By my last count, there are four film festivals in the United States that are focused on Africa (New York African Film Festival, Pan African Film Festival, African Diaspora Film Festival, and the Cascade Festival of African Films). Make that four and a half, if you count the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. That seems like a small amount outlets to represent the almost one billion people on the continent. Fortunately, there are more and growing number of African Film festivals in Europe and Africa. The past Thursday, April 5, marked the town-hall opening of one the more venerated of the festivals, The New York African Film Festival (NYAFF). With its 19th edition, fans and friends say the festival keeps aging with grace and sophistication. If Thursday’s town-hall opener, interestingly titled “AFRICANS IN THE DIASPORA: EXPATRIATES AND HOMECOMING”, is any indication, then afro-film aficionados are in for a real treat over the next couple of weeks. The Thursday event featured “Borom Sarret” (aka the Wagoner) the 20 minute classic by legendary film maker Ousmane Sembene, accompanied by a remixed soundtrack by Dj Spooky. Though "Borom Sarret" is often considered the first film ever made in Africa by a black African, I must confess that I had never seen the movie until last week. Actually, it was quite a trippy experience. This was followed by a panel discussion with two film makers and a film critic, Yemane Demissie and Beatriz Leal, moderated by Femi Oke of WNYC.
Clip of "Borom Sarret":
Starting formally this coming Wednesday, April 11, with a celebration Mariam Makeba and some interesting treasures from the Russian State Archives, the festival will be showcasing a gamut of films from the continent produced mostly in the last two years. This is good for contemporary African and African focused filmmakers. Viewers can expect movies from Senegal, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Morocco, Kenya, Cameroon, Algeria and other countries.
I guess this is the stage where I am supposed to make some recommendations and tell you what you must not miss. I am an old soul when it comes to African movies so my obvious recommendations would be for you to see “Come Back, Africa” (1959 - about a young black man who goes to Johannesburg in search of a better life) and “Treasuries from the Russian State Archives” (1954/1976 - Russian Archival film and photo footage on Africa). Two films also seem very captivating-- “Monica Wangu Wamwere: The Unbroken Spirit” showcases what one individual can do against injustices in a country, of which there is no shortage of in many African countries, and “Our Beloved Sudan” which documents the political destiny of the Sudanese Nation.
Clip of “Monica Wangu Wamwere: The Unbroken Spirit” :
Call me a political junkie but films are good educators of people, especially in and of Africa. I would love to see African filmmakers tell more stories of the continent from the past as well as the present. While the NYAFF strikes a fine balance between anglophone and francophone films, I would also like to see more movies done in indigenous languages from the continent which is not as much as an impossibility as one might think. Nollywood has proven time and over that movies done in indigenous languages can still be appreciated across borders even with terrible subtitles.
But wait a minute, I am not done yet. NYAFF is not about the movies alone. It will be organizing a series of presentations including “Africa is a Country: Talking Media and Russian Archives” by the folks who bring you juicy stories on the popular blog, Africa is a Country (AIAC) [full disclosure: I blog on AIAC] and “Whose Story Is It Anyway?: Grassroots Media Movements On The Continent” by Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies (IAS) and Center for African Education (CAE). How can you possibly say “nay” to all of this excitement. Short of going to Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou or Carthage Film Festival of Tunisia, one cannot do better than the NYAFF. Only thing I am missing is a soundtrack compilation of the music from the movies being showcased; something to look forward to at the 20th Edition? So, hurry and get yourself a ticket or six.
PS: A friend of mine just bet her salary on “Relentless” by Andy Okoroafor. Any of you care to differ?