The 21st New York African Film Festival Statement

“REVOLUTION AND LIBERATION IN THE DIGITAL AGE”

In Africa and its diaspora, revolution is not always synonymous with the overthrowing of a government or a head of state. It is also the relentless search for liberation of the body and the mind that has characterized the history of African people through the years. Arising as a chain of movements led mostly by the youth and women, revolution is a force against unfair systems, an impulse for the people to follow their own dreams, and a shared experience of empowerment.  In the Digital Age, the struggle for liberation has found a resilient ally in technology, which has exerted multiplier effects in and outside the continent.

This is the core of the 21st New York African Film Festival: the experience of revolution and liberation in and from Africa in the twenty-first century. All of the films featured will tackle the path to liberation or the feeling of freedom itself:  its impact, its agents, but first and foremost its visual splendor.

Under this heading, this month-long multi-venue event will present a unique selection of contemporary and classic African films, running the gamut from features, shorts, and documentaries to experimental films, along with supplementary educational programs. Filmmakers and actors will also attend the screenings and Q&A sessions.

LINCOLN CENTER (MAY 7 – 13)

OC Ukeje stars in the Opening Night film "Confusion Na Wa", by Kenneth Gyang.
OC Ukeje stars in the Opening Night film “Confusion Na Wa”, by Kenneth Gyang.

This year, Nigeria celebrates the centenary of its unification. To mark this special occasion, the 2014 NYAFF will highlight films that have been produced, inspired by, and made in Nollywood, Africa’s largest movie industry. We are proud to present our NYC audience with the winners of last year’s “African Oscars” (AMAA); Kenneth Niang’s frenetic dark comedy Confusion Na Wa and the poetical short Kwaku Ananse by Akosua Adoma Owusu, an adaptation of a mythological tale from Ghana about wisdom and belonging. We will also premiere Biyi Bandele’s highly anticipated film Half of a Yellow Sun, a rendition of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s best-selling book about the Biafran war, a movie that glows thanks to the leading performances of Thandie Newton, Anika Noni Rose and Oscar-nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The animated film adaptation of the acclaimed comic series Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet & Clement Oubrerie is not just an ode to young romance in West African cultures, but a nod to animation is at its golden age, encompassing every region of the world, including Africa. Victor Viyouh, Ninah’s Dowry carries in its poignant story of women empowerment the elements of a revolution. Cannes award-winner Mahamat-Saleh Haroun comes back to NYC with his latest movie Grigris, a story of love and solidarity between two outcasts in the backdrop of present-day Chad. Narratives of struggles and liberation from all around Africa and the diaspora round out the program, expanding the festival’s human scope: the incisive documentary Mugabe: Villain or Hero? by Roy Agyemang; Ibrahim El Batout’s feature Winter of Discontent, about the traumatic emotional and physical wounds of Egypt’s repressive system; and the Kenyan moral fable It’s Us (Ni Si Si), which stresses the need of forgiveness and comprehension of the other, complete the program.

Our shorts program is a fresh selection devoted to the richness and experimental elements of the genre and its special ability to convey this year’s festival theme. Young filmmakers use a wide range of approaches from sci-fi (Afronauts) to social melodrama (Aissa’s Story and Kuhani), with a special focus on comedy (Soko Sonko, Wooden Hands and Beleh) to reflect upon a wide spectrum of pressing contemporary issues.

To honor the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s independence, we will feature the controversial neo-noir Of Good Report by Jahmil XT Qubeka, which is exemplary of the vigor of South Africa’s present-day film industry. One of the most poignant epics of revolution and liberation ever filmed on the continent, Med Hondo’s masterpiece Sarraounia, winner of the first prize at FESPACO, will be the crowning jewel to close the festival.

MAYSLES CINEMA (MAY 15 – 18)

"Sodiq", a documentary by Adeyemi Michael
“Sodiq”, a documentary by Adeyemi Michael

We have put together this wide-ranging and penetrating program as an audiovisual allegory of the power and relentless effort of African people to overcome crisis and oppression. Built around the embodiment of the male figure as a vivid force to overcome crisis, we are delighted to introduce Rehad Desai’s striking new work Miners Shot Down to NYC audiences. Recent winner of the Camera Justitia Award at the Movies that Matter Festival, Desai’s documentary follows the developments that lead to the biggest use of force by security forces of post-colonial South Africa: the Marikana Massacre of a group of striking miners in August 2012.

The session devoted to the Cultural Healing Project Short Documentary Films gathers seven shorts reflecting on the challenges and opportunities faced by Sudan. This creative peace-building project sprouts from British-Sudanese filmmaker Taghreed Elsanhouri’s proposal that a group of auteurs film the story that mattered most to them in their communities, encouraging them to express through film their cultures and traditions.

Shorts and documentaries about men and women confronting personal, social, economic, and political limitations compose this compelling selection: the struggles of an addict in Zanzibar to defeat his dependence in the short Curse of an Addict; the desperation of a woman unable to conceive a male heir in chauvinistic present-day Nigeria in the feature film B for Boy by Chika Anadu; Eliaichi Kimaro’s quest to understand his complex identity as a young Tanzanian-Korean in the US in A Lot Like You; and the different hurdles standing between a young Congolese tenor and his dream (Rêve Kakudji); a child aspiring to be a doctor subjected to a trial for murder (Sodiq); and a heterogeneous group of people plunging into the uncertain future of Mali’s annual Festival in the Desert in The Last Song Before the War.

BAM Cinématek (MAY 23 – 26)

"Legends of Madagascar", by Haminiaina Ratovoarivony
“Legends of Madagascar”, by Haminiaina Ratovoarivony

Madagascar will be in the spotlight of the festival’s BAM run, with a carefully selected
group of movies that best represent the history of the country. Angano, Angano (1989) by the tandem César Paes & Marie Clémence, and When the Stars Meet the Sea (1996) by pioneer Raymond Rajaonarivelo will be screened alongside the recent road movie Legends of Madagascar (2012) by Haminiaina Ratovoarivony.

Beyond Madagascar, we will screen other films from across the continent. From Kenya we have Something Necessary, Judy Kibinge’s insightful reflection on the effects of the war in Kenya, as well as the tragicomedy Nairobi Half Life (2012) by David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga’. Based in Ivory Coast, Lonesome Solo’s Burn It Up Djassa (2012, Ivory Coast) blends together action and music in one of the most successful examples of contemporary African noir, and acclaimed Tunisian filmmaker Taieb Louhichi presents a touching story of love and longing in The Child of the Sun (2013).

Cassa, Cassa (2013), a revealing documentary about contemporary African dance by Elodie Lefebvre, and the fast-paced Fuelling Poverty (2012) by Ishaya Baku, which exposes gasoline fraud in Nigeria, show how documentary can serve as an X-ray of present-day realities in Africa.