African Film Festival at Washington University March 23-25

Cilia Sawadogo is an award-winning director, writer and animator who hopes to inspire other African women to make films. She will be on the Washington University in St. Louis campus this month, as part of the university’s annual African Film Festival. The strength of African women is a focal point of this year’s event.

Over the course of three days, the festival will present a total of eight films. All film showings, which are free and open to the public, take place in Brown Hall, Room 100, on the university’s Danforth Campus.

Short films, followed by feature films, will be shown nightly at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday, March 23-25. In addition, a youth matinee — which includes a presentation of Sawadogo’s animated L’Arbre aux Esprits or “Tree of Spirits” — takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 24.

Sawadogo will answer audience questions following the screening of her film. The Saint Louis Art Museum is providing take-home craft activities for children, in keeping with the film theme.


The film festival, now in its 7th year, is an opportunity for the St. Louis community to experience new and exciting award-winning films by African filmmakers. Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, PhD, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and senior lecturer in African & African-American studies in Arts & Sciences, organizes the annual series.

This year’s festival pays tribute to independent women and focuses on the power of youth. “Most of this year’s films have strong youth characters,” Toliver-Diallo says.

“It it is in their reflection about their society and about the understanding of their own power to make decisions that impact the future that we gain insight into challenges facing our world.”

Garrett Albert Duncan, PhD, director and associate professor of the Program in African & African-American Studies, says the festival offers diverse selections that present the depth and breadth of Africa and Africans.

“The festival provides a wonderful corrective to media images and conventional wisdom about the continent and its people,” Duncan says. “More importantly, the selections excite the imagination and offer different ways to see how people live, love and experience beauty in the world.”

Gaylyn Studlar, PhD, the David May Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and director of the Program in Film & Media Studies in Arts & Sciences, says the African Film Festival is a wonderful contribution to St. Louis film culture. “Year after year, the films screened in this festival eloquently demonstrate how moving image media can give us important perspectives on Africa and on the shared concerns of humanity in the 21st century,” Studlar says.

Series lineup

7 p.m. Friday, March 23. In Dirty Laundry, the character Roger thinks it’s going to be routine laundry night, but there’s something strange in the laundromat’s water. (Winner, Best Short Film, Durban International Film Festival, 2011; Winner, Outstanding International Short, ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto, 2011.)

The short is followed by feature film Une Femme Pas Comme Des Autres or “An Uncommon Woman” by Abdoulaye Dao. The film centers on Mina, a very successful businesswoman, who, much to her current husband’s chagrin, decides to take a second husband in an environment where the practice is taboo. (Best Film, ECRAN NOIR in Cameroon, 2011; Best TV Fiction, Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, 2009.)

1 p.m. Saturday, March 24. Youth matinee begins with the short Bino and Fino — Nigeria’s Birthday Party & Mama Mama’s Soup by Adama Waziri. Bino and Fino is a cartoon series about a brother and sister who live with their grandparents in a modern-day city in Africa.

L’Arbre aux Esprits by Sawadogo is a feature film for all ages that integrates West African and North American storytelling. Kodou and Tano meet Ayoka, the spirit of a tree that is soon to be cut by an entrepreneur. The children know that without the magical baobab, the passage to the surface is forever closed and the spirit of rain will never be able to come back to the surface.

Immediately following, Sawadogo will talk about the film and animation in general. She has received numerous awards for films she directed at the National Film Board of Canada or independently including L’Arbre aux Esprits. Sawadogo also has produced animated clips for Sesame Street. She is director of animation at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema, Concordia University, in Montreal.

7 p.m. Saturday, March 24. The short film Lezare is about a homeless boy in a small village in Ethiopia. The film raises powerful questions about the local and global priorities in the face of global warming, drought and widespread poverty. (Winner, Best Short Film, Tarifa African Film Festival in Spain.)

Voyage A’ Alger or “A Trip to Algiers” by Abdelkrim Bahloul takes place in 1962 and focuses on a young mother who has lost everything during the war for independence in Algeria. (Best Screenplay, Namur 25th International French-Language Film Festival, 2010; Best Actress, Angoulême French-language Film Festival, 2010; Best Actress, Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, 2011; Best Screenplay, Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, 2011.)

7 p.m. Sunday, March 25. The short Mwansa the Great follows the life of an imaginative boy, Mwansa, who lives in a small traditional village outside Lusaka. He transforms everyday mundane tasks into adventurous quests. (Best Short Film, Austin Film Festival, 2011; Best Short Film, Naoussa International Film Festival, Greece.)

Un Homme Qui Crie or “A Screaming Man” by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is a quiet, tender, finally wrenching story of an individual at the intersection of the personal and the political. Adam, a former swimming champion, is a pool attendant at a hotel in Chad who has become less and less relevant and increasingly in the shadow of his son Abdel. Meanwhile, rebel forces are attacking the government and the authorities demand that everyone contribute to the “war effort.” (Jury Prize, Cannes Film Festival, 2010; Silver Hugo, Best Screenplay, 46th Chicago International Film Festival, 2010; the Best French Language Film outside of France, Lumiere Awards, 2011; and the Silver Prize, Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, 2011.)

The festival is sponsored by African & African American Studies and Film & Media Studies in Arts & Sciences and WUSTL’s African Students Association. It is funded in part by a grant from the Women’s Society of Washington University. The Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, has also provided financial assistance for this project.

The event also is supported by the Saint Louis Art Museum; Saturday’s films are co-presented with the St. Louis Metropolitan Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

For more information, visit or call (314) 935-7879.