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27 October 2023

Decolonising Film Festivals: Learning the Lessons of Senegal

Dr Estrella Sendra Fernandez, Lecturer in Culture, Media and Creative Industries Education, recently completed fieldwork research in Senegal, focused on decolonisation of film festivals. Speaking to King’s, she reveals ideas and practices often overlooked by the Global West.

Urban art raising awareness of migration in the Soumbedioune fish market in Dakar
Urban art raising awareness of migration in the Soumbedioune fish market in Dakar. Photo by Dr Estrella Sendra


Dr Estrella Sendra Fernandez joined King’s Culture, Media & Creative Industries Department in 2022. She has been conducting her research and developing regional expertise in Senegal for the past twelve years, after having directed Témoignages de l’autre côté, an award-winning documentary about migration.

‘I am from Sevilla, Southern Spain. Studying film and journalism, I became aware of the power of the media in representing – and misrepresenting – cultures. I was very interested in the case of Latin America, but there was already so much published about it. Territorially I was very close to Africa, and I realised that it was either non-present or misrepresented in the Spanish media. Between 2005-2010, many African people, most of them from Senegal or Nigeria, were arriving in my city. So, I decided to make a documentary about migration from Africa to Spain’.

This documentary marked Dr Estrella Sendra’s decade-long connection to Senegal. She discovered ‘an amazing cultural sector no one in this part of the world cared for’ and started collaborating with Senegalese artists in various capacities. In 2018, she wrote an article dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres together with a well-known Senegalese scholar Saliou Ndour, comparing the engagement of the population in the 1966 and 2010 festivals. Together with Keyti, a hip-hop artist, activist and educator in Senegal, Dr Sendra wrote a paper for the Journal of African Media Studies about music composed by Senegalese artists during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Estrella Sendra, wearing a jacket by Kamal Raw Sn, a Senegalese designer based in Senegal


As a filmmaker and journalist, Dr Estrella Sendra has collaborated with several festivals in Senegal. The need for festivals worldwide to decolonise, she explains, became even more urgent during the pandemic, ‘when social inequalities had deepened and culture had been put on hold’. Decolonizing Film Festival Research in a Post-Pandemic World, a project designed in collaboration with Professor Sheila Petty from the University of Regina, aimed to propose a first step in this process. The project is funded by the New Frontiers in Research Fund, from the Government of Canada. An international team of African film festival researchers designed and trialled an innovative and accessible two-part Decolonial Test with several festival partners in the UK, Senegal, Brazil and Canada, able to both identify potential unconscious bias in the research design and develop a series of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion variables that can foster inclusive and dialogical knowledge production and dissemination process for the local communities to take the lead.

Dr Estrella Sendra (right) with filmmaker Maïmouna Jallow (left) and journalist and research collaborator Laura Feal at the Festival Vues d’Afrique in Montréal, Canada, where she conducted fieldwork and presented a conference paper in April 2023


‘These questions should make people think more carefully about whether they are prepared to be working in the field – are they going to be behaving as “spies” or are they going to engage and think about giving back to the communities?’, says Dr Estrella Sendra. ‘The guide should contribute to our research design and facilitate self-reflexivity. Decolonisation cannot happen without it’.

In May 2023, Dr Estrella Sendra conducted participant observation at the Festival Saint-Louis Docs, and further attended other music festivals, including Festival Stereo Africa, Back to the Roots Festival, and Saint Louis Jazz Festival. Throughout her work, she has been exploring Senegal’s audience-centred curatorial approach, so-called spatial decentralisation.

‘Instead of making it mandatory for people to go to venues, festivals travel to the public – they go towards the population. This means, for example, having several activities at the same time to increase audience engagement or having several film screenings in different locations to make sure that a film is seen by as many people as possible. Important work is also done in mediating the content. Instead of showcasing films without caring whether the viewers are going to understand them or relate to them, Senegalese curators always try to organise a discussion following the films they mediate’.

Dr Estrella Sendra, Lecturer in Culture, Media and Creative Industries Education (Festivals and Events)

This collaborative, rather than competitive, approach to leadership by Senegalese film festivals has allowed the filmmakers to tailor their own audiences and direct films that can fill of cinemas. Since 2015, many new cinema theatres have opened in Senegal and a lot of work has been done to reopen the ones closed following a period of crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. In November 2023, Dr Estrella Sendra will be publishing a journal article on this topic, referencing an African women film festival in Senegal. Traveling to Audiences: The Decentralization of Festival Spaces at the Festival Films Femmes Afrique in Senegal will be part of the Journal of Festive Studies (volume 5 number 1).

Through her academic focus on Senegal, Dr Estrella Sendra aspires to encourage researchers to think about creative industries in a more comprehensive and intersectional way with consideration of race and precarity.

‘Diversity is one thing, another is pluralism – which is when we are ready to embrace our diversity and do something about it.’

‘I aim to make studies on cultural and creative industries more plural, more complex, more intersectional. People often learn about creative industries based on the examples of Europe and the UK, but it is extremely useful to look at Senegal, at Africa and think about how things are done over there. The world is much more plural than we think’.

Closing ceremony of the 2023 Festival StLouis Docs, where Estrella conducted fieldwork and was also a jury member



Dr Estrella Sendra’s research project ‘Decolonizing Film Festival Research in a Post-Pandemic World’ is supported by the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF).

In this story

Estrella  Sendra Fernandez

Lecturer in Culture, Media and Creative Industries Education (Festivals and Events)