Celebrating African Cinema: An Insight into the Reel to Reality Festival

Reel to reality

By Unam Ntsababa

The Reel to Reality Festival stands as a young beacon for African cinema, offering a platform for filmmakers to showcase their work and connect with audiences. Founded by Mbali Mashaba of Behind Her Lens Visuals, the festival aims to redefine the narrative around African cinema and the African diaspora.

The inspiration behind the Reel to Reality Festival came from a desire to create a space where African filmmakers could showcase their work and connect with audiences. “When I first started Behind Her Lens Visuals, I was making films and didn’t really have a place to showcase my work,” shares Mashaba. “I knew so many incredible filmmakers who were my peers that were also creating meaningful work, who also didn’t have a place where audiences could connect with their work.”

African cinema has often been viewed through a decolonial, early post-independent francophone lens. However, the Reel to Reality Festival seeks to change this perspective by showcasing the work of emerging filmmakers and the African diaspora. “We aim to provide film programming that is innovative, featuring a variety of genres to demonstrate the versatility and creativity of African filmmakers,” explains Mashaba. The festival highlights the importance of showcasing diverse voices within the African diaspora, providing a platform for these stories to be heard and celebrated.

The festival supports African filmmakers by creating an accessible community through film-watching, networking, panel discussions, and informative Q&A sessions with industry experts. “Our main aim is to create an accessible community of filmmakers and audiences both young and old,” explains Mashaba. The festival also provides a prestigious platform for filmmakers to showcase their work, gain visibility, and recognition both locally and internationally.

“We often look for films that capture the rich tapestry of Africa’s diverse cultures, histories, and contemporary realities, offering nuanced and heartfelt portrayals that resonate deeply with audiences,” shares Mashaba.

This year’s festival was unique as it focused on the theme of “HOME,” exploring the nuances of home, identity, community, displacement, and histories within the African diaspora. The films had to be from African diasporic filmmakers or reflect an aspect of African diasporic life, and they had to be shorter than 30 minutes in length

Challenges and Opportunities

Organising the festival comes with its own challenges, particularly in terms of funding and audience development. “Funding will always be the biggest challenge of organising any cinema event locally,” Mashaba admits. However, the festival continues to work towards turning non-traditional cinema enthusiasts into a dedicated film festival community.

Despite these challenges, the festival sees numerous opportunities for African cinema in the global film industry. The rise of streaming platforms and the emergence of black film festivals worldwide provide African stories with a broader audience. “It’s incredible to see funding opportunities that have been made possible by being in a highly digital age,” notes Mashaba.

Historical and Cultural Significance

The Reel to Reality Festival serves as a means of archiving cultural moments and movements. “The festival is a great opportunity to archive the times and more importantly, the people are telling us something about culture and society at a specific point in time,” explains Mashaba. The festival also aims to disrupt the status quo around the accessibility of African cinema and create new ways of experiencing it outside of mainstream media.

Impact and Aspirations

The Reel to Reality Festival aspires to become a prestigious international cinema organization, similar to Cannes and Sundance, curating unique storytelling experiences for larger African diasporic audiences. “We are building Behind Her Lens Visuals to be a household name in the African cinematic landscape,” Mashaba states. The festival aims to achieve global status and become one of the biggest film distribution platforms for independent and emerging films.

Looking ahead, the Reel to Reality Festival envisions a future where African filmmakers, regardless of race, class, and gender, have the freedom and support to tell their authentic stories. “The festival provides a window into that future, by giving us access to stories from regions we have not engaged with before,” shares Mashaba. The festival can play a crucial role in fostering cultural exchange, supporting industry development, advocating for change, and empowering filmmakers.

Most popular

Similar articles