On JGPACA and in
discussion with June Givanni
by Nana Ocran
Back in February this year, the June Givanni Pan African Cinema Archive (JGPACA) established a new partnership with Creative Works London and Birkbeck University of London. Later on, the University of the Arts joined also as creative partners.
The Archive provides access to a private collection of films, audio recordings, posters, scripts, publications, documents and artefacts that highlight a 30-year career in programming, writing and cultural activism through the lens of Pan African film and television. Women filmmakers like Sarah Maldoror, Safi Faye, Julie Dash, Euzhan Palcy and Djamila Sahraoui stand alongside Oscar Micheaux, Djibril Diop Mambéty or Gaston Kaboré in terms of historic interest and stature. (See the archive website).
However, what I’ve also discovered to be of as much value as the range of archival content from Africa, Europe, North and South America and the Caribbean, are the conversations with June in the lead up to a series of events for October this year. Screenings, talks with guest filmmakers and an exhibition are set to take place at Birkbeck Institute for the Moving Image (BIMI) as well as at the University of the Arts, Chelsea, whose Triangle and Cookhouse galleries will be the venues for the archive’s events.
Anecdotal information during the curatorial process of brainstorming, research, defining themes and generally unearthing memories about the cinematic movements in Pan Africanism led to reflections on the African, Black British, African American and Caribbean producers, directors, activists, thinkers and events that collectively have a defining presence in the archive’s content. In line with this particular blog it seemed a good fit to look back at some of the archive’s female icons, but in even deeper reflective mode, June’s focus turned specifically towards a couple of the ‘lost’ female voices that sit within the collection. Essentially, the impact of women who are no longer around to physically add to their output, but still manage to have a strong impact on Pan African cinema.
(N.O) In terms of lost or even forgotten voices, are there particular woman who inspire significant memories?
(J.G) I would say the US writer and activist Toni Cade Bambara is one. A lot of people are unaware of her involvement in film. I met her through Louis Massiah, the filmmaker and founder of the Scribe Video Centre in Philadelphia. She collaborated with him a lot and was the scriptwriter and narrator for his 1986 film The Bombing of Osage Avenue, and she’s one of the four writers who are featured in his later film W.E.B Dubois: A Biography in Voices alongside Amiri Baraka, Wesley Brown and Thulani Davis. I was lucky enough to have interviewed her for the Feminist Book Fair back in 1983 or 1984 here in London. She was one of the invited guest speakers alongside the renowned Egyptian writer Nawal El Saadawi and Ellen Kuzwayo the South African activist and writer. They were all featured in a film from the event that was made by ‘Pictures of Women’ and shown on Channel 4 Television. The time-coded interview that I did is in the archive, as well as the short documentary, and when you find something like that, it’s always really special. She had such a wide knowledge and passion for people, for black culture and the history of who we are, and for struggle. She didn’t just speak about her own US history and background; she was also concerned with the New Cross Massacre when she was here, and that was the nature of her Pan African perspective. I have great memories of her – even down to her taking me to see Thelma & Louise when it came out in Philadelphia.
The actor Alexandra Duah was a very powerful woman. Very articulate and very well known in Ghana. She played the role of Nunu in Haile Gerima’s film Sankofa in 1993. She was the architect of the Ghanaian chapter of the African Professional Women Working in Film and Video organisation. There was a major event at Fespaco in 1991 where the theme and focus was on women working within the industry. It was the first pan-continental meeting to set up a section within the Pan African Filmmakers Federation to put women on the agenda. I remember her being very active in that context.
And someone I’m really blessed to have met and glad to have known as a friend was Rosalind Cash (1938-1995). She was a great actor who was in a lot of 1970s and 1980s films. One of her roles was as Charlton Heston’s love interest in The Omega Man in 1971, and another was with Diahann Carroll in the 1982 TV drama Sister Sister. She had a really big personality. I met her in Fespaco in the mid 1980s when the diaspora delegates were organising the Robeson Prize for the best diaspora film at the festival. Rosalind was there as part of the US group. I interviewed her about her work and working as a woman within the industry; what she’d achieved, what she took from it, how hard it was but also how blessed she was and how she loved her work. We kept in touch for many years after Fespaco but then she died, and I was so sad to lose her. She was a really beautiful Black Diamond. I have a photograph of her from our interview, wearing a T-shirt that says, “women do get weary”, but she was enjoying herself. The audio interview is in the archive, alongside the VHS of FESPACO ’87 by Carolyn Sides, which features video footage of Rosalind commenting on the festival. Much of the spirit of Rosalind and Alexandra and the things they shared or had to say are still relevant.
(N.O) So what about your own role as a woman and as an archivist?
(J.G) Well, the fact that I’m a woman to some extent is coincidental but I think it’s a bit more than that. My whole interest and inspiration for working in film has been about challenging misrepresentation, enriching people’s knowledge and showcasing the rich history of the African continent and the African diaspora, which has so much to offer. October’s going to be really interesting. We’re hoping to have a real buzz around our activities. We’re presenting aspects of the archive and encouraging feedback about what people expect from such a collection. I’m hoping this will stimulate a lot more interest in that work and organising archives in a way that will become accessible because we’ve got two or three generations that don’t know this work and I think it’s important that they have an opportunity to see it. I am blessed to also have among my patrons to the archive two great supportive women. Arts and Culture Scholar Baroness Lola Young; and the Martiniquan award-winning filmmaker Euzhan Palcy who will be coming to London in October for the ‘Movements’ event (see the event flier) and will be participating on the ‘Pan Africanism and Negritude in Cinema and the Archive‘ roundtable at Birkbeck on Saturday 18th October with other speakers. Not to be missed!!
Images: June Givanni © Courtesy of Afrika film Festival Leuven, Photograph by Stefaan Cordier; Alexandra Duah as Nunu in Sankofa (1993) © Courtesy of Haile Gerima, Myphedu Films Inc.
Nana Ocran is a London-based writer and editor specialising in contemporary African culture. She was Editor-in-Chief for the Time Out Group’s series of guides to Lagos and Abuja and has consulted on and established publications on West African culture for the Danish Film Institute, the Arts Council England and the Institute of International Visual Arts. She has recently worked as a researcher at the JGPACA.