Six years ago, the annual Africa World Documentary Film Festival debuted in St. Louis.
The festival is back at the Missouri History Museum and runs through Sunday, March 3rd. The three-day event features documentaries from filmmakers all over the world that are focused on social culture, sexual identity, mental disabilities, and more.
After showing in St. Louis, the films will travel to nine other venues across three continents.
St. Louis Public Radio fellowship producer Erin Williams spoke with Niyi Coker, Director of the Festival and E. Desmond Lee Professor in African and African-American Studies at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.
“What [the festival] started to do was open up the world to people here in St. Louis of African descent,” Coker said. “[The films] show the history, the heritage, the beauty, the esthetics, and the cosmology of African people in parts of the world that we wouldn’t even think about.”
Submissions were received from Australia, the United States, India, and Tokyo. “It just allowed us to understand that there are a bunch of fine documentary filmmakers out there in the world that are doing a lot of work that’s related to the Africa world,” Coker said.
One documentary in particular, “I am Gay and Muslim,” tells the story of several young Moroccan gay men of African descent who are confronting their religion and sexuality.
Coker was impressed by the bravery of the documentary’s participants. “A lot of them said ‘For us to come out and do this- it’s a death sentence in our communities. But we have to speak up. We have to talk about the progress we’ve made.”
This year the festival will travel worldwide, from Cameroon, to Jamaica, to South Africa.
Coker remembers the arts and culture scene in his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, as ‘energetic.’ “People in West Africa, generally Africans, tend to celebrate everything. They break into song very quickly. Rhythm is our interconnectedness to nature.”
Coker wants festival attendees to come away with a better understanding and appreciation of African culture after seeing these films. “The media has kind of battered the African image to this point,” he says. “I think [the festival] it doesn’t do any repair but I think it’s an affirmation of not just the African humanity but the connections that we all share as human beings – that what you’ve just seen on screen is a universal human story, and that there’s nothing so unique about Africans that makes them lesser people…that African experience is the human experience.”
The Africa World Documentary Film Festival runs through March 3rd. All screenings are at the Missouri History Museum. Screenings are free and open to the public. For more information click here.