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Cameroonian filmmaker: ‘Why I made a film for £5,000’

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Olivier Assoua in his editing suiteImage copyright
Olivier Assoua

Olivier Assoua’s first feature film was shot on a shoestring budget in the small Cameroonian town where he was born. As he tells the BBC, the low cost ensured the movie got made – and this is why his long-held dream is set to be realised when it is released in the coming months.

When Olivier Assoau was 10, his civil-servant father bought a VHS player. His was the only family in the neighbourhood to own one.

“When we did well at school, my father allowed my friends and I to watch a movie as a reward. It motivated me to do well in school because I really wanted to watch movies,” Assoua says.

And thus, a lifelong passion began.

At the age of 15, Assoua left Cameroon for France and in 2006 he moved to the UK.

Years later, he returned to his birth town to embark on a film-making journey. He wrote, directed, shot and edited his first feature-length film, La Vallée des Aigles (“The Eagle’s Nest” is its English title).

“I made the film for £5,000 ($6,400). If I had paid myself market rate for each role, I would never have been able to make it,” Assoua says.

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Olivier Assoua

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In Olivier Assoua’s film, one of the girls wants to leave for Europe, the other wants stay in Africa

“My film La Vallée des Aigles is about two female friends in a small town where many young people emigrate to bigger cities or Europe in search of a better life.

“In this film, the two main characters stumble upon a large sum of money. One of the friends decides to go to Europe with the money, whilst the other wants to stay in Cameroon and make something of herself.”

The plight of the Africans

Assoua regards migration, economic or forced, as a hugely important subject.

“Many Africans are dying trying to get to Europe,” he says. “There is a belief that going to Europe will make their lives better.”

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Olivier Assoua

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Olivier Assoua shot the film in a month with amateur actors

A 2019 UN migration study, seeking to understand the reasons for migration to Europe, interviewed close to 2,000 migrants from 39 African countries, and found that nearly all of them would make the same perilous journey again despite the danger.

Assoua believes many of problems in Africa can be traced back to the legacy of colonialism, which forced together different groups into the same country and skewed economic relationships, both internally and internationally.

“It will take time to heal and get out of the mindset of the colonised subject and rebuild [African countries],” Assoua says.

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The stories one tells are important, he says.

“Part of that [the rebuilding] is also creating content that matters.”

The Black Girl

The effects of colonialism and the aspiration to go to Europe are long-running themes in African cinema – for example in the acclaimed 1966 Senegalese film Black Girl, directed by Ousmane Sembène.

In the film, a Senegalese girl is hired as a nanny by a middle-class French couple. When the couple move back to France, they take the girl with them. At first, she is happy beyond belief – dreaming of Paris and of wearing stylish clothes and shoes.

Soon, however, the girl’s excitement turns to sorrow, as she realises her reality in Paris is very different to what she had imaged – that she is mainly confined to the apartment, cooking and cleaning.

The film was a critical success. Critics saw the girl as a symbol for the newly-independent Senegal: a country dreaming of freedom and prosperity but one weighted down by the aftermath of colonialism.

Like the migrants risking their lives to reach the shores of Europe, Assoua suggests black Africans are abandoning “our own storytelling” and instead flocking to Western films. He calls for support for home-grown films on the continent, and says they should draw on each country’s rich history and culture instead.

“Instead of asking for a seat at the table, we need to build our own table,” he says.



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Minneapolis unrest: CNN reporter arrested live on air

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A CNN correspondent and members of his crew were arrested while broadcasting about violent protests in Minneapolis.

There were demonstrations in the city for a third night following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in police custody on Monday.

The Minneapolis State Patrol confirmed the arrests and said those detained were released “once they were confirmed to be members of the media”.

But CNN disputed the police’s account of the incident, saying its staff had “identified themselves, on live television, immediately as journalists”.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz later apologised for the arrests.

Watch the full story on CNN YouTube channel.



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Harvey Weinstein: Four more women accuse producer of assault

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Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison earlier this year

Disgraced film producer Harvey Weinstein has been accused of sexual assault by four further women as he serves a 23-year prison sentence.

Court documents filed in New York on Thursday allege several sexual offences dating from 1984 to 2013.

One of the four anonymous women was 17 at the time of an alleged attack.

Weinstein’s legal representative told BBC News: “Mr Weinstein intends to defend against the claims filed anonymously against him yesterday.”

The lawyer, Imran H Ansari of Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins PC, added: “Some of these claims, including those alleged to have occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, may be barred by the applicable statute of limitations, and not subject to any exceptions under the law, as these plaintiffs do not appear to be complainants in Mr Weinstein’s criminal case.”

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The latest legal cases allege multiple sexual offences against four women, who currently reside in Tennessee, New York, Ecuador and Hungary.

Some of the attacks allegedly took place after meetings with Weinstein at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals.

The new allegations include:

  • A 43-year-old woman from Tennesee claims that in 1994, when she was 17, Weinstein “falsely imprisoned, sexually assaulted, sexually battered and raped her” in his hotel room. The plaintiff, who wanted to break into the entertainment industry, alleges Weinstein demanded she perform oral sex on him.
  • A 70-year-old woman from Ecuador claims that in 1984, when she was 34, Weinstein allegedly pinned her against a door and fondled her in his hotel room in Cannes, when she was looking to start a career as a documentary filmmaker.
  • A 38-year old woman said she met Weinstein in Manhattan in 2008 and he offered to “help take her career to the next level”. He allegedly raped her in his Soho apartment a few days later, telling her he would ruin her if she told anyone.
  • A 35-year-old woman from Hungary claims that in 2013, when she was 26, she met Weinstein at the Venice Film Festival. A few months later, he allegedly forced her to perform oral sex on him when she met him in a hotel room.

Allegations against Weinstein began to emerge in October 2017, when The New York Times first reported incidents dating back decades.

At least 80 women have since accused him of sexual misconduct, including actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Uma Thurman and Salma Hayek.

The allegations were at the centre of the #MeToo movement that inspired women to go public with misconduct allegations against powerful men.

Weinstein issued an apology acknowledging he had “caused a lot of pain”, but denied any allegations of non-consensual sex.

In February, Weinstein was convicted in New York City of third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act, and later sentenced to 23 years in jail.

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Remi Wolf on how she makes music videos in lockdown

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Music videos are often big budget affairs filmed in glamorous locations with a cast and crew to rival a movie. But what happens when a pandemic strikes and everyone is told to practise social distancing and not leave their home?

Rising star Remi Wolf told the BBC’s Sophie van Brugen how she got around the problem, and what coronavirus could mean for the future of the music video.



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