Anne Mungai

Interview conducted at FESPACO,  Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 1997 for the African Women in Cinema Project.

What do you see as your role as an African woman filmmaker?

My  role, is not just to complement what male filmmakers are doing. It is to fill the gap which will come from seeing issues from a woman's perspective.
        When I write my scripts or direct films, if I give it to a man to look at he looks at it from a very different perspective.  And being a woman and being a mother, I think I write my films from my heart.  What I feel is what I know.  I think my films are more real and they portray real women's situations.  For example, I portray situations in my country on women's issues that are also universal.
        So it's cinema from the heart, which a man may do but he would not portray in the same way.  So in general, I think my role is to promote the image of the African woman. When I finally started going to the cinemas and watching television programs in Kenya, each time an African woman appeared she played a very weak character.  She was always a cook, a servant to somebody, a mistress to somebody, a slave, she's crying, she's pregnant.  So the images that I saw on the screen and on television were always of an African woman in trouble.  I said yes, but how does she overcome these problems?  That was never shown.
        I think that is what motivated me.  I've seen my mother, I've seen her in trouble, I've watched my father die, there was my mother with six children.  We are all grown up and I admire the way she did it.  I then started wishing that I saw more films with strong African women characters; that is the role I want to play.  There is a gap, and I want to fill it in my films.

In 1991 there was a workshop for African women in the image industry, as it is now called.  Could you talk about that process and what has happened in the six years since the organization was established, in terms of the dynamics of the organization?  What are the objectives and activities of the regional organizations?

FEPACI has always had regional secretaries and they have always been men.
        At FESPACO in 1989, I raised the point, "how are we going to deal with these issues?  Though we are both men and women, each time we come here as filmmakers, the issue of cinema is addressed as though there are just men alone."
        We also have the French-speaking African women and the English-speaking African women and the whole question around the problems of how communication in English and French affects the financing of the Bureau.
        The reason why we have been meeting from time to time is to find out how we can overcome these problems.  How do we as women overcome our problems and go beyond the language barrier of French-speaking and English-speaking regions, and know that we are on the continent and we have our duty to promote our sisters.
        We have a duty to promote the African woman's image and to make our productions.  How do we solve that?
        [As regional coordinator of the pan-African organization “Women of the Image”] I represent eleven countries of East Africa and I have been trying to reach the women in my region.  But I don't know how to reach the women in Djibouti or Ethiopia, for instance.  I tried once to organize a workshop in Kenya and I brought in some women from East Africa.  We met in Nairobi.  And when they went back, there needed to be a follow-up.  Faxes and telephones are needed.  We are struggling making films, we have needs at home, we are mothers; we have to feed our children. So you are not really going in your pocket to get money to travel, meet or do faxing, it's not possible.  So funding has been a major obstacle.

What are some of the ways that you could propose strengthening funding possibilities?  Do you always have to go outside to Europe for financing?  Is there some way that there can be a inter-African connection?

At the same time we want to sensitize people in our own countries to help us, because now cinema is looked at as a luxury.  For a long time we have been so bombarded by Hollywood movies that when you talk about movies everybody is thinking about Hollywood, everybody is thinking about fun.  So back home nobody really takes you seriously.  So gradually, slowly and slowly we have our people who now appreciate seeing films by African people on African issues, problems, aspirations and hopes.
        When they look at a film on the screen they now begin to appreciate that we have our own humor, we can also look at our own movies and laugh.  We may laugh at our problems but also find solutions as it sinks home slowly and slowly.  Then maybe now if you start looking for help at home, it will make sense.  But before it was difficult because people think you just want to have fun. They think you want to make cinema just to amuse; and then, of course, they think, why should people give money to you just to have fun.

Of course when you talk about Africans appreciating African cinema there is also the question of the ability to distribute and exhibit African films in Africa.  I remember your film which you presented here at FESPACO in 1993, it was very successful, what about the distribution of that film and other films from Kenya and other regions in Africa?

Distribution has always been a problem.  Again as I said, we have this francophone block and anglophone block.  So you find that the English-speaking filmmakers have a different problem with distribution, the French-speaking filmmakers have still another problem.  Their films are more easily distributed in France and the other French-speaking countries.  When you make a film in English and try to get it distributed in other parts of the continent where French is spoken, it becomes difficult.
        Distribution has been a problem and it is one of the agendas that we are going to discuss at one of the women's workshops.  How do we get to see each other's films, how do we get to distribute films?  These are the questions that we are asking. That is why we say we need help; we are struggling.   We hope that we can have seminars and workshops and maybe do some brainstorming on how to solve the problems of distribution.