A collection of reviews of films from off the beaten path; a travel guide for those who love the cinematic world and want more than the mainstream releases.
Friday, May 10, 2019
FLC and African Film Fest, Inc. announce the complete lineup for New York African Film Festival, May 23 – June 9
New York, NY (May 6, 2019) –The citywide New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) reaches backward into time and forward into the unknown for its 26th edition to center audiences in the present, with cutting-edge films from throughout the ages, films that regale with resplendent tales of all things African. Under the theme “Beyond Borders: Storytelling Across Time,” this year the event launches at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek in May, heads to Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) from May 30 through June 4, and closes at Maysles Cinema. The popular festival includes 68 films of multiple genres from 31 countries across the diaspora, and is presented by FLC and African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF).
“These films help us to celebrate our vibrant cultures, as well as confront the issues that affect our societies, said AFF Executive Director and NYAFF Founder Mahen Bonetti. “The stories challenge us to continue thinking about ways to improve our situation and build for the future and that is the magic and power of the cinema.”
Opening Night at Film at Lincoln Center at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 30 is the U.S. premiere of Frances-Anne Solomon’s triumphant feature HERO: Inspired by the Extraordinary Life and Times of Mr. Ulric Cross. The film, which won the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival People’s Choice Award in the narrative feature category, tells the story of Cross, the Royal Air Force’s most decorated West Indian of World War II, and his and his fellow West Indians’ lasting impact on world history, including several liberation struggles across Africa. The film was selected as part of NYAFF’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Pan-African Congress, organized in Paris by W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida Gibbs Hunt in February 1919, when delegates from Africa and the diaspora convened to champion Africa’s self-determination. Tickets for the film and Opening Night post-screening reception are available online at africanfilmny.org for $100. Regular festival prices apply for screening-only tickets, which can be purchased at filmlinc.org.
Marking the 25th anniversary of the tragic Rwandan genocide of 1994, when between 800,000 and one million lives were lost, at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 1 is the Centerpiece film, Rwandan director Joël Karekezi’s gripping drama The Mercy of the Jungle. One of a crop of films about the aftermath of the tragedy by Rwandan directors, it follows Rwandan soldiers hunting rebels separated from their unit as they fight to survive while lost in the war-torn countryside. Preceding The Mercy of the Jungle will be the short The Letter Carrier, a haunting, folkloric fairy tale told through original a capella song. The directorial debut of actor-directors Jesse L. Martin and Rick Cosnett imagines a black family from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and the lengths they will go to save themselves from slavery.
In its look back, NYAFF also tips its hat to FESPACO (Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou), the historic festival in Burkina Faso now celebrating its 50th anniversary, with classic works from African trailblazers who continue to influence generations of filmmakers. Among the selections are the first FESPACO Best Film winner (Oumarou Ganda’s Le Wazzou Polygame in 1972), most recent awardee (Karekezi’s gripping drama The Mercy of the Jungle), and several in between, including Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s Fatwa (bronze at FESPACO in 2019, first prize at Carthage Film Festival in 2018), Ola Balogun’s Black Goddess (1978), and Souleymane Cissé’s Baara (1980), all seminal works that define themes explored in contemporary African cinema. The final film screening at Film at Lincoln Center, on June 4, is the sweeping epic Sarraounia by Med Hondo, who passed away on March 2.
The festival also highlights some of today’s most buzzed-about directors of the diaspora, including South African comedian-actor-director Kagiso Lediga (Wizard / Matwetwe), the first African director to be tapped for a Netflix Original Series (Catching Feelings, starring Pearl Thusi); Julius Amedume, whose thriller Rattlesnakes featuring Jimmy Jean-Louis won the Panafrican Film Festival Audience Award for Narrative Feature), and Cameroonian director Rosine Mbakam, whose Chez Jolie Coiffure captures the powerful real-life story of an undocumented hair-salon manager who escaped to Belgium from quasi-slavery in Lebanon.
A digital art exhibition, From Ouaga to NYC: Capturing the Pan-African Spirit, will run from 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 31, to Monday, June 3, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday, June 4. For four decades, director Mohammed Challouf and cultural advocate Kojo Ade captured African and African diaspora cultural celebrations on the continent and in the diaspora respectively. Charting personal memories across landscapes of African history and heritage, the two photographic essays explore issues of cultural identity shaping an African diaspora consciousness and solidarity within an international vocabulary of contemporary media art practice.
Finally, acclaimed Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Marie Téno will deliver a free master class on entertainment and education within the context of African cinema on June 1. The event will feature a discussion on how filmmakers and stakeholders today can trigger change through the transformative power of cinema, much as the pioneering generation of African filmmakers did in
Tickets go on sale May 10 and are $15; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for Film at Lincoln Center members. See more and save with a 3+ film discount package. Learn more at filmlinc.org.
The 26th NYAFF kicks off at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAMcinématek) Thursday, May 23, and runs through Monday, May 27, as a part of BAM’s popular dance and music festival DanceAfrica. It then heads to FLC and closes with screenings at the Maysles Cinema in Harlem from Thursday, June 6, through Sunday, June 9.
The programs of AFF are made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, Bradley Family Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Domenico Paulon Foundation, L’Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (International Organization of La Francophonie), NYC & Company, French Cultural Services, Manhattan Portage, City Bakery, Black Hawk Imports, Essentia Water, South African Consulate General, National Film and Video Foundation, Consulate General of Sweden in New York, Hudson Hotel, and Royal Air Maroc.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONSAll screenings take place at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (144 West 65th Street) unless otherwise noted.
Opening NightHERO: Inspired by the Extraordinary Life and Times of Mr. Ulric CrossFrances-Anne Solomon, Trinidad and Tobago/Canada, 2018, 110mIn 1941, a young man from Trinidad named Ulric Cross leaves his island home to seek his fortune. He emerges from World War II as the RAF’s most decorated West Indian. Cross’s long life spanned key moments of the 20th century, including independence in Africa and the Caribbean. Shot in Ghana, the United Kingdom, and Trinidad and Tobago, the film is not just about his life but also the transformative times in which he lived, and tells the untold story of those Caribbean professionals who helped to liberate Africa from colonialism. Thursday, May 30, 6:30pmSunday, June 2, 4:15pm
CenterpieceThe Mercy of the JungleJoel Karekezi, Belgium/France, 2018, 91mFrench and Swahili with English subtitlesAt the outbreak of the Second Congo War, Rwandan soldiers Sergeant Xavier and Private Faustin are sent to hunt down Hutu rebels in the vast jungles of eastern Congo. Xavier is a stoic veteran of the ethnic wars that have plagued his country for years; Faustin is an eager young recruit who joined the army to avenge the death of his father and brothers. Under the relentless command of Major Kayitare, they march 80 kilometers a day in pursuit of the murderers of nearly one million Tutsis during the Rwandan genocide four years earlier. When they are accidentally left behind in the jungle, with only each other to rely on, they embark on an odyssey through the most violent forest on earth, faced with the depths of their own war-torn souls.
Preceded by:The Letter CarrierJesse L. Martin & Rick Cosnett, Canada, 2016, 18mIn the Blue Ridge Mountains of 1860, a mother protects her family from slavery, while the myth of a man known as The Letter Carrier, who, as the legend goes, roams the mountains looking for children to sell as slaves, looms over them. Saturday, June 1, 6:00pm (with Q&A)Monday, June 3, 3:30pm (with Q&A)
BaaraSouleymane Cissé, Mali, 1980, 93mBambara with English subtitlesIn the great Malian filmmaker Souleymane Cissé’s political drama, a young factory manager encounters a man walking along a road who tells him his family members work as servants in the manager’s household. The man then offers him a job, and as he watches out for his welfare, begins to see how the company mistreats its workers. As dire problems surface at the factory, the manager is then challenged to choose between his ethics and the pressure from others to protect his own interests. Monday, June 3, 6:00pm (with Q&A)
Bigger Than AfricaToyin Ibrahim Adekeye, Nigeria/USA, 2018, 90mWhen the slave boats carrying African people docked in America, Brazil, Cuba, and the Caribbean, hundreds of cultures, traditions, and religions landed with them. Today, only one remains prominent in the new world: the culture of the Yorubas. This documentary, shot in six different countries (including Brazil, the United States, Republic of Benin, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago), and featuring interviews from around the world, follows the journey of these Africans from West Africa to their final destinations. Sunday, June 2, 9:15pm (with Q&A)
Black Goddess / A Deusa Negra Ola Balogun, Nigeria/Brazil, 1978, 95mPortuguese with English subtitlesBlack Goddess is a classic Nigerian-Brazilian film from director Ola Balogun that journeys into the past and present of Africa. Balogun’s tale is a love story that spans three centuries, set in both the 18th century and the 1970s, when the movie was made. Structured in the form of mystical journey, the film unfolds under the aegis of the Yoruba divinity Yemoja. Tuesday, June 4, 6:00pm (with Q&A)
Chez Jolie CoiffureRosine Mbakam, Belgium/Cameroon, 2018, 71mFrench and Pidgin with English subtitlesRecruited by a Lebanese maid agency, Sabine leaves Cameroon and embarks for Lebanon. After many years of servitude, she escapes to Belgium, but her arrival there is complicated by the fact that she enters illegally, by way of Greece and Syria. She settles in Matonge, the African quarter, where she becomes the manager of the beauty salon Chez Jolie Coiffure. Here, patrons, many of them undocumented immigrants, are not only be made to feel beautiful but can also escape the daily difficulties and harsh realities of their lives.
Preceded by:Little GirlTafadzwa Chiriga, Zimbabwe/USA/Nigeria, 2018, 6mIn this visually beautiful coming-of-age story, ancestral spirits emerge from the depths of a forest to guide a young African-American woman into a deeper relationship with her past, introducing her to a rich legacy of the African women who came before her. Little Girl is about finding a deeper understanding of the self, infused with questions of identity, religion, and cultural history. Sunday, June 2, 12:30pm (with Q&A)
Chosen / Le Futur dans le rétroJean-Marie Téno, Cameroon/Ghana/France, 2018, 89mFrench and English with English subtitlesIn 1964, following the death of her mother, 14-year-old Nana Banyina Horne becomes a mother figure to eight younger siblings. Years later, after living and teaching in America, Nana is chosen to be Queen Mother back in Ghana. As the film follows her on her journey home, we meet her sisters, family, and other members of the community, and we slowly perceive the both loving and suffocating ties and responsibilities that pull her back. On Nana’s journey, motherhood and sisterhood converge and collide, losses resurface, and cycles repeat, bringing to the fore questions of place and belonging, and the burdens of responsibility and sacrifice. Saturday, June 1, 1:00pm (with Q&A)
FatwaMahmoud Ben Mahmoud, Tunisia, 2018, 102mArabic with English subtitlesBrahim Nadhour is a Tunisian living in France who returns to his home country to bury his son, Marouane, who was killed in a motorcycle accident. While there, Brahim finds out that Marouane was active in a radical Islamist group. Brahim then decides to carry out his own investigation to discover why Marouane was radicalized and who indoctrinated him. Sunday, June 2, 6:45pm (with Q&A)Tuesday, June 4, 3:30pm
Oga BolajiKayode Kasum, Nigeria, 2018, 91mPidgin and Yoruba with English subtitlesOga Bolaji centers on the simple, happy-go-lucky life of a retired, 40-year-old musician (played by Gold Ikponmosa) whose life changes forever when he crosses paths with a 7-year-old girl. Oga Bolaji showcases the resilience and ingenuity of the Nigerian spirit, of striving, hoping, and dreaming despite life’s pain and limitations. Saturday, June 1, 9:00pm (with Q&A)Monday, June 3, 1:00pm (with Introduction)
RattlesnakesJulius Amedume, USA/UK, 2019, 86mWriter-director Julius Amedume’s Rattlesnakes, is a psychological neo-noir thriller based on Graham Farrow’s acclaimed stage play. The story follows an intense day in the life of family man and yoga instructor Robert McQueen (Jimmy Jean-Louis), who is ambushed by three masked strangers accusing him of sleeping with their wives. He pleads his innocence, though what he does reveal will change all of their lives forever. But will it be enough to save his? Monday, June 3, 8:30pm (with Q&A)
SarraouniaMed Hondo, Burkina Faso/Mauritania/France, 1986, 120mDioula, French, and Fula with English subtitlesBased on historical accounts of Queen Sarraounia, who led the Azans into battle against the French colonialists at the turn of the century, Med Hondo’s sweeping epic rivals any that American cinema has produced. A brilliant strategist and forceful leader, the queen commands respect from the men she guides into battle and deep loyalty for her people. Hondo contrasts the strong alliances that emerge among African communities with the self-seeking and purposelessness of the Europeans and provides much-needed African historical perspective.Sarraounia is both an engrossing tale of a remarkable woman’s bravery and a captivating study of revolution against enslavement and the struggle for peace and freedom. Tuesday, June 4, 8:30pm (with introduction)
Le Wazzou PolygameOumarou Ganda, Niger, 1971, 50mDjema with English subtitlesEl Hadji, an Islamic faithful, returns from his holy pilgrimage to Mecca, and falls in love with his daughter’s friend Santou, who is already engaged to be married. However, El Hadji already has two wives, and his second wife, Gaika, cannot stand the idea of another younger woman entering her house. Oumarou Ganda’s film depicts the rift between tradition and modernity during the period of Nigerien emancipation, and it serves as an homage to the age of African independence that gave way to the classic era of Francophone African cinema, which depicted the social struggles that come with emancipation discourse. Le Wazzou Polygame won the top prize at the 1972 FESPACO awards (Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou), and was cited for cultivating a theme of liberation and humanization in African cinema.
Preceded by:MambétyPapa Madièye Mbaye, Senegal, 2002, 28mWolof with English subtitlesSenegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty, one of the greatest figures in all of African film, died in 1998. In this behind-the-scenes documentary, shot during the making of his final work, The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun / La petite vendeuse de soleil, Mambéty speaks with his technicians, prepares the actors, talks with his young star, and, in voiceover, shares his thoughts on cinema and life. Friday, May 31, 6:30pm
Wizard / MatwetweKagiso Lediga, South Africa, 2018, 84mSotho-Tswana with English subtitlesIt’s New Year’s Eve in Atteridgeville, and Lefa is on the cusp of major change. Accepted into university to study botany, he’s about to leave the ghetto township that has been his home—if only his deadbeat father will come through with his school fees. The easy life is on the horizon, but he and his best friend, an albino would-be gangster, Paapi, need to first find a way to navigate the difficult life at home. Friday, May 31, 8:45pmTuesday, June 4, 1:30pm
Shorts Program (TRT: 107m)Featuring Showtime by Shawn Antoine II, Suicide by Sunlight by Nikyatu, No Traveler Returns by Ellie Foumbi, Sign Up by Abeer Yehia, Wrong Con by Charles Obiemere, and Hello, Rain by C.J. “Fiery” Obasi Saturday, June 1, 3:30pm
ShowtimeShawn Antoine II, USA, 2018, 15mDarius and Hakeem dance on New York City trains to earn honest money and escape the crime-riddled streets of Harlem. When Darius is offered an opportunity to audition for Juilliard’s traveling dance team, Hakeem grows jealous. When Hakeem begins to sell drugs with the neighborhood goon TJ and succumb to the crime in Harlem, Darius is faced with the decision to pursue his life-changing opportunity or help keep Hakeem out of trouble.
Suicide by SunlightNikyatu, USA, 2019, 17mValentina, a day-walking black vampire protected from the sun by her melanin, finds it difficult to suppress her bloodlust when a new woman is introduced to her estranged twin daughters.
No Traveler ReturnsEllie Foumbi, Ivory Coast/USA, 2019, 12mFrench with English subtitlesA young African immigrant’s struggle to adjust to life in America pushes him toward an existential crisis.
Sign UpAbeer Yehia, Egypt, 2019, 15mArabic with English subtitlesDetainees in an Egyptian jail cell receive a new prisoner, Ahmed, who happens to be well-known on social media. Their interaction brings out their different backgrounds and perspectives, and as their relationship further develops, we learn the reasons behind their imprisonment. Together, they come up with an unusual solution to confront their new reality.
Wrong ConCharles Obiemere, Nigeria, 2018, 18mEnglish and Pidgin with English subtitlesTwo down-on-their-luck con men desperately need to make a few bucks. They decide to pose as pastors in order to waylay a desperate wealthy man with a sick daughter. The job is supposed to be easy, but things take a turn when he locks con men inside the room with the demon-possessed girl, refusing to let them out until they have healed her.
Hello, RainC.J. “Fiery” Obasi, Nigeria, 2018, 30mEnglish and Pidgin with French and Spanish subtitlesIn this adaptation of an Afro-futuristic short story by Hugo Award–winning author Nnedi Okorafor, three scientist witches create magical wigs that grant them untold supernatural powers. As with everything, power corrupts, and the leader, Rain, must stop them before they destroy the nation.
Paulin Soumanou Vieyra Shorts Program (TRT: 64m)Born in Porto-Novo, Benin, and raised in Senegal, Paulin Soumanou Vieyra (1925-1987) was a filmmaker and a historian, and one of the most important figures in all of African cinema. The founder of the “Fédération Panafricaine des Cinéastes” in 1969, Vieyra was a mentor to the great figures of the seventh art, such as Ousmane Sembène, Djibril Diop Mambéty, and Ababacar Samb-Makharam. The following program features three of his greatest documentary shorts, including Afrique sur Seine, one of the first released Francophone African films; Lamb, about traditional wrestling in Senegal; and his film about Sembène, L’Envers du Décor.Sunday, June 2, 2:30pm (with Q&A)
Afrique sur SeinePaulin Soumanou Vieyra and Mamadou Sarr, Senegal, 1955, 21mFrench with English subtitlesIn this short documentary, Vieyra and his collaborator Mamadou Sarr explore the lives of Africans living in Paris, poetically evoking the ambiguities and questions about identity that plague students educated in colonialist spaces, removed from their comfort zone. In voiceover, the film wonders if Africa is only in Africa or also on the banks of the Seine?
LambPaulin Soumanou Vieyra, Senegal, 1963, 18mWolof and French with English subtitlesThis documentary captures the sport of traditional wrestling, called “lamb” in Wolof, popular in Senegal. Vieyra presents the rigorous rules of the sport and training practices by the sea. Lamb was an official selection at the Cannes Film Festival, a first for a film from sub-Saharan Africa.
L’Envers du DécorPaulin Soumanou Vieyra, Senegal, 1981, 25mFrench with English subtitles Vieyra captures Ousmane Sembène, one of the greatest African filmmakers, during the filming of Ceddo, which would be censored under the Senghor regime and until 1983 by the Senegalese authorities.
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AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL, INC.For 29 years, African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF) has bridged the divide between post-colonial Africa and the American public through the powerful medium of film and video. AFF’s unique place in the international arts community is distinguished not only by leadership in festival management but also by a comprehensive approach to the advocacy of African film and culture. AFF established the New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) in 1993 with Film at Lincoln Center. The New York African Film Festival is presented annually by the African Film Festival, Inc. and Film at Lincoln Center, in association with Brooklyn Academy of Music. AFF also produces a series of local, national and international programs throughout the year. More information about AFF can be found on the Web at www.africanfilmny.org.