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African Film Festival Fosters Home-Grown Development Cinema

Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, is set to host a film festival aimed at boosting Africa's self-image and identity. The festival's organizers hope it will spawn a community of African film makers specializing in using cinema for development.

The International Short Film Festival is the brainchild of award-winning Mauritanian film maker Abderrahmane Sissako and his wife, Ethiopian cinematographer Maji-da Abdi. The event will feature 100 films by and about Africa and Africans, each from five to 30 minutes long.

Sitting side by side in front of reporters, Sissako explained in French his vision of using cinema as a development tool, while Abdi translated to English.

"It is a continent about which a lot is said, but has very little opportunity to speak about itself. Africa does not have as much opportunity to tell its own stories. That is why I think images as a part of development is firstly 'cinema as a mirror of yourself'. Through a mirror one can correct oneself, one can doubt oneself. One can be proud of oneself as well," Sissako said.

Sissako and Abdi say African children growing up on a diet of Hollywood-style films may never see images that reflect their own world. They say Africa needs a home-grown film industry to raise its self-esteem and represent African ideals. "When hundreds of thousands of people rarely see their own picture on the big screens, that is where I talk of prejudice. A child can be proud to see that his father can be a pilot or a doctor. But when he never sees on his screens a representation of something that he can resemble him or his parents, so it poses questions even though he does not have them clearly stated in the head," they said.

Abdi, the festival's chief organizer, says film also has the ability to break down cultural barriers, and to allow people see their continent through African eyes.

"We are seen mostly on CNN and other news as sort of this poor victim, when there are many more aspects of people in each country that we need to show to ourselves and to each other. It is a pity that Ethiopians do not know about other African countries, have never heard their languages in a film or know the different cultures well. We have all seen, in a movie, the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty, but nothing about our own continent," he said.

The film festival will run from June 14 through 19.

Winner of the prize for best East African short film will win an all-expenses paid trip to France for 10 days of cinematography training.