African Film Discourse


I. Course Description/Objectives

This course focuses on pressing political, socio-cultural, economic and historical issues raised by African filmmakers. It aims to offer students a cogent analytical approach to a wide-variety of film by filmmakers from all over the continent. It examines the relationship between cinema and other forms of creative practice in Africa, in particular, history, literature and oral traditions. It also explores the significance and use of African cinema in juxtaposition with cultural and social development. The course will focus on many topics, some of which are: The relationship between history and film, and film as a re-construct of historical events. The colonialist construct of Africa as distinct region subservient to Europe. How geography influences its history, cultural systems, and development prospects. What is the nature and function of filmmaking in Africa? How does filmmaking complement or contradict oral tradition? Language choice and language use in film, the challenges of filmmaking in Africa today, the current orientation of film Discourse.

II. General Course Goals

This course’s main focus is on films shot in Africa. In this course, students will have a general introduction to African history, societies and cultures, and become acquainted with major filmmakers of the continent. Students are expected to read, view films and prepare assignments before coming to class to participate actively in all discussions and analyses of literary texts and films. As a student-centered course, this class requires active participation in all activities inside and outside the classroom. Instruction will be inspired by the three modes of communication: interpersonal, interpretive and presentational. The material for the class is varied and includes articles on electronic reserve, books, and films. The course aims to prepare students for further literary and culture studies by emphasizing critical thinking and creative writing.

III. Student Learning Outcome

IV. Main Focus: The Course focuses on aspect(s) of African filmmaking practices, and on the political and social issues that have become central to African film. My goal is to introduce you to contemporary filmmaking in Africa as a “Third-World” alternative to mainstream Hollywood. African films are little known by most Americans, and the same could be said of Africa itself. This course will, I hope, be a place of discovery for you; over the course of this term, you will learn a great deal about Africa, and about films from that continent. Our inquiry will revolve around a series of films. We will be viewing one film each week (2 screenings). Throughout the term, we’ll be paying particular attention to certain issues that are central to the African experience:
• viewing Africa through African eyes;
• the struggle to reconcile the demands of tradition with those of modernity;
• traditional communities–what binds them and what threatens them?
• city life vs. country life;
• women’s quest for power and for community;
• the dual (and often overlapping) legacies of slavery and colonialism;
• relations between the generations;
• identity crises: illusions and self-discovery;
• filmmaker as griot and the use of traditional African storytelling techniques; and
• the battle with Hollywood and the search for an African film industry.
In addition, we’ll be looking at aspects of these films in ways that would be familiar to any student of literature or film:
• “coming of age” themes;
• quests/journeys, literal, psychological, and spiritual;
• narrative technique;
• point of view;
• audience positioning.
We’ll also be looking at them as films, and by the end of this course you will have learned a great deal about how films work to create meaning through image and sound, how they raise issues, and how they move us emotionally.
We’ll thus be looking at each film from a triple perspective–(a) as an artistic, cinematic text in its own right; (b) as an example of filmmaking in Africa, similar yet different from other films of its kind; and (c) as a means to a better understanding of the beauties, as well as the problematic of the complex reality of contemporary Africa.

V. Course Format:

Each week we will focus on a film and a selection of readings that provide students with critical context regarding the larger debates in which the film may be situated. Students will be asked to prepare a one-page response to each film that addresses some of the issues raised in the readings. Students will also be asked to orally present two shot-by-shot analyses and to write three critical essays throughout the semester. The class is discussion based and will require students’ lively participation.
students’ lively participation.

VI. Student Assessment

Grades will be assigned as follows:

• Participation 15%
• Shot-by-shot analyses 15%
• Essay # 1 15%
• Essay # 2 20%
• Essay # 3 20%
• Weekly response papers 15%

Active Participation: 15%. It is expected that students will come to class prepared to contribute to class discussion and having completed the assigned readings. The success of students in the course is based in part on their preparedness. Students are expected not only to attend classes and film screenings, but also to arrive on time and actively participate. Class participation grades will be determined by the quality (not quantity) of students’ contributions to discussion. The participation grade will be a factor of the following three elements: level of engagement during class discussions; demonstrated effort throughout the semester; and improvement and progress throughout the semester. For students who are less comfortable with speaking in large groups, I encourage you to email me with questions and comments about the readings and to attend office hours.

Three Essays (4-5 pages) 55% total. There will be a total of three 4-5 page critical essays required. Essays will be based on class readings or film. Students will have at least one week to work on them before they are due. The instructor will assign essay topics for the first two papers. Students are required to generate their own topic in conjunction with the instructor for the third essay. Evaluation will be based on the quality and organization of the research, on student’s ability to incorporate in an intelligent manner knowledge from lectures, readings, discussions and other sources.

Weekly Response papers 15%. Each week students will be asked to write a brief one-page response to the film. This paper is a brief commentary on a film and is composed of two parts: (1) identification and a few lines on what the film is about; and (2) a well-considered, judicious consideration of any part of the film. This could be an assessment of a character or relationship between or among characters; or an exposition on some notable elements of the text’s style, etc. Students choose what to write about. For example, rather than describing whether you find the film appealing, I would like you to comment on some of the issues raised in the reading and to connect the film to the larger debates we are having in the course.
The response paper, a 1 to 1 and half pages (absolute maximum 2 pages) double-spaced, is due by midnight, Tuesday every week we watch a film. This is to be sent electronically to me. Please be sure to bring a hard copy of your response paper in class on Friday, for it will be ground for discussion.

Oral Presentation, 15%. Shot-by-shot analyses. Each student will be asked to present two shot-by-shot analyses to the class. Students will be able to select a sequence of their choice (1-3 minutes) and present a detailed analysis of the types of shots, framing, lighting, etc. the director is using and how these techniques enhance the narrative of the film. The student should be able to name the cinematic techniques and to discuss what significance they have to the film as a whole. Each student will have 20 minutes.

Important: All assignments must be typed, double-spaced, in Times New Roman font, size 12, and must follow all common rules of academic paper presentation. Citations and bibliographical references must follow the MLA format.


Willamette University

French and Francophone Studies

Smullin 312
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.

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