Saturday, November 20, 2010

Africa paradise

Scene from Africa paradis
Photo courtesy

One of the themes of this blog is people who are challenging common perceptions of "Africa".

Filmmaker Sylvestre Amoussou did just that, in his 2006 feature film Africa paradis ("Africa Paradise").

Africa paradis turns our view of the world on its head. In the film, Africa of the future is a world economic power, prosperous and united. Europe, on the other hand, has gone through economic and political crisis and Europeans are clamouring to immigrate to the "United States of Africa." The film centres on the story of an unemployed French couple whose immigration applications are unsuccessful and so they enter Africa illegally to find work. The film depicts their experiences as illegal immigrants and the politics of racism and tolerance.

Scene from Africa paradis
Photo courtesy

The tone of Africa paradis is often humourous, but Amoussou has a serious point to make. Observing prejudice in Europe made him want to encourage tolerance, as well as challenge African leaders to take responsibility for the continent's future. He has said that he wanted to portray Africa differently, and to encourage people to have pride in themselves.

Amoussou initially had trouble obtaining support for the film, so he made a short version to show what it would look like. He also found distributing the film a challenge, because it didn’t fit what distributors thought would sell. Yet it has been popular.

Amoussou was born in Benin. He trained as an economist, then became an actor. Living in France, he decided he wanted to tell stories that appealed to him, so began to make his own films. He made several short films before making Africa paradis, his first feature film. His film Un pas en avant, les dessous de la corruption about humanitarian aid, democracy and corruption was released in 2009. He continues to act and produce as well.

The trailer for Africa paradis (in French) is available at the Africa paradis website and on Youtube. It's worth a look.

I learned about Africa paradis and Sylvestre Amoussou through Aboubakar Sanogo, a film studies professor at Carleton University in Ottawa. Sanogo showed the trailer for Africa paradis during a conference at Carleton’s Institute of African Studies. Sanogo used it as an example of how African film can contribute to envisioning Africa’s future, by presenting alternatives that are something other than crisis, underdevelopment or poverty. In Africa paradis, Amoussou suggests one alternative vision that might not be so unrealistic.

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