As director Alain Kassanda points out, "the restitution of films should start with access to film archives from the colonial era. Furthermore, Africans do not have access to the pioneering works of cinema produced by the continent's filmmakers: the holding of distribution rights outside of African countries, in Europe and the United States, is one of the reasons for this situation. The vast majority of African film collections, consisting of ethnographic, classic and contemporary films, are held in France and the United States. The unavailability of the works is, according to the latest UNESCO report, legally linked to the difficulties of conservation: "the audiovisual archives stored locally have gradually deteriorated, due to the lack of methods and means of conservation, and the first documents dating from the 1950s have already disappeared," says the document. Even restored and digitized, African heritage films are still in the hands of Western institutions or private companies, but this is also an argument used by Western institutions to maintain control over film conservation - to say that the continent does not have the means to conserve is both infantilizing and denies the continent's ability to do so and/or to put in place the structures necessary for proper conservation.
While the restitution of African cultural heritage is becoming increasingly important in debates around the decolonization of arts and institutions, encouraging actors to implement a "new relational ethic" (Sarr, Savoy; 2018), film heritage seems to have been forgotten in recent discussions.
Restituting African film heritage requires a precise knowledge of African collections-where are they and what are they?
Dramani-Issifou Farah Clémentine