Mosa Mpheta is the co-founder of the Black Cinema Project, a scheme founded in 2020 …
The project aims to spotlight and promote the work of films created by and involving Black people, using a community-led discussion-based focus. She is also the curator of Cinema Africa! where she programmes underrepresented works from the African continent in the Hyde Picture House in Leeds.
In July, she curated the Women’s Stories from the Global South exhibit as part of the Cinema Rediscovered film festival in Bristol.
We spoke to Mosa Mpheta about her work, her inspirations, and the importance and future of Black cinema …
Please introduce yourself…
Hello! I am a film curator that does freelance film programming, and I also work for my local cinema in film engagement and community outreach. I am based in Leeds but was born in Liverpool (a Scouser through and through!), and I have a passion for old films and Black and African cinema.
Why do you think this festival and tour are important?
I am a big fan of Cinema Rediscovered film festivals as I love old movies – and being able to watch them on the big screen with an audience! I feel like we can learn so much from our past and better contextualise our global histories when we can see varied and beautiful storytelling from the past 100 or so years. This particular strand and tour I believe are so important as already women’s stories, and stories from the global south are always under-represented in the wider film sector, and so being able to bring these really special and fantastic films to audiences all over the country means we are slowly normalising them being a part of the equation.
How did your collaboration come together with the festival?
Initially, I approached the festival in order to show the newly restored film Sambizanga (1972), as I had been following its dramatic journey of the filmmaker’s family fighting to take back the film rights, and eventually to it being beautifully restored. I was so keen to see this on the big screen, and on as many screens as possible. This festival felt like the perfect fit as I knew they would care as much about this film as I do. They are really committed to global and culturally significant archive films. Once I got in touch, they suggested we expand the theme of films with interesting back stories in ownership and return of ownership, and so by working with other curational collaborators, we ended up with a five-film strand. This strand was made in collaboration with other fantastic film curators.; Darragh & Jesse from Tanzanian Audio Visual Collective, Ajabu Ajabu have been my key curational partners throughout the process as we all strongly believe in increasing access to these films and bringing awareness to audiences about the back stories of film rights.
What has been uncovered when curating for the topic: Women’s Stories from the Global South (and To Whom they Belong)?
When researching these films and discussing the topic with fellow curators, we had some really brilliant conversations about why these films have experienced barriers to distribution and reflected on who has historically had access to them, and who hasn’t. It was encouraging to work with other people who are equally frustrated that we can’t present all the films we want to but are very committed to trying their hardest to use their influence, connections and passion to make sure as many underrepresented films are being presented to audiences as possible.
Why do you think many of the films you’ve selected have been so difficult to access in the past?
For so many reasons! Some of the films were not respected or understood in their time, for example, Sara Gómez’s film De Cierta Manera was considered too Avante garde, and therefore those with the decision making power of when and where it was to be shown, decided that audiences might not understand it. There is also the ongoing problem of older films not being stored or archived carefully, and therefore becoming damaged. It takes a lot of money and time to restore films to their former glory, so finances play a huge part in why some films are harder to see. You need to have someone willing to pay for the film to be cared for, and historically those with money who were interested in film, were not especially interested in stories outside of the West.
Why is it important to discuss these films now?
I think any opportunity we have to look back on different lives and stories from the past, from voices who are lesser heard should be taken. By understanding the difficulties these films and filmmakers have faced, we get to show them the respect they deserve and we get to enjoy their immense talent. The more we normalise seeing these kinds of films, the more that the powers that be will recognise that audiences want to see them, they will want to see themselves represented on the screen. I think we can change the sector for the better, it is so young and changeable, we just need to show up and have conversations and learn.
How does the festival and the tour try to conduct outreach so the viewership emulates what it is promoting (particularly for this year)?
With the support of BFI awarding funds from the National Lottery, the festival team is working with a whole range of partner venues and festivals (such as Africa in Motion and the Havana Glasgow Film Festival) to try to make that happen. As well as involving relevant groups in various locations (such as Sheba Soul, The African Heritage Culture Forum and Twelve 30 Collective), there is support available for venues participating in the tour to try to connect with the widest possible range of audiences at a grassroots level. They are offered the option of live or pre-recorded intros by the curators involved including myself, provided with marketing assets and contextualising materials, given resources to put on local events as well as run targeted social media ads and ticket offers. Also, I’m hoping by doing interviews like this one will help raise the visibility of the tour for all involved.
What was your personal highlight at the festival?
My highlight was spending time with Annouchka De Andrade, the daughter of Sarah Maldoror. After spending so long following her and her mother’s journey to get this film restored, it was an honour to be able to present the film alongside her. We had a fantastic and quite emotional post-film discussion, it was a very special moment.
What is next for the Women’s Stories from the Global South strand and you as a curator?
This strand is now on tour UK-wide across several venues including Showroom, Sheffield (4 Oct – 1 Nov), ICA, London (19 – 26 Oct), Trowbridge Townhall (7 Oct), Queen Film Theatre, Belfast (18 Oct), Hyde Park Picturehouse and partner venues in Leeds (from 1 Nov), MAC Birmingham (date TBC.) Some of the titles will be showing at film festivals this autumn including Bath Film Festival, Afrika Eye (Bristol), Africa in Motion (Glasgow) and Havana Glasgow Festival so please do go catch the films if you can!
I am busy watching and curating films in my local cinema in Leeds, Hyde Park Picture House. And I am developing a new permanent film strand at the cinema called Cinema Africa! in order to recognise the growing and vibrant films on offer that this continent has and to get audiences excited about African movies.
GETTING TO KNOW YOU …
- A book you have to have in your collection? Zimbabwean novelist and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga have a trilogy of books that I re-read often. Nervous Conditions, The Book of Not and This Mournable Body.
- A song/album that defines the soundtrack of your life to date? Still Sun by Obongjayar
- A film / TV show that you can watch/have watched repeatedly? Singin’ in the Rain
- The first stage production you saw and what it meant to you (play, dance or concert)? My first music festival (Leeds Festival) made me realise I wanted to work in events – which was where my career started.
- What’s made you sad, mad, and glad this week? This week I was sad to drop off my little sister at university in Bristol – so far! I was mad to read about the difficulties women are facing in Iran. I was glad to spend time with my parents on a long walk in the countryside.
Headshot: Chelsey Cliff