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Sembène-Kelani Film Prize

The Sembène-Kelani Film Prize is for an outstanding film, whether fiction or documentary, made in the preceding two calendar years (2022, 2023) by an African filmmaker. The ASA is interested in innovative, probing, work that helps audiences think about social, political, economic, and cultural questions pertinent to the lives of Africans and dynamics on the African continent.

The award winner will be chosen by the prize committee and invited to attend the Annual Meeting for a screening of the winning film. The award will include roundtrip economy class airfare, accommodation at the Annual Meeting hotel for up to four nights, conference registration, and $500.

This award was made possible by a generous gift from Kenneth W. Harrow and Elizabeth W. Harrow through the establishment of the Ken Harrow ASA Film Fund. Formerly the ASA Film Prize (2019-2024), the award was renamed by Prof. Ken Harrow in honor of two prominent African filmmakers, Ousmane Sembène and Tunde Kelani, he admired. You can support this award and other film related programming, or honor Prof. Ken Harrow’s memory, by selecting the Ken Harrow ASA Film Fund in the donation form here.

Please note: By submitting a film to the prize committee for consideration, nominators are agreeing to waive any screening fees should the film be selected as a winner.

Eligibility

– A film completed in the last 2 years. The film can be in circulation in festivals, for example, and/or take up by a distributor and in distribution.
– The director should be African, an African national though not necessarily resident on the continent.
– Filmmakers can submit nominations at any stage in their career.
– Films must be feature-length and with English subtitles.
– Documentary or fiction (with an understanding that these distinctions are increasingly traversed in much film work today) are accepted.
– Films should be directed to an audience that contains both specialists and generalists.
– We encourage work in less commonly used African languages as long as English subtitles are included, and will also consider works in other languages as well.
– We accept Blu-Ray and DVD versions, or links such as Vimeo with a protected password.

ASA Film Prize committee

Carmela Garritano, Texas A & M University (Chair)
Allison McGuffie, University of Oregon
Alexie Tcheuyap, University of Toronto
Steven W. Thomas, Wagner College

Nominated films can be sent to:

Filmmakers or their distributors can submit nominations to chair: Carmela Garritano at cgarritano[at]tamu.edu
Nominated films must be received or post-marked by April 30 annually

Past Winners

  • 2023 Winner

    Colette & Justin, Directed by Alain Kassanda (2022)

  • 2022 Winner

    When a Farm Goes Aflame, Directed by Jide Akinleminu

  • 2020 Winner

    Ar Condicionado (Air Conditioner), Directed by Fradique

  • 2019 Winner

    Whispering Truth to Power, Directed by Shameela Seedat

Laurels

Please contact the ASA Secretariat directly at members@africanstudies.org for an official laurel with your year. Please include file format preference if not png. Runners-up are also available upon written request.

About Dr. Kenneth W. Harrow

Kenneth Harrow (1943-2024) was Emeritus Distinguished Professor of English at Michigan State University (1966-2018). He received a B.S. from M.I.T in 1964, and a PhD in Comparative Literature from NYU in 1970. His work focused on African cinema and literature, Diaspora and Postcolonial Studies. He is the author of Thresholds of Change in African Literature(Heinemann, 1994), Less Than One and Double: A Feminist Reading of African Women’s Writing (Heinemann, 2002), Postcolonial African Cinema: From Political Engagement to Postmodernism (Indiana U P, 2007), and Trash! A Study of African Cinema Viewed from Below (Indiana University Press, 2013). His 2022 book project seeking to bridge the sciences and humanities is titled Space and Time in African Cinema and Cine-scapes (Routledge Press 2022), and his most recent work is African Cinema in a Global Age (Routledge Press 2023). He has edited numerous collections on such topics as Islam and African literature, African cinema, and women in African literature and cinema. With Frieda Ekotto he edited the collection Rethinking African Cultural Production (Indiana University Press, 2015). His other edited work includes African Filmmaking: Five Formations (MSU Press, 2017), and A Companion in African Cinema (Wiley-Blackwell, 2018), coedited with Carmela Garritano. He published more than 60 articles and twenty-five chapters. 

His service to the profession included organizing numerous conferences dealing with African literature and cinema, including twice the African Literature Association’s annual conference—once on the theme of theory in the field of African literary studies in 1986, and a second in 1997 on African cinema. He served as President of the African Literature Association and was honored with their first Distinguished Member Award in 2009. In 2010 he was honored with the Distinguished Faculty Award at Michigan State University, and in 2011 was honored with the Distinguished Africanist Award at the Toyin Falola Annual Conference, University of Texas. Past grants include an NEH Younger Humanist Award in 1973-4, which brought him to France, Algeria, and Morocco. His Fulbright teaching and research awards brought him to Cameroon in 1977-79, and Senegal from 1982-3, 1988, and 2005-6. He served on the boards of the African Literature Association and the African Studies Association. He served as general editor for the series “African Humanities and the Arts” for Michigan State University Press. His final works focused on time and space in African cinema, and African cinema’s relationship to the contested concept of World Cinema. In his years with the African Studies Association, he established and organized the ASA award for best African film. In 2023, the Association awarded him its Distinguished Africanist Award.

About Sembène Ousmane

Sembène Ousmane defined African cinema and has been called the father of African cinema. Although that label excludes other important African filmmakers, like the Niger director Oumarou Ganda, Sembène’s influence was by far the most important for the decades after Independence that saw African cinema establish itself as a truly indigenous cultural phenomenon. His film was grounded in “engagement,” the notion that film should serve an important social and political purpose. Although the issues shifted over the years, the key notions entailed opposition to neocolonialism, to French domination and assimilation; speaking out on “women’s issues,” especially in critiquing African patriarchy; supporting African language expression, with the first African films made in African languages. He shared pan-africanist aspirations; opposed the corruption and failures of newly independent regimes and touted the youthful generations as espousing the hopes of an African future. His influence was widely felt in the Sahelian countries close to Senegal, especially Mali and Burkina Faso, and his name came to be associated with FESPACO and FESPACI, the African film festival and association of African filmmakers seeking to restore African dignity in the images of Africans on the screen.

About Tunde Kelani

Tunde Kelani was similarly important in influencing Anglophone African cinema. His career in film began in the 1970s as he worked for BBC and Reuters as a photographer and reporter. He studied at the London film school, and began producing films in the 1980s, often working as cinematographer. By the 1990s he had started his own production company, Mainframe, and started to produce his own films which appeared regularly after Ti Oluma Nile in 1993. His films were usually engagé and encompassed a range of social issues. These included validating Yoruba culture and language; questioning the role of modernity and its displacement of traditional values; the importance of woman’s roles in society; the conflict between modern medicine and traditional healing; ethnic divisions; corruption on campus, and especially corruption in political leadership. In all these attempts to address the key issues of his times, he distinguished his work by its seriousness, its non-commercial nature. As his films came before the public as Nollywood was coming of age, his influence on Nigerian directors and audiences was significant, despite the gap between their more entertaining and melodramatic forms. He played a major role in defining the difference between the francophone “Fespaco” films associated with Sembène and anglophone Nollywood. Both filmmakers played crucial roles in establishing African cinema as an independent, creative, important segment of African culture.