Set for its launch with an opening night gala showing of Mandla Dube’s Apartheid-era biopic, Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlungu, Film Africa 2016 is the Royal African Society’s 6th annual celebration of cinema from right across the continent. Narrative film and documentaries from South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Chad, Mali and many other nations, tell compelling, insightful and thought-provoking stories and explore crucial current affairs relating to migration, urbanisation, sexuality, political freedom and much more. An eclectic and far-reaching program, which notably features The Female Gaze – a full subsection of directorial work and perspective from female filmmakers on gender and family dynamics, further includes vast treatment of ideas surrounding the African diaspora.
Contemporary issues of personal, cultural and spiritual identity affecting a body of people whose ancestors were forcibly removed from the birthplace of humanity and displaced around the world are told from myriad viewpoints: Eritrean immigrants in Italy; North American and Caribbean subjects returning to live in Ethiopia; a British man finding his roots in Senegal. With a series of films as rich, diverse and full of life as the people whose story they tell – being shown at locations right across London, there is something for every cinema-goer at Film Africa 2016. Below are our five picks of must-sees at this year’s festival.
Anisia Uzeyman’s directorial debut, Dreamstates, is an impressionistic romance-cum-road-trip behind the scenes of the underground Afropunk movement in the US. It’s a bold venture – especially considering that it was shot in 32 states in 6 weeks on a couple of iPhones – that toys with elliptical narrative and creates a collage with its constantly shifting visual style; from colour, to composition, to aspect ratio.
Swedish director Jonny von Wallström’s feature debut The Pearl of Africa is, at its passionately beating heart, a love story. A tale of commitment, unerring determination and combat against vicious oppression. Cleopatra Kambugu, a transgender woman living in Uganda, loves her country but laments its struggle to recognise the diversity of its people. Religion, forever a two-edged sword, is used to condemn from one side but as a beacon of hope for the plight of the LGBTI community on the other.
Cleopatra and longtime partner, Nelson – affectionately dubbed “Nellie” by his other half, possess a warm tenderness which is opposed by brutally aggressive rhetoric decrying homosexuality as not a human right, but a “human wrong”. Facing life imprisonment, or even the menace of execution, Cleopatra, accompanied every step of the way by her doting boyfriend, seeks to complete her long-desired transformation in Thailand. A cinematographer by trade, Wallström’s film has a beautiful aesthetic, vibrant colours layered with a gorgeous textured patina which further enriches this profoundly affecting, intimate documentary. Matt Anderson
Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s 2005 film Les saignantes (The Bloodiest) is often cited as the first African science fiction film and the avant-garde director returns to the genre with his Afrofuturist parable, Naked Reality. Taking the rapid – or is that rabid? – urbanisation of Cameroonian cities like Douala and Mbouda as inspiration, it posits a dystopian future devoid of rural culture. For the continent-spanning technological megapolis that Bekolo conjures, the natural link to the past and to the wisdom of forefathers is lost along with the undeveloped regions that fostered them.
“You have to want Africa for Africa to want you.” Past, present and future are inextricably linked in Giulia Amati’s Shashamane. The French-Italian filmmaker interviews numerous inhabitants of the titular Ethiopian region, which in 1948 was donated by the Emperor Haile Selassie as a form of Shangri-La, a Rastafari haven to which Africans around the world could return to live in the harmony of Jah. Its autonomy forever under threat since a 1973 coup, and now seen as outsiders by local Ethiopians, these figures demonstrate just how important it is to know where you have been in order to know where you are going.
The notion of ‘home’ as far greater than a roof and four walls is crucial here, and repatriation, reparations for historical ills suffered and a deep-rooted yearning to return to ancestral lands all contribute to making Shashamane a highly thought-provoking, quietly powerful endeavour. There is a thinly concealed resentment and sense of injustice but at the same time resolution in striving for an innate longing and sense of purpose felt deep within its engaging, determined subjects who from Jamaica, London, the US seek to again make Shashamane the promised land it once was. MA
Is it not the right of any nation’s people to control its own destiny? With The Revolution Won’t Be Televised Mauritanian filmmaker Rama Thiaw – whose work features alongside that of Uzeyman and Amati under The Female Gaze – captures the 2012 grassroots opposition against the then incumbent Senegalese president, Abdoulaye Wade. A population past the point of no return was appalled at Wade’s suggestion of running for a third term. They had had enough and this saw the creation of the aptly named ‘Y’en a Marre’ (‘We’re Fed Up) movement.
Music has long been a vehicle for social and political change and it was rappers Thiat and Kilifeu who were the principal architects of demonstrations, concerts and campaigning to get the message out to the electorate ahead of an all-important vote. Conscious of being recognised as political activists ahead of musicians, Kilifeu’s lyrical prowess is key to success but it is Thiat’s oratory ability, his philanthropy and belief in a well-crafted argument that really impresses. Their plucky determination – in the face of arrest and persecution – stands as an example to all. MA
Film Africa 2016 runs from 28 October to 6 November at venues across London. For further information visit www.filmafrica.org.ukor@FilmAfrica.