The Decade of People of African Descent

Ten films we can recommend at the 2015 New York African Film Festival. The theme coincides with that of the United Nations and highlights women filmmakers.

Still from the South African film, "Love the One You Love."

This is the 22nd edition of the New York African Film Festival. The festival – founded by Sierra Leone born Mahen Bonetti – is always something to look forward to with its lineup of African films that north American audiences would not likely not see otherwise.  This year’s Festival is particularly special since it marks the 25th anniversary of the festival’s parent organization, the African Film Festival, Inc (AFF). This makes AFF one of the longest running African film institutions in the United States today. The festival will happen at three venues: at the Film Society of Lincoln Center (May 6-12th), Maysles Cinema Institute in Harlem (May 14-17th) and finally ending at BAM from the 22nd to the 25th.

The theme of this year’s festival is the “International Decade of People of African Descent” (which is also a theme of the UN) and particular focus is given to women of African descent. The festival organizers supplied us with trailers and synopses of some of the most interesting films being showcased below. You can also check out the AFF website to buy tickets, see the complete festival lineup, and get more information.

‘Bus Nut’ directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu, Ghana/USA, 2014, 7min: Akosua Adoma Owusu’s latest work, Bus Nut, screens as part of the Festival’s Shorts Program. It rearticulates the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, a political and social protest against U.S. racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama, and its relationship to an educational video on school-bus safety. Actress MaameYaa Boafo restages a vintage video while reciting press-conference audio of Rosa Parks on a re-created set in New York City. This screening is particular special as Owusu and Boafo first met and subsequently shot the film during last year’s New York African Film Festival.

‘Cold Harbour’ (N.Y. Premiere) directed Carey McKenzie, South Africa, 2014, 73min: While investigating a smugglers’ turf war in Cape Town, township cop Sizwe stumbles upon police corruption. His boss and mentor, Venske, gives Sizwe the case but assigns a rookie, Legama, to keep an eye on him. After Sizwe discovers that a homicide is linked to Triad (Chinese mafia) through abalone smuggling, a tip from a former comrade leads to a major bust. Despite the seized contraband being stolen within hours, Sizwe is still promoted to detective. It’s a bitter triumph though—he’s being played, and he knows it. In a world where self-interest and corruption have overtaken loyalty and honor, Sizwe is left with no one to trust and integrity demands that he take the law into his own hands.

‘Love the One You Love’ (U.S. Premiere) directed by Jenna Bass, South Africa, 2014, 105min: Across the city of Cape Town, a sex-line operator, a dog handler, and an IT technician begin to suspect that their romantic relationships are the subject of a bizarre conspiracy, involving their friends, family, and possibly even greater forces. Love the One You Love’s parallel stories question the ideals we hold too sacred: love, happiness, and the New South Africa. Mossane directed by Safi Faye, Senegal, 1996, 105min. Every year the New York African Film Festival screens one classic film, selected based on that particular year’s theme. This year, in light of the festival’s focus on the International Decade of the People of African Descent and African women, in particular, they will be showing Mossane from the pioneering female director, Safi Faye. Mossane (Magou Seck), a beautiful 14-year-old girl from a rural Senegalese village, is the object of affection to many, including Fara, a poor university student—and even her own brother, Ngor. Although she has long been promised as a bride to the wealthy Diogaye, Mossane falls in love with Fara and on her wedding day, she defies her parents’ wishes and refuses to go through with it.

‘The Narrow Frame’ of Midnight (N.Y. Premiere) directed by Tala Hadid, Morocco/France/UK, 2014, 93min. Following the interlacing destinies of three witnesses to a world eviscerated by fundamentalism and violence, Moroccan-Iraqi director Tala Hadid’s brooding fiction-feature debut is an urgent, evocative mingling of reverie and nightmare. Zacaria (Khalid Abdalla), a Moroccan-Iraqi writer, sets off on a journey to find his missing brother, hoping to rescue him from the sinister clutches of jihadism and also to redeem himself for having turned a blind eye to his brother’s torture in the jails of the Moroccan secret police. Aïcha (Fadwa Boujouane), a young orphan sold to a petty criminal, escapes from captivity and sets out into the forest. Judith (Marie-Josée Croze), the lover Zacaria left behind, yearns to have a child. The respective quests of these characters intersect, giving them opportunities to rescue one another before continuing on to their unpredictable fates.

‘National Diploma,’ directed Dieudo Hamadi, Democratic Republic of the Congo/France, 2014, 92min. With a concise narrative, precise camera work and sequential oozing moments of candid (and sometimes inadvertent) humor and heartrending emotions, Congolese director Dieudo Hamadi’s second feature-length film offers a poised and engaging view of his hometown’s high-school students confronting their graduate exams. A remarkable piece of cinema vérité, which goes mightily up close to its subjects, National Diploma is proof of Hamadi as one of Democratic Republic of Congo’s (if not Africa’s) most observant documentary-makers; rarely impeding on the circumstances but readily there to capture defining moments in the proceedings. His latest film is a flowing mix of erudite socio-political reflections and outright fun. Set in the director’s home city of Kisangani, National Diploma takes its name after the fin-du-lycée examinations which would make or break a high-school student’s future; and just as some of their counterparts in other countries, the Congolese students at the center of the film takes to everything and anything to try and pass the examen d’état, ranging from intervention of the divine (bathing in shamanic holy water, having pens blessed by a Christian priest) or the dough (getting “tips” about the question papers from self-proclaimed insiders).

‘Red Leaves’ (U.S. Premiere) directed Bazi Gete, Israel, 2014, 80min. 
This year’s Centerpiece Film comes from Israel and focuses on members of the country’s Ethiopian diaspora. Meseganio Tadela, 74, immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia 28 years ago with his family. He has chosen to zealously retain his culture, talks very little, and hardly speaks Hebrew. After losing his wife, Meseganio sets out on a journey that leads him through his children’s homes. He comes to realize that he belongs to a rapidly disappearing class that believes in retaining Ethiopian culture. As this harsh reality begins to hit him, he struggles to survive according to his own rules.

‘Run’ (N.Y. Premiere) directed by Philippe Lacôte, France/Ivory Coast, 2014, 100min. Run finds shelter with fellow dissident Assa (Isaach de Bankolé) after assassinating the Prime Minister of the Ivory Coast. While in hiding, Run’s story is revealed in three separate flashbacks—his childhood with Tourou, when his dream was to become a rainmaker; his adventures with Gladys, the competitive eater; and his past as a young member of a militia, amid conflict in the Ivory Coast—which together speak volumes about contemporary life in the troubled country. Philippe Lacôte’s feature-film debut is a mesmerizing coming-of-age tale, alternately dreamlike and ultra-realistic.

“Sobukwe: A Great Soul” (U.S. Premiere) directed by Mickey Madoda Dube, South Africa, 2011, 100min. This film celebrates the life of Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, restoring him to his rightful place as a leading figure in South African history. Despite his pivotal role in the struggle for liberation (and as the founder of the Pan Africanist Congress), there isn’t a single piece of archive of the man who was once one of the most watched, recorded, and popular political prisoners in the world. Even the current South African government has failed to recognize his place in history and the relevance of his message today. Mickey Madoda Dube’s film seeks to fill that gap, standing as a monument to a great man, a global visionary, teacher, political leader, philosopher, and humanist who was well ahead of his time, declaring his commitment to a “non-racial” society in a racist world by asserting that “there is only one race, the human race.”

‘Stories of Our Lives directed by Jim Chuchu and the NEST Collective, Kenya, 2014, 62min. Created by the members of a Nairobi-based arts collective — who have removed their names from the film for fear of reprisal — this anthology film that dramatizes true-life stories from Kenya’s oppressed LGBTQ community is both a labour of love and a bold act of militancy. Stories of Our Lives began as an archive of testimonials from Kenyan persons who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex assembled by a small Nairobi-based multidisciplinary arts collective. So compelling were these stories that the ten-member association of artists, social workers and entrepreneurs was inspired to adapt some of them into short films. Working on a shoestring budget with one small video camera, two LED lights, a portable digital recorder, a shotgun mic, and relentless courage and enthusiasm, the cast and crew shot, edited, and mixed five shorts over eight months to create this remarkable anthology film. The resultant black-and-white vignettes — Duet, Run, Ask Me Nicely (Itisha Poa), Each Night I Dream, and Stop Running Away — unfold with a graceful simplicity and beguiling charm that belie the fraught circumstances of their making.

Further Reading

Edson in Accra

It happened in 1969. But just how did he world’s greatest, richest and most sought-after footballer at the time, end up in Ghana?

The dreamer

As Africa’s first filmmakers made their unique steps in Africanizing cinema, few were as bold as Djibril Diop Mambéty who employed cinema to service his dreams.

Socialismo pink

A solidariedade socialista na Angola e Moçambique pós-coloniais tornou as pessoas queer invisíveis. Revisitar esse apagamento nos ajuda a reinventar a libertação de forma legítima.