A film about Prince Claus Fund Laureate Jean-Pierre Bekolo shown during the 2015 Prince Claus Awards at the Royal Palace Amsterdam. (Produced by Brenninkmeij)

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Jean-Pierre Bekolo is perhaps the most daring contemporary African director.  His filmmaking is idiosyncratic; it exhibits biting humour through a reliance on satire, avoids didacticism, and advocates for artistic freedom. The director favours expression over “education” (in his words, “there is no recipe to filmmaking”), over the formalities and classical conventions of cinema. His formal training was originally in editing, and he studied in Paris at the Institut National Audiovisuel as part of the last graduating class of structuralist Christian Metz. His narrative construction does pay homage to the structuralism of the seventies, and it often comes across as purposely opaque, which critics of African film have construed as an attempt to create a new kind of African cinematic language. But Bekolo transgresses geographical and aesthetic borders. His cinema is not just “African,” or postcolonial, or experimental, or narrative. It is also a cinema that constantly searches for itself, for what it is and what it can accomplish.

written by VLAD DIMA

 

Jean-Pierre Bekolo was awarded the Prince Claus Prize in 2015 in Amsterdam for his creative resistance, irreverence and eclectic, for reworking on dominant cinema conventions; for creating a unique body of innovative work that both entertains and transmits profound socio-political messages; for his highly original aesthetics; for challenging misrepresentations of African cultures; and for re-affirming  the power of film.

 

Jean-Pierre Bekolo is an avant-garde filmmaker and socio-cultural activist whose imaginative work overturns stereotypes of Africa and African cinema. His entertaining films operate on multiple layers, engaging viewers with thrilling stories, biting humour and dramatic aesthetics. He was born June 8th, 1966 in Yaounde, he studied physics at University of Yaounde 1984-1987 and Television production (editing) at Institute National de l'Audiovisuel - INA in Paris where he also studied semiotics under Christian Metz 1988-1989. He was part of the inaugural class of the Clinton School of Public Service (President Clinton school of public service for social change) in Little Rock Arkansas in 2005. 

 

1992 Jean-Pierre Bekolo is a noted African film director from Cameroon. He already garnered attention at the Cannes Film Festival with his debut film Quartier Mozart  made at the age of 25, with a style that is playful, comic, and sardonic became the representative of a new generation that has been working against the restrictive expectations of African cinema, mixing genres and linking pop with politics. Quartier Mozart won number of awards (Locarno, Montreal... and was nominated for the Surtherland Trophy in London along with Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.)

An advocate of artistic freedom, Bekolo is committed to realising Africa’s philosophies and cultures. Quartier Mozart shows the hybridity, complexity and humour in urban Yaounde in a playful, hip-hop reinvention of a traditional tale about gender, power, magic and politics. 

1995  He directed Aristotle's Plot , the African entry in the British Film Institute's series of films commemorating the centenary of cinema that has included the participation of artists such as Scorsese, Bertolucci, Frears, Miller, Reitz, and Godard. Part action movie send-up, part parody of Aristotle's rules, part satire on Africa's preoccupation with itself, this first African film selected at Sundance shows Bekolo to be an "increasingly fearless trickster." 

Aristotle’s Plot parodies rules and definitions, action movies and ‘African’ cinema made for European audiences, while aesthetically reflecting on the nature of existence, its ambiguities  and absence of rigid categories. 

 

1996 Bekolo’s work on the re-representation of Africa also includes insightful documentaries 

that seek to educate, such as Grandmother’s Grammar on groundbreaking Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety. 

 

2005 His avant-garde political thriller Les Saignantes selected by the MOMA in New-York in 2017 among the 70 science-fiction classics. It premiered at the Toronto film festival, was nominated in two categories at the French Césars (2009); it is considered to be the first African sci-fi movie. Les Saignantes won the Silver Stallion & Best Actress Awards at Fespaco (Pan African Film Festival Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso) in 2007. 

This dystopian, sci-fi comic thriller with stunning surreal visuals, presents extreme corruption, feminism, social decay and intergenerational conflict for review.

 

2013 Banned in Cameroon in 2013, Jean-Pierre Bekolo's controversial film Le President (2015 AMAA Awards Best screenplay and Jury Special Prize) Aiming to incite viewers to conceive an alternate reality, his  fake documentary The President is a hilarious, biting satire on African leaders who cling to power.

 

2015 Les Choses et Les Mots de Mudimbe  on the renowned Congolese philosopher, multi-linguist and uber-polymath. This 4 hours documentary was part of the official selection of the 2015 Berlinale. "An unusual film, as fascinating as its object/subject, opulent, sensitive, clever, and radical. Another station of delightful postcolonial, cosmopolitan filmmaking". 

 

 

2016 Naked Reality Bekolo persistently pushes the limits of representation (“I know I crossed boundaries,” says the main character of Naked Reality, confirming the director’s own quest) as he searches for new ways to tell a story. This latest film, is presented to the world as an unfinished product but not a typical one. Bekolo invites everyone to contribute their craft, their ideas, their fantasy to this concept film on a website designed especially for collaborative purposes.

Naked Reality is easily the most difficult film to date in Bekolo’s filmography. Shot in black and white, this hour-long experiment follows a vague plot.This is an “afrofuturistic/sci-fi” film taking place 150 years in the future when the human race is plagued by a terrible virus – “bad luck.” The main character seemingly travels back and forth between the present and the future, and also carries on conversations with ancestors as well as with alternate selves. But the ultimate goal of the film is a philosophical and aesthetic exploration of the dividing line between fiction and reality, which is perhaps Bekolo’s main artistic interest. Among the director’s memorable lines on the topic, consider the following: “We shouldn’t just be making movies, we should be changing reality.”

 

2017 Our Wishes  10 episodes TV Drama series; an African perspective on the first encounter between Cameroonian chiefs and the Germans around the signature of the treaty that will make Cameroon a German colony just before the Berlin conference of 1884.

 

2017 Miraculous Weapons  (in Post-production) The story of three women in the middle of the sixties in a State called Free State find themselves around a man on death row. One arrives from Europe after few letters with man to support him, another is the wife of the man running a Bed and Breakfast next to the prison, and the last one teaches French courses in the prison.

 

 

Activities as Lecturer

 

1998 Film Lecturer at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg VA – Production workshop “Theatre and New Visual Media”

2000-2001 Film Lecturer at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the Communication Department  Video Production class “From the idea till the final film”

2003 Film Lecturer at Duke University in the Film & Video Program of the Literature Department – Video Production class “ What Films are Made of”

 

Articles-Interviews

 

2008 Welcome to Applied Fiction, Framwork New-York

2014 View From Africa – heinrich Boll Stiftung

May 2016 Haunted by the future , Kerber-Berlin

 

Books

 

2009 Africa for the Future, Dagan-Paris

2017 Cineaste sans Camera (not published)

2017 Healing Cinema (not published)

Others

 

Jean-Pierre Bekolo is President and a founding member of the World Cinema Alliance e.V. (along with Francesco Maseli assistant of Visconti)  He has been dividing his time between the USA, France, Germany, South Africa and Cameroon.

He was until Feb.2015 a fellow of the Artists Program at the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Berlin. He just won the 2015 Prince Claus Award.

Links

 

 

Films

 

2017 – Miraculous Weapons 

 

2017 – Afrique, la Pensée en Mouvement Part I and II 1h44 - 1h37 Les Ateliers de Dakar 2016

 

2017 – Our Wishes -. - 10 episodes of 26min. video installation part of the Conundrum of Imagination at the Leopold Museum Vienna, WienerFest Wochen Performeum.

 

2016 – Naked Reality  -62min. - Science-fiction

 

2015 – Les Choses et les Mots de Mudimbe -243min. - Documentary Berlinale 2015

 

2013  - Le President - How do you know it's time to go? – 63min. Feature film banned in Cameroon

 

2007-2008  An African Woman in Space, HD - video installation - part of DIASPORA exhibition at Musée Quai Branly Paris, France

                  

2005 Les Saignantes  93min.- Feature film - France- Cameroon 

 

1996 La Grammaire de Grand'mere 8min - Interview of filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety, Senegal.

 

1995 Aristotle's Plot 71min. - Feature film - Zimbabwe, South Africa UK, France, Canada. Part of British Film Institute 100 years of cinema's series along with Martin Scorsese, Stephen Frears, Jean-Luc Godard, Bernardo Bertolucci, George Miller...

 

1992 Quartier Mozart 83min. - Feature film - France Cameroon.

 

Awards

 

2017 Miraculous Weapons Carthage Film Festival

2017 Les Saignantes Selected by the MOMA in New-York among the 70 classics of science-fiction

2015 Prince Claus Award in Amsterdam

2013 Price of the city of Cordoue for LE PRESIDENT

2007 Silver Stallion of Yennenga (2nd Prize) and Best Female Actresses Prize at FESPACO 

1997 ARISTOTE'S PLOT Winner Prized Pieces Film Awards, Pittsburgh USA The National Black 

Programming Consortium.

1993 QUARTIER MOZART Nominated for the British Film Awards along with Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs

1992 QUARTIER MOZART Cannes Film Festival Prix Afrique en Création.

1992 QUARTIER MOZART Locarno Film Festival Prix Swissair - Prix Carte Jeunes.

1992 QUARTIER MOZART Montréal World Film Festival Mention Spéciale du Jury.

 

Festivals

 

Miraculous Weapons:

2017 Carthage Film Festival 

 

Naked Reality:  

2017 Documenta - Athens

2016 Durban International Film Festival, Africa in Motion (Edinburg), Film Africa (London)

 

Les Choses et les Mots de Mudimbe:  

2016 Biennale de Dakar

2015 Berlinale – FID Marseille 

 

Le President:

2017 Muica (Bogota, Colombia)

2017 Documenta 

2013 Festival Cine Droit Libre Ouagadougou/Abidjan/Dakar) – Durban – Kampala

 

Les Saignantes

2017 Moma (New-York)

2017 Muica (Bogota, Colombia)

2012 Africa in Motion (Edinburg)

2008 African Screens HKW (Berlin)

2007 Festival Panafricain de Cinema de Ouagadougou FESPACO (Burkina Faso)
2006 Barcelona – Carthage – Bruxelles – Durban – New-York – Montréal
2005 Toronto International Film Festival – Torino (Italy) 

 

Aristotle's Plot
2017 Documenta Athens

1998 Smithsonian - Marseille - Carthage
1997 Sundance Film Festival-Rotterdam-Amiens
1996 Toronto Film Festival

Quartier Mozart
2000 Sao Paulo, Brésil
1998 Budapest, Marseille, Perugia
1993 Lincoln Center, Londres, Jérusalem, New Delhi, Chicago, Dublin, Götenborg, Copenhagen, Genève, Washington, Philadelphie, Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso)
1992 Cannes, Locarno, Montréal. 

 

Conferences - Master Classes

 

1998     Great African Films of the 90ies Smithsonian Washington DC

2009     Festival International Jean Rouch – Comite du Film Ethnographique “Panel of Innovation”

2011     The Aesthetics of Vulgarity – NYU

2012     Keynote - “Making Movies From a Place” African Literature Association – Dallas

2013     Keynote - “Cinema Beyond Censorship” African Film and Politics Conference University of Westminster - London

African Screens – Lisbon
The Future Of Weird: Visions Of Excess  - Brooklyn

2014     MRDAGARNA – “Cinema Beyond Censorship” Swedish Forum for Human Rights - Umea/

 

2015     African Literature Association – Bayreuth – Les Choses et les Mots de Mudimbe

Africa Futures - Goethe Johannesburg - keynote

Africa Acts  - CNRS Paris – Les Saignantes

AfroFuturism – Berlin – Les Saignantes 

2016     Keynote - Humboldt Forum Conference – Johannesburg 

Keynote - Berlinale Talents “Cinema of the Future”- Berlin 

Cinema Exhibition “Welcome to Applied Fiction” -Savvy contemporary Gallery - Berlin

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