Saturday, 15 February 2020


Ten African filmmakers have been selected to participate in a new movie residency in one of the most historic regions of Japan, working with acclaimed Japanese director Naomi Kawase, under the auspices of UNESCO.

Kawase and Audrey Azoulay, the director-general of UNESCO (the United Nations’ cultural agency), on Feb. 13 announced the names of the 10 winners for the inaugural UNESCO-Nara Residency for Young African Female Filmmakers, which will run from March 28 to April 12 in Nara Prefecture - a region renowned for having one of Imperial Japan’s first capital cities.

Audrey Azoulay (L) and Naomi Kawase (R) announce the
winners for the UNESCO-Nara Residency.
(Photo: UNESCO/C. Alix)
The chosen filmmakers are Mayowa Bakare and Uren Makut of Nigeria; Okule Dyosopu and Thishiwe Ziqubu of South Africa; Awa Gueye and Fama Reyanne Sow of Senegal; Joan Kiragu and Lydia Matata of Kenya; and Delphine Yerbanga and Floriane Zoundi of Burkina Faso - the country that hosts the biennial FESPACO film festival, Africa’s largest such event.

The announcement came in Paris as a meeting was taking place of the Intergovernmental Committee responsible for overseeing the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (a convention that Japan has not yet signed).

“We need to hear a plurality of voices,” Azoulay said. “It is important for the cinema industry to make the voice of Africa heard, to support the emergence of diverse cultural expressions, put forth new ideas and emotions, and make sure that women as creators contribute to a necessary global dialogue for peace, culture and development.”

Naomi Kawase (far right) calls for support for women
filmmakers. (Photo: UNESCO/C. Alix)
Kawase meanwhile stressed that it was essential to support women working in the film industry as female directors are often overlooked in the selection for festivals and awards. For instance, only one woman - Jane Campion of New Zealand - has won the Palme d’Or top prize at France’s prestigious Cannes Film Festival.

Kawase is among a small number of women directors who have received other prizes at Cannes. She won the Caméra d'Or newcomers’ award, for best new director, in 1997 with her first 35mm film, Suzaku, and the Grand Prix in 2007 for her fourth feature The Mourning Forest (Mogari no Mori).

Last year, Senegalese-French director Mati Diop became the first black woman to have a film in competition for the Palme d’Or, and her film Atlantics went on to win the Grand Prix, or the silver medal.

Recent events show that things are changing, Kawase said, but more needs to be done. “I’m convinced that working together, we can open a new door,” she said.

Naomi Kawase discusses the residency and plans
for future initiatives. (Photo: SWAN/McKenzie)
The ten filmmakers - selected from some 600 applicants - range in age from 21 to 35 and will be coached by Kawase and Senegalese female filmmaker Fatou Kandé Senghor, in the residency’s picturesque village of Tawara, Nara Prefecture. The project is supported by the Government of Japan and the Japan Foundation, UNESCO said.

“In a way, being a woman made it easier for me to look closely at my own environment,” Kawase told reporters at a UNESCO press conference. “Not being in the mainstream or the centre, women can make new discoveries. In my case, I will create things from sources within myself. I believe there is something universal in deep personal experience.”

She added that the environment of the residency was sure to have a “spiritual” effect on the filmmakers, as the forests and mountains of the location could be inspiring. She grew up in the region, and The Mourning Forest was filmed there.

The filmmakers will develop projects and participate in master classes, filming and debates, according to UNESCO. Residents will be invited to present their work at the next Nara International Film Festival (NIFF), taking place Sept. 18 to 22. Kawase founded this event in 2010, and it now attracts thousands of film fans. – SWAN

UPDATE: UNESCO has postponed the Residency until further notice, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Sunday, 9 February 2020


The passing of Barbadian poet and scholar Kamau Brathwaite will leave a profound void in the Caribbean, but the region is commemorating his literary legacy even as it mourns.

“He was a fearlessly innovative poet and certainly one of the earliest to be recognised internationally,” said Jamaican writer and educator Dr. Velma Pollard, following the announcement that Brathwaite had died in his homeland Feb. 4, aged 89.

Barbadian poet and scholar Kamau Brathwaite.
“He was constantly trying new things, new forms of expression,” Pollard told SWAN. “Perhaps his biggest legacy is his successful experimentation with poetic form. No other Caribbean poet has been so daring.”

That legacy will be highlighted in the coming weeks and during this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad and Tobago, taking place May 1-3 in the capital Port of Spain.

It was revealed Feb. 5 that a few days before his death, Brathwaite had agreed to accept the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award for Distinguished Service to Caribbean Letters, a prize presented annually by Bocas.

“Although the Bocas Henry Swanzy Award is not usually given posthumously, as it was offered and accepted by Professor Brathwaite shortly before he died, we will present the award as already planned at a ceremony in Barbados in March,” stated Bocas Lit Fest founder and director Marina Salandy-Brown.

“It now seems even more significant to honour him, and in this time of mourning it is a small consolation to know that news of the award brought Professor Brathwaite pleasure in his final days,” she added.

Like Nobel laureate Derek Walcott of St. Lucia, Brathwaite saw his influence spread globally as he explored Caribbean history, culture and the effects of colonialism.

From his youth in the Barbadian capital Bridgetown, his career took him to other islands, and to Africa and the United States. He worked as an education officer in Ghana and later taught in the history department at the University of the West Indies’ Mona campus in Jamaica, eventually becoming a professor of comparative literature at New York University.

His remarkable first collection of poems, Rights of Passage, was published in 1967 and formed the first volume of The Arrivants trilogy.

“In The Arrivants, he speaks of men ‘making / with their / rhythms some- / thing torn / and new’, and those words could be applied to him as a poet as well,” Pollard said.

“He was passionate about the links between Black people in Africa and the New World, and he uses sound to link them. Music is a strong component of, a sort of background to, much of his poetry,” she continued.

Other noted works include Third World Poems, Middle Passages, and Born to Slow Horses, among his prolific output.

As an activist-writer and scholar, Brathwaite co-founded the Caribbean Artists Movement, bringing together an array of arts practitioners from across the region and elsewhere. He also launched the journal Savacou and published numerous essays on history, literature and other subjects.

He received many academic and literary honours during his lifetime, and merited even more accolades, according to his friends.

After gaining a scholarship to study history and English at Cambridge University, he later earned his Ph.D. at the University of Sussex in the 1960s and won Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships in the 1980s as well as the Order of Barbados - a national honour.

In 1994, he was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, known as the “American Nobel”, and in 2006 he won both the Griffin Poetry Prize (Canada’s richest poetry award) and the Gold Musgrave Medal for Literature from the Institute of Jamaica. He went on to receive Cuba’s Casa de las Americas Premio in 2011, and the 2018 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry in the United States.

Beyond the Caribbean, Brathwaite is esteemed for the way he used his art to address “the largest problem of the postcolonial historical experience: the problem of rehabilitating the colonized mind and restoring it to its equilibrium,” as poetry editor Vijay Seshadri has written in the Paris Review, an international literary magazine.

“His solutions were radical and stunning, in both theory and practice,” Seshadri wrote. “Those of us who share that history, whether East Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, African, Caribbean, American, are enormously indebted to him for the clear and steady way he confronted and clarified our understanding of ourselves.”

For others, Brathwaite’s personality will be missed as much as his work. According to writer and scholar Opal Palmer Adisa, a long-time friend of the poet, Braithwaite was “gentle, thoughtful and powerful” - a man who “loved words” and believed strongly in hope.