The Orbit of “Planet Africa”: The Best from Africa and the African Diaspora

This year’s program is an electric mix of twelve features and seven short films from seventeen different countries, with eight features making their world or North American premieres. “Planet Africa” opens with Hijack Stories, an entertaining critique of North America’s depiction of violence. Co-curators Gaylene Gould and June Givanni offer an authoritative survey of current African, African American, British, and Caribbean cinema that is enjoyable and provocative. By all accounts, Ms. Givanni is an expert at wrangling celebrities, intellectuals, and leading issues. She recently moderated “Representing Africans in the New Millennium: New Identities, New Styles, New Strategies,” a lively discussion hosted by the Institute for African American Affairs at NYU during the 6th NY African Film Festival. Ms. Gould is apparently no less adventurous.

“I think audiences will be surprised and moved by the diversity of the work produced in the diaspora — diverse in style, commentary, culture, and aesthetic. The tapestry this year is very rich,” said Gould of the Toronto program.

The thematic and topical landscape of “Planet Africa” is as varied and perplexing as that of the continent. Several of the films and directors have been screened by AFF. Adanggaman and Passage du milieu dramatize stories of slavery, and another, Lumumba recounts the struggle for political freedom in modern Zaire. Bye Bye Africa and A Trip to the Country explore the consequences of homecoming after years abroad, whereas Tourbillons, Auguy, and The Station study dislocations in diaspora culture. Young people whose lives depend on their wits, come into focus through Ali Zaoua and La Squale. Racial prejudices twist the banality of Christmas with Granny and The Elevator. Love and its ironic effects become grist between couples in One Week, Are You Cinderella? and En Face. And, of course, dreams of stardom concern several films — El Medina / La ville, Hijack Stories, Bàttu, and La saison des hommes.

FEATURE FILMS

Ali Zaoua
Nabil Ayouch, Morocco, 95 min.
Ayouch’s film follows four 12-year-old boys (real street kids portraying their own lives) who live in Casablanca and their struggle for survival. When one is killed, the three friends decide to give him the burial he deserves. It is a fable about quests, transgression, death, accomplishment, and life.

Adanggaman [North American Premiere]
Roger Gnoan M’Bala, Ivory Coast, 90 min.
Powerful and sure to be as controversial as In the Name of Christ, this film tells the untold story of slavery in Africa and the despotic rulers who fed the slave trade. It is a work of historical fiction about King Adanggaman and his army of women warriors who terrorize and enslave their neighbors and the plight of one man’s love for the woman who captures him.

Bàttu [World Premiere]
Cheik Oumar Sissoko, France/UK, 100 min.
Sissoko, director of La Genése returns to the Toronto Festival with an engaging, contemporary black comedy concerning the potent and often hilarious mix of politics and superstition that is modern African city life. Isaach de Bankolé stars as a blind beggar who thwarts the government’s plan to evict the city’s poor. Danny Glover stars as the charmingly corrupt president.

Bye-bye, Africa
Mahamat Saleh Haroun, France/Chad, 86 min.
A blend of fiction and non-fiction, Haroun’s first feature is also the first feature from Chad. Haroun returns home after ten years in Europe, and looks at his native country through new eyes — the lens of his camera. Just like Maral Tanie/Maral Tanie: la seconde éspouse, this film offers a rare peek inside an isolated war-torn country and a beautifully captured depiction of the distance the lens can place between a filmmaker and his subjects.

Hijack Stories [World Premiere]
Oliver Schmitz, South Africa, 94 min.
From the director of the acclaimed South African film Mapantsula (Thief) comes this high-octane, fast-paced satire of an undercover action thriller. The film follows an ambitious young actor living in Johannesburg who decides to penetrate the crime world in hopes of method-acting his way into a part in a movie. This is an exhilarating and entertaining critique of North America’s depiction of violence and how it effects or mirrors ghetto life beyond the studio lot.

Lumumba [North American Premiere]
Raoul Peck, France/Belgium/Haiti/Germany, 115 min.
This compelling drama charts the short rule and brutal death of Nationalist leader Patrice Lumumba. Peck who directed L’homme sur les quais explores the birth of Zaire and the fascinating rise of Lumumba, a one-time civil servant and thorn in the side of Neo-Colonialism. Lumumba rose to become prime minister but he lost both his power and his life shortly after.

El Medina / La ville
Yousry Nasrallah, France/Egypt, 90 min.
Ali is an idealistic, star-struck young actor who leaves the confining streets of Cairo in exchange for the more glamourous, and ultimately more dangerous, streets of Paris. His dreams fade, but before Ali can return home, he loses his passport and his memory. In this tale of two cities, the making and breaking of desire, and a celebration of a young man’s irrepressible spirit, Nasrallah represents a fresh voice from Egypt.

One Week [North American Premiere]
Carl Seaton, USA, 97 min.
In Seaton’s skillfully-crafted and courageous debut feature, a young man is thrown into turmoil when he discovers that a previous sexual partner has been diagnosed with HIV. During the week between his own HIV test and the results, his entire life falls apart — friends leave him, he loses his job, and his fiancée calls off their wedding.

Passage du milieu [North American Premiere]
Guy Deslauriers, Martinique/Senegal/France, 85 min.
Told by a nameless slave who survives the horrific voyage from Africa to the Americas, this docu-drama is a terrifying depiction of the 18-week trip. Extraordinarily powerful, details of the African holocaust inspire “human cargo” with life and spirit.

La Saison des hommes [North American Premiere]
Moufida Tlatli, France/Tunisia, 124 min.
On the small island of Djerba, the men work eleven months of the year in far-away Tunis, while the women remain confined to the homes of their mothers-in-laws. The film follows one newlywed woman who longs to break tradition and move to Tunis to be with her husband. Tlatli who also directed Les silences du palais has returned to the Toronto Festival with a remarkable new meditation on a favorite theme, the politics and experiences of Tunisian women.

La Squale [North American Premiere]
Fabrice Genestal, France, 96 min.
Désirée, a newcomer to a dangerous suburb of Paris, is a rebellious 16-year-old black girl, a squale, who claims to be the daughter of a legendary underground hero. New gang leader Toussaint, a violent and unpredictable young man, meets his match in Désirée when they discover a surprisingly tender love for each other. Genestal’s first film is based on his experiences as a teacher in a tough, urban school and is inspired by his students’ lives.

A Trip to the Country [Canadian Premiere]
Jean-Marie Teno, Cameroon/France/Germany, 75 min.
Teno, director of Chef!, Clando, and Yellow Fever Taximan among others, is one of Africa’s most vocal documentary filmmakers. He returns to the Toronto Festival with a sensitive, bittersweet film made on a recent trip across Cameroon. Returning from his base in France, Teno retraces his steps from the capital of Yaoundé back to his home village. Along the way he charts the effects of western ideas on the development of the country and its people.

SHORT FILMS

Are You Cinderella?
Charles Hall, USA, 20 min.
A snazzy, jazzy fairytale in which a young man awakes with only a lady’s shoe and a note signed by a mysterious Cinderella.

Auguy
Munga Tunda Djo,Congo/Belgium, 18 min.
Auguy is a young boy attending a pretentious Belgian Catholic school. Homesick and intimidated by an uncharitable priest, Auguy has to decide whether to continue his European education or rebel.

Christmas with Granny
Dumisani Phakathi, South Africa, 28 min.
During a train trip home with his grandmother, a young man is forced to confront racial segregation when he falls in love for the first time.

The Elevator
Alrick Riley, UK, 4 min.
Director Riley collaborates with provocative British poet Lemn Sissay in this film about two men — one black, one white — and their thoughts while standing in an elevator.

En Face
Mehdi Ben Attia and Zina Modiano, France/Tunisia, 27 min.
A compassionate look at the restrictions North African cultures place on women, this short shadows a young woman who is passionate about one young man but is promised to another.

The Station
Aaron Woolfolk, USA/Japan, 13 min.
In this hilarious film, a major communication problem awaits an African American man waiting on a train platform in rural Japan.

Tourbillons
Alain Gomis, France/Senegal, 12 min.
Gomis has crafted a stylish short film about personal dilemmas of immigrant life in Paris.