La Furia Umana
  • I’m not like evereybody else
    The Kinks
  • E che, sono forse al mondo per realizzare delle idee?
    Max Stirner
  • (No ideas but in things)
    W.C. Williams


Cinema is magic in the service of dreams.”

Djibril Diop Mambèty

Every generation bemoans the death of cinema. Within the same generation, you find those ensuring its survival. By most accounts, cinema exposes us to worlds unknown, to uncharted territories in action, thought, narrative, or design. Cinephilia should do the same; and in a complementary sense, improve our appreciation of cinema by framing it in its appropriate contexts (cultural, socio-political, historical and more).

Cinema has always possessed the multidimensional role of entertainment and enlightenment (or illumination). But that would be second-guessing the many grey areas in-between which attract additional shades of grey as times change and technology advances. And inspired by words like “magic”, “dreams”, “reality”, “metaphor” or “mirror”, creative visions take on new shapes and languages with or without technology. That we experience cinema in verbal languages that we neither speak nor understand, yet are enthralled by its spectacle, is a testament to the power of its visual language, and the importance of ensuring inclusivity in the multiple psycho-geographies of cinematic storytelling.

Once a taste for film is developed, it is an insatiable hunger for the cinephile birthing the desire to know and share as much as possible about cinema with anyone (whether or not they want to listen). Despite realising that everything we assumed was real in film was perhaps not, we remain in its grip. We revisit as new the realities of a story we are already familiar with and allow ourselves to be fooled (or not) in that moment by whatever trajectory the story takes in order to fulfil its purpose. What happens afterwards is just as important: the objective analysis.

While some argue that there is little objectivity to be found when defining cinema or cinephilia, neither medium can be restrained by or to what one person or generation thinks it to be. To do so would be to become stagnant when both sectors themselves are not. Many multi-dimensional, audiovisual narrative landscapes have emerged from cinema, and continue to journey as far away from conventional cinema codes as the imagination allows: video games, virtual reality, hybrid film, experimental cinema, video art and so much more have emerged into their own, developing their audiences and marketplaces as they grow.

As far as cinema has come however, it still has some way to go.

Widening the Gaze, Adjusting the Focus

There is little doubt that cinema can be and has been different things to different people over time. While the medium has enabled many to see themselves on screen (whatever the size), it has also excluded others. A fitting departure point here is Med Hondo’s What is cinema for us?, a 1979 essay1 which, like his filmography, remains relevant. Here, the Mauritanian filmmaker identifies the predominant and problematic gaze to which African (and Arab) stories were (and are still) subjected in the West. «African and Arab cinema becomes relegated to an exotic and episodic sub-product, limited to aesthetic reviews at festivals, which, although not negligible, are insufficient», he wrote.
Such depictions highlight «[o]ur weakness, submission, servitude, and ignorance of each other and of our own history», he continued. And in these one-sided narratives, «[w]e forget our positive heritage, united through our foremothers with all humanity».

Hondo also, saliently, questions the existing structures that determine access to funding and distribution and show a limited support for (or interest in) original storytelling.

Speaking in a 2014 interview2 Senegalese artist and filmmaker Moussa Sene Absa, says, «Storytelling is my way to make the world a better place, to dream and allow others to do the same. […] Film is the perfect tool to tap into other realities in order to make sense of the world, and to portray people and their stories. […] I’m hoping that [African] filmmakers embark on a search for our identity and our cultures». Cinema, in this context, cannot merely be a light show, a novel wonder based on a trick of the light, offering momentary excitement at huge monetary cost. It is a shared experience; a communal encounter and even in instances when you have an audience of one, the outcome can be far-reaching.

Cinema remains a political tool for many African filmmakers bent on speaking out against oppressive governance and the suppression of local heritage. Cinema was -and is- an advocacy tool to enlighten people, especially where they could neither read nor write: illuminating hidden or diminished aspects of their existence as a means towards empowerment. Of the efforts in this regard, film scholar and academic Aboubakar Sanogo3 says, «The cinema had its part to play in the realization of this emancipatory vision by liberating itself from all varieties of dominance, including those of form and tradition. In that way, [Hondo] situates himself in a tradition that seeks to expand the role of the cinema, to free the cinema from the spaces in which it has been confined by the merchants and speculators of pleasures».

Similar motifs abound in works by most of the first-generation African filmmakers – at home and in the diaspora. They appropriated the medium and infused it with African storytelling and performative traditions that draw strongly from the power of the imagination and also of the spoken word, thus reverting the subjugated image and imagination. As the Senegalese auteur Djibril Diop Mambèty4 puts it, «The instruments, yes, are European, but the creative necessity and rationale exist in our oral tradition. […] Cinema must be reinvented, reinvented each time, and whoever ventures into cinema also has a share in its reinvention». The invention is no longer the inventor’s to determine its purpose, its applications or its expiry date.

Refusing to be straitjacketed by restrictive codes or prescriptive cannons, new and unique forms of cinematic storytelling continue to be crafted and adapted. With cinema, creativity is not being stuck within a frame of mind or a timeframe of what one considers to be cinema; there are too many discoveries to be made across eras, genres, and locales. The film frame, despite its borders, does not infer or demand restriction.

To quote Nigerian writer-director Chika Anadu5, «As a filmmaker I seek to question the status quo. “That’s how it is, or how it’s always been”, is not a good enough answer for me».

Same goes for the screen. From the fringes of film festivals, more stories from around the world are making their ways onto the main screens: away from the “usual”, cinephiles in the form of critics, curators and programmers are widening their focus and finding that there is joy in surprising your audience; taking them from the chill of the comfort zone to the thrill of the danger zone: creating -or retracing- new and memorable experiences involving the familiar and the unfamiliar.


What we see, how, where or why is sometimes determined by forces beyond our control, and what we eventually see becomes part of the reference points that shape what we think of (as) cinema. Not everyone has access to film libraries, film archives or mediatheques that are home to decades of global, local or regional film histories. Nor access to festivals and film education platforms where, if you’re lucky, your only challenge is too many films and too little time.

In these times, one might be thankful for, yet cautious of, video-streaming platforms, which have provided access to more films than one could make time to see, and perhaps, more options outside of blockbusters. However, no thanks to algorithms and (un)conscious bias, it takes a devoted and adventurous cinephile to dig through the many offerings and allow themselves to be surprised and captivated by the unexpected universes that abound outside the routine. That is, of course, if you don’t list subscription fees and a poor internet connection amongst your problems.

Over time, cinema itself has been controlled by certain monopolies that consciously or subconsciously shape ‘popular’ taste in film. Blockbusters or so-called tentpoles are more common in cinemas in particular locales, mainly because of their “economic value”. Independent exhibitors are few and far between in some of these places, and many find it hard to develop or even sustain a paying audience.

Access to film studies (in the absence of the films in discussion) can also influence how certain kinds of films are received or perceived when we finally watch them. There is sometimes no way to escape this option, as reviews, essays or similar texts on films are sometimes our first and only encounters with these works. It is however dependent on the cinephile to consistently and critically challenge their prejudices and expectations in appreciating a film: Existing or predominant canons should not overshadow curatorial, critical and spectatorial approaches to cinema.

For the love of cinema

In similar vein, who determines what cinema is or what cinephilia can be? Cinephilia takes to cinema in order to make meaning of it (for one’s self and/or for an audience). Its language itself is poetry capturing cinema’s aspirations and failings; its messages and metaphors. Like cinema, cinephilia has itself been dogged by decades of stuffy canon and selective taste. One always has favourites, for sure, but the true enthusiast is not dismissive of films outside a “classic era”. As cinema itself does, film historians expand the audience’s horizons -changing how they see or are seen- by dismantling restrictive and stereotypical gazes.

Cinephilia builds bridges to better understanding the moving image. It is the role of a custodian, a guardian, a griot and an archivist who is as much interested in old and new heritage. A guide and a specialist who introduces her audience to new worlds and accompanies them through and to a more wholesome understanding of a film, an era, a body of work et c. Film journalism and research has equally widened beyond texts and TV shows into, for example, vlogs, or video essays; evolving as has its audience.

Digital platforms have also broadened the spectrum, enabling the amplification of voices outside the status quo, as is the case with cinema. No longer are the tools of the trade the sole preserve of a “powerful” few.

In each other’s company, cinema and cinephilia embrace timeliness and timelessness. As modes of production, distribution, exhibition, access and journalism continue to evolve, change might be difficult, but the die-hard cinephile (inclusive of the filmmaker and the audience too) will seek to enjoy the best of the new as much as the old. And it probably won’t be long now before someone once more declares the death of cinema.

Aderinsola Ajao


1 What is Cinema for Us? By Med Hondo

2 5 Questions for A Filmmaker: Moussa Sene Absa. Interview by Katarina Hedren.

3 The Indocile Image: The Cinema of Med Hondo

4 The Hyena’s Last Laugh (Djibril Diop Mambety in conversation with N. Frank Ukadike.)*

5 It All Starts with the Script:An Interview with Chika Anadu