Tosh Gitonga.

Thursday 23 February 2023


In autumn 2021, hundreds of book lovers gathered in one of the “chicest” areas of France’s capital to attend the inaugural African Book Fair of Paris, surprising even the organizers, who hadn’t expected the first-time event to be such a resounding success, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Now, the Salon du livre africain de Paris (its French name) is back this year at the same location - the town hall of the 6th arrondissement, replete with striking chandeliers and ornate, painted ceilings. But it’s taking place in March, at the start of the spring season for which the city is so famed, and it promises to be more expansive.

Erick Monjour, the fair’s French director, said that around 200 writers and 50 publishing houses will participate from March 17 to 19, with Guinea as the “country of honour”. The full programme is set for release March 1.

The fair will also pay homage to South African icon Nelson Mandela, ahead of the 10th anniversary of his death (in December), and will celebrate the work of Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007), who would’ve been 100 years old this year.

Among the main attractions are the debates and lectures involving renowned writers, and in 2021 readers were able to hear from authors who had travelled to Paris from different African countries, and to interact with French-speaking African and Caribbean writers based in France.

Monjour told SWAN that the idea for the fair “started with the realization that for several years there was no book fair in Paris devoted to African literature and that there was a need for this because there are so many readers”.

(The annual Paris Book Fair for some time did have a section focused on African writing, but that was discontinued for various reasons, including financial issues.)

“We wish to give the greatest visibility to African literature but also to books that are about Africa,” Monjour said, adding that the focus was mainly on French-speaking countries because of a limited budget.

“We don’t really have ‘Anglo’ writers, from countries like Nigeria for instance, coming to the fair, because of the cost. But there are publishers with books translated from English.”

The publishing houses present in 2021 featured an array of literature that reflected the increase of writing from the continent. They included pioneering companies such as Editions Présence Africaine, which began in Paris in the late 1940s and went on to publish leading francophone African writers as well as anglophone writers in French translation. The founders organized the first International Congress of Black Writers and Artists in 1956.

During the 2021 fair, readers flocked to Présence Africaine’s well-stocked table which carried books by writers such as Goncourt Prize winner Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, American author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, and a host of others - all against the backdrop of French architectural splendour (with its inescapable reminders of conquest and colonialism).

“One of the things about this festival is that, even with a limited budget, we wanted it to be in a prestigious location, in the centre of Paris, because sometimes events like this can be on the ‘periphery’,” said Monjour. “This venue is a beautiful place.” - SWAN

Photos (top to bottom): a poster for the 2023 Salon du livre africain de Paris; the stand of Editions Présence Africaine at the 2021 book fair (credit AM/SWAN).

Follow SWAN on Twitter @mckenzie_ale.

Saturday 18 February 2023


Acclaimed American writer and 1993 Nobel laureate Toni Morrison will be the focus of a “revelatory exhibition” at Princeton University Library opening Feb. 22.

Curated by Autumn Womack, assistant professor of English and African American Studies, the exhibition titled Toni Morrison: Sites of Memory is aimed at “excavating” the creative process of the iconic author, who died in 2019. It will be the “center of a community-wide exploration of how Morrison’s archive continues to influence the past, present, and future,” the organizers said in a release.


“It is difficult to overstate the importance of Toni Morrison’s writing to American literature, art, and life. This exhibition draws us toward the unexplored corners of her writing process and unknown aspects of her creative investments that only live in this archive,” Womack added.

The Toni Morrison Papers archive includes research materials, manuscript drafts, correspondence, photographs, and other resources that Princeton University acquired in 2014.


Running until June 4, 2023, the exhibition - at PUL’s Milberg Gallery - will also “anchor a series of programs” that include several wide-ranging events, such as an art exhibition at the Princeton University Art Museum’s Art@Bainbridge with artist Alison Saar, and newly commissioned performances “responding to Morrison’s work” presented by the McCarter Theatre and Princeton University Concerts, which stages classical music productions.


In addition, a three-day symposium will take place March 23-25, gathering some 30 writers and artists “to reflect on Morrison’s relationship to the archive”, with Haitian-American writer Edwidge Danticat scheduled to deliver the keynote address; and there will be public tours of Sites of Memory, children’s programming, a spring lecture series, and undergraduate courses on Morrison’s work, PUL stated.


The events reflect the “enormous influence” that Morrison had not only on Princeton University, where she taught for 17 years beginning in 1989 (later lending her name to Morrison Hall, home to the school’s Department of African American Studies), but also on the culture of American life, say the organizers.

“In imagining this initiative - from exhibition to symposium to partner projects - I wanted to show the importance of the archive to understanding Morrison’s work and practice. But I also wanted to show how this archive in particular is a site that opens up new lines of inquiry and inspires new kinds of collaboration,” Womack said.


The exhibition includes some 100 original archival items curated into six categories, according to PUL. “Beginnings” charts Morrison’s emergence as a writer, editor, and the author of The Bluest Eye, published in 1970; “Writing Time” draws from her day planners “to emphasize the process of her craft, which she often honed in spare moments around her full-time career” as an editor; and “Thereness-ness” explores the role of place in her work and presents “rarities” such as drawings of architectural spaces for the famed novels like Beloved (winner of the 1988 Pulitzer Prize) and Paradise.


Furthermore, “Wonderings and Wanderings” stages Morrison’s “creative process from start to

finish" and reveals how her published work holds a "capacious archive” of Black life; “Genealogies of Black Feminism” uses correspondence between herself and other Black women to “excavate an alternate account of Black feminist thought in the 1960s and 1970s”; and “Speculative Futures” spotlights unfinished projects and "unrealized possibilities that only live in the collection”.


As readers and teachers of Morrison’s work around the world equally recognise her importance and celebrate her literary legacy, some are hoping that Sites of Memory will be a traveling exhibition to make her archives available to a global audience. During her lifetime, she received awards from several countries, including France which bestowed on her one of its highest decorations - the Légion d’honneur - in 2010, two years before then U.S. president Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


“She was always very open to young readers internationally, and very generous,” said Andrée-Anne Kekeh-Dika, associate professor of American and Anglophone Caribbean literature at Université Paris 8 in France.


“I remember when she came to the Louvre and she was asked a question about the reception of her work and her legacy, and she responded that ‘I’ve done my part and I have to let my work go’. I was really impressed by that because sometimes there’s a sense that you can’t engage with the work if you’re outside the culture.” 

On the American national level, meanwhile, the United States Postal Service will honour Morrison with a commemorative stamp in 2023, the thirtieth anniversary of her receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Photos: Toni Morrison, courtesy of Princeton University; an early edition of Beloved

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale