Location: Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer Street
Sponsored by Africana Studies, the Global Media Project at the Watson Institute and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University.
Flora Gomes has international stature as a distinguished filmmaker whose works are aesthetically innovative and historically significant texts of African and global culture. It is notoriously difficult for major African filmmakers to produce a sustained output of high quality, because of the historical legacy of profound funding and infrastructural deficiencies on the continent. Yet Gomes makes a point of residing in his native country of Guinea-Bissau, and despite the severe material constraints this poses to film-making, has completed a number of shorts, starting in 1977, as well as five full-length feature films, beginning with “Mortu Nega” in 1988. Filmed using local languages and shot above all in Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, as well as France and Portugal, his features have won awards at prestigious international film festivals and are invariably discussed in textbooks on African cinema and post-colonial film. His work often deals with questions of history and memory, particularly regarding the national liberation struggle, as well as notions of modernization and the conceptualization of identity. Gomes’s films go beyond many conventional binomials. For example, his female characters depict a sophisticated African feminism , by turns militant and gentle, tragic and comic, seldom seen in representations of black women. His more recent work, especially “Po di sangui,” broaches the timely subject of environmental degradation , by using a complex layering of symbols, landscape and nature, drawn from indigenous African systems of knowledge and belief. Both the aesthetic quality and powerful narratives of these later works touch audiences everywhere. Gomes has just wrapped up a documentary on the war of liberation in Guinea-Bissau (and by extension, in Angola and Mozambique), training his lens on both the Portuguese colonial soldiers and the African freedom fighters.
Gomes was born in 1949 in Cadique, Guinea Bissau (West Africa). He studied film in 1972 at the Cuban Institute of Arts, and cinematography with the great filmmaker Paulin S. Vieyra in Senegal. In 1979 he served as an intern with Chris Marker and Anita Fernandez in Guinea-Bissau. Gomes later co-directed three short films: "La reconstruction" (The Reconstruction), "Anos no oça luta" and “Regresso do Cabral” (The return of Cabral), these last two with Sana na N’hada.
The first feature film that Gomes directed, "Mortu nega," was selected for showing during the Critics’ Week at the Venice Film Festival in 1988. “Mortu nega” won the Bronze Tanit and the prize for the best actress at the Carthage Film Festival. It also was awarded the prize for the best film and the best actress at the 1988 FESPACO (Burkina-Fasso).
Gomes’s second feature film, "Os Olhos Azuis de Yonta” (Yonta's Blue Eyes), was produced in 1992. It was selected for the “Un certain regard” section at the Cannes Film Festival, and won the Bronze Tanit and the OAU (Organization of African Unity) prize at the Carthage film festival. “Os Olhos Azuis de Yonta” won as well the best actress prize at FESPACO, and the Special Jury Prize at the Salonika Film Festival (Greece).
In 1994, Gomes was distinguished with the Order of Merit for Culture by the Tunisian government, along with Claudia Cardinale. In the same year, he was also named a member of the principal jury at the Carthage Film Festival.
"Po di sangui," his third feature film, was screened in the official competition at Cannes in 1996. At Cannes, Gomes was awarded the Chevalier des Arts et Lettres by the French government. Later “Po di sangui” won the Silver Tanit award at the Carthage Film Festival.
In 2002, “Nha fala,” Gomes’s fourth feature film, was an official selection at the Venice Film Festival competition. At the parallel competitions in Venice, also in 2002, “Nha fala” won the international prize given by the French Bourse for the best film from the South, as well as the best Latin film award from the unofficial Venice Film Festival. “Nha fala” won as well the city prize at the Amiens Festival in 2002 (France), and the Grand Prize at the Vie d’Afrique Festival in Montreal in 2003.
In 2002, Gomes was recognized in Portugal by the Guinean community for his services in making Guinean culture known around the world. In 2004, he was a member of the jury at the Amien Film Festival.
In 2003, “Nha fala” won the Grand Prize for a feature film at FESPACO, from the ECOWAS parallel jury. In 2004, a retrospective of Gomes’s work was shown at the first Brown University African Film Festival, in Providence.
In 2005, Gomes was chosen as president of the same jury (ECOWAS) at FESPACO. In that year, he was recognized by the University of Lisbon, during a meeting of Portuguese-speaking countries, receiving a medal celebrating “the universality of his work”. In 2005 Gomes returned to the USA, where he was a panelist and also one of the featured film-makers at the second Brown University Africana Film Festival.
In recent years, Gomes has frequently shown his films to American university student audiences at universities such as Yale, Michigan University (Ann Arbor), and the University of Minneapolis. In spring 2006, Gomes was a visiting artist/professor at the Department of Africana Studies, Brown University (Providence, RI).