Activism and Filmmaking

Dr. Carmen McCain
Harmattan 2015
Office Hours: 12-2pm Tuesdays, 2pm-4pm Wednesdays and by appointment
Class Time: 2-4pm Tuesdays


still from Afrique Je te Plumerai (Africa, I Will Fleece You…) by Jean-Marie Teno (c) Jean-Marie Teno (courtesy of Online Film)

Welcome to the course page for  Activism and Filmmaking. What is activism and how can film be used in activism? In this class we will study the history of activist filmmaking, watch films that recount activist and revolutionary movements, and ask questions about the purposes and methods by which filmmakers make activist films. As you watch the films in this class, ask what are the goals of these films? To educate? To change? Can activism be both revolutionary and conservative? Can activist films be entertaining?  Is there a difference between propaganda and activism? What kinds of problems and opportunities arise when combining activism and filmmaking?

Below is a list of recommended materials, both films and readings. Please check back every week for updates to the schedule. Your required readings will be deposited in the library reserves each week before class.

Films Likely to be Screened in class* (links to YouTube or the filmmake’s website)
Films of Revolution
Battleship Potemkin
La Hora de los Hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces, Part 1 (Neocolonialism and Violence)
Borom Sarett
Battle of Algiers
Afrique Je Te Plumerai/ Africa, I Will Fleece You
The Activism of the Privileged
11th Hour
Kony 2012 (30 mins)
Activism in Nigeria
Daughters of the Niger Delta
Fueling Poverty
The Imam and the Pastor
*(These films may change)

Films about Historical Revolutionary/Activist Movements
Battleship Potemkin
The Hour of the Furnaces, Part 1 (Neocolonialism and Violence)
Battle of Algiers
Motorcycle Diaries
Malcom X

Other Activist Film Resources Online
Journeyman Pictures
Human Rights Watch
Trailer for forthcoming film “Nowhere to Run: Nigeria’s Environmental Crisis”
YouTube Activism and Film playlist
Activism and Film Pinterest site

Recommended Texts:
I will update the schedule a week before each class detailing the readings you will be required to read. In the meantime, these are some recommended texts available online or in the Library:

“Introduction: Marxism and Film Activism: Screening Alternative Worlds” by Ewa Mazierska and Lars Kristensen
“Celluloid activism – a short history of political cinema” by Julian Upton
Television and Popular Public Spheres by Peter Dahlgren
Cinema and Social Change in Latin America: Conversations with Filmmakers. By Julianne Burton. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1986.
• Radical Theatre in Nigeria by Saint Gbilekaa. Ibadan: Caltop Publications, 1997. (available in Nigerian bookshops)
African Cinema: Politics and Culture by Manthia Diawara.Bloomington, In.: Indiana UP, 1992.
African Cinema: Narratives, Perspectives and Poetics. By Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike. Port Harcourt: University of Port Harcourt Press. 2013.
Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with Filmmakers by Nwachukwu Frank Ukadike. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.
• African Experiences of Cinema Eds. Imruh Bakari and Mbye Cham. London: BFI, 1996. (see me)
• Third Cinema in the Third World: the Aesthetics of Liberation by Teshome Gabriel. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1982. (see me)
• Questions of Third Cinema Ed. Jim Pines and Paul Willeman. London: BFI, 1989.
Rethinking Third Cinema Eds. Anthony Guneratne and Wimal Dissanayake. New York: Routledge, 2003.
“Conclusion: Political Criticism” by Terry Eagleton from Literary Theory: An Introduction. Oxford: Blackwell, 2008.
• The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon (see Excerpted chapters here)

Texts on Reserve in the Library
African Film: Reimagining a Continent by Josef Gugler
Global Nollywood: the Transnational Dimensions of an African Video Film Industry Ed. Matthias Krings and Onookome Okome
How to Read a Film by James Monaco

Other relevant books available in the Kwara State University Library:
African Francophone Cinema by Samba Diop
African Experiences of Cinema – BFI
African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze by Olivier Bartlet
African Cinema: Postcolonial and Feminist Readings by Kenneth Harrow
Postcolonial African Cinema from postal engagement to post-modernism by Kenneth Harrow
Black African Cinema by Frank Ukadike
Revolution in Cuba by Carmelo Mesa-Lago


Week 1: August 25: Introduction. What is Activism?
Required Readings for next week: “Russia Utopia and Dystopia” by Martha P. Nochimson p.71-92 (see photocopy)
handout on Battleship Potemkin

Additional recommended readings:
Recommended Reading
“Battleship Potemkin and Beyond: Film and Revolutionary Politics” by Morris Dickstein
“The Battleship Potemkin” Turner Classic Movies”


Week 2: September 1 : Bolshevik cinema,
ScreeningBattleship Potemkin (69 mins)

Required Reading for next week:
Bruce Williams, “In the Heat of the Factory: the Global Fires of The Hour of the Furnaces” from Marxism and Film Activism, eds Ewa Mazierska and Lars Kristensen. Berghanhn Books. pp. 124-138

“Fernando Solanas: An Interview”

Recommended reading
Solanis and Getino. “Towards a Third Cinema” (or for html)
Glauber Rocha: “The Aesthetic of Hunger” 
Julio Garcia Espinosa “For an Imperfect Cinema” 

Week 3: September 8: Third Cinema
Screening: La Hora de los Hornos/The Hour of the Furnaces, Part 1 (Neocolonialism and Violence) (1 hour, 24 mins)

Required Reading for next week: “Preface,” “Introduction” pp. 1-4, “Theoretical Context” 5-14” and “Revolutionary Films” Pp.21-28, 35-40 by Teshome Gabriel from Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetics of Liberation. (see emailed pdf)

Recommended Reading
Frantz Fanon. Excerpted chapters from The Wretched of the Earth 

Week 4: September 15  Mandabi (90 mins)  (Additional recommended viewing: Blood of the Condor (67 mins))

To Read for next week:
The Artist as the Leader of the Revolution” by Manthia Diawara, pp35-50 (see emailed pdf and library reserves); “Resolutions of the Third World Film-Maker’ Meeting, Algiers, Algeria 1973; “The Algiers Charter on African Cinema, 1975” (see the emailed pdf and library reserves)

Week 5: September 21 African Cinema, Borom Sarett (30 mins)

(Thursday, September 23, Eid el Kabir)

Week 6: September 28: African Cinema, TBA
(Thursday, October 1, Independence Day)

Week 7: October 5: Battle of Algiers/Selma

Week 8: October 12 Afrique Je Te Plumerai
(Thursday, October 15, Islamic New Year)


Week 9: October 19 11th Hour (92 minutes)

Week 10: October 26 Problems in Activist Film : Kony 2012 (30 mins)
Read: Teju Cole “The White Saviour Industrial Complex”
Problems in Funding.

Questions to consider: Are films sponsored by US/UK NGOs truly activist? Who do they reach? What change do they effect?

Reading “How to become a renowned activist” by Elnathan John

Week 11: November 2: Daughters of the Niger Delta (56 mins)

Week 12: November 9: Fueling Poverty (30 mins)

Week 13: November 16: The Imam and the Pastor, There is Nothing Wrong with My Uncle, or TBA

Week 14: November 23 STUDY WEEK

Class policies and assignments

Grade Breakdown
Continuous assessment: 40%
1 page response paper to films and readings due each week 25%
Film Notes and reading Journal to be kept over the course of the semester 5%
Attendance and Class participation 10 %
Exam: 60%

After each screening, you will write a 1-2 page reaction paper analyzing the film and its relationship to activism (It may be handwritten on foolscap or typed double spaced), incorporating examples from both the film and from your readings for the week. Papers due at the beginning of the next class period.

Film Notes and Reading Journal:
You will keep an exercise book in which you take notes on the films as you watch them and on the readings. Take note of strategies the filmmakers use to capture the attention of the audience. How do they move the camera? What editing techniques are used? How do these further the purpose of the filmmaker? How do the readings contribute to your understanding of what the filmmakers are doing? Your journal should help you make the observations you use in writing your short papers. I will collect it at random times throughout the semester.

NOTE: The short response papers may be selected to be featured on the website we are developing for the Nollywood Studies Centre.

Attendance is required. You are allowed two absences. In the course of any semester, illnesses and emergencies come up. Wise students will reserve their absences for emergencies. I expect you to be respectful of your classmates and me by coming to class on time, by switching phones to silent before class starts, refraining from texting or Whatsapp during class, and by keeping your attention focused on the discussion at hand. I dock grades for habitual lateness. Any student caught plagiarizing will fail the class.

Plagiarism is the act of using other people’s words or ideas without giving them credit or even failing to give them credit in the right way. I fail any student who plagiarizes in my class. For more information on how to correctly cite your work, see the following links: Acknowledging Sources, Documentation

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