South-to-South perceptions: African films in Colombian cinemas

In Colombia, African heritage is celebrated in May. And, to commemorate the celebration this year, a group of Colombian journalists, filmmakers and cultural activists who form a collective known as SUR organized MUICA (Muestra Itinerante de Cine Africano), an African Film Showcase.

For their first time in South America (they organized a festival in South Africa last year showing Colombian films), MUICA went to three major cities of Colombia: the capital, Bogotá, and also Cali and Cartagena, two cities with a larger percentage of Afro-Colombian population.

MUICA brought a selection of thirteen award-winning films, varying from documentary and animation to social drama and science fiction. Those were films that highlighted the stories, landscapes and portraits of several African countries that left the Colombian audience feeling quite mesmerized by the socially conscious films and their distinct beauty.

The opening film, Tango Negro, the African Roots of Tango, touched the sensitive subject of African diaspora in Argentina to unwind history and reveal a surprising twist. Directed by Angolan filmmaker Dom Pedro, the documentary discusses the historical backdrop that shaped the evolution of tango, and it highlights the controversy in the origins of the musical genre in Argentina and Uruguay.

The movie calls the attention to think that in the Kikongo language, the name “tango” means sun, but it may also refer to time and space. Like a vibrating sun that has long misplaced its origins and traded its credibility for ignorance and racism, tango is but one of many features taken over by a socio political eclipse that shaded our view of the past and kept us from hearing the story of our very own roots.

Opening the showcase with this documentary was very reassuring, and it gave the audience an idea of the kind of films they could expect from MUICA.

Some other highlights were Mama Goema: The Cape Town Beat in Five Movements, a documentary that follows the trajectory of music in Cape Town, from those traditional sounds that make you dance, to other musicians that provide new and bold interpretations, like Mac McKenzie, musical founder of the Genuines and the Goema Captains of Cape Town.

The documentary had a Q&A with Colombian filmmaker and SUR member Ángela Ramírez, who engaged a young audience in the city of Cali in a dialogue that touched subjects such as social and political transformations and other parallels that could be drawn between South Africa and Colombia. In particular, music, cultural heritage and the reconciliation processes, which seem to be so necessary for the population and the spirit of both nations.

Films like the beautifully styled animation Aya de Yopougon, and the film that gave closure to the showcase, Soul Boy, were more lighthearted and uplifting films, also favored by the audience.

Soul Boy was directed by Hawa Essuman under the mentorship of German director Tom Tykwer who conducted a workshop for young-emerging talents in Nairobi, Kenya.

The film was set in the slum of Kibera in Nairobi with a coming of age story enhanced by amazing synergy between characters and impeccable cinematography. Soul Boy was a very fitting film for the objectives of SUR Collective, interested in undertaking other similar initiatives with future editions of MUICA by partnering with universities, not only to screen the films, but also to offer panels that make this kind of projects visible and accessible to students and faculties in Colombia.

This year, a few films were screened in more disadvantaged sectors of the three cities, an important goal that seeks to differentiate MUICA from other festivals where projects like the one Tykwer and Essuman worked on can be highly valued.

Undoubtedly, there is still a lot more to look forward to, but the first MUICA showcase was an excellent opportunity to strengthen our knowledge and review our cultural and historical relationships. Perhaps in the future, we will begin to see a product of this exchange, and foster new filmmaking tendencies that go hand in hand with our south-to-south visions of each other.

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