Film Africa kicks off at the Ritzy. We meet the Curator.

Katrin Magnussen pops in for a chat with the curator of this year’s African Film Festival.

Suzy Gillett - Curator
Suzy Gillett – Curator

“I don’t own a TV. I can listen to my neighbour’s through the wall so I don’t need one,” jokes Suzy Gillett, curator of Film Africa 2013. In her book-lined living room in Kennington, Suzy explains that she prefers African Film anyhow. And she is bringing some of her favourites to the Ritzy.

Appointed curator in June, Suzy undertook a mammoth viewing and selection process over the summer. The result purports to bring the best of African cinema to Brixton.

“It normally takes a year to put a festival together,” she explains, “but I had to deliver a programme for Sept 1. So, it was an intense summer working with 3-4 programmers seven days a week, watching and selecting from 200 submitted films. But I am very satisfied with the result.”

The scope of the festival is both contemporary and classic, giving audiences the chance to watch films like Black Girl (1966) and Touki Bouki (which has a 40th anniversary this year), as well as fresh offerings including Mille Soleils and Of Good Report.

“It’s good to show both classic and contemporary films so people can see the development,” says Suzy.

She is adamant that the quality of African films is very much on par with Western productions. Suzy states that thanks to wider availability of modern technology and social media there is currently an explosion of films coming out of Africa.

She acknowledges that most audiences only want to watch films that they know they will enjoy so the threshold for picking the right films for the festival was high.

Sodiq + Q&A – Ritzy Cinema, 7th November

“Every time I sat down to watch one, I asked myself ‘would I pay £10 to watch this movie?’” she explains.

Film Africa 2013 has something for all tastes with genres spanning film noir (‘Of Good Report’), Nollywood (‘Living in Bondage’ –  the very first Nollywood genre film), documentary (‘Cursed be the Phosphate’), short film (‘Paper Boats’) and special events such as the Film Africa Family Day.

“I would love to reach a new audience and to engage young people,” enthuses Suzy. “ So we are twittering, facebooking…. social media is taken care of. But, we are fighting alongside American studio films that are so well marketed.”

In fact, Suzy believes that people who like blockbusters would be surprised by how much they would enjoy African film. “It’s all about educating audiences that they will be seeing films of a standard they are used to!” she adds.

It seems the festival could also surprise those already familiar with African cinema. Take the opening film, ‘Of Good Report’ for instance. Suzy says “It will blow everything out of the water. It’s very, very dark. Its premise is scary but it’s an original way of addressing the teacher falling for student story.”

La Noire De
La noire de… Showing at Ritzy Cinema – 4th November

Finally, I asked her how her interest in African cinema was sparked. “Going to school in Clapham I’ve had the pleasure of growing up around different cultures. My French teacher, for example, gave us African literature to read and at home we were listening to African music. Then, aged 20, I moved to Paris where I was working with people from Mali.”

In a 20-year film industry career, which counts several African film festival curatorships, filmmaking, and a current job as lecturer at the London Film School, Suzy has come full circle back to the Ritzy.

She reminiscences with a smile; “The Ritzy has been my local cinema my entire life; I ran a film club here every Tuesday for five years. This was before [the advent of] social media so I would physically hand out fliers to people or leave them in pubs, to get people to come to the screenings.”

Her marketing techniques may be more sophisticated these days, but her desire is the same. Suzy is still hoping to see a sizeable and enthusiastic audience for Film Africa 2013.

For Ritzy listings, click here.  Twitter: @FilmAfrica