African Film Festival founder seeks right mix for St. Louis audiences

As a professor of African history at Bard College, Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo would make annual trips to New York with her students to attend the New York African Film Festival.

When she came to St. Louis in 2006, Toliver-Diallo felt that the Midwest needed its own festival, so she approached the former film chair at Washington University, and with his approval, began the African Film Festival, now in its 11th year.

Although she did not expect immediate success, the St. Louis community proved eager to embrace an African film festival, and Toliver-Diallo was able to make the event her own after only a few years.

“I talked with the founder of New York African Film Festival to figure out how to get started in a smaller way, and luckily they had a traveling series, and that's what I did the first year,” Toliver-Diallo said. “We had packed houses the first year and so that gave [me] momentum, and so I've moved from just using that traveling series to really looking at different international festivals to curate the films myself, so I don't automatically just show the traveling series as I did the first couple of years.”

Toliver-Diallo now spends her summers reading reviews in the international press and follows the action from film festivals including Cannes and FESPACO in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and chooses what she believes to be the best films for St. Louis.

“Interestingly there are some films that do really really well in Cannes but I feel like is not really suited for St. Louis audiences so I won't show it,” Toliver-Diallo said. “So this year that happened as well. There was a film that has a lot of big acclaim I watched it it was a great film but I felt it was too slow moving for St. Louis or what St. Louis audiences are really used to so I just decided not to show it.”

Ultimately, this year's decision process has led to the selection of eight films that will be screened over three days at Washington University.

Viewers can also attend Q&A sessions with filmmakers, historians and other experts after screenings. This year two of those experts include Teddy Goitom and Senay Berhe, founders of “Afripedia,” a platform for arts from Africa. 

“I really think the Afripedia project is amazing and I'm excited to have one of the founders be able to come and be with us this whole weekend,” Toliver-Diallo said. “The Afripedia is really capturing all the different creatives around the continent whether they be visual artists or writers or singers, and I think that the whole idea of the project really encapsulates what the festival is about.”

What African Film Festival • When 7 p.m. April 1; 3 and 7 p.m. April 2; 7 p.m. April 3 • Where Brown Hall, Washington University, 1 Brookings Drive • How much Free • More info 314-935-7879;

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Alex SiegmanComment