Five alternative filmmaking collectives

The Mosireen Cinema

Theatrical release is the holy grail of filmmaking. Well, it was until relatively recently. But, since the internet, dvds, digital files and all the other ethereal modes of sharing and circulating became available to the masses, alternative modes of film production and distribution began to challenge the studio system, the distribution system, and perhaps even cinema itself. We’re all well aware of the nearing doomsday of celluloid, the ‘end of film’. Yet, this is only a fraction of what constitutes ‘film’.

The challenge to the cinematic system comes, arguably, and perhaps most provocatively from the African continent, where whole industries, most notably Nollywood, have both anticipated – and eclipsed – a future of moving image circulation that Western countries are still approaching with fear, still scrabbling, prosecuting and asserting copyright, when clearly the way in which we consume images and film is changing radically.

In the light of these changes, I assembled five filmmaking collectives that are reinterpreting and reinvigorating notions of collaboration and distribution.

Chop Cassava, Nigeria

Marie Antoinette declared ‘let them eat cake!’ (apparently), thereby revealing her obliviousness to the plight of normal people in 18th century France. Chop Cassava, a filmmaking collective in Nigeria, attribute their name to the same sentiment; implying that the removal of fuel subsidies by Minister of Finance Okonjo-Iweala, revealed a similar such obliviousness, ‘let them chop cassava!’

Chop Cassava was a series of web films and a blog that documented the January 2012 fuel subsidy protests in Lagos, Nigeria. Where the rest of the worlds media were either woefully ignorant, or hesitant to report on the protests, Chop Cassava documented marches and interviewed individuals, providing in-depth and consistent coverage.

Each day, they compiled footage from various mobile phones, video cameras, and their own film crew. Their coverage was dispersed, meandering, at times polemic and others entirely observational. They provided immediate documentation of the protests where elsewhere, this – the largest peaceful protest in Africa for many year – was ignored.

This powerful statement from their website captures their aims as a media collective:

It was clear that something had shifted in the Nigerian consciousness, which requires a different sort of documentation. Our challenge was, shall we just stand back and document or shall we have an opinion. Should we editorialize history as it unfolds?

The Mosireen Collective, Tahrir Square, Egypt

Mosireen is a non-profit media collective born out of the explosion of citizen journalism and cultural activism in Egypt during the revolution in 2011.

Similarly to Chop Cassava, Mosireen assembled footage from mobile phone and video cameras throughout the protests, editing short films together that documented the vast protests that were gripping Cairo, indeed the whole of the Arab world at the time. And again, where news agencies and journalists were hesitant to enter the crowds, or were offering neutered, Mosireen grouped together to produce their own documentation of events.

One of the key members of the media collective, filmmaker Khalid Abdalla says of the project;

The majority of the footage is amateur, but a lot of it is filmed by us or by our friends.

It’s part of the culture of creative commons, an open sourcing for film that allows us to share our stories. We did an open call for people to make films which we were planning to have screened on TV but then the sit-in started again and three days ago we decided to start screening in the square.

The Mosireen collective is vital for it addresses ideas and practices of archiving, open source filmmaking, collaboration and cooperation in a cinematic and political context.

[The] archive we’ve built is not ours, it’s the Egyptian peoples; it was filmed by the Egyptian people, it’s their story and it’s our story but a lot of people haven’t seen it. This country is going to be unpacking what happened here for generations and you never know what’s important and what isn’t. There are two things happening- there’s a duty to the present and a duty to the future and we’re trying to fulfil both.

Mosireen on Youtube, Twitter and facebook.

Slum TV, Kenya

Slum TV are a media collective that ‘provide a means of expression to informal settlement communities in Kenya by providing the pertinent tools for this.’ They predominantly work in the Mathare slum in Nairobi, providing training and production support for residents wishing to make films. As a result, Slum TV has helped to develop a new visual culture, one that is both entertaining and educational; the narratives always feeding back into the community and offering some light and perspective on the lives lived in informal settlements like Mathare.

You can watch many of the films on the Slum TV website, here.

In August, the Slum Film Festival will run in both the Kibera and Mathare.

Sam Hopkins, one of Slum TV’s founding members describes the screening process:

The material is collated and screened on a monthly basis in public space in Mathare. Thus it functions like a ‘newsreel’ and affords the slum dwellers a form of local news. Having been screened locally, the content is then uploaded onto the website, which functions both as an archive of this oral history and a means to access a secondary, international audience.

ZaLab

ZaLab is a filmmaking collective that ‘hosts participatory video and documentary workshops in intercultural contexts and situations of geographical and social marginalization.’

Particularly powerful is their commitment to telling the stories of migrants who cross the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy and Spain, and their dedication to outing the horrific practices of the Libyan police when migrants are returned.

I initially came across ZaLab after reading this wonderful article by Maaza Mengiste, the Ethiopian writer, who published a moving article in Granta magazine about the journey of one particularly man, Dagmawi Yimer. Mengiste writes about the torturous journey that finally led to Dagmawi’s arrival to the Italian island of Lampedusa, over a year after he set out from Addis Ababa. Since settling in Italy, Dagmawi became a member of ZaLab, making documentaries collaboratively with other migrants about their experiences, to drawn attention to the journeys that are made.

In a year when reports of the dehydrated dead, exploited and left floating at sea have dominated headlines, the activity of ZaLab is all the more important. Their films are engaging, moving, informative and a vital resource to make known what people will endure for the hope of a better life in Europe. Dagmawi also helped to found The Archive of Migrant Memories, in Rome.

The Otolith Group

The otolith is the part of the inner ear that establishes the body’s sense of gravity, orientation and balance. Taking its name from this bodily compass, The Otolith Group seek to use moving image to orient themselves, and us, within a wider cultural and theoretical context.

They want to ‘build a new film culture’. At times their films are difficult to penetrate and draped in theoretical references that escape many viewers, however their work that deals with Africa, particularly the work of John Akomfrah (formerly of the Black Audio Film Collective), militant filmmaking, ‘audio poverty’ and migration is powerful, thought provoking visual art.

You can see an inventory of their work here.

Comments

comments

24 Comments
  1. Dr. Iweala is the Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Finance Minister of Nigeria. I also noticed that you erroneously assumed that she was the one that removed subsidy from fuel. No, she wasn’t. Fuel subsidy was removed by the collective decision of the Nigerian government,

  2. These are good initiatives and film making collectives. They showcase the creativity and vibrance of the contemporary African.

  3. black audio film collective were also told when they made their films in the 80’s that their films were impenetrable and draped in difficult references, which is curious as this is what you accuse The Otolith Group of doing. In fact their references are simply not all Western references which is why you probably find the work difficult! I have a totally opposite view as for me their work is elegant, sensitive cosmopolitan and beautiful, not to mention their lectures and the curatorial projects. The films extend the develop the essay film in ways unlike others of their generation. Your analysis of them is also taken from the internet. I would suggest you study their work closer as your analysis is not good enough.

    1. Hi, thanks for your critique. I don’t mean that draped in difficult references makes the work any less important. In fact, I was a student of Kodwo Eshun’s, so I have a good understanding of their work and ideas. I was merely summarizing their practices for a short blog piece, and I think that for a lot of people their work is difficult to penetrate. Which does not mean that once you have spent some time with it, it is any less powerful.

      I would also contest your comment that “their reference are simply not all Western references which is probably why you find the work difficult”. I think my posts here on AIAC are a testament that I work hard to escape the confines of merely western references.

  4. Thank you for your post and congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    I would like to make your readers aware of WeOwnTV in Sierra Leone. I’ve had the pleasure of working with this incredible collective of young filmmakers in Sierra Leone and, maybe, next time you do a similar round-up, you’ll think of including WeOwnTV.

    Sierra Leone is now faced with a generation of young people who have lost their families, history and identity stories. WeOwnTV was founded to provide a platform and resources for young people to tell their stories. Independent media and entertainment can play a significant role in defining a generation. Audiences of today and tomorrow will not only experience these compelling stories—but also take heart in their unrelenting hope, take pride in their creative vision and be inspired to engage with their own unique voice.
    http://www.weowntv.org

    1. Thanks so much for this. I’ll take a look. (of course, not all lists here are definitive!, so thank you for adding this in the comments)

  5. Reblogged this on hamishdownie and commented:
    This is very interesting. It is very true that the old paradigm is shifting. WIth the world’s traditional media becoming increasingly polemic, it’s important to present an alternative view. I think the future of independent cinema is crowd-sourcing and ticket pre-sales. I think that the era of the short film is coming back. That filmmakers need to produce a series of short films, each one building your audience, until you have enough of a groundswell that crowd-sourching and pre-sales to fund your film projects become feasible. Traditional government incentives are still needed, but their focus should be on these short films. It should be about developing careers and developing fan bases.

  6. This is a great blog. I am a big fan of African cinematography and currently working on rolling out community film making as a tool for development in my country Uganda. I believe we can benefit a great deal from some of the resources you hinted on here.

  7. Are these really all the comments!? Thank you for this list; always important to keep an interconnected perspective in mind. I’ve been looking around my part of the world (Los Angeles) for various art collectives to look to as examples…now I can explore these within the greater sphere. Thank you!

  8. Reblogged this on Feeling Womanish and commented:
    This blog post is about film collectives, and challenges to the Hollywood studio system, emerging from Africa. It is quite compelling, and interesting. I hope that you will check out other posts from the blog, as well.

  9. film making is an interesting art. It is very creative too. A good film maker will be always a creative person who has a good observation power. There are different types of methods adapt by the film makers. Cross cultural film making is one among these. It is the method of focusing on a specific culture and its practices. In cross cultural film making, the director can create a documentary film, not a fiction film. Read more details here, http://www.courseworkwriters.com/blog/cross-cultural-filmmaking/#more-461

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