A lot to dig into and chew on here, as is always the case with the NYAFF, which is always an exciting annual event for film lovers – especially those with interest in contemporary cinema of Africa and its global diaspora. We’ll be digging through the entire schedule as usual, to highlight individual titles not previously covered on this blog.
The Film Society of Lincoln Center and African Film Festival, Inc. have announced the lineup for the 24th New York African Film Festival, which runs May 3-9. The festival’s theme, “The Peoples’ Revolution,” taps into the pulse of protest and the calls for change bubbling up throughout the peoples of the world, a reform charge championed by a new wave of artists throughout Africa and its diaspora.
The festival continues throughout May at Lehman College, Maysles Cinema, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek. Across these venues, the festival will present a total of 25 feature-length films and 36 short films from 25 countries – celebrated African films from the continent and the diaspora.
“In Africa, as in most of the developing world, young people are the majority. These vibrant human beings are the engines driving today’s societal transformations,” said AFF Executive Director and NYAFF Founder Mahen Bonetti. “They believe in traditional African values, African solutions to African problems, and in Africa’s right to the bounty of her own resources. In this year’s films, we see a generation of young people concerned with reclaiming what is rightfully theirs – their cultural identity, their homes, their dignity.”
Opening Night will see the U.S. premiere of award-winning South African director Akin Omotoso’s “Vaya,” a moving film about three strangers on a train to the city whose lives eventually collide. The film won the Special Jury Prize for Outstanding Film at the 2016 Africa International Film Festival (AFRIFF) and took the Best Screenplay prize at Africa Magic Viewer’s Choice Awards in 2017.
Ethiopian filmmaker Sewmehon Yismaw’s drama “Ewir Amora Kelabi” will have its world premiere as the Centerpiece selection on Friday, May 5. Based on a true story, this remarkable tale is about one’s journey to find a better life and honor one’s family, highlighting the plight of displaced people worldwide.
Other films taking up this theme include the Tunisian dramedy “Zizou,” set at the outset of the Arab Spring; the South African drama “Kalushi,” based on a true story during the Soweto uprisings; the South African documentary “Uprize!”, about a peaceful protest of the apartheid government of South Africa in the 1970s that turned into a slaughter; the documentary “Malcolm X: Struggle for Freedom,” a rarely screened repertory title chronicling the American leader as he took on global issues; and “Footprints of Pan-Africanism,” a documentary on the role of Africans in the independence movement.
The FSLC segment concludes with “Art and Activism: Personal Journeys,” a town hall event with artists of various disciplines discussing how their art serves as activism, at the Elinor Bunin Monroe Film Center Amphitheater. It includes a digital art exhibition exploring dance and movement via virtual reality.
Tickets will go on sale Thursday, April 20. A pre-sale to Film Society members will begin Tuesday, April 18. Single screening tickets are $14; $11 for students and seniors (62+); and $9 for Film Society members. See more and save with the 3+ film discount package. Visit filmlinc.org for more information.
Following its opening at Film Society of Lincoln Center, the NYAFF heads to other New York City institutions throughout May. On May 10, the festival presents an evening of film and discussion at Lehman College in the Bronx, in conjunction with the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media Entertainment’s inaugural “One Book, One New York” program. On May 19, the festival lands at Maysles Cinema in Harlem for a three-day program of documentaries. As is its tradition, the festival concludes over Memorial Day Weekend (May 26-29) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAMcinématek) as part of its popular dance and music festival DanceAfrica.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All screenings take place at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (144 West 65th Street) unless otherwise noted
Akin Omotoso, South Africa, 2016, 115m
Zulu with English subtitles
Three strangers on a train traveling from the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal to Johannesburg are bound by interlocking destinies. Nkulu (Sibusiso Msimang), charged with retrieving his father’s remains from the capital for burial, is unaware that a whole other set of relatives have their own plans. Zanele (Zimkhitha Nyoka), chaperoning a young girl en route to reuniting with her singer mother, is given an exciting offer to appear on television that may be more than meets the eye. Nhlanhla (Sihle Xaba), excited by the prospect of getting rich quick, gets caught up in criminal activities. Imagine a South African spin on Amores Perros and you’re on the right path. U.S. Premiere
Wednesday, May 3, 7:00pm* (Q&A with Akin Omotoso)
Friday, May 5, 2:00pm
*Walter Reade Theater, 165 W 65th Street
Ewir Amora Kelabi
Sewmehon Yismaw, Ethiopia, 2016, 85m
Amharic with English subtitles
Based on a true story, this film chronicles the life of Major Tibebu Mesfin, who worked for the Dergue Regime in Ethiopia. During this time of ideological struggle and infighting among the regime’s leadership, Tibebu disappears and his wife is captured, imprisoned, and tortured. Years later, fueled by a deep-seated desire to help his ailing mother, Tibebu’s son leaves the town of Gonder to search for work. The result is an unpredictable adventure, the story of how far one man will go to fulfill his destiny, and a tale for the ages about the resilience of the human spirit. World Premiere
Harari and Oromiffa with English subtitles
Jessica Beshir, Ethiopia, 2016, 7m
For the past 35 years, Yussuf Mume Saleh journeys at night to the outskirts of the walled city of Harar to bond with his beloved hyenas. New York Premiere
Friday, May 5, 6:30pm (Q&A with Sewmehon Yismaw, Zekarias Tibebu Mesfin, and Jessica Beshir)
Tuesday, May 9, 1:30pm
Ayiti Mon Amour
Guetty Felin, Haiti, 2016, 88m
Haitian Creole, French, and Japanese with English subtitles
Set in Haiti five years after the devastating 2010 earthquake, Guetty Felin’s magical realist tale avoids the kinds of images of the disaster that saturated screens around the world. In his depiction of young Orphée’s grief over the loss of his father beneath the rubble of decimated buildings (represented in ghostly images that float beneath the ocean’s surface), Felin refuses to tell a story of victimhood. Instead, she gives the narrative back to the Haitian people, whose lives cannot be reduced headlines. And as her characters begin to heal, Felin suggests that the island will too. Co-presented with Cinema Tropical.
Lebert Bethune, Jamaica/USA, 1966, 12m
A subtle study of cultural identity following a graceful young woman of Haitian descent who works as a fashion model and actress in cosmopolitan Paris. Cool, light, and lyrical in style, Bethune’s portrait has a deft thematic touch.
Sunday, May 7, 6:15pm (Q&A with Guetty Felin, Lebert Bethune)
Footprints of Pan-Africanism
Shirikiana Gerima, USA, 2017, 90m
The documentary Footprints of Pan-Africanism revisits the era of Ghana’s emergence into independence, when Africans on the continent and in the diaspora participated in building a liberated territory. This movement, rooted in the determination to reassert black people’s humanity and recover from the impact of slavery and colonialism, constituted an essential, indispensable part of the global Pan-African vision for liberation, which in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s ushered in no less than a black political and cultural revolution. Footprints ultimately celebrates the challenges young generations continue to pose to those who have yet to pick up the baton of the great Pan-African dreamers. Co-presented with Africa-America Institute. New York Premiere
Sandra Krampelhuber, Austria/Ghana, 2016, 49m
Accra Power focuses on the creative and artistic strategies of young Ghanaians situated at the crossroads of tradition and various belief systems, high technological and economic growth, infrastructural deficits and current energy crisis. U.S. Premiere
Sunday, May 7, 1:30pm (Q&A with Shirikiana Gerima, Sandra Krampelhuber, Andrea Verena Strasser)
Green White Green
Abba Makama, Nigeria, 2016, 102m
English and Pidgin with English subtitles
Shot on location in Lagos, Green White Green humorously explores social and political views commonly held throughout Nigeria, with each character representing one of the country’s three major ethnic groups. A story about classism and how people from different economic and cultural backgrounds think and behave, Green White Green plays with stereotypes to illustrate just how similar we are despite our diversity and prejudices. New York Premiere
Friday, May 5, 8:45pm (Q&A with Abba Makama)
Mandla Dube, South Africa, 2016, 110m
English, Afrikaans, and Tsotsi-taal with English subtitles
Kalushi is a true story about Solomon Mahlangu, a 19-year-old hawker from the streets of Mamelodi, a ghetto township outside Pretoria, South Africa. After being brutally beaten by police during the 1976 Soweto uprisings, he goes into exile and joins the liberation movement; a series of violent events lead Mahlangu on a journey that culminates in his being forced to stand trial for his life, using the courtroom as his final battlefield. A hero of the struggle against apartheid, Mahlangu would become an international icon of South Africa’s liberation. U.S. Premiere
Saturday, May 6, 8:30pm (Q&A with Mandla Dube, Pearl Thusi)
Tuesday, May 9, 3:30pm
Kemtiyu, Cheikh Anta
Ousmane William Mbaye, Senegal, 2016, 94m
In Wolof and French with English subtitles
“The Universal Man,” “The Capital Contemporary,” “The Giant of Knowledge,” “The Last Pharaoh”: those were some of the newspaper headlines the day after the death of Senegalese historian, doctor, and politician Cheikh Anta Diop on February 7, 1986. Kemtiyu is a portrait of this trailblazing scholar—venerated by some, derided by others, and unknown to most—an honest, enlightened political figure who had an insatiable thirst for science and knowledge. New York Premiere
Thursday, May 4, 6:00pm (Q&A with Ousmane William Mbaye)
Oliver Schmitz, South Africa, 1988, 100m
In English, Sotho, Zulu, and Afrikaans with English subtitles
Mapantsula was the first anti-apartheid feature film made by, for, and about black South Africans. Filmed inside Soweto, scored to the urban beat of “Township Jive” music, it has been called a South African The Harder They Come. Mapantsula tells the story of Panic, a petty gangster who gets caught up in the growing anti-apartheid struggle and has to choose between individual gain and standing united with others against the system. This film gives viewers an insider’s tour of township life and a taste of the vibrant popular cinema to come promised by the new, democratic South Africa.
Monday, May 8, 9:00pm
Noem My Skollie (Call Me Thief)
Daryne Joshua, South Africa, 2016, 125m
Afrikaans with English subtitles
Daryne Joshua’s debut feature is a portrait of life on the mean streets of Cape Town’s lawless Cape Flats in the 1960s. Barely into their teens, Abraham and his three friends form a gang, more out of self-preservation than malice. As they grow up, Abraham (now played by the intense Dann-Jacques Mouton) and his gang turn to petty thievery. After he is arrested, Abraham’s storytelling abilities protect him from the worst that prison life has to offer. Once he’s out, he hopes to reunite with his childhood sweetheart and get his stories down on paper—if, that is, his gang friends and society give him a chance. Noem My Skollie is both a tribute to the human need for stories—and storytellers—and a realistic look at youth gang behavior. U.S. Premiere
Thursday, May 4, 8:15pm (Q&A with Daryne Joshua)
Monday, May 8, 2:00pm
Play the Devil
Maria Govan, Trinidad, 2016, 90m
In Play the Devil, the prevailing poverty and lush beauty of Trinidad and the pulsating rhythms of Carnival are backdrop to a story where dreams and obsession collide. Gifted 18-year-old Gregory is his family’s only hope for financial success. When the naive young man meets James, a powerful, affluent businessman offering friendship and guidance, his world spins out of control. As James’s persistent advances become more intrusive and menacing, Gregory’s initial compliance changes to rejection and the fallout threatens to ruin his future and expose his secrets. Gregory and James face each other once again—on Carnival Monday, when young men cover themselves in blue paint, dress as devils, and become lost in the frenzy of drumming and howling. Co-presented with Cinema Tropical.
Friday, May 5, 4:30pm
Sunday, May 7, 8:45pm (Q&A with Maria Govan)
Sifiso Khanyile, South Africa, 2016, 58m
On the morning of June 16, 1976, students gathered to protest the use of the Afrikaans language in schools. What started out as a planned peaceful march turned into a bloody confrontation with the police. The student protests spread to other parts of South Africa, causing an economic instability that rapidly plunged the country into crisis. Uprize! looks at the political, social, and cultural conditions that shaped the uprising, how those ideas we transformed into liberatory action, and how those actions helped shape the democratic society we live in today. U.S. Premiere
Malcolm X: Struggle for Freedom
Lebert Bethune, Jamaica/USA, 1967, 20m
Bethune’s film portrays Malcolm X at a time when his views were evolving to include what was going on in the world at large. It features interviews filmed during Malcolm X’s trip to Europe and Africa shortly before his assassination in the United States, interspersed with scenes of African rebellion.
Sunday, May 7, 4:15pm (Q&A with Sifiso Khanyile, Lebert Bethune)
Férid Boughedir, Tunisia/ France, 2016, 99m
Arabic and French with English subtitles
In Boughedir’s tale of an unlikely hero, young college graduate Aziz, nicknamed “Zizou,” leaves his village on the border of Sahara for the capital in quest of a job. After he becomes a satellite-dish installer, interacting with people from all walks of life, he falls madly in love with a young woman who has ties to a mafia group working closely with the governmental regime. His quest to set her free becomes his reason for living, and he proceeds unconsciously into the growing tide of a revolution about to wash over Tunisia. U.S. Premiere
Saturday, May 6, 3:45pm (Q&A with Férid Boughedir)
Monday, May 8, 4:30pm
Shorts Program 1: Quartier Lointains: Justice
Total runtime: 87m
The following selection was curated by the traveling shorts program Quartiers Lointains, which highlights films from distant quarters throughout Africa.
Muhannad Lamin, Libya, 2012, 6m
Lamin’s 80 depicts a man on the two most important days of his life: the day he gets caught and imprisoned and the day he escapes. U.S. Premiere
The Aftermath of the Inauguration of the Public Toilet at Kilometer 375
Omar El Zohairy, Egypt, 2014, 18m
Aftermath is an adaptation of Death of a Government Clerk, a short story by Anton Chekhov that takes a metaphorical approach to the idea of fear. U.S. Premiere
Miklas Manneke, South Africa, 2013, 26m
In a South African township, where an argument over whether red or green apples are better causes the greatest divide in the town’s history, a young man, Thomas, falls in love with Thandi, who falls into the opposite camp. U.S. Premiere
Luck Razanajaona, Madagascar, 2013, 15m
After getting fired, Mrs. Esther, a housekeeper in her fifties, may no longer be able to bring her grandson to the sea. So to make extra money, she agrees to harbor clandestine cockfights in her yard. U.S. Premiere
A Place for Myself
Marie-Clémentine Dusabejambo, Rwanda, 2016, 22m
Five-year-old albino girl Elikia is made to feel unwanted by her classmates and neighbors. But her mother encourages her to embrace her differences. Together, they stand up for themselves and fight back against discrimination. U.S. Premiere
Saturday, May 6, 1:00pm
Shorts Program 2: Shorts from Senegal
Total runtime: 101m
Alassane Sy, Senegal, 2016, 18m
Wolof and French with English subtitles
Marabout is the story of a police detective in Dakar who pursues a group of street kids after they steal from him, only to learn about the dangers they are exposed to in their daily lives. U.S. Premiere
Iman Djionne, Senegal, 2016, 26m
Wolof and French with English subtitles
Boxing Girl is a coming-of-age tale about a bored 17-year-old hairdresser who finds red boxing gloves after getting hit by a motorbike in Dakar. As soon as she puts them on, she gets mysteriously carried all over the city. U.S. Premiere
Pape Bouname Lopy, Marc Recchia, Christophe Rolin, Senegal, 2016, 26m
Wolof and French with English subtitles
A Senegalese fisherman finds a Belgian passport on a beach in Dakar and decides to use it. He soon crosses paths with N’Zibou, a wise man who measures the clouds and questions the man about his search for identity.
Maïmouna Doucouré, Senegal/France, 2016, 20m
French with English subtitles
The lives of eight-year-old Aida and her family, who live in an apartment in the Parisian suburbs, are turned upside down when the girl’s father returns from their home country of Senegal—and he is not alone.
Mamadou Dia, USA, 2017, 11m
Wolof and French with English subtitles
Two young Senegalese boys’ friendship is tested after they are determined to see one last film at the town movie theater before it closes.
Saturday, May 6, 6:15pm (Q&A with Mamadou Dia, Christophe Rolin, Pape Bouname Lopy)
Shorts Program 3: New York Shorts
Total runtime: 89m
Adam & Howa
Sarra Idris, Sudan, 2015, 8m
A couple’s story becomes a metaphor for the relationship between the Sudanese diaspora who fled the country after political turmoil and those who were left behind. U.S. Premiere
Farewell Meu Amor
Ekwa Msangi, Tanzania/USA, 2016, 10m
On the morning of the long-awaited reunion with his exiled family, a man is faced with the heartbreak of a different type—of parting from his lover. U.S. Premiere
My Third Eye
Nova Scott-James, USA, 2016, 4m
This silent meditation on the relationship between a little girl and the male family member sexually abusing her examines the pain of intergenerational black familial trauma, but also the gift of spiritual independence. U.S. Premiere
Rest in Power, Malik Carmichael
S. Ajay Ram, USA, 2014, 11m
In this experimental short, eulogizing the life of 16-year-old Malik, a hypothetical teenager from the west side of Harlem, documentary-style interviews with Malik’s friends and family piece together the exceptional existence and senseless death of a black boy genius. New York Premiere
Mariama Diallo, USA, 2017, 24m
A police sketch artist believes he has stumbled upon the suspect from one of his drawings and that he must do the right thing. New York Premiere
Akwaeke Emezi, Nigeria, 2014, 2m
Igbo with English subtitles
This contemporary visual folktale is rooted in concepts of loss, leaving, and loneliness. Emezi collaborated with her father to translate the voiceover, originally written in English, into Igbo, and narrated it herself as an exercise in engaging with the lost fluency of her language. U.S. Premiere
Oluwaseun Babalola, USA/Botswana/Nigeria/Sierra Leone, 2016, 30m
In this documentary, surfers, metal heads, and guerilla filmmakers explore their identities and culture in Sierra Leone, Botswana, and Nigeria. New York Premiere
Monday, May 8, 6:45pm (Q&A with Sarra Idris, Ekwa Msangi, Nova Scott-James, Mariama Diallo, S. Ajay Ram, Akwaeke Emezi, Oluwaseun Babalola)
FREE EXHIBITION AND TOWN HALL EVENT
Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center Amphitheater, 144 West 65th Street
Digital Art Exhibition
Afro Promo #1 (Kinglady) + Afripedia – Dance Battle 360° + Body Mechanics
In Afro Promo #1 (Kinglady), performance artist and choreographer Nora Chipaumire explores the influence of comic book heroes on the American immigrant experience to unpack aspects of African masculinity and explore the creation of a Black, African, male-female superhero. This will be accompanied by a new, interactive piece from the Afripedia collective titled Afripedia – Dance Battle 360°, a virtual reality showcase of contemporary African street dance culture, an immersive experience that allows anyone, anywhere to experience dance from the continent firsthand; and Body Mechanics, a short experimental dance film by Brooklyn-based artist Keisha Knight remixing archival films by Thomas Edison to explore early cinema’s fascination with the exotic and the electric.
Town Hall Event
Art and Activism: Personal Journeys
Join us for a panel featuring the most illustrious interdisciplinary artists from the international African diaspora, who will discuss the visual and social themes underscoring the festival. Guests include Zimbabwe-born, Brooklyn-based choreographer Nora Chipaumire (via Skype); Ethiopian and Eritrean film producers Teddy Goitom and Senay Berhe, who produced Afripedia; Darlene and Lizzy Okpo, designers of William Okpo; and Raquel Cepeda, filmmaker and author of Bird of Paradise.
Tuesday, May 9, 7:00pm