The theme of this year's Africa Rising Film Festival (ARIFF) is 'Film For Change', an apt call going by how tumultuous the year has been.

For the first time since the festival's debut, organizers have set out to take on a virtual show. Features, shorts, documentaries by African filmmakers will be available to screen online and on South Africa's national broadcaster, SABC.

Ayanda Sithebe is interestingly the casting director for BET's 'Isono' [News24]
Ayanda Sithebe is interestingly the casting director for BET's 'Isono' [News24]

Pulse recently caught up with ARIFF's festival director and co-founder, Ayanda Sithebe on the festival's development over the years, challenges and plans to become more accessible to Nigerian filmmakers.

Sithebe has impressive experience in not just the business of filmmaking but in the development of actors. A former actor himself (started his career as a child actor) turned casting director, Sithebe currently runs a platform where he trains actors.

What birthed the Africa Rising Film Festival?

In 2018, the Global Citizen was coming to South Africa to celebrate the Mandela 100 and I met one of the members of the Global Citizen which is Kweku Mandela. We were introduced to each other.

Ayanda Sithebe, Kweku Mandela and Lala Tuku [Instagram/@lalatuku]
Ayanda Sithebe, Kweku Mandela and Lala Tuku [Instagram/@lalatuku]

When we met, he wanted to do an official event, one of the pre-events for Global Citizen. We were meant to do a workshop together and we were like what else can we do. I said to him that there are a lot of film festivals in Africa as a whole. I said to him that I feel like we can create a festival that speaks more to accessibility especially for emerging filmmakers. Then we met Lala Tuku, the co-chair of the festival, an amazing executive producer. That was how ARIFF was birthed as an official pre-event to the Global Citizen in 2018.

What kind of films are eligible for submission?

The key element for us was towards development, and to accessibility. How do we give filmmakers accessibility to filmmaking? Thirdly was to bring empowerment. Opening up the space for people from disadvantaged communities; the queer community for instance.

So, our selection literally has to speak to those pillars. We are a premium festival that showcases quality films. But most of our films, we try to ensure that they speak to these pillars.

This year, our theme is 'Film For Change', and we are looking at stories that impact our society. Stories that can prove the way we do things, the way we think.

The theme for the third edition of ARIFF is 'Film For Change'  [Instagram/@ariff_festival]
The theme for the third edition of ARIFF is 'Film For Change' [Instagram/@ariff_festival]

Is the festival exclusive to young filmmakers?

It is open to everyone. I mean, our closing film last year was 'Queen & Slim'. So in terms of the calibre of filmmakers there, it is really established filmmakers but the element of accessibility is allowing emerging filmmakers to bring in their content.

I think from a development aspect of it, the youth is very involved. We have got a big volunteering program which is led by the youth and it empowers those young people as well. By the end of the film festival, you will have people that are equipped with skills to have a live production.

But from an execution perspective, it remains a premium African film festival that anyone in the world can attend and enjoy African, Pan-African stories and global stories.

How many submissions did you record this year?

I mean we are still in that process but at the moment, we are sitting over 200 films that we are currently going through.

Any from Nigeria?

We have adopted Akin! So this is an exclusive, we have got a film from Akin Omotoso that will be screening and I am very excited about it. That is a very big Nigerian representation that we have this year.

'The Ghost And The House Of Truth' directed by Akin Omotoso [Instagram/@tghtthefilm]
'The Ghost And The House Of Truth' directed by Akin Omotoso [Instagram/@tghtthefilm]

How come there is not enough Nigerian representation at ARIFF?

This is one of the reasons we are speaking to Pulse because we felt we have to literally have a full representation of the African continent from our programming side of things. So it is our third year running but we could not do much this year in terms of planning to reach out to these filmmakers cause of Covid. But our long term goal is really to have a full representation of the continent to allow filmmakers connect and I know that between Nigeria and South Africa, we consume a lot of each other's content.

Our plan is to also do a lot of year round projects to allow us travel to Nigeria and do some showcases there.

Does the festival allow for features, documentaries and shorts or are there specifics?

Totally! It allows everything including web series because this generation is a different generation of storytellers who can use any tool to tell stories. We are open to all types of storytelling content.

Submissions are still ongoing for ARIFF ahead of its November 27 opening event.