AFI Silver’s 2014 New African Films Festival, kicks off tomorrow, March 13, and runs through the 20th, at the historic AFI Silver Theatre, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Presented by the American Film Institute, TransAfrica and afrikafé, the festival, now in its 10th year, showcases the year’s best in African filmmaking.
This year’s selection of films includes multiple award-winners, international festival favorites, local box-office hits and debut works by promising new talents from 15 diverse nations – all films that you would be familiar with, given that we’ve covered them on this blog, in some cases, quite comprehensively.
Other highlights of the 2014 film festival include Difret (Ethiopia), which recently won the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival; B For Boy (Nigeria), 2013 AFI Fest’s Breakthrough Audience Award Winner; Chad’s 2013 Oscar Submission Grigris; Something Necessary (Kenya) and Under The Starry Sky (Senegal), Aya Of Yop City (Ivory Coast), a humorous animated adaption of a popular graphic novel series; The Forgotten Kingdom, the first feature film produced in Lesotho; and two family-friendly films, Horizon Beautiful (Ethiopia) and Felix (South Africa).
The filmmaking team of DIFRET, director and screenwriter Zeresenay Berhane Mehari and producer Mehret Mandefro, will be present for the screening of their film on March 15.
The festival’s full lineup follows below, along with screening days and times:
HALF OF A YELLOW SUN
Opening Night: Thu, Mar 13, 7:15 (also screening Sun, Mar 16, 1:00 w/ author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in person)
Nigerian-born British playwright Biyi Bandele translates Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful prize-winning novel of the same name into an emotional drama that gives voice to personal stories of the indignities and atrocities suffered during the Nigerian Civil War. Set in the late ’60s, the film’s main characters, Olanna (Thandie Newton, CRASH), her sister Kainene (Anika Noni Rose, DREAMGIRLS) and Olanna’s revolutionary boyfriend, Odenigbo (Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 YEARS A SLAVE), are forced to make bold choices in order to navigate the complex social terrain mapped out by Nigeria’s ethnic, political and religious divide, and survive. In a time when traditional life is at odds with the modern intellectual and economic aspirations of young Nigerians, the growing cultural divide between rural and urban life brings new challenges to a generation whose dreams would propel the country into the future. This film provides a rare and unique glimpse at this struggle for self-determination. (Note courtesy of AFI FEST.) Official Selection, 2013 Toronto Film Festival and AFI FEST. DIR/SCR Biyi Bandele; PROD Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan. Nigeria/UK, 2013, color, 106 min. In English. NOT RATED
BURN IT UP DJASSA [Le Djassa a pris feu]
Thu, Mar 13, 9:30; Thu, Mar 20, 6:00
Twenty-five-year-old Tony and his younger sister Ange live together in a one-room apartment ever since the death of their mother. One night, hawking cigarettes to eke out a living, Tony joins a game of poker, starts winning and discovers a fast way of making cash. But his lucky streak can’t last forever and he quickly descends into the violent world of the “djassa” (ghetto in Abidjan street slang). An urban legend set to the rhythm of slam poetry and the beat of street dance, this vérité noir from filmmaker Lonesome Solo announces an exciting new talent and emerging vision from the Ivory Coast. Official Selection, 2012 Toronto Film Festival, 2013 Berlin Film Festival. DIR/SCR Lonesome Solo; SCR Delphine Jaquet, Yacouba Soumahoro, Ange Ali Sanogo; PROD Philippe Lacôte. Ivory Coast, 2012, color, 70 min. In French and Nouchi with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Fri, Mar 14, 6:00; Thu, Mar 20, 9:30
Cameroonian filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekolo (QUARTIER MOZART, LES SAIGNANTES) is one of the most intriguing directors in Africa, unafraid to challenge either political or conceptual boundaries. His newest work uses split-screens (at times, up to four images simultaneously) to present a fake documentary in which “the president” has disappeared; talk-show hosts, rivals, politicians and even rappers chime in on what may have occurred, and what their president for life has—or has not—done for Cameroon. “Being president means living the Hollywood dream,” wryly notes one commentator; this film, mixing reality, fiction, interviews and staged scenes, finds life and reason not in Hollywood, but in its own homeland. “We shouldn’t just be making movies, we should be changing reality,” charges Bekolo. This formally inventive, angry and at times humorous work begins the process. (Note courtesy of Pacific Film Archive.) DIR/PROD Jean-Pierre Bekolo; SCR Simon Njami. Cameroon/Germany, 2013, color, 64 min. In French with English subtitles. NOT RATED
THE FORGOTTEN KINGDOM
Fri, Mar 14, 7:30
Atang leaves the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg to return to his ancestral land of Lesotho, where he must bury his estranged father in the remote, mountainous village where he was born. What begins as an inconvenience quickly becomes a magical rite of passage charged with humor and self-discovery. Stirred by memories of his youth, Atang’s journey takes an unexpected turn as he falls in love with his childhood friend, now a radiant young schoolteacher. Together with an 11-year-old orphan, they make the arduous journey across the breathtaking mountains of Lesotho to follow his love. Beautifully shot, written and acted, this epic and groundbreaking film is a pilgrimage of hope, family and maturity as Atang surrenders to the rhythm and traditions of his homeland. Audience Award, 2013 Woodstock and Sarasota Film Festivals. Official Selection, 2013 Palm Springs and Seattle Film Festivals.
DIR/SCR/PROD Andrew Mudge; PROD Timothy R. Boyce, Jr., Pieter Lombaard, Cecil Matlou. Lesotho/South Africa/US, 2013, color, 96 min. In Sesotho with English subtitles. NOT RATED
UNDER THE STARRY SKY
Fri, Mar 14, 9:30; Mon, Mar 17, 9:30
In her feature film debut, Franco-Senegalese filmmaker Dyana Gaye charts a transcontinental voyage of accidental encounters and diasporic longing. Set under the skies of three cities—Turin, New York and Dakar—the film follows the fates of three characters connected by destiny. Sophie, a young bride from Senegal, travels to Turin in search of her husband Abdoulaye, who left Dakar without papers to seek work in the Italian city. Abdoulaye has already left Turin for New York, lured by his cousin and promises of a better future. Meanwhile, Sophie’s aunt in New York returns to Dakar to bury the husband she left 20 years before. With a careful eye and quiet intensity, Gaye fills each frame with the anxieties and interior struggles of her uncertain and undocumented travelers. A beautifully crafted meditation on place and belonging in an ever-globalizing, yet often unwelcoming, world. (Note courtesy of the Pacific Cinémathèque.) Official Selection, 2013 Toronto Film Festival. DIR/SCR Dyana Gaye; SCR Cécile Vargaftig; PROD Arnaud Dommerc. Senegal/Belgium/France, 2013, color, 87 min. In French, Wolof, English and Italian with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sat, Mar 15, 1:00
Soccer-industry mogul Franz travels to Addis Ababa on a promotional tour, hoping to save his damaged reputation. Admassu is a 12-year old street kid, hoping to get the chance to show off his fancy footwork to the big boss himself. But when Franz brushes him aside, Admassu talks a rag-tag group of thugs into “kidnapping” the Swiss head honcho, while secretly planning to serve as his liberator—effectively forcing him to open the doors to the big leagues. But not everything goes according to plan in this charming crowd-pleaser, and the odd couple end up lost in the Ethiopian wilderness, fighting to make it back to Addis Ababa. A joyous film for the whole family. DIR/PROD Stefan Jäger; SCR Ephrem Alemu, Mikyias Efram, Oliver Keidel, Abiange Tahun; PROD Stefan Gubser. Ethiopia/Switzerland, 2013, color, 90 min. In English and Amharic with English subtitles. NOT RATED (Recommended for ages 8 and up.)
AYA OF YOP CITY
Sat, Mar 15, 3:00
Based on the hugely popular series of graphic novels by husband-and-wife team Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie, this feature adaptation follows 19-year-old Aya of Yop City (a.k.a. Abidjan, Ivory Coast) during the mid-1970s. Surrounded by a loving family, Aya must balance her ambitions to study medicine with her family’s wish that she drop everything and get married. Her two best friends aren’t making it easier, more concerned with hairdos, hot fashions and husband-hunting than getting set on a career path. Vibrantly animated and backed with a groovy vintage soundtrack, this coming-of-age comedy makes the successful leap from page to screen.
DIR/SCR Marguerite Abouet; DIR/PROD Clément Oubrerie; PROD Antoine Delesvaux, Joann Sfar. France, 2013, color, 84 min. In French with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sat, Mar 15, 5:00
Anne struggles to rebuild her life after Kenya’s civil unrest has killed her husband, gravely injured her son and left her isolated farm in ruins. Joseph, a quiet and troubled young gang member who took part in the countrywide violence, is drawn to Anne and her farm, seemingly in search of connection and redemption. This powerful story of forgiveness and reconciliation presents an intimate look at the aftermath of violence on both perpetrators and victims. From the producers of NAIROBI HALF LIFE (2013 New African Films Festival), this elegant and complex film from director Judy Kibinge proves that all wounds can heal, no matter how deep. Official Selection, 2013 Toronto, Chicago, Vancouver Film Festivals.
DIR Judy Kibinge; SCR Mungai Kiroga, JC Niala; PROD Sarika Hemi Lakhani, Tom Tykwer, Ginger Wilson. Kenya/Germany, 2013, color, 85 min. In Swahili with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sat, Mar 15, 7:00
In person: director Zeresenary Mehari and producer Mehret Mandefro
Ethiopia, 1996. Meaza is an empowered lawyer who provides free legal-aid services to poor women and children in need. Her life changes forever when she takes on the case of Hirut, a 14-year-old girl charged with the murder of her abductor and would-be husband. Inspired by this young girl’s courage, Meaza embarks on a long, tenacious battle to save Hirut’s life. First-time filmmaker Zeresenay Mehari has crafted a beautiful and important film, capturing Ethiopia in flux, grappling with traditions and looking towards the future. Based on a true story and executive produced by Angelina Jolie. Official Selection, 2014 Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Zeresenay Mehari; PROD Mehret Mandefro, Leelai Demoz. Ethiopia, 2014, color, 99 min. In Amharic with English subtitles. NOT RATED
B FOR BOY
Breakthrough Audience Award, 2013 AFI Fest
Sat, Mar 15, 9:40; Tue, Mar 18, 7:00
Director Chika Anadu’s remarkable debut feature is a scathing critique of Nigeria’s patriarchal social order. Her protagonist, Amaka, maintains a happy marriage, raises a 7-year-old daughter and runs her own successful business, yet her failure to produce a son for her husband makes her a target of derision among family, friends and neighbors. Lead actress Uche Nwadili creates a gripping portrait of a poised, confident woman sinking further and further into a tangled nightmare as she desperately tries to hold onto the life she’s spent 40 years building. (Note courtesy of AFI FEST.) Official Selection, 2013 AFI FEST, BFI London, 2014 Rotterdam Film Festivals.
DIR/SCR/PROD Chika Anadu; PROD Arie Esiri. Nigeria, 2013, color, 118 min. In Ibo with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sun, Mar 16, 4:00
Thirteen-year-old Felix dreams of becoming a saxophonist like his late father, but his mother Lindiwe thinks jazz is the devil’s music. When Felix leaves his township friends to take up a scholarship at an elite private school, he defies his mother and turns to two aging members of his father’s old band to help him prepare for the school jazz concert. A crowd-pleaser for the whole family filled with joyous Cape Jazz, this film won the audience award at the prestigious Durban Film Festival in South Africa. Official Selection, 2013 BFI London and Vancouver Film Festival.
DIR/PROD Roberta Durrant; SCR Shirley Johnson. South Africa, 2013, color, 97 min. In English. NOT RATED (Recommended for ages 9 and up.)
Sun, Mar 16, 6:00; Wed, Mar 19, 9:30
At 20, Ninah is a veteran wife of seven years and a mother of three who is stuck in an abusive relationship with no hope of change. When news of her gravely ill father reaches her, she disobeys her husband’s orders not to go so she can speak her piece to the man who put her in bondage. After her father’s death, Ninah refuses to return home and stays instead to run a small restaurant. When news reaches her husband that Ninah is pregnant, he comes to recover the dowry he paid or take home the woman he owns—by any means necessary. Best Film, 2012 Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival. Official Selection, 2013 Rotterdam Film Festival. DIR/SCR/PROD Victor Viyouh; PROD Che Hilairius Fuh, Daniel Tan. Cameroon/US, 2012, color, 95 min. In English, Pidgin and Babanki with English subtitles. NOT RATED
THE KAMPALA STORY
Sun, Mar 16, 8:00; Wed, Mar 19, 6:00
Fourteen-year-old Karamojong girl Apio lives with her mother in the windswept plains of Uganda, surviving on money wired from her father in the capital, Kampala. But when Apio’s mother is pregnant and seriously ill, her father is nowhere to be found. Armed with northing more than a piece of paper with her father’s name, Apio sets off on a life-changing journey to Kampala to get the money for her mother’s surgery. Stunningly photographed in a quasi-documentary style, filmmakers Donald Mughisha and Kasper Bisgaard have melded a delicate coming-of-age story with an affecting portrait of one of Africa’s great cities. Official Selection, 2013 Seattle Film Festival. DIR/SCR Kasper Bisgaard, Donald Mugisha; PROD Tine Fischer, Patricia Drati Rønde. Uganda, 2012, color, 62 min. In Luganda with English subtitles. NOT RATED
IMBABAZI: THE PARDON
Sun, Mar 16, 9:30; Tue, Mar 18, 5:15
In Rwanda in 1994, Manzi and Karemera are best friends who seem to be inseparable, until the inexorable forces of history and violence tear them apart. After the death of Rwanda’s Hutu president plunges the country into ethnic civil war, Manzi must choose between friendship and family, and Karemera pays the horrific price. Fifteen years later, news of Manzi’s release from prison throws Karemera’s life into chaos. Karemera attempts to return his childhood friend to prison, while Manzi struggles with his own guilt. As the former friends search for justice and absolution, they both find themselves at odds with a society eager to forget the trauma of the past. Can Manzi and Karemera remain true to themselves and also come to terms with their past? Official Selection, 2013 Chicago and Seattle Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Joel Karekezi; PROD Veronique Doumbe, Casey Schroen. Rwanda, 2013, color, 73 min. In English. NOT RATED
Mon, Mar 17, 5:15; Tue, Mar 18, 9:30
A real estate developer, on the brink of bankruptcy, travels with his wife to a lavish and remote glass house bordering an informal settlement on a sweeping landscape in the Western Cape of South Africa. He is desperate to sell it. When his wife inexplicably goes missing, stifled by a sense of looming distrust and financial pressure, he is caught in a maze of missteps and uncertainty. What transpires within the walls of the glass house then has little to do with money and everything to do with the human condition: souls are left pondering the line between what is real and what is perceived. Official Selection, 2012 Durban Film Festival, 2013 Slamdance, Berlin Film Festivals. DIR/SCR Harry Patramanis; SCR Jonathan Glatzer; PROD Eleni Asvesta. South Africa/Greece/US, 2013, color, 96 min. In English. NOT RATED
2013, Oscar Submission for Best Foreign Language Film, Chad
Mon, Mar 17, 7:20
Despite a bum leg, 25-year-old Grigris has hopes of becoming a professional dancer, making some extra cash putting his killer moves to good use on the dance floor of his local club every weekend. His dreams are tested when his stepfather falls critically ill and he’s forced to risk his future by smuggling oil to pay the hospital bills. When he befriends Mimi, a beautiful but damaged prostitute, the two try to start a new life together. But as bad decisions begin to catch up with them, they’ll have to run for their lives. Their pasts, however, are never far behind, bringing them to a perilous climax. Vulcan Award for technical achievement, 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Official Selection, BFI London, Chicago, Philadelphia, Karlovy Vary Film Festivals. DIR/SCR Mahamat-Saleh Haroun; PROD Florence Stern. Chad/France, 2013, color, 101 min. In French and Arabic with English subtitles. NOT RATED
THE LAST FISHING BOAT
Wed, Mar 19, 7:20
Yusufu, a once-successful fisherman on Lake Malawi, is now struggling due to the depletion of fish in the lake, while his cultural values are being threatened by the expanding tourist industry. His son, whom he had hoped would be a fisherman, has become a tourist guide and rumors abound that he sleeps with both female and male tourists for money, while his young and beautiful third wife is torn between loyalty to her husband and the endless sexual overtures of a white tourist. The story develops into a cultural clash between traditional African values and modernization. (Note courtesy of Zanzibar Film Festival.) Best Narrative Film, 2013 Silicon Valley African Film Festival. DIR/SCR/PROD Shemu Joyah. Malwai, 2012, color, 110 min. In English and Chichewa with English subtitles. NOT RATED
THE GREAT KILAPY [O Grande Kilapy]
Thu, Mar 20, 7:30
Set in the period from the 1960s to the mid-1970s and on the eve of Angola’s independence from Portugal, João Fraga is a charming, good-hearted playboy and irresistible bon vivant, who appears to slip into a life of crime in order to support his affluent lifestyle. When he pulls off a massive swindle at the expense of the Portuguese colonial administration in Angola, he becomes a subversive political figure and is persecuted by the Portuguese dictatorship. Inspired by a real figure, Angolan director Zézé Gamboa’s decade-spanning historical drama is a refreshing take on the national liberation story in southern Africa and turns its conventions upside down with elegance and humor. Shot in sepia tones, this film stars the number one African Brazilian actor Lázaro Ramos (MADAME SATA), João Lagarto and Pedro Hossi. (Note courtesy of Pan African Film Festival.) Official Selection, 2012 Toronto Film Festival. DIR Zézé Gamboa; SCR Luís Alvarães, Luis Carlos Patraquim; PROD Fernando Vendrell. Angola/Portugal/Brazil, 2012, color, 100 min. In Portuguese with English subtitles. NOT RATED
The festival runs March 13-20.