Filmmaker Martin Scorsese Launches Project to Bring Classic African Films to More Viewers

Since Martin Scorsese founded the World Film Project in 2007, it has helped restore more than 750 films. (sbclick)

Veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese wants to make classic African cinema accessible to African people, so he has launched The African Film Heritage Project to restore up to 50 films.

Scorsese announced the initiative Thursday, March 2, which sees The Film Foundation teaming with Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI) and UNESCO, a United Nations arm that encourages international peace by collaboration among nations. The effort is an extension of the World Cinema Project, which aims to locate, restore and preserve neglected films worldwide.

“Over the past 10 years, the WCP has helped to restore films from Egypt, India, Cuba, the Philippines, Brazil, Armenia, Turkey, Senegal and many other countries,” Scorsese said in a release. “Along the way, we’ve come to understand the urgent need to locate and preserve African films title by title in order to ensure that new generations of filmgoers — African filmgoers in particular — can actually see these works and appreciate them. FEPACI is dedicated to the cause of African Cinema, UNESCO has led the way in the protection and preservation of culture, and I’m pleased to be working in partnership with both organizations on this important and very special initiative.”

Fifty films were initially selected to be restored for the project by FEPACI’s advisory board of filmmakers, scholars and activists who are active in Africa. Seven movies have already been restored, including Egyptian filmmaker’s Shadi Abdel Salam’s “Al Momia” and Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène’s “La Noire De.”

“Africa needs her own images, her own gaze testifying on her behalf, without the distorting prism of others, of the foreign gaze saddled by prejudice and schemes,” FEPACI Secretary General Cheick Oumar Sissoko said. “We must bear witness to this cradle of humanity, which has developed a rich and immense human, historical, cultural and spiritual patrimony. From the beginning, African filmmakers have strived to celebrate this patrimony through the wonderful art of the cinema. Preserving this film heritage is both a necessity and an emergency. These images must be located, restored and shown to Africans and to the world in movie theaters and state-of-the-art cinémathèques.”

Before the African Heritage Project, the continent’s filmmakers had to rely on events like the Cannes Film Festival for exposure.

“It is important as far as Africa having a presence and having visibility and a place in the festival,” Mauritanian filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014. “Africa is very rarely visible on the world scene.”

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