Once upon a Time There Was PANAF

Liberation Movements and Cultural Representations of African Dreams

The Indochina war, which ended in May 1954 with the battle of Dien Bien Phu, began to shake a colonial empire that had become visibly anachronistic. Many African soldiers fought against Nazism for the freedom of Europe and even alongside French troops in Indochina. They expected, in turn, a kind of recognition of their rights to freedom. African cinema has shown how, in response to these demands for justice, massacres were perpetrated in several African countries at that time: near Dakar in 1944 (Ousmane Sembén’s Camp Thiaroye); in Setif, Algeria, in 1945 (Rachid Bouchareb’s Outside the Law); and in Madagascar in 1947 (Raymond Rajaonarivelo’s Tabataba). According to Jeffrey James Byrne, “the impending decolonization of Africa was not obvious when the Algerian National Liberation Front, at the end of 1954, began its struggle: neither the speed  nor the form that would eventually define it—the universal institution of the sovereign state model—now seemed inevitable.” [^1]   Structurally, European colonialism was dying. But Byrne adds, “the specter of the Algerian conflict led British and French leaders to accelerate the  transition.” 

South African singer Miriam Makeba, Atlas Theater, Algiers, July 1969. © Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec
South African singer Miriam Makeba, Atlas Theater, Algiers, July 1969. © Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec

The United Nations declared 1960 the “year of Africa” and in December adopted Resolution 154 on decolonization, recommending that the Central African Republic be admitted as a member of the United Nations. The Algerian resistance, therefore, benefited from the support of the first African countries that achieved independence after Tunisia and Morocco. Presidents Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Sékou Touré of Guinea, and Modibo Keïta of Mali not only provided concrete assistance (including arms) to Algeria, but also allowed the Algerian National Liberation Front to open diplomatic missions in capitals at the risk of angering the French leaders of the time. It is worth noting that Frantz Fanon was ambassador to the Gouvernement Provisoire de la République Algérienne (GPRA) in Accra from March 1960. Beginning with its diplomatic missions, even though Algeria was not yet independent, the Algerian National Liberation Front at the end of 1960 provided weapons to liberation movements in Cameroon, in the “Belgian” Congo, in Mali, and according to Byrne, also to groups in Senegal.

Guerrillas from Angola and South Africa were also welcomed at this time in training camps in the Algerian Liberation Army located in Morocco. Activists of the African National Congress (ANC); the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA); the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), including the great leader Amilcar Cabral; the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO) from current day Namibia; and Samora Machel, who became president of Mozambique, among others, came to receive military training. During the war of Algerian independence, Nelson Mandela, for example, spent several days in Morocco with border army officers on a farm owned by the Bouabdallah family that was turned into a model barracks. Having become independent in 1962, Algeria maintained strong links with these liberation movements, many of which chose to locate their headquarters in Algiers. The ANC opened an information office in a large apartment in the center of Algiers. Up until 1991, the ANC president, Oliver Tambo, frequently visited the Algerian capital. This office was represented by figures such as Robert Reisha and the external relations representative of the ANC, Johnny Makatini. The former official in charge of liaising with liberation movements, Nelson Djelloul Melaïka, adds: Even the current President Zuma always repeats his commitment to Algeria. He never forgot that he once traveled with an Algerian passport! It was brave of Algeria to give a passport of a sovereign country to foreign militants who were trained by their enemies “outside the law”!

Recall that it was under the chairmanship of Algerian Foreign Minister Abdelaziz Bouteflika that the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1974 excluded South Africa. Algeria, according to Melaïka, “did not only support African movements, we helped the freedom fighters everywhere, without distinction, in their struggles against injustice.” It is amid this euphoric recovery of independence that Algeria became “a haven for soldiers and the world’s oppressed,” having hosted the first PanAfrican Cultural Festival in 1969. During this time, many countries were still under colonial domination. Cabral, the PAIGC leader, was one the major theorists of African liberation. During a press conference at Villa Boumaâraf, headquarters for the Algerian liberation movement, he stated: “Take note: Christians make pilgrimages to the Vatican, Muslims go to Mecca, and national liberation movements go to Algeria.” 

First row: fourth from left, Ahmed Ben Bella, first president of Algieria; fifth from left, Amilcar Cabral, president of the Mozambique Liberation Front in Algiers; sixth from left, Houari Boumédiène, head of the Algierian Liberation Army and second president of Algeria (1965-1978). Nelson Mandela is in the second row, behind Ben Bella, in sunglasses. Oujda, Morocco, June 1962. Photo: Kaddour Semmar
First row: fourth from left, Ahmed Ben Bella, first president of Algieria; fifth from left, Amilcar Cabral, president of the Mozambique Liberation Front in Algiers; sixth from left, Houari Boumédiène, head of the Algierian Liberation Army and second president of Algeria (1965-1978). Nelson Mandela is in the second row, behind Ben Bella, in sunglasses. Oujda, Morocco, June 1962. Photo: Kaddour Semmar

The performances in Algeria during July 1969 were often given by the Mozambique Liberation Front or PAIGC soldiers returned from the front. The Pan-African Cultural Festival (PANAF) was conceived as a continental celebration that would be opened up for the first time to the African diaspora living abroad, brought together in a militant cultural gathering strongly marked by the search for identity. William Klein’s film The Pan-African Festival of Algiers will endure as a living witnessing of the African and African American liberation movements taking place in Algeria during that time. We can watch Cabral (Guinea Bissau) and Agustinho Neto (MPLA, Angola) speak about the struggle against colonialism. Robert Mugabe, too, was present, along with the leading ANC members. When Algeria achieved its independence in 1962, the country soon pledged its support for the ANC. 

That same year, the newly elected president, Ahmed Ben Bella, invited Nelson Mandela to a military parade, where he offered financial support for the antiapartheid party. Algeria also renewed its military support, setting up training camps for ANC leaders on Algerian soil. South African filmmaker Ramadan Suleman dedicated his film By All Means Necessary to Algerian liberation movements taking place throughout the sixties. Klein’s film shows distressing images of Miriam Makeba, an antiapartheid icon for the ANC, as she appears repeatedly with Marion Williams, Makeba’s young child on his knee or the singer performing in front of a packed stadium, concealed beneath a lioness mask. Makeba was recently married to Stokely Carmichael when she came with him to Algiers. She obtained an Algerian passport to be able to move freely across international borders. For those who have seen the film, Archie Shepp will remain forever associated with his unbelievable improvisation with the Tuaregs of southern Algeria. Their outdoor performance in front of thousands of over-excited enthusiasts remains one of the pinnacles of African fraternity. It is mandatory viewing to watch Archie Shepp say, as he walks onstage, “We are still black and we have come back. Nous sommes revenus,” before adding, “Jazz is an African power. Jazz is an African music.” 

In its aesthetic approach, PANAF is tied to the political cinema from the late sixties with its handwritten subtitles, its quick intercuts, and its outraged denunciations of colonialism and segregation. Africa and Africans were dreaming of liberty and justice. We can hear “black is beautiful”  in the wings of the festival. PANAF was a succession of smiles, closed fists brandished in defiance of human injustice profoundly expressing the sense of “liberty” and resonating with people who had too long been deprived of it. Klein’s film serves as a testimony to this time, and few filmmakers could have captured and immortalized this tumultuous period with such strength and talent. The film takes its place in the already successful career of the filmmaker. Partly due to Klein, PANAF of ’69 has entered into humanity’s collective memory. 

US jazz musicians Grachan III Moncur and Archie Shepp during the Archie Shepp Sextet concert, Place de la Grande Poste, Algiers, July 1969. © Guy Le Querrec/ Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec
US jazz musicians Grachan III Moncur and Archie Shepp during the Archie Shepp Sextet concert, Place de la Grande Poste, Algiers, July 1969. © Guy Le Querrec/ Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec

Racial segregation had been abolished in the United States just scant months before PANAF, and Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated a year earlier. Frantz Fanon’s writings and his engagement in the struggle for independence made Algeria a powerful symbol for the fight against colonial and racial oppression, two concepts that are often conflated. African American diaspora gravitated en masse to Algeria, along with a significant contingency of Caribbeans and South Americans of African descent. This influx of revolutionaries of all stripes and all backgrounds quickly transformed this relaxed gathering into an unprecedented success in the Global South. PANAF occurred at the same historical moment as Woodstock and large social justice events in the United States. Following the example of other independence movements, the head of the Black Panthers, Eldridge Cleaver, sought refuge in Algeria. Rod Stewart was singing “Air Algiers,” and filmmakers were jostling around Algerian cinema to earn the label of “third world” or “nonaligned.” As Kathleen Neal Cleaver has pointed out, “It was the Organisation of African Unity, created in 1963, which, fueled by the move towards decolonization, entrusted Algeria with the task of organizing the first truly pan-African cultural festival . . . further increasing the significance of support for the fight against colonialism in Algeria.” 

During this period of decolonization and emancipation, the concept of Pan-Africanism, which sustained the dream of African unity, could only distinguish this dream from the repressive image of the Western world. Kathleen Cleaver writes that “although the members were exclusively black, the Black Panther Party insisted on ‘power to the people’ rather than ‘black power’ . . . and its presence in Algeria signified its identification with the struggle to end colonialism.” According to Cleaver, by officially inviting artists and politicians to participate in PANAF, Algeria implicitly recognized the “connection between African struggles and those of African Americans.” Not long before the festival, populist demonstrators had fired on and damaged the American Cultural Center in Algeria. Following his arrival in Algeria, Eldridge Cleaver proposed founding an African American Cultural Center. Doubtlessly influenced by William Klein’s film, French Algerian writer and scholar Olivier Hadouchi opposed the ’69 PANAF and the “world festival of black arts.” 

Even the title, Pan-African Cultural Festival, is a snub addressed to the World Festival of Black Arts, organized in 1966 by Senegal. At the end of the sixties, culture was seen more as an instrument of political engagement than as a distraction. In the revolutionary ardor of the neo-Marxist and decolonizing movements, it was good form to declare a commitment to anticolonialism and anti-imperialism. Senegalese film director Ousmane Sembène confirmed this during PANAF: “For me, the man of culture in Africa is a political man, with all that the term implies. He’s a man totally engaged in a perpetual denunciation. His role is to be a soldier, a fighter. Art can be a weapon. Really, all culture is political.” 

It is important here to recognize the division between “revolutionary” Africa and the version Négritude embodied by the president of Senegal, Léopold Sédar Senghor. It should be noted that another champion of Négritude and an avowed anticolonialist, Aimé Césaire (who was vice president of the 1966 World Festival for Black Arts in Dakar), was feted during the first PANAF. Relations between Algeria and Senegal were excellent. Senegal participated officially and extensively in the Algerian PANAF, represented by a strong delegation of artists and intellectuals. The delegation was present at the symposium on African culture and also at the conference for African filmmakers, organized by Algerian cinema leaders in the Ibn Khaldoun theater. Blaise Senghor participated alongside Senegalese filmmakers such as Ousmane Sembéne, Djibril Diop Mambéty, and Mahama  Johnson Traoré, as well as one of the founding fathers of African cinema, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra. I would even say that Négritude was present throughout the entire PANAF, demonstrated by the important presences of many African Americans such as Archie Shepp, Ted Joans, Nina Simone, Ed Bullins, Dr. Nathan Hare, Marion Williams, and Haki Madhubuti. All emphasized their African origins. It was during this initial Pan-African Cultural Festival that Nina Simone first sang her version of Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas” (“Don’t Leave Me”), and Makeba performed a song in Arabic, “Ana Horra fil el Djazaïr” (“I Am Free in Algiers”). 

At the risk of presenting a warped perspective, it should be noted that Klein’s film also inscribed Beninese philosopher Stanislas Spéro Adotévi’s virulent comments against Négritude. Supported by Congolese writer Henri Lopez, Adotévi published his authoritative work, Négritude et Négrologues, which he had begun before PANAF. At the end of the sixties, revolutionary Algeria was still influenced by Frantz Fanon’s writings, which were omnipresent throughout PANAF. Several years before, Algerian author Mouloud Mammeri had been inspired by Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth to write the commentary for the film, L’Aube des damnés, which Algerian film director and screenwriter Ahmed Rachedi had prepared for an Afro-Asian summit that had been delayed by Houari Boumédiène’s coup d’état in 1965. Fanon’s spirit appeared in 1969 as a link between the anticolonialist revolutionary dream and Négritude, which, according to Senghor, represented “all of black Africa’s cultural values.” 

Nina Simone, Atlas Theater, July 30, 1969. © Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec
Nina Simone, Atlas Theater, July 30, 1969. © Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec

In the introduction to Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon expressed his beliefs: “We’re trying to do nothing less than liberate men of color from themselves. We will make very slow progress, because there are two sides: the white and the black.” In spite of the richness of the performances offered by the African and African American artists, the symposium of the first Pan-African Cultural Festival, held in the framework of PANAF (Algiers, July 21 to August 1, 1969), represented without a doubt one of the strongest moments of this first intellectual confrontation between African thinkers on free African soil. Boumédiène stated at the festival’s opening that the event was “only one part of our immense efforts towards emancipation.” It may be difficult for some today to imagine Algeria as a suitable place to organize such an event, but anyone present during the sixties could see the impact that the long, eight-year war led by the Algerian people (at the cost of millions of victims) had on all African people enamored with the idea of freedom. As mentioned previously, the role played by Frantz Fanon as one of the spokespeople for the Algerian government in exile, followed by Nelson Mandela’s military training at the heart of the Algerian liberation army, caused the war for independence to resonate strongly for the whole continent. 

One of the first controversies to be raised during the symposium was the role of Western museums and their collection of works that belong to the African people’s heritage. Some participants called for the return of these works, while others warned that if these works were to be returned they would “disappear.” The question of museums dedicated to African art had already been raised in 1951 by the French anticolonial filmmakers Alain Resnais and Chris Marker in a documentary that attacked colonial culture at its very basis. Statues Also Die (Les statues meurent aussi) was screened in Africanist museums in Europe and offers a remarkable montage of archive documents concerning black Africa. The contention of the film is that the sculptures of black art in our museums are degrading because their meaning is becoming lost, while contemporary African art is “decadent,” corrupted by Western influences. The two directors raise the point that “black” art is housed in the anthropology museum, Musée de l’Homme, while Greek and Egyptian art resides in the Louvre, underscoring their denunciation of this colonial “ghettoization.” At the end of the day, the symposium strongly shaped the contours of the African dream of freedom that was both singular and rooted in universalism, posing essential questions that today might seem naive: How can culture contribute to the emancipation of African people from the colonial and imperial yoke? How can culture participate in African unity? What is the role of African culture in social, economic, and educational development? 

The final text adopted by PANAF, The Pan-African Cultural Manifesto, including the recommendations of the festival’s symposium, demonstrate that “beyond similarities and convergent forms of thought, beyond the common heritage, Africanity is also a shared destiny, the fraternity of the liberating struggle and a common future which should be assumed by all in order to master it.” For its intellectual debates and populist performances, le PANAF has remained the PANAF for the past forty years. Known for his work in photography, Klein quickly proved himself to be a politically engaged filmmaker. He had already forged strong friendships with African Americans following his film Muhammad Ali, The Greatest. He had gone on to film a section of the collectively filmed Far from Vietnam (organized by Chris Marker) alongside Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais. In spite of that, the choice of Klein to direct the film was made shortly before the opening of the festival. 

Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver, Hotel St. George, Algiers, July 1969. © Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec
Stokely Carmichael and Eldridge Cleaver, Hotel St. George, Algiers, July 1969. © Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec

The two main organizers of the project were the Algerian minister of information, Mohammed Seddik Benyahia, and his chief of staff, Mahieddine Moussaoui. The latter would be the decisive lynchpin at PANAF. At the beginning, Algerian cinema officials had proposed to entrust the making of the film to a collective composed of ten filmmakers, some whom were internationally renowned, including Klein and a number of other African filmmakers. Mohamed Slim Riad, Djibril Diop Mambéty, and Sarah Maldoror were suggested to lead the team. Each director would cover a different cultural sector. Industry leaders such as film director and screen writer Akira Kurosawa, documentary filmmaker Michel Brault, and filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo agreed to the proposal. During a private planning meeting, however, Klein convinced Minister Benyahia to support him as the sole director. This decision did not go over well with the supporters of Algerian cinema, who had planned to involve all the veteran filmmakers who had engaged with the Algerian people during the war for independence. These filmmakers included René Vautier, Pierre Clément, Yann Le Masson, Pierre Lhomme, Bruno Muel, Antoine Bonfanti, and Jacqueline Meppiel. Except for Vautier, the majority of these talented experts eventually participated in the filming, collecting images for which they were solely responsible. It was also important to include Algerian filmmakers who had taken their first professional steps in the ranks of the resistance (Ahmed Lallem, Nasredine Guenifi), while Ahmed Rachidi led the national office of cinema from which the pioneer of combat filmmakers, Djamel Chaderli, had sprung. 

Ultimately, Klein was entrusted with the responsibility of centralizing the various points of view captured by the film crews, a job that would have originally fallen to ten directors. He was also in control of the final cut, without any outside interference. The appointment of Klein as director did not inspire confidence in African filmmakers. For Ousmane Sembène, who was present during the festival and familiar with the cinémathèque, the choice of a non-African went over poorly. “This is a contradiction. It is not a question of the Algerians who played the apprentice but a matter of principle. It is a festival of African culture, and it is Africans who have the right to film the festival. We are able to take a critical view of ourselves.” For the Algerian minister, using Klein would allow the film to gain better access to a European public. At first, however, this did not work. In addition to the anticolonial, anti-imperialist discourse of the film, the fact that its production was one hundred percent Algerian impeded its broad circulation. It was long ignored by both leaders of Algerian cinema (who felt that the film had been made without them) and by Klein himself, who had done nothing to promote it. It was not until the 2009 Pan-African Cultural Festival forty years later that its organizers decided to rerelease it in coordination with the European television network ARTE, which had proposed to distribute a package containing both of Klein’s films.

It was necessary to go in search of the original materials in order to digitize them after Klein got permission to “review” the editing of the 1969 version. Klein came to Algiers in 2009 to inaugurate the film section of the second PANAF with the screening of his film, The Pan-African Cultural Festival of Algiers. During the presentation, he expressed surprise to be invited to Algiers forty years after the first festival and asked his audience a loaded question: “In 1969, we were elated by the presence of the world’s liberation movements here in Algiers. What is your motivation for this second festival today?” 

This did not prevent the Algerian minister of culture from restoring, a few months later in Paris, two thirty-five-millimeter copies of Algerian films in the Klein collection, based in the United States, which had been missing from the catalog: The Pan-African Culture Festival in Algiers and Eldrige Cleaver, Black Panther. African cinema had undeniably been supported by the surging unification movement following the creation of the Organisation of African Unity. This gave rise to the Fédération PANAFricaine des cinéastes (Federation of Pan-African Filmmakers, or FEPACI), which, it should be remembered, came from a document entitled “The Algiers Charter,” which was adopted during the African filmmakers’ symposium that took place in the Ibn Khaldoun theater in July 1969, on the fringes of the first PanAfrican Cultural Festival. This meeting, organized by the Cinémathèque algérienne, was strongly guided by pioneers such as Paulin Vieyra, Ousmane Sembène, and Johnson Traore but also featured Youssef Chahine, Lakhdar Hamina, Ahmed Rachedi, the South African African National Congress member Lionel Ngakane, and the Ivorian Désiré Ecaré. It was they who called for the creation of FEPACI and for the support of a Pan-African film festival, which would later become the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. Tunisian film critic Tahar Cheriaa, who was not present at the meeting, could be released from his Bourguiba jail cell thanks to the international appeal started by the forty African filmmakers who were present. The Algiers Charter was later affirmed in his presence in Tunis in 1970, on the occasion of a foundational congress. 

Folk troupe from Guinea during the inaugural parade of PANAF, July 1969. On the placards is a portrait of Ahmed Sékou Touré, president of the Republic of Guinea. © Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec
Folk troupe from Guinea during the inaugural parade of PANAF, July 1969. On the placards is a portrait of Ahmed Sékou Touré, president of the Republic of Guinea. © Guy Le Querrec/Magnum Photos. Photo: Guy Le Querrec

After the symposium, African filmmakers adopted resolutions and made recommendations to the Organisation of African Unity. The content of these texts shows that they did everything they could to distance themselves from the populist and Marxist terminology in vogue at the time. They were satisfied to reaffirm that “the cinema is the safest and fastest way to rehabilitate and affirm the African personality” and that it is a powerful force for progress.Noting that a cinematic industry did not exist in Africa at the level of policy coordination between African states or in the domain of production, distribution, and operation; that filmmaking was still in the hands of foreign companies; and that the vast majority of African states did not fully control their domestic markets, these African filmmakers recommended the creation of a press office in Algiers that would function until the Addis Ababa meeting in May 1970. Until then, this provisionary liaison office attached to the Algerian Cinémathèque was notably responsible for keeping files on African filmmakers, publishing and distributing a newsletter, exploring the production of a review of African cinema, and encouraging all means of promoting African filmmakers and their works, including their enrollment in yearbooks and professional publications. Moreover, this press office was tasked by the general assembly of the African filmmakers (later to become the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers) to prepare:

1. The creation of a unique African film festival in a place designated by the general assembly, and

2. he creation of a film archive that would span the continent, the role of which would be to safeguard African film, archiving any film or negative entrusted to it by filmmakers and producers without compromising their rights to their work.

It is worth recalling that visiting the Algerian Cinémathèque has been, since its inception in 1965, a rite of passage for African filmmakers. Sembéne was often present, and most filmmakers such as Djibril Diop Mambéty and Mamadou Samb showed their first short films in the theater on the rue Ben M’hidi. Film critics such as Jean-Louis Bory, Jean Douchet, and Claude Michel Cluny, who regularly frequented the cinémathèque in Algiers, have discovered a number of African films there. Vautier acquired the rights to the first film by Sembène, Borom Sarret, which is considered the first African film shot in Africa. At its inception the Algerian Cinémathèque acquired Sembène’s Le Norie de . . . (Black Girl), made in 1966. Given the relationship between Algerian and French film archives, the recognition and success of these pioneer films sometimes began in Algiers. 

Poster for the Pan-African Cultural Festival, Algiers, 1969
Poster for the Pan-African Cultural Festival, Algiers, 1969

The Algerian Cinémathèque has continued for a long time to make continental cinema its priority and to welcome filmmakers from different regions of Africa. It has also served as an intermediary to bring in Algerian funding, which through the first Senegalese-Algerian coproduction enabled Sembène to make Camp de Thiaroye in 1988, which evokes the massacre of Senegalese infantrymen at Camp Thiaroye a few months before the end of the Second World War. It was banned for ten years in France and three in Senegal. By Way of Keeping Score In 2009, at the request of the Organisation of African Unity, Algeria organized the second Pan-African Cultural Festival. This implies that during these forty years, with the exception of the World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, no other African country had volunteered to take up the Pan-African torch. In 1969 the spending, number of guests, and activities far exceeded what was proposed by PANAF. However, it entered history and has been remembered as a unique global event. The reason lies in a few words: the power of the dream of freedom inspired by decolonization. This impetus and the presence of the liberation movements are what made this festival an exceptional event. An event on a planetary scale, the first PANAF was the result of revolutionary voluntarism. Some of the participants came from the heart of Africa, where wars of independence were still raging. They were sent to Algiers by Algerian military aircraft in conditions worthy of a great spy thriller. Algeria had little money at the time, and hotels were rare. A majority of the five thousand guests slept in schools converted into dormitories. But the level of enthusiasm did not disappoint, nor did the human warmth in this beautiful month of July 1969, allowing artists and spectators to stay up all night. 

Algerian Cinémathèque poster for PANAF. Photo Ahmed Bedjaoui
Algerian Cinémathèque poster for PANAF. Photo Ahmed Bedjaoui

Forty years later the budget for the second PANAF exceeded one hundred million dollars. Eight thousand guests attended this festival under ideal conditions. The greatest African singers, including Salif Keita, Cesária Évora, Youssou N’Dour, Alpha Blondy, and Binyavanga Wainaina, appeared on stage. Even if it did not match the first PANAF in enthusiasm, the Algerian public reclaimed their nights after a decade of fundamentalist terror. As Khalida Toumi, the former minister of culture and main organizer of the second PANAF, has said, “During these long evenings, families faced their old fears, coming out to vibrate to the sound of African rhythms.” Two films bear witness to this second festival. Africa Is Back, directed by Chergui Kharroubi and Salem Brahimi, recounts the highlights of the festival, with Danny Glover and Manthia Diawara leading the way. For its part, a second production initiated by the festival, Afrique vue par . . . (Africa Seen by . . . ), allowed ten renowned African directors (representing all major language areas of the continent), through their respective short contributions, to give their personal visions of Africa early in the new millennium.  

For various reasons, despite their great technical and narrative qualities, these films made entirely by Africans have been barred from global distribution. They deserve to be revisited. There is no doubt that Pan-African discourse is less attractive today than it was forty years ago. But it has been recently employed with increasing regularity, reaffirming the role of Pan-African culture as an engine of progress and freedom, a role that is starting to become credible again. Meanwhile, Klein’s film testifies to disappeared hope and vanished utopias. Despite the criticism it has received (above all, the fact that a film about Africa was not made by Africans), it is one of the few documents that vividly portrays the popular, political, and cultural human adventure that was the first Pan-African Cultural Festival. The film has also become a mirror reflecting our broken dreams. 

Ahmed Bedjaoui is a professor of cinema at University of Algiers 3. 


 1. The Algerian National Liberation Front appeared on the first of November 1954. It congregated the different political forces engaged in the Algerian National movement and was supposed to dissolve once independence was acquired. 

  2. Jeffrey James Byrne, “La guerre d’Algérie, facteur de changement du système international, histoire de la guerre d’Algérie, ouvrage collectif,” in Histoire de l’Algérie à la période coloniale 1830– 1962, ed. Abderrahmane Bouchène, et al. (Paris et Barzakh Alger: La Découverte, 2012), 661. 

 3. Ibid., 662. 

 4. Adlène Meddi, interview with Djelloul Malaika, “Chargé des mouvements de libération dans les années 1960 et 1970: Mandela, Zuma, Cabral . . . mes amis, mes frères de combat!,” El Watan, June 11, 2010. 

 5. Ibid.  

 6. Ryszard Kapuscinski, Ébène: Aventures africaines  (Paris: Pocket, 2002). 

 7. Archie Shepp pronounced these three words in French for the audience. 

 8. Kathleen Neal Cleaver, “Back to Africa: The Evolution of the International Section of the Black Panther Party (1969–1972),” in The Black Panther Party [Reconsidered], ed. Charles E. Jones (Baltimore, MD: Black Classic Press, 1998). 

 9. Ibid., 21 

 10. Cleaver, “Back to Africa.”  

 11. Olivier Hadouchi, “Retour sur le festival panafricain d’Alger de 1969,” Cinefabrika, March 25, 2010. Translated into English under the title “‘African Culture Will Be Revolutionary or Will Not Be’: William Klein’s Film of the First Pan‐African Festival of Algiers (1969),” doi 10.1080/09528822.2011.545619. Hadouchi is a French University lecturer and researcher, mostly specialized in thirdworld liberation movements. 

 12. The World Festival of Black Arts, known as FESMAN, was established at that time with Stokely Charmichael in Conakry, Guinea. Miriam Makeba turned down the FESMAN invitation, preferring to come to Algiers for PANAF. But that was rather due to Senghor’s contentious relationship with Sékou Touré. 

 13. Tahar Ben Jelloun, “Interview with Ousmane Sembéne,” Souffles 16–17 (1970). 

 14. Stanislas Spiro Adotevi, Négritude et Négrologues (Paris: Union générale d’éditions, 1972). 

 15. Houari Boumédiène was the chief of the Algerian army when he organized a coup in 1965 against the elected president, Ahmed Ben Bella, and took power until his death in 1978. He undoubtedly played a crucial role in the organization of PANAF through his commitment to the liberation of the African states still under colonial rule in 1969. Although Algeria was a poor country at that time, he prioritized funding for this expensive international meeting.  

 16. Frantz Fanon, Peau noire, masques blancs (Paris: Le Seuil, 1952). 

 17. Pan-African Cultural Manifesto (First All African Cultural Festival, Algiers, Algeria: Organization of African Unity, 1969), 1.  

 18. Ousmane Sembène, quoted in Souffles 4, no. 16/17 (1970): 23. Author’s translation.

  19. While preparing The Pan-African Festival of Algiers, Klein was inspired to film a parallel documentary, Eldridge Cleaver, Black Panther.

 20. These filmmakers represented Algeria, South Africa’s African National Congress,  Angola,  Ivory Coast, Cameroon,  CongoBrazzaville (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Ghana, French Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso),  Guinea,  Portuguese Guinea, Mali, Mozambique, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, the United Arab Republic (now Egypt), and Ethiopia.

  21.  “Resolutions of the Symposium of African Filmmakers,” in Souffles 4, no. 16/17 (1970): 23. Author’s translation. 

 22. The Union panafricaine des cinéastes was the brainchild of the first African filmmakers’ meeting in Algiers during PANAF in August 1969. The pioneers decided to establish a provisional press office in Algiers, which was supposed to function until the official decision of the Organisation of the African Union. Three representatives from Algeria, Tunisia, and Senegal presented the project at the African summit held in Addis Ababa in May 1970. Renamed the Pan African Federation of Filmmakers (FEPACI), it was based in Dakar, and Samb Babacar served as its first general secretary. Consequently, FEPACI was officially inaugurated at the Carthage Film Festival in 1970.

 23. Pan-African Cultural Manifesto.

 24. The Algerian Cinémathèque has been for more than a decade a “passage obligé” for most of African filmmakers who presented their films in Algiers before being introduced to European cinémathèques and film critics. 

 25. Julien Fargettas, “La révolte des tirailleurs sénégalais de Thiaroye,” Vingtième siècle, revue d’histoire 92, no. 4 (2006): 117– 30.

 26. Africa Is Back, documentary, directed by Salem Brahimi and Chergui Kharroubi (Algiers: 2010). 

 27. These filmmakers include Balufu Bakupa-Kanyinda, Rachid Bouchareb, Nouri Bouzid, Sol de Carvalho, Zézé Gamboa, Flora Gomes, Gaston Kaboré, Mama Keïta, Teddy Mattera, and Abderrahmane Sissako.

Featured Director

William Klein

William Klein (April 19, 1926 – September 10, 2022) was an American-born French photographer and filmmaker noted for his ironic approach to both media and his extensive use of unusual photographic techniques in the context of photojournalism and fashion photography. He was ranked 25th on Professional Photographer's list of 100 most influential photographers. Klein trained as a painter, studying under Fernand Léger, and found early success with exhibitions of his work. He soon moved on to photography and achieved widespread fame as a fashion photographer for Vogue and for his photo essays on various cities. He directed feature-length fiction films, numerous short and feature-length documentaries and produced over 250 television commercials. He was awarded the Prix Nadar in 1957, the Royal Photographic Society's Centenary Medal and Honorary Fellowship (HonFRPS) in 1999, and the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award at the Sony World Photography Awards in 2011. A retrospective exhibition of his work, William Klein: YES: Photographs, Paintings, Films, 1948–2013, was shown at the International Center of Photography in New York until September 15, 2022. Learn More

About the Authors

Ahmed Bedjaoui