Africa in the Picture II

This blog series on the reach of Africa on global culture gets its name from an annual African film festival that I had the pleasure to attend in the early 90’s. There I was introduced to the films of the  Senegalese writer and “Father of African film,” the late Ousmane SembèneAfrica in the Picture began in 1987 as a small retrospective of African cinema in Amsterdam and has grown to become the largest African film festival in Europe.  The esteemed leader of all African film festivals, though, is FESPACO, the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou.  Held in Burkina Faso (then Upper Volta) since 1969, the mission of the festival is “to contribute to the expansion and development of African cinema as means of expression, education and awareness-raising.”  Sadly, one of the founders, Senegalese filmmaker, Mahaman Johnson Traore, passed away in March.

The New York African Film Festival continues through the end of May with programming at the New Museum and at BAMcinématek (in conjunction with DanceAfrica.)  The last film to be screened in the series, In the Genes (Lupita Nyong’o, dir.) chronicles the effect of albinism on the life of Agnes, a Kenyan woman living without pigment in a predominantly black society.

For more information on African Film Festivals worldwide, check the comprehensive list featured on the website of Portland, Oregon based Cascade African Film Festival.

Though the pool of projects is vast, I’ve included just a few of the inspired bits on my radar right now.

I am delighted for and proud of my longtime friend Saki Mafundikwa on the release of his debut filmmaking effort,  Shungu: The Resilience of a People.  I found myself welling up at the NY premiere at Cooper Union last month.  The moving documentary, with great compassion gives a personal glimpse into the lives of his fellow Zimbabweans, giving “voice to the hopes and challenges of ordinary people.”

Zimbabwean-born, Brooklyn-based dancer/choreographer Nora Chipaumire is the subject of the 35-minute, Nora by Alla Kovgan and David Hinton. The award-winning film has screened around the world and is showing, appropriately at BAM Rose Cinemas during the Dance Africa festival on May 28.  Also catch the former member of  Urban Bush Women as she joins Thomas Mapfumo in performance at 651 Arts on May 21 and 22.

The web leads from one wonderful discovery to another. While checking out a lovely post on thinking-in-tongues, the musings of Audra Dosumnu, I noticed a mention of her multi-talented husband’s forthcoming film, Restless City.  A look at IMDB led me to the site of the film’s Director of Photography, the Louisville, Kentucky born, Brooklyn-based Bradford Young. I was taken by the poetic beauty of the clip from the film Secrets in the House of Myrrh (Jackie Smith, director), as was, it seems, Filmmaker Magazine of his work. They recognized him as one to watch in 2009.

Restless City. “You are a young, vibrant West African immigrant. There is music in your blood and fearlessness in your heart. The streets of New York are your home, where you can do anything you want. What you gonna do?…” Andrew Dosumnu’s at the helm, his frequent collaborator Mobolaji Dawodu holds it down with the costumes and Anthony Okungbowa acts as Executive Producer and acts in the role of Bekay.  I look forward to the release later this year.

Revered filmmaker and Howard University professor Haile Gerima has been a mentor to many (he gave one of my besties, Tracey White, her first costume design gig on his acclaimed film Sankofa.) Winning the top prize at FESPACO, the Étalon de Yenenga (Stallion of Yenenga) and a New York Times Critics’ Pick for his new film, Teza, the independent filmmaker may finally get the larger audience his work deserves.  Set in Ethiopia and Germany, the film examines the displacement of African intellectuals  both at home and abroad. It is in the last week of its New York run at Village East Cinemas before moving on to Los Angeles.

Kenyan director Wahuri Kahiu’s futuristic Pumzi, (“breath” in Swahili”) is an exploration of Africanist Sci-Fi through a woman’s post-apocalyptic journey to restore life to a world ravaged by war 35 years prior. Well-reviewed at Sundance, it premiered in New York at the New York African Film Festival in April and screened soon after at Clinton Hill’s Le Grand Dakar.

In the monograph, Nollywood, photographer Pieter Hugo recreates striking, sometimes disturbing images of the many characters/archetypes featured in the second largest film industry in the world, after India’s Bollywood. (the debate now rages over the third place spot, the US or Hong Kong).

Nollywood opens with a short story, Omar Shariff Comes To Nollywood – A Storyboard In 10 Frames by author Chris Abani, and two essays: “No Going Back”, about the history of the business that is Nollywood, by filmmaker Zina Saro-Wiwa, and “Nollywood Confidential”, by writer and artist Stacy Hardy – of dis.grace fame – which is a fascinating exploration of her reactions to, and interpretations of, Hugo’s images.

– Book Southern Africa

Born in Bamako, Mali the multi-hyphenate writer, scholar and filmmaker Manthia Diawara has long pondered African politics and culture.  His latest book, African Film: New Forums of Aesthetics and Politics, which includes a dvd with author interviews is on pre-order at Amazon for a May 25 release.


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