nullIt was announced 9 days ago that Baz Luhrmann’s fantastical take on The Great Gatsby, will open the 2013 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, which takes place in May.

While we still have about 3 weeks before the festival unveils its full lineup (they usually do so in pieces, spread out over a short period of time), I thought I’d start to take a look at what African Diaspora films just might be selected to debut in competition, at the world’s most prestigious film festival this year – films that we’ve been following on this site for the last year or 2, that have the strongest chances of being included in the festival’s full lineup, once it’s announced.

The 12-day festival runs from May 15 to 26, and S&A should be there this year. We were there in 2011 (Wendy covered it), we skipped last year, but I expect that we’ll be there this year. Plans are already been discussed. So I certainly hope that this year’s line-up, unlike recent previous years, includes a substantial representation of Diaspora films (relative to previous years), especially since there are a good number of titles that I think could be candidates.

Of course, I’m not on the selection committee, so this is all just conjecture on my part.

So without further ado, here’s the first list of 5 films. I have a list of 15 (and counting), and will break them up into separate posts over the next 3 days.

This first group are films that I think are the strongest candidates for this year. The level of “strength” will decrease with each separate post. And, once again, I’m considering the main competition slate strictly.

1 – Twelve Years A Slave: An absolute no-brainer as far I’m concerned. Steve McQueen‘s 3rd feature which stars a rather impressive cast of actors, including Chiwetel EjioforMichael FassbenderRuth Negga, Adepero OduyeAlfre WoodardLupita Nyong’oPaul DanoBenedict CumberbatchScoot McNairyGarret DillahuntBrad Pitt, Michael K. Williams Paul GiamattiSarah Paulson and
others. No word yet on a release date for the film; but I’d be really surprised if it didn’t debut at Cannes this year, en route to other top-tier
film festivals before opening in USA theaters in the early fall. I
expect it to be an awards season favorite, especially in key roles, both
in front of and behind the camera.

2 – Grisgris: Chadian filmmaker Mahamat Saleh-Haroun’s follow-up to his last work, the critically-acclaimed drama Un Homme Qui Crie (aka A Screaming Man). The film was shot last fall, and, given that Saleh-Haroun isn’t a stranger to Cannes (3 of his last 5 films all premiered at Cannes) I fully expect that Grisgris will continue that trend, and debut at this year’s Cannes edition. The film centers on Grisgris, a 25 year old boy with dreams of becoming
a dancer despite the fact that he’s paralyzed from the waist down. His
dreams are shattered when his uncle falls seriously ill. To save him, he
decides to work for petrol smugglers. Not quite the same father/son relationship theme that seems to run through his work (see Abouna-2002, Daratt-2006, A Screaming Man-2010), but still seemingly very much in that similar relational vein. The film stars Soulémane DéméMariam MonoryCyril Guei, and Marius Yelolo (who’s worked with Haroun on at least 2 other past films).

3 – Half Of A Yellow Sun: last month, it was rumored that the film would premiere at FESPACO, but those rumors turned out to be false. And given that it skipped Berlin, I think this is primed for a Cannes debut. The film adaptation of celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize-winning novel, Half Of A Yellow Sun, is directed by playwright Biyi Bandele (his feature film directorial debut), with an international cast that includes Thandie NewtonJohn BoyegaChiwetel EjioforDominic CooperAnika Noni RoseJoseph Mawle and Genevieve Nnaji. If both Twelve Years A Slave and this film make the Cannes selection list, Chiwetel Ejiofor will be attending the festival with 2 films in which he stars. Both films should be released in theaters (USA) this year, so, either way, it should be a big year for Mr Ejiofor, who does have at least one project on the horizon.

4 – It’s a tie! I’m anticipating that The Weinstein Company will premiere one of two films they recently acquired: either Idris Elba’s Nelson Mandela biopic, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom; or Lee Daniels’ White House drama, The Butler. The former is directed by Justin Chadwick, and co-stars Naomie Harris as Mandela’s wife, Winnie, in a film based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, which highlights his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison. The film also features South African actors Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Zolani Mkiva, Jamie Bartlett, Lindiwe Matshikiza, Deon Lotz and Terry Pheto. As for the latter project, which we’ve covered quite extensively, The Butler has a loaded cast that includes Forest Whitaker, David Oyelowo, John CusackAlan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Melissa Leo,Liev SchreiberJesse WilliamsMariah CareyYaya DaCosta, and many more. Music for the film is being composed by the legendary Quincy Jones. The film is scripted to cover several decades in the life of Eugene Allen, the White House butler who served many presidents. So I expect one of these 2 projects to make the Cannes cut. The Weinstein Company could also certainly screen Fruitvale there as well – another black film they acquired earlier this year. But Cannes likes its world premieres, and since Fruitvale has already screened at the Sundance Film Festival, I wouldn’t expect it to also screen in competition (the key words here) at Cannes as well. Although they might screen it out of competition.

5 – Belle: British actor/writer/director/producer Amma Asante’s period drama about the trials and tribulations of a mixed-race girl, in the 1700s, stars Gugu Mbatha-RawMiranda RichardsonTom Wilkinson, Sarah GadonSam Claflin, and Matthew Goode. The story takes place in the 1780s, and is based on a true story – specifically, the true story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England. It follows
Belle, adopted into an aristocratic family, who faces class and color
prejudices. As she blossoms into a young woman, she develops a
relationship with a vicar’s son who is an advocate for slave
emancipation. Her full name was Dido Elizabeth Belle, born 1761, died 1804; she was the illegitimate daughter of John Lindsay (a white British Naval officer) and an African slave woman known only as Belle. Mbatha-Raw is of course playing the lead role. The project, which was developed and supported by the British Film Institute, also co-stars Tom Felton (from the Harry Potter movies), Sam Reid (playing Belle’s love interest), James Norton and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey). It was announced last year that a spring debut was expected. Where could that spring debut be, but at Cannes in May?

That’s it for today. The *hot* five! Look for the next group of 5 films, which I’m not as confident will be selected for the festival this year, but I think might have a chance to do so for any number of reasons.

Of course, there are always surprises; there are always those 2 or 3 films that we’ve never heard of (until the festival unveils its lineup). The S&A database is deep, but we do miss a few things here and there. But I’m looking forward to finding out what those *unknown* titles might be. It’s always fun discovering new projects!

For part 2, click HERE; and for part 3, click HERE.