John Akomfrah

Born in Accra, Ghana, in 1957, to radical political activist parents, John Akomfrah was widely recognized as one of the most influential figures of black British culture in the 1980s. An artist, lecturer, and writer as well as a filmmaker, his twenty-year body of work is among the most distinctive in the contemporary British art world, and his cultural influence continues today.

As a teen, Akomfrah was a Super 8 filmmaker and enthusiast. With several underground cine clubs in London, he helped bring Asian and European arthouse cinema, militant cinema from Africa and Latin America, and American independent and avant-garde cinema to minority audiences.

In 1982, Akomfrah helped found the seminal, cine-cultural workshop the Black Audio Film Collective. He directed a broad range of work for the group, including fiction films, tape slides, single-screen gallery pieces, experimental videos, music videos, and documentaries.

Handsworth Songs (1986), Akomfrah's film essay exploring racial disturbances in Britain in 1985, the Handsworth riots, was a hit on the international circuit. The film won seven international prizes including the prestigious 1987 John Grierson Award for Documentary.

Akomfrah's first narrative feature film, Testament, depicted an African politician thrust into political exile. It premiered at the 1989 Cannes International Film Festival, in the Critic's Week section, and went on to play at many international film festivals.

In Seven Songs for Malcolm X (1993), produced by the Black Audio Film Collective, Akomfrah collects testimonies, eyewitness accounts, and dramatic reenactments of the leading civil rights leader. The film won Best Documentary at the Image D'Ailleurs Film Festival in Paris, as well as awards at the San Francisco and Chicago Film Festivals, among others.

Akomfrah's film The Last Angel of History (1997) is a searing examination of the relationships between Pan-African culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel, and computer technology. According to Afterimage, "The playfulness and intellectual virtuosity of the film transcends its surface gloss, to become a kaleidoscopic celebration of the richness of Pan-African culture."

Akomfrah's work for television includes Dr. Martin Luther King: Days of Hope (BBC, 1997) and The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong (BBC, 1999).

Since 1987, Akomfrah's work has been shown in galleries including Documenta (Germany), the De Balie (Holland), Centre George Pompidou (France), the Serpentine and Whitechapel Galleries (UK); and The Museum of Modern Art (USA). A major new retrospective of Akomfrah's gallery-based work with the Black Audio Film Collective premiered at the FACT and Arnolfini galleries (UK) and is now making a tour of galleries and museums throughout Europe. In 2000, Akomfrah was awarded the Gold Digital Award at the Cheonju International Film Festival, South Korea, for his innovative use of digital technology.

He has been an artist-in-residence at universities including, most recently, New York University, and a jury member at festivals including, most recently the BFI London Film Festival, UK, and the Tarifa International Film Festival, Spain. He has lectured at institutions including CalArts, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the London Institute. He was a member of the Arts Council Film Committee, and Governor of the British Film Institute from 2001 through 2007. John Akomfrah is currently a Governor of Film London, a visiting professor of film at the University of Westminster (United Kingdom), and an officer of the Order of the British Empire.

Icarus Films is proud to distribute three of John Akomfrah's films. Discover more of our featured filmmakers.


An engaging and searing examination of the hitherto unexplored relationships between Pan-African culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel, and rapidly progressing computer technology. (from the Jan., 1998 Catalog Supplement)

John Akomfrah | 1997 | 45 minutes | Color | English

John Akomfrah's remarkable meditation about chance, fate and redemption.

John Akomfrah | 2011 | 94 minutes | Color | English

An homage to the inspirational African-American civil rights leader.

John Akomfrah | 1995 | 52 minutes | Color