The urge to reclaim stolen images and voices has been a motto for African filmmakers and artists since the 60s. Cinema has served as a megaphone for the African people to let the world know about their collective and individual struggles. As Frantz Fanon said: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it”.
Today, filmmakers from Africa and the diaspora use creativity in its widest sense to free themselves from historical preconceptions and contemporary economic and sociopolitical constraints. Their films are characterized by formal experimentation while stressing the need to communicate powerful messages to their audiences. They offer us playful narratives where genres mix and dialogue with the arts and non-western filmic traditions subvert and surprise audience expectations. Issues such as human rights and civic duty, ecological concerns, technological interconnectedness, and ethical behavior find representation. These filmmakers show the immense possibilities of engaging in open experimentation with an engaged attitude that flees from univocal stories to map the diversity of the world.
“A hilarious social satire about what it means to be Nigerian today.”
The U.S. premiere of the award-winning South African drama Vaya, by Akin Omotoso, will open the 24th edition of the New York African Film Festival at Film Society of Lincoln Center. The story of three strangers coming from the country to Joburg, Vaya is a portrait of a tough and exciting city in a way never seen before. Kalushi and Noem My Skollie (Call Me Thief) demonstrate the vitality of the South African thriller with two true accounts of resilience and heroism in apartheid South Africa; while the documentary Uprize! uses a peaceful student protest violently repressed as an occasion to reflect on the power of education.
Humor is the principal ingredient of the Nigerian film Green White Green by Abba T. Makama – a hilarious social satire and metanarrative about what it means to be Nigerian today. The “dramedy” Zizou, by pioneer filmmaker Férid Boughedir, is a personal take on the outset of the Arab Spring in Tunisia.
Based on real-life events, the poetic and epic journey of emigration, Ewir Amora Kelabi by Ethiopian director Sewmehon Yismaw will be the centerpiece of the program and a worldwide premiere. We recover the jewel Mapantsula from Oliver Schmitz, the first anti-apartheid film, made in 1988, and a rarely screened short by Jamaican filmmaker Lebert Bethune, Malcom X: Struggle for Freedom, about Brother Malcolm’s take on global issues. Other films touching the revolutionary impulse are the documentary Footprints of Pan-Africanism about the role of intellectuals from Africa and the Diaspora in Black liberation movements since the 50s, with Ghanaian Nkrumah at the center, and the stunning archival work Kemtiyu, Cheikh Anta, focusing on the trailblazing scholar of African history.
To underpin the bridges within the Diaspora, the NYAFF will feature two Caribbean films: Play the Devil, from Trinidad, a mesmerizing tale about the loss of innocence, loosely inspired on Black Orpheus; and Ayiti Mon Amour, a lyric reflection on life in post-earthquake Haiti.
“We travel to Senegal to reap the harvest sown by Ousmane Sembène and Djibril Diop Mambéty…”
Three programs show the dynamism of the short film genre. We travel to Senegal to reap the harvest sown by Ousmane Sembène and Djibril Diop Mambéty in a selection of imaginative films including Boxing Girl and Dem! Dem!, which touch on national cinematic history. Quartiers Lointains spans Africa and Europe, revealing how formal experimentation can turn dramatic situations into art in the first animated short from Libya (80) and the fairytale of South African reconciliation in Kanye Kanye. The diverse community of African filmmakers in NYC dives into deep feelings linked to loss and distance (My Third Eye, Farewell Meu Amor, Ududeagu) and the complexities faced by young African-Americans (Rest in Power, Malik Carmichael).
The event “Art & Activism: Personal Journeys” will gather artists of various disciplines at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center Amphitheater to discuss how their art serves as activism. The festival will also feature a digital art exhibition exploring dance and movement, via virtual reality.
“No dream is impossible when, against all odds, a child from Gabon becomes a master of Wushu in China.”
We will co-host an evening of film and discussion with the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment’s inaugural One Book, One New York program on May 10th at Lehman College in the Bronx. The festival caravan will then move on to Maysles Cinema in Harlem where documentary films will fill the screens for three whole days. The African Who Wanted to Fly, an unforgettable portrait of martial artist and actor Luc Bedza, proves that no dream is impossible when, against all odds, a child from Gabon becomes a master of Wushu in China. The Revolution Won’t Be Televised examines the power of collaboration to effect change through the Senegalese political hip-hop movement Y’en a Marre. In Allen Report, the African Methodist Episcopal Church aids Caribbean black liberation groups and in the film Naija Beta a group of kids work on an MIT robot competition in Lagos. The murdered dreams for a new Burkina Faso of Captain Thomas Sankara find their intimate counterpart in So Far Away from Vietnam, where Vietnamese-Senegalese families continue to experience the effects of colonialism.
BAMcinématek will close the program with the Tuareg homage to Prince’s Purple Rain, Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai; Martha & Niki, the story of the first female world champions of Hip-Hop dance; and Price of Love, an Ethiopian urban melodrama dealing with sex workersprostitution and , poverty and human trafficking. Paying tribute to the realities of Guinea and its creative drive are Cheick Fantamady Camara’s timeless love story, Clouds Over Conakry, the controversial and humorous Paris Selon Moussa, and a selection of Soviet shorts about Guinean Independence.