UNESCO and Nara International Film Festival join forces to support women filmmakers from Africa

Director-General Audrey Azoulay meets at UNESCO Headquarters with internationally acclaimed Japanese film director Naomi Kawase and President of Japan Foundation, Hiroyasu Ando, to discuss new UNESCO-Japan partnership in support of young women film professionals from Africa.


Cinema as a bridge of cooperation

On 27th November, UNESCO Director-General met with Japanese film director Naomi Kawase, also director and founder of the Nara International Film Festival (NIFF), and President of Japan Foundation Hiroyasu Ando. They discussed a new joint initiative to promote women in creativity. “Mobility, whether for work, co-production, or participation in a residency, has become an integral part of the regular career of artists and culture professionals. UNESCO and Japan can play an active role in this regard,” said Ms Kawase.

Designed as a two weeks immersive residency in Japan for 10 young female film professionals from Africa, the project supported by the Government of Japan is a direct outcome of the panel African film across borders – building new bridges of cooperation, organized during the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) on 29 August in Yokohama, Japan.

“This is a major new step in the discussions initiated with Japan at TICAD to support the film industry in Africa. This ground-breaking partnership between UNESCO and the Nara International Film Festival, with the generous support of the Japanese Government, is a truly innovative way to boost mobility, visibility and solidarity. We can give birth to new and dynamic creative networks across borders”, declared Audrey Azoulay.


Female mentorship beyond borders

An open call launched in December 2019 by UNESCO will seek for women directors under the age of 35 from five African countries - Burkina Faso, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa - with the desire to advance their career to the international stage. The ten chosen artists, each country represented by two, will spend two weeks (30 March-12 April 2020) in the village of Tawara (Nara prefecture) where Kawase shot The Mourning Forest, Cannes Film Festival’s 2007 Grand-prix winning feature film.

At the heart of this residency programme is a multi-generational female mentorship. From shooting to editing, participants will collaborate and interact with their peers, under the guidance of Naomi Kawase and professional trainers from the Nara International Film Festival. They will also be matched with young film students from Japan. By uniting these artists at various stages of their careers, the programme aims to create a circle of female film professionals mentors and role models that share knowledge and passion for cinema that defy cultural differences.

The documentaries produced by the residents will be shown at NIFF’s next edition in September 2020. The visibility and distribution opportunities at the Festival is expected to further boost the global careers of these emerging artists.

“Art residencies have the power to transform lives, and Nara is a singular environment to find inspirations”, emphasized Kawase. “I am honored to play a part in the empowerment of the next generation of women directors”.

Japan Foundation President Ando expressed his strong support for the project. “We can contribute to the formation of sustainable ties between artists from Africa and Japan, and open up co-production opportunities for film professionals from across Africa and Japan. The Foundation is very pleased to assist this game-changing initiative”.

The residency is part of various UNESCO initiatives to develop creativity across the world through better cultural governance and peer-to-peer learning networks. In this context, the Director-General expressed her hope that Japan would ratify the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005), as a strong signal of its support to international cooperation for sustainable development in the area of culture.

“Africa is booming with talent. What is required is to structure the industry and support cultural exchanges that can give women artists access to new markets, increase and broaden their audiences. I very much hope that this film residency can be continued over time”, concluded Audrey Azoulay.

The Call for Application will be launched in December 2019.

Goal(s) of UNESCO's 2005 Convention