Al Jazeera English documentary series

Africa Direct, a distinctive series of compelling and immersive short documentaries produced and directed by all-African filmmaking talent, debuts on Al Jazeera English.

The films present nuanced and complex perspectives of this diverse and multifaceted continent by opening an authentic window into a range of ordinary and extraordinary African lives. The stories give African storytellers a voice, who are often drowned out or overwhelmed by outsider mediation. The series is made up of approximately 30 short documentaries that are curated into half-hour episodes. The first six half-hour episodes will air on Al Jazeera English from 30 November 2021 to 4 January 2022 and will feature the first 14 short films from 11 countries. Each of these slice-of-life stories revolves around a main character who tells their own story without the help of reporters or other third parties. Simply put, Africa Direct is a collection of African stories told by African storytellers about African lives for audiences all over the world.

These character-driven films are both traditional and contemporary, poignant and flamboyant, and feature people who are either surviving or thriving, poor or powerful. Each film has a story that makes us think, feel, and connect.

Traditional knowledge is revealed as we witness the ancient arts of parchment book-making in the Ethiopian mountains in The Bookmaker, directed by Girum Berehanetsehay; and of calligraphy, in Timbuktu as a man restores ancient manuscripts in Beïrey-Hou: Desert Libraries by Andrey S. Diarra (Mali); and tension between old and modern ways is featured in In The Aluminium Villageby Onésiphore M. Adonai (Benin), where we meet.

On the White Nile, by filmmaker Akuol de Mabior, transports us into the world of a spirited South Sudanese fisherwoman and boat captain; in The Young Cyclist, by Yuhi Amuli, a young Rwandan former hawker becomes a female bicycle taxi-driver and then a competitive cyclist; In Joan Kabugu’s Throttle Queens (Kenya), we meet a women’s motorcycle club and see how their love of riding gives them exhilaration, freedom, adventure, and a sense of control over their lives; and in Amelia Umuhire’s Settling (Rwanda), an architecture professor inspires her students to take a people-centred approach to the city’s ‘informal housing’ challenges.

In The Man Who Plants Baobabs (Burkina Faso) by Michel K Zongo, we meet a man who has nurtured baobab trees from tiny seeds to an expansive forest for the past 47 years, providing a lifeline and legacy for his village.

In Oumar Ba’s Kalanda: A Wrestler’s Dream (Senegal), we meet a young man determined to make it to the main wrestling arena; and in Nelson Makengo’s Diggers and Merchants (DRC), we meet a manual digger who has worked the copper quarries around his village for years – all he and his peers want is a fair chance to make a living and be respected.

“Documentary storytelling is a hugely influential medium in terms of perceptions of places, people and their power,” says Ingrid Falck, Manager of Documentaries at Al Jazeera English, who conceived and commissioned the series. “We have long championed the idea that those who know their stories best should own them in the media, claim their storytelling space. We have huge audiences across the continent and show a lot of great Africa-centred content – but the western gaze still casts a long shadow over Africa in a lot of other international media. Africa Direct is a celebration – of African documentary talent and of local stories. I’m deeply grateful to the superb pan-African teams and filmmakers who’ve delivered these stunning, immersive and thought-provoking short documentaries, for our global viewers.”

Al Jazeera partnered with Big World Cinema for this project: it is entirely based within Africa. The team includes Executive Producer Steven Markovitz (SA), Series Producers Angele Diabang (Senegal) and Brian Tilly (SA).

“We received over 300 proposals from 31 countries,” says Executive Producer Steven Markovitz of Big World Cinema. “It was an extraordinary experience reading and assessing the wide range of stories from across the continent.”

The series can be watched on Al Jazeera English, from 30 November 22:30 GMT.