Adapting African literature for the screen
In a recent video interview (first spotted on film blog Shadow and Act), Kenyan film director Wanuri Kahiu revealed her participation in an exciting new film initiative ImagiNations. Under the helm of South African producer Steve Markovitz, the producer of hit Congolese film ‘Viva Riva!‘ (2010) and producer of Kahiu’s own sci-fi short ‘Pumzi’ (2009), ImagiNations is a “pan-African project,” with “a series of six feature films based on contemporary African literature.”
In the Shadow and Act interview, Kahiu explains that each director will adapt a different book from the cannon of African literature. She will take an East African story, the implication being that each story will be from a different part of the continent. BTW, at a New School event in Manhattan, where Kahiu was interviewed by Sean–more on that later–she added that one story would originate from “each region” and her film would be “a love story.”
The initiative is a collaboration between Markovitz and Djo Tunda Wa Munga, the writer/director of ‘Viva Riva’ under the umbrella of their company Suka! Productions (they appear to be fond of exclamation marks). It’s a high-powered partnership after the success of their Congolese noir, but this recent revelation is an exciting prospect for African filmmaking, for in the spirit of Kahiu’s own foray into sci-fi, it proposes a radical expansion of the scope of African filmmaking.
Adaptation is a brilliant means of linking the wealth of African literature with different media, making stories available to different, and perhaps wider audiences. Lindiwe Dovey, writer of African Film and Literature: Adapting Violence to the Screen (2009) analyses a number of African films that are adaptations of both African and non-African literature, and argues that film adaptation develops both a distinct filmic identity, while engaging with narratives and aesthetics that transcend cultural and geographical lines.
Quoted in Dovey’s book, the filmmaker Gaston Kabore says: ‘The desire for pan-Africanism undoubtedly has something to do with a sense of shared, past oppression at the hands of the colonizers and, in film terms, it marks Africa as a continent that ‘is trying to reappropriate its image’.” Reappropriation, innovation and expansion in the kinds of narratives that are being portrayed is an exciting means to defy stereotypical ‘genre’ expectation of African cinema, and adaptation seems to be an engaged and rooted means of achieving this.
Markovitz has already proved through his involvement with ‘Pumzi,’ Kahiu’s sci-fi short film, that he is capable of film projects that expand the scope of African cinema, so this ImagiNations project is something to keep an eye on, particularly when the texts to be adapted, and the other directors are confirmed.