Fighting inequality through film

Image of Jean Marie TenoInternationally acclaimed writer, filmmaker and film critic Jean-Marie Teno (left) will be the featured guest Sept. 8 at The Independents, a monthly series of screenings and discussions on independent cinema presented by York University’s Department of Film.

Teno will screen and discuss his two provocative documentaries Chief! (1999) and Head in the Clouds (1994). His cinematic essays explore societal issues facing contemporary Africa, including colonialism, neo-colonialism, migration, dictatorship and the abuse of power. Teno extends this analysis to show how a new generation in Cameroon is making up for the mistakes of the past.

Motivated by his interest in fighting inequality, Teno offers a glimpse into his films: “While filming one day, I encountered a vigilante mob kicking and screaming at a 16-year-old boy who had stolen some chickens. The paradox of Africa is that the national sport – far more popular than soccer – is the plundering of resources by our heads and chiefs. Yet, a youth was nearly lynched for stealing one hen and four chicks.”

Teno’s films have earned kudos from NGOs, film officials and critics alike.

“Very powerful and eloquent, Chief! underscores, in a neat presentation, the challenges Africa faces in establishing rights and accountability at the village level, between the sexes and for persons of power — be they traditional or political,” said Adotei Akwei, campaign director, Amnesty International.

“What is most striking about his films is their vitality, eloquence, and thoughtful political discourse, which frequently suggests strategies of resistance and change. Taken together, Teno’s films provide us with a candid portrait of daily life in contemporary Cameroon,” said Susan Oxtoby, director of programming at Cinematheque Toronto, a year-round screening program dedicated to presenting the history of world cinema on the big screen.

Image from the Jean-Marie Teno film Right and below: Images from the film Chief!, courtesy of Jean-Marie Teno

Teno was born in Cameroon and has lived in Paris since 1977. He studied communications at the University of Valenciennes (France), followed by work as a film critic for the magazine Bwana. He made his first film, the documentary short Schubbah, in 1983. Since then, he has directed both documentary and fiction, frequently working in the cinematic essay style. He belongs to the generation of young African filmmakers of the 1990s who refashioned Black cinema, history and culture.

image of people in shacklesThe Independents will kick off its 2005-2006 season on Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7pm in the Nat Taylor Cinema (N102 Ross Bldg.) located on the Keele campus. Admission is free.

Teno’s presentation is sponsored by the departments of Film and Anthropology, the African Studies Program and the Saul Interdisciplinary Graduate Seminar, York University.

For more information about the presentation and screenings, call ext. 22174 or e-mail

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.