It was announced about a month ago that Baz Luhrmann’s fantastical take on The Great Gatsby, will open the 2013 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, and Zulu, which stars Forest Whitaker and Orlando Bloom in a Cape Town, South Africa-set crime drama, will close the festival, which takes place next month.
My list takes a look at what African Diaspora films just might be selected to debut 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 event 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. So I certainly hope that this year’s line-up, unlike recent previous years, includes substantial representation of Diaspora films, 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 and fun on my part.
So without further ado, here’s the first list of 15+ projects that could debut at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
This first group are films that I think are the strongest candidates for this year. The level of “strength” will decrease with each group.
1 – Twelve Years A Slave: It was an absolute no-brainer as far I was concerned when I first put this list together last month; but, again, recent reports say that it might not be ready in time, and so may not debut at Cannes. Steve McQueen‘s 3rd feature which stars a rather impressive cast of actors, including Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Ruth Negga, Adepero Oduye, Alfre Woodard, Lupita Nyong’o, Paul Dano, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scoot McNairy, Garret Dillahunt, Brad Pitt, Michael K. Williams, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Paulson and others. Fox Searchlight set a December 27 USA release date for the film; but I’d be 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 Démé, Mariam Monory, Cyril 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 Newton, John Boyega, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dominic Cooper, Anika Noni Rose, Joseph 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. A Cannes birth will be perfectly-timed with the release of Adichie’s latest novel, Americanah.
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 Cusack, Alan Rickman, Jane Fonda, Melissa Leo, Liev Schreiber, Jesse Williams, Mariah Carey, Yaya 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 screen in competition (the key words here) at Cannes as well.
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-Raw, Miranda Richardson, Tom Wilkinson, Sarah Gadon, Sam 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?
Those are the *hot* five!
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!
The next group of 5 films are those that 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.
They may not be selected for the main competition, but could be for other out-of-competition categories.
6 – Nina: What I’m sure will be one of the most discussed films this year (assuming it’s released in the USA this year) is director Cyntia Mort’s Nina Simone project, starring Zoe Saldana in the title role. The film will tell the story of the late jazz musician and classical pianist, Nina Simone, including her rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo. Mike Epps plays Richard Pryor. Despite all the images we’ve seen of Saldana as Simone, I really have absolutely no idea what to expect of this film. None! I’m not familiar with Cynthia Mort’s work, and, although we read an early draft of the script (and reviewed it HERE), a lot may have changed since that draft. And even if nothing has changed, I’ll need to see some footage from the film first, to get a better feel for what the director and cast have done with the story they set out to tell. The film was shot last fall, and has been in post-production since November, where it probably still is currently. But a Cannes debut – out of competition, unless it’s just surprisingly above expectations – is a possibility. I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the French loved/love Nina, and she died there, her adopted homeland, in 2003.
7 – All Is By My Side: Another film based on the life of a real-life person, that’s been burdened with controversy since it started production. Andre Benjamins’s Jimi Hendrix project that didn’t have approval of Jimi Hendrix’s estate to use any of the musician’s original songs, with reps for the estate accusing the filmmakers of moving forward with the project without their official permission. That didn’t stop the production of the film, which was shot last summer in Ireland, and has been in post-production since then. The film will be free of all Hendrix-written classics like Purple Haze or The Wind Cries Mary, because of rights issues, and the producers actually set the film in “Hendrix’s pre-fame era,” as they said, and the music used will be covers of other musicians’ songs Hendrix performed. It was reported by Rolling Stone magazine last year that producers were planning to take the film to the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. Obviously that didn’t happen. Unless it was submitted, and rejected. A Cannes debut (likely out of competition) is possible, especially since it skipped Berlin, Rotterdam, SXSW, and Tribeca. The feature film is written and directed by John Ridley.
8 – Faire L’Amour: Haitian director Djinn Carrénard’s sophomore effort, Faire l’amour (or Making Love), will star the director, alongside Emma Nicolai and Laurette Lalande, from a screenplay he wrote. Djinn’s first film, Donoma, was reportedly made for a few hundred dollars; we saw it, and we were enthralled by it! It screened at Cannes, but as part of a sidebar program, L’ACID. He impressed critics and audiences with it, around the world, wherever it screened, including here in the USA, and I expect his second feature to do the same, starting with a Cannes 2013 premiere. The film, budgeted at €2.7 million, or about $3.5 million, is a considerable jump (from a few hundred dollars for his first film, to a few million for his second). Let’s see how that affects the end product. The film began production in the spring of last year, with shooting expected to take about nine weeks in Paris, so we can only assume it’s complete by now, or close to completion. Carrénard actually wrote Faire L’Amour before he made Donoma, and says that it’ll explore similar themes as that first film, which revolved around the dynamics of several, interconnected Paris couples. And also like Donoma, Faire L’Amour’s cast comprises of mostly amateur, first-time actors, which Carrénard selected from acting workshops he conducted earlier last year.
9 – White Elephants, A Congo Trilogy: An intriguing new documentary (and the first I’ve mentioned in this series) we’ve been following for about year, when it was said to be in pre-production, from Belgian/Brit director Kristof Bilsen. It’s a Congo (DRC)-set documentary feature which is an expansion of Bilsen’s critically-acclaimed short film titled White Elephants, and centers on the Central Post-Office in Kinshasa, and its employees. “This grandiose relic of the colonial past has trapped its employees in a frozen time-warp from which they are planning their escape. From past to present, through the cracks in the walls, and leaks in the ceilings, we glimpse present-day Congo.” The feature received lots of financial support from grant-giving institutions, and began shooting about a year ago. Last we checked, in the summer of 2012, a projected spring 2013 release date was said to eyed. And where else other than Cannes, in the spring, could the film premiere? We posted an early teaser of the film last year, which looks to now have been removed. As I recall of what I saw, it looked like a beautifully-composed and shot, meditative and even poetic piece of cinema; certainly not the pulsating vision of post-war DRC (Kinshasa specifically) that we saw in Djo Munga’s Viva Riva!.
10 – Soleils: Co-directed in Burkina Faso by Olivier Delahaye’s and Dani Kouyate, from a script by Delahaye, Soleils (which translates as Suns in English) tells the story of an old wise man who is entrusted with curing a young girl struck by amnesia. He takes her on a healing trip to Ouagadougou by way of the Cape, Berlin, Mali and Belgium. In their travels, which are full of surprises, they meet characters described as remarkable and luminous, or ignorant, with set ideas, as well as some fabulous creatures, and a text hidden deep in a continent that reveals a well kept secret: Africa has something to tell us. With a cast that includes Binda Ngazolo and Nina Melo, the project received a €350,000 advance on receipts from the French National Film and Moving Image Centre (CNC) last year – or about $430,000, to help with its budget. Principal photography began on June 4, with the film still in post-production, last we wrote about it in January, with plans for a debut this year. Some may be familiar with Kouyate’s past work – specifically the visually enthralling Sia, The Dream Of The Python, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2001 FESPACO event, amongst other accolades. This is his 3rd film. His films have done well at French film festivals, in and out of France, but none has screened at the grand-daddy of them all – Cannes. Maybe Soleils will be his first.
These were the *maybe* five!
The next group of 5+ films, are those I’m less confident will be selected for the festival this year (some don’t even seem to be complete, and others I don’t have much information on), but I think still might have a chance to do so for any number of reasons.
After the last 10 titles I’ve already mentioned, the pool of available films with strong Cannes prospects, starts to gets murkier. Not that there aren’t worthy titles left – there most certainly are – but the festival’s selection committee choices aren’t based entirely on how strong any given film is. Celebrity is also a factor; as well as the filmmaker’s history with the festival (hopefully he or she has one). And there are still other factors.
Digging through the S&A database, I see a lot of Diaspora films we’ve been following over the last 2 years that have yet to debut anywhere for one reason or another (often because, last we took a look at them, they weren’t complete; although some were close to completion), and very well could be selected to screen at the festival .
I can’t list every single one of those films; it’s a long list.
But those with some notoriety – whether because of the talent attached, or their marketing campaigns – include:
– Danny Glover in the upcoming slave uprising film, Tula, The Revolt, from Dutch director Jeroen Leinders, which is based on a true story about a slave uprising on the island of Curacao, a Dutch colony in 1795, and the man called Tula, who stood up against his oppressors, and led the revolt that would last about a month. Glover leads a pack of international actors (which might be appealing to Cannes) that also includes Obi Abili, Jeroen Krabbé,Derek de Lint, Henriette Tol and Barry Hay. Obi Abili (a UK actor of Nigerian decent) stars in the film as the titular Tula, while Glover plays Shinishi, the elder of the group. The film is currently in post-production, as the filmmakers have long planned to release it in 2013, a year that marks the 150th anniversary since slavery was finally abolished on the island of Curacao (1863). They did announce (after I first posted my predictions list), that they plan to premiere the film in The Netherlands over the summer; but a Cannes preview could be enticing.
– Rodney Evans doesn’t have a history with Cannes, and his films have mostly premiered at Stateside festivals (Sundance, for example). Might his next film be the first? He’s the acclaimed writer/producer/director of Brother To Brother, his 2004 debut feature – a drama that looks back on the creative energy of cultural revolution during the Harlem Renaissance from the perspective of an elderly black writer who meets a gay teenager in a New York homeless shelter. The moody film, which starred Anthony Mackie before he became ANTHONY MACKIE, won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004, and was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards in four categories in 2005. Rodney has been buried in post-production on his 2nd feature film titled The Happy Sad, which follows two couples, one black and one white, whose lives collide as they navigate open relationships and sexual identity. Principal photography actually wrapped in July of 2011, and I expected it to make its world debut at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. However, as Rodney announced on Facebook the night before Sundance unveiled its lineup, he didn’t even submit his film to the festival, and instead chose to take his time in post production, rather than rush to get it into the festival! But it didn’t premiere at Sundance this year either, as I also thought it would. And it skipped the other majors like Rotterdam, Berlin, SXSW, and Tribeca, so I’m left to wonder if Rodney might be eyeing a Cannes debut – not necessarily in competition, but in one of the sidebars. We’ll see…
– And across the pond there’s Gone Too Far, a feature film project written by Bola Agbaje, and directed by Destiny Ekaragha (both Nigerian Brits). It’s a project we first alerted you to over a year ago, when it was selected as one of 12 shortlisted for Film London’s 4-day boot camp. Skip ahead a year later, to news that the British Film Institute and Poisson Rouge Pictures had teamed to finance Gone Too Far, a coming of age comedy based in Peckham, which is based on Agbaje’s Olivier award-winning play, about two brothers in a run-down part of South London. The film will be Destiny Ekaragha’s feature-length directorial debut. On our last entry on the project, in early October, production was scheduled to begin with four weeks of shooting. The film is currently in post-production.
– To the north, I’m wondering if we’ll finally see something from Canadian filmmaker, Clement Virgo. Since 2010 we’ve announced at least 3 new different projects of his. But there’s no clear indication of where all of them stand – except for his adaptation of The Book Of Negroes, which we now know will be a mini-series instead of a feature film, which won’t be shot anytime soon. But there was also his announced remake of The Harder They Come – the 1972 Jamaican crime drama classic, which starred reggae legend Jimmy Cliff as an aspiring musician lured into a life of crime. As well as a more recent project (announced early last year), titled A Royal Day, described as a drama/thriller, and which “charts
the meteoric rise of Montreal Royals player Jackie Robinson and the
desperate machinations of an assassin hired to exterminate the rising
superstar.” Needless to say, we were intrigued when we heard about this story. Whether either of these 2 projects, or some other one that we don’t know about, will materialize this spring is anyone’s guess.
– Other names attached to projects that we’ve profiled in the last couple of years include Djo Tunda Wa Munga (his last film, Viva Riva!, made an international splash in 2011, and he’s been developing a crime drama titled Inspector Lou with South African producer Steven Markovitz).
Markovitz also partnered up with Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu for a feature film project titled Jambula Tree – a South African-Kenya co-production. Plot details on Jambula Tree are being kept under wraps for now, although we can tell you that, broadly, it centers on 2 Kenyan girls, on 2 different paths, and the difficult decisions each has to make about the life each leads, and the ramifications of those choices. The project was shopped at the Cannes Market last year, and won some funding awards later – one from Arte France specifically.
Another Kenyan filmmaker is Hawa Essuman, whose supernatural screenplay, Djin, had been steadily collecting chunks of financing at various international film markets, but I don’t believe she’s even begun shooting it yet.
And then there’s Senegalese director Dyana Gaye’s feature film debut, one that we’ve been following for some time, as it’s traveled the international film marketplace, attracting acclaim, and funding, titled Des Etoiles (or, in English, Stars). The project has been awarded numerous cash accolades over the last couple of years. It was one of 15 projects selected for the Cannes L’Atelier last year – an initiative which runs during the Cannes Film Festival aimed at finding financing for projects by upcoming directors that are in an advanced state of development. So with some Cannes history, her feature film, whenever it’s done, might be on the selection committee’s short list.
And there are still others… like those countless co-production projects that we’ve profiled over the last 2 years, but that I can’t be certain of where exactly in the production process each one stands, because of a lack of available information, and just not being able to reach anyone involved in the film.
There are several projects in the works from North Africa especially – Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, notably – thanks in large part to a number of initiatives like Euromed Audiovisual III which supports cinema in the South Mediterranean region through financing and other partner deals. There’s a lot of film activity in that area that we simply don’t cover enough of.
And there are other regions where we might see some surprises. For example, there hasn’t been very much participation by filmmakers from the Caribbean (with films about people of the Caribbean), in Cannes’ history. And unfortunately, I can’t think of one feature film title that could premiere at the festival this year. But, like I said, there are regions where we might see a surprise or two, when the official lineup is finally unveiled.
And there are still other Sub-Saharan African countries with co-production deals (many with the French) that we’ve covered in the last 2 years, but don’t have enough information on where they stand, to make any calls. South Africa, for example, has several co-production treaties with other nations, and is currently enjoying quite an explosion of cinema – especially with black South African talents both in front of and behind the camera. I haven’t mentioned any South African titles yet, but you might recall that, at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the South African National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF) led a delegation to the 65th Cannes Film Festival, with a handful of films. The goal was to demonstrate that South African cinema can compete on the international stage, and that stories by South African filmmakers can resonate in the international market place. I’m sure the NFVF will return again this year with another package of films. But there might be one South African film that is directly selected by the Cannes committee.
Overall, Diaspora participation at Cannes is usually quite low, so, even though I’ve listed several titles here that have the potential to be selected by the selection committee, I’m not expecting to find more than 3 or 4 Diaspora-interest feature films in the festival’s full lineup – in competition, out of competition, etc.
And this year probably won’t surprise me. So it goes…
Of course, there’s the Marché du Film (the Cannes film market), as well as the Court Métrage (the Short Film Corner), where the Diaspora is usually better represented, and we will cover those as much as we can, as we’ve done in past years.
Until tomorrow then…