By Chinelo Chikelu
LEADERSHIP Books & Arts, Meet Manju Mishra, the founder and Director of College of Journalism and Mass Communication (CJMC), and the Nepal Africa Film Festival (NAFF). With the theme, Africa Through African Lens, Mishra aims to dispel stereotyped perception of Africa portrayed in Western media around the globe. Manju believes Africa has much more to her than the negative image presented to world. By organizing a film festival, she offers Nepalese updates of developments on the continent, which like Nepal is a developing nation. With NAFF, Africans tell their stories in their own voice. Since its inception in 2011, the festival has screened over movies from over 15 to 20 African countries, 2 Nigerian films Crisis In Paradise 1 & 2, and hopes to partner with Nollywood to promote African culture throughout Asia. As at the time of publishing this interview, LEADERSHIP confirmed Nigeria will not be participating officially at the festival, for the first time, as intended owing to financial constraints.
Describe the prevailing perception/narratives about Africa in Asia, and Nepal?
For the first time in Nepal, Nepal-Africa Film Festival (NAFF) was organized by the College of Journalism and Mass Communication (CJMC) in 2011. In a short span, the festival has
gained wide popularity in the capital city – Kathmandu – and has garnered serious media attention and praise. People view Africa through a peculiar lens: disasters, civil wars, disease and starvation predominates the world’s perception of Africa. Little is known about Africa apart from its wildlife and the narrative published by mainstream media. It’s a pity because what permeates our initial perception of Africa are mostly unfounded stereotypes. In a world where change is the only constant, the relevance and authenticity of all prevalent stereotypes and prejudice must be put to serious questioning. Hence, Nepal-Africa Film Festival (NAFF) addresses the need for a platform that provides an unbiased and integrated representation of Africa’s diverse cultures and the changes sweeping through the African continent.
Has the festival made any significant difference in changing this perception of Africa as poor, underdeveloped and without cultures?
Our core objective with Nepal-Africa Film Festival (NAFF) is to venerate and celebrate the diversity which is abundantly prevalent throughout the African continent. Despite having been through terrible hardships and so many wars, African people are arguably and surprisingly the jolliest among our brothers and sisters. Dance and music has always been an integral part of African culture and it’s no wonder so many American, Caribbean and Latin American genres of music derive their origins from African culture. We are committed to celebrate and honor this musical heritage which has its root in antiquity and therefore demands to be cherished. Travel Agencies have started to include travel tour to Africa. Nepalese have changed their perception of Africa as the country of Nelson Mandela, to understand it’s a continent, the first continent to build a metro system. Nepalese have begun to compare their country some fast developing countries in Africa like Ethiopia.
The festival booklet/brochure noted that the world has a lot to learn from Africa and the hardships she has weathered as a colonially ruled continent, and thus learn to make better choices. Do you believe Africa could have taken a different path than its present despite its history of colonialism?
Africa, also called the ‘Dark continent’ has remained in the shadow since time immemorial. Very few people have a true perspective of Africa because they depend on the Western media for information about Africa and its people. Nepali and Asian people only hear about the disasters, civil wars, sectarian killings, food scarcity, starvation happening in the continent. This is compounded by the lack of independent channels to source independent information from Africa irrespective of the potentials and beauty she harbors. Africa’s diverse cultures and natural heritages hold untold beautiful stories. This continent was the cradle of civilization. Its diverse people, culture and natural landscapes are less talked about today. The time has come to tell their true stories to the world. The rich culture of this country is the strength of the people. African people know better the path that best suits them; they know how to decide for themselves; and have the ability and capacity to rule themselves, without interference from any of the world’s super powers. So, the path Africa have chosen is their choice.
Although Nepal was never colonized, it is still a developing country, a status it only shares with Nigeria and Africa. Are there other experiences, similarities or meeting ground that can foster better and increased relations amongst Africa & Nepal, and Nigeria and Nepal?
Nepal and Nigeria often partner in football games in my country. They play together and sing national anthem together. There have been many sport activities in Nepal and Nigeria. Nepal’s film industry is fostering. So, I think opportunities for partnership between NOLLYWOOD and Nepali film industry. College of Journalism is keenly interested in developing relations with Africa via the Africa Film Festival in Nepal. We appeal to NOLLYWOOD to partner with CJMC and explore (promote) Africa not only in Nepal but all over Asia.
Besides Egypt Nepal has no diplomatic ties with other countries in the past fifty years. This indicates negligence on both Nepal and Nigeria, to establish relations and promote their cultures in both continents (Asia and Africa).
How has the festival in the past 6 years furthered relations between countries in Nepal and Africa, assuming that it deals directly with film makers and national representatives of countries?
College of Journalism and Mass Communication (CJMC) so far is the only organization throughout Nepal which has taken the initiative under its own leadership to strengthen relations between Nepal and Africa. Within six years about 25 persons, students and staff have visited different African countries. Similarly, reporters, journalists from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and many other countries visited and worked in CJMC. Many of them stayed in different countries for nearly a year worked there and were closely acquainted with their food, culture and the people. Nepal Africa Film Festival (NAFF) 2014 was organized by CJMC in partnership with Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Egypt and Ethiopia Media Women Associations. Thus, it is a joint initiative of women journalists’ in the respective countries.
CJMC joined hands to this partnership in 2008 and has been playing a significant role to strengthen Nepal – Africa relationship through exchange program sponsored by the Norwegian government. This festival will provide the best opportunity for interaction and cultural exchange between Nepal and Africa. We intend to organize this festival every year as we also found African Mission in The United Nations, New York is interested to explore Africa in Nepal. Recently, we established a new partnership with The University of South Sudan Juba University and Makarere University Kampala. We published a book about Africa which includes NIGERIA too. The book is entitled Africa, Pride and Enigma of the World “The More You Explore the More it Mystifies.
Last year a dozen Professors from Juba and MAKARERE UNIVERSITY came to Nepal under the invitation of CJMC and participated in Nepal Africa Film Festival. The college is trying from its level to explore Africa in the world because the pain of Africans is similar to the pain of the Nepalese and many other underdeveloped countries.
We recently signed a MoU with the Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF) in Egypt and we work in close connection with Janjibar Film Festival in Tanzania. The Honorable Minister for Health is attending our film festival as a special guest. We are still waiting for Nigeria’s Minister of Information, Tourism and Culture, to visit Nepal and add more glory to our film festival. So far, film directors from many countries already have attended our film festival and have supported Nepal – Africa Film Festival in many ways.
Our joint interest should be to promote our peculiar voices in the world by not implementing any other countries voice. We can tell our stories much better than others letting other do so. The 2017 Nepal – Africa Film Festival represents 8 countries and to date we have been able to screen films from about 15 to 20 African countries.
Describe the criteria and process of selection for movies screened at the festival?
The greatest challenge to the festival’s sustenance is getting the best films from Africa. If you get many films the selection process will be tough because our screening committee will have to put lots of effort and brainwork to select the films. Unfortunately, we get films based on our discretion and through our personal connections. It would have been easy for us to get the films from Asia because of its proximity among other things but to get films from Africa is the greatest challenge and so far, we are able to overcome this challenge. This is one of the main reason we would like to partner with NOLLYWOOD.
Knowing sourcing funds for cultural events is quite difficult to achieve, more less for a school, College of Journalism and Mass Communication (CJMC). How does NAFF source funding for its sustenance?
Funding is another important factor for the continuation of the film festival. We believe where there is a will there is a way. We use all ways to conduct the festival. For three years, we have been organising this film festival with the support of NORAD Norway but still we did conduct the film festival when we had zero support. Our screening committee, festival coordinators spent their time and put in efforts to ensure its continuation. We did have some local sponsors. Further, to be very honest, this is the only film festival organised by a woman under a woman’s leadership and initiative in Nepal, other film festivals are organised by men. Funding and films are both challenges to us.
Apparently, the festival has witnessed some growth since its inception 6 years ago, what is the future of the festival (will remain a fixed event for a long while, or there is larger objective)?
Last year we started the Africa Fashion Show, where Nepalese wear and show-off African fashion. You can visit our website and see the pictures. If we get strong support we want to organise the film festival Travelling Asia. Last year, representatives from Africa were awarded certificate of appreciation by the Vice President of Nepal for their contribution towards strengthening relations with Africa and Nepal. This shows our love and interest for the African people and the African culture. If Africa joins hand in our mission we could celebrate the film festival in a larger way and grow ourselves in the world.