6 Legendary African Film Festivals

29th September 2017 BY Matimu Rikhotso

Exploring African film’s most esteemed festivals

African cinema (in its complex and differential existence) has forever been given the tag of ‘outlier’ in the global film industry. How do we begin to reconcile the reality of African cinemas as firstly, progressive industries with their own narratives to speak on, and secondly, as more than the current representation of African cinema as monolithic? It would not be off the mark to hold the West accountable for much of how “African” narratives are consumed and represented on screen today.

The reality of reflecting life around the corners of this continent has proved too ‘alien’ to fit cosily in the global mainstream film market. It goes without saying that industries across the continent differ depending on which region you happen to be in.

These six film festivals have toiled for decades to cultivate a self-determining, and equally autonomous identity for African film and documentary. If you have the slightest interest in African Cinema at all, these film festivals and their brief histories are worth noting.


1. Zanzibar International Film Festival (Zanzibar, Tanzania)

Zanzibar International Film Festival

Founded in 1997, ZIFF is celebrating its twentieth anniversary in 2017. The festival has been a pioneer in propelling film narratives and celebration within East Africa and the continent at large. Ziff also contributes to the furthering of film education on the continent through their Film School programmes.


2. Durban International Film Festival (Durban, South Africa)

Durban International Film Festival

This annual festival has been running in Durban since 1979. Screening feature films, short films and documentaries to audiences and panels, the festival maintains local film culture in South Africa. Giving opportunity to talented African directors and filmmakers, the festival plays an integral role in the umbrella narrative of African film celebration.


3. Africa International Film Festival (Nigeria)

Africa International Film Festival

Recently formulated in 2010, the event has been involved in modernizing the African film festival landscape. The emphasis has been on promoting African filmmakers and bridging gaps between the international and African film community. The festival has taken place in different parts of Nigeria namely Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar. The turnout to AFRIFF since its inception has been quite successful, with an audience of over ten-thousand people.

“The griot is a messenger of one’s time, a visionary and the creator of the future.” – Djibril Diop Mambéty (Senegalese Film Director, 1945-1998)


4. Carthage Film Festival (Tunis, Tunisia)

Carthage Film Festival

Having been initiated in 1966, the focus of the Carthage Film Festival was to centralize itself on Arab and Sub-Saharan African film culture and storytelling. The festival, which is hosted in the capital (Tunis), has since grown tremendously. Quite notable in its involvement with facilitating and continuing conversation around African and Arab film industries.


5. Encounters South African International Documentary Festival (South Africa)


The Cape Town and Johannesburg based event is one of very few documentary festivals on the continent. After being established in 1999, the festival’s main goal was to promote the genre of documentary in the region and country. This niche festival plays a pivotal role in the promotion of documenting African histories and stories.


6. Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso)

Panafrican Film Festival

FESPACO is one of Africa’s most seasoned film festivals. It takes place every two years in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou. Having started in 1969 the festival has gained much acclaim and traction world-wide. The festival itself is a highly community orientated event which has fostered a bonafide film culture. Boasting legendary directors and screenwriters such as Ousmane Sembène and Djibril Diop Mambéty, FESPACO has been at the forefront of promoting dynamic African storytelling.

Have you been to any of these festivals?

Which one is your favorite?