Bringing African Cinema to the North

Leeds International Film Festival 2022

By Lola Coker

January 2023

In its 36th edition, Leeds International Film Festival (LIFF) brought an array of visual and audible delights to the north of England. Despite the handful of successful independent cinemas in Yorkshire and the surrounding areas, cinema from the global south still remains quite inaccessible.

Read on for:

  • Diversity in the North of England
  • LIFF x Films Femmes Afrique
  • Films Femmes Afrique Top 5
  • Cinephilia in Africa Panel
  • Non-Films Femmes Afrique Highlights

Diversity in the North of England

The diversity that exists outside of London is often forgotten. London is renowned as a multicultural melting pot (with a large African immigrant population). This is reflected in its food, music, and of course in its cinema. On the other hand, whilst London is more diverse than the rest of the UK, the North is often regarded as more homogeneous than it actually is. This perception is often reflected in what is most visible and accessible in the cultural arts. That is why it’s really great to see LIFF bringing such a wide variety of international cinema to the North of England through various collaborations and strands.

© My Love, Ethiopia

LIFF x Films Femmes Afrique

In November 2022, LIFF partnered with Films Femmes Afrique (FFA), a Senegalese film festival, to bring accessible African cinema to Leeds. FFA’s theme for their 5th edition was “Femmes Créatrices d’Avenir” (Female Creators of the Future). This programme featured 10 feature length films (all being directed or co-directed by women) and a curated selection of 6 short films.


My Top 5 favourites from the FFA programme

1. Youth, 2018, (Lula Ali Ismaïl), a coming-of-age drama centering around the budding friendship between three girls at the end of high school. To me, one of the best things about this film was seeing the protagonists go through all the familiar trials and tribulations inherent to being a teenager. The strife did not come from their surroundings and being in a post-colonial African country – too often we see stories centred on Africa as a country stricken by poverty, famine, and disease – but their strife is connected to who they are, not just where they are. Ismaïl is one of, if not the, most famous filmmakers to ever hail from Djibouti.



2. Adam, 2019, (dir. Maryam Touzani), a tender-hearted story set in Casablanca, Morocco about the strength of female bonds, motherhood, and grief. The way that the dynamic changes between the two leads is really the magic of the film – it’s so well written and subtle, with the perfect amount of tension versus solace.

© Adam, 2019

3. No Simple Way Home, 2022, (dir. Akuol De Mabior), a no-frills documentary from the daughter of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) about her parents and the state of present day South Sudan. Central to the documentary is a touching & tender story about the bond between a mother and daughter, grief, and the narrator trying to get to grips with her fragmented identity.

© Akuol de Mabior

4. One Take Grace, 2021, (dir. Lindiwe Matshikiza), an experimental documentary about Grace Mothiba Bapela, a migrant domestic worker. Years of footage is crafted into a lyrical audiovisual experience that puts you in the mind and body of Grace, taking the viewer along for the ride with her through the emotional highs and lows.

© IDFA, One Take Grace

© IDFA, One Take Grace

5. Under the Fig Trees, 2021, (dir. Erige Sehiri), a slice-of-life peek into the day of several orchard workers in Tunisia. Notably this film stood out because it felt so casual and jovial without sacrificing any emotional weight or intensity.

© Under the Fig Trees, 2021

African Cinema and Cinephilia Panel

A highlight of my time there was the Neptune Frost panel. It featured the director of FFA Amayel Ndiaye, and Mosa Mpetha, who is spearheading a new permanent strand of African cinema at Hyde Park Picturehouse, an independent cinema in Leeds.

During the panel, Ndiaye, Mpetha, and the rest of the speakers discussed the culture of cinephilia in Africa versus the west, restorations of rare African films and the obstacles that come with their distribution and exhibition. A significant obstacle is that distributors buy rights to these rare classics, but often lack the passion to ensure that the films can actually be exhibited by others (navigating legal chains of permissions can be obstructive, with rights being bought and then lost, etc).

The panel members also recalled the first time they saw an African film and discussed why it feels rare to see African arthouse in the established film canon, which is an experience I also had when discovering cinema. African films are less accessible to mainstream audiences, often due to the fact that they aren’t supported as enthusiastically (for numerous reasons, such as the misconception that there is a lack of demand to see these kinds of films). So often in the classics canon we see European, Asian, and obviously American films, but rarely anything else.

Other favourites from LIFF (independent of the FFA programme) include:

1. Return to Seoul (2022)

© Return to Seoul, 2022

© Return to Seoul, 2022

This month, LIFF Presents, is bringing more Black cinema to Leeds with a preview screening of Alice Diop’s hotly anticipated Saint Omer. Tickets can be found here.

Leeds International Film Festival is a qualifying film festival for the Academy Awards, BAFTAs, and BIFAs. Entries are now being accepted for LIFF 2023 — find out more about the submissions process here.

You can find more of Lola’s work here and watch the recent films she has curated in our Cinema here.