AFF 2006 Outdoor Series

Hello, it’s me again, the African Film Addict, and I am still addicted. However, this year, I gave up the summer to work on improving myself professionally (whatever that means). When I received the emails and postcards about the New York African Film Festival’s outdoor series in Harlem, I steeled myself and pledged to stay strong. One summer is nothing when compared to a lifetime of professional improved-ness, right? So, for week after week, I resisted the urge to head out to Harlem. And I was doing well, until I received the email for the screening of Le Ballon D’Or (The Golden Ball). IN THE SPIRIT OF THE 2006 WORLD CUP SERIES the email began and, well…

You see, I was going through World Cup withdrawal and I didn’t know what to do about it. Add to that, the lack of outdoor African Film and you must understand that I was suffering and, at the end of the day, I am only human. One, I could resist but the two together are too much for a me, not even professional improvement is a powerful enough deterrent. Finally, like kismet, I had family visiting from Mexico. Well, I couldn’t let them leave New York without experiencing African Film and it would be impolite to make them go alone. They needed a guide. So you see how it all came together and just had to be.

As soon as I stepped off the train and started walking towards St. Nicholas Park, I knew I was going somewhere familiar, like home. Without even thinking about it, I picked up the pace. I didn’t want to miss anything. This was my big study break and I had to make the most of it. Oh yes, of course I wanted to be on time for my family too. I arrived just as Les Merveilles de Guinea, Guinean drummers and dancers, were preparing to take the stage. Of course Mahen was worrying about whether or not it would rain. It had been grey all day and both outdoor films in the weeks before had been rained on. I had no such worries. I was sure the weather would hold out and, if I was wrong, I knew that wet weather would do nothing to dampen the spirits of those in the park. I have already learned that the energy of the Harlem Parks Film Festival is stronger than wet weather.

The first drummer beat down on his drum and immediately all attention was on them. They got us warmed up and then took a break. During their second set my aunt started clapping and singing along with the group. No, she had never heard the song, but it sounded so good, she just had to join in. She was not alone. The crowd, moved by the talent and wishing to urge on the musicians and dancers, came forward, dollar bills in hand, to show their appreciation. Bills were put in hands, placed in front of drums and laid on foreheads as night fell and the time came for the film to begin.

We found our spot in front of the screen, and sat down. I was so excited; I could barely sit still as we watched the tale of the young and extremely talented Bandian. From the moment I saw the boys creeping into a coup to steal a chicken (you have to watch it to find out why), I wondered how I had been able to convince myself that I could get through a summer without attending a screening.

I don’t have to tell you how much I loved the film; those sitting close to me can report on how I cheered and gestured as though I was at a live soccer match. But I was not alone–one of my aunts leaned over to say to me, wow, this is better than Bend It Like Beckham and I will agree that Bandian’s skills with the football would give many a soccer player a run for his or her money. At another point, as a shot of the city played across the screen, my other aunt mentioned that she had never seen Africa depicted quite this way. Usually, it is all Out of Africa, savannah and suffering. I like this. And how couldn’t she. And I thought, more potential members for African Film Addicts Anonymous.

I soon forgot that thought as our very own Bangali blazed onto the screen and outdid himself as an unscrupulous cad. Many of us cheered at the sight of a familiar face. Now I feel like I know a celebrity. Maybe now my six-year-old cousin will think I’m cool.

So, it is nighttime on screen and the boys are playing music and dancing. Then suddenly, nothing. My aunt leans over and whispers, they must be changing the film reel. And I nod in agreement and then a split second later I think to myself, Hey, I didn’t see any film reels or a big projector. I am sure in this day and age we probably have something more hi-tech than reels. Yes, people, in the tradition of the Harlem Outdoor Series, we had to have an adventure to bring us together. Of course, no one got up to leave; didn’t you just read the better than Bend It Like Beckham bit? The street lamp that everything was plugged into blew a fuse and so the technicians had to look for a new lamp with a plug (did you know that street lamps had plugs? I didn’t). And so we sat patiently as a few kids thoughtfully jumped up and ran to centre stage to entertain us with dance. Bless them. Soon enough, the African Film gods smiled upon us and we were back to cheering at the screen and getting caught up in Bandian’s many adventures. The final credits rolled across the screen, too soon for my liking. Knowing that this was it and it was back to life without African Film, I took my time getting up and putting my things together.

Ha! I tell you this though; the next time I decide to improve myself in any way.

About the Director

Rumbidzai Bwerinofa

Rumbi Bwerinofa is a essayist who is always writing on the website thefstudent.com. Her topics mainly deal with financial issues of people living in Africa, interspersed with some personal anecdotes. She grew up and lived in Zimbabwe, until she moved to New York where she currently lives, though she visits Zimbabwe frequently.