Tomorrow morning, the 2014 edition of the Cannes Film Festival (the most prestigious international film festival) will make its official feature film selection announcement, and, as is the case every year, film industry news outlets have all been publishing their predictions lists. It’s a thrilling little game we all like to play. Except, for us here at S&A, it’s not as much fun, since there’s often very little in terms of cinema of the African diaspora, selected to screen at the festival.
Conversations about reasons for that abound here on this blog and elsewhere, with the most obvious being that the kind of work necessary to compete (or even screen out of competition) at the festival just isn’t plentiful, unfortunately, and thus there’s a rather tiny pool of eligibles to choose from (and reasons for that are also sources of debate). But it won’t always be that way, I’m sure.
Earlier today, I published an entry announcing that Stone Cars, a 14-minute short by writer/director Reinaldo Marcus Green (brother of Rashaad Ernesto Green, director of the critically-lauded 2011 drama Gun Hill Road), was selected for the Cinéfondation section, which picks 15 to 20 short and medium-length films each year, presented by film schools from all over the world.
This year’s edition of the festival will run from May 14 – 25, and while I won’t personally there, as has been the case every year, I’ll ensure that we’ll get reviews of films of interest to this blog, given its mission.
And ahead of tomorrow’s much-anticipated announcement of this year’s official feature film selections, I thought I’d take a look at what African Diaspora films just might make the cut. Digging through the S&A database, I came across a few Diaspora films that we’ve been tracking in recent years, that have yet to debut anywhere for one reason or another (often they are incomplete, due to a lack of financing). Some of these titles very well could be selected to screen at this year’s festival.
Of course, I’m not on the selection committee, so this is all just conjecture on my part. And it was a challenge coming up with this short list, because, as I said already, pickings are slim this year. Of course, there are always those films that I know absolutely nothing of, and I’ll learn about for the very first time tomorrow when the festival makes its announcement – something which I actually really look forward to. Discovering new projects is always exciting. So let’s see what Thursday brings.
Without further ado, here’s the list of 10 films that I think are the strongest candidates this year, in no particular order:
1 – 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 2 years ago, but as part of a sidebar program. 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 2012, 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.
2 – 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) 2 years – or about $430,000, to help with its budget. Principal photography began on June 4, 2012, followed by a lengthy post-production period, thanks, in part, to some digital effects within the film. 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.
3 – 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 in the fall of 2012, and has seemingly been in post-production since then. I thought it would’ve premiered last year – at Toronto – as well as at Sundance this year, but it didn’t screen at either, which left me uncertain about its future. So I won’t be surprised if a Cannes debut (whether in or out of competition) happens. I’d be remiss if I didn’t add that the French loved/love Nina, and she did die in that country, her adopted homeland, in 2003.
4 – White Elephants, A Congo Trilogy: An intriguing new documentary (and the first I’ve mentioned in this series) based on the footage I’ve seen of it thus far, 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 plenty of financial support from grant-giving institutions, and began shooting about 2 years ago. In early 2013, a projected spring 2013 release date was said to eyed, but that never happened. A year later, a spring 2014 debut date might be in its future. And where else other than Cannes, in the spring, could the film premiere? We posted an early teaser of the film last year – a beautifully-composed and shot, meditative and seemingly poetic piece of cinema; Certainly not the pulsating vision of post-war DRC (Kinshasa specifically) that we saw in Djo Munga’s Viva Riva!.
5 – Côte d’Ivoire native Philippe Lacôte’s feature film debut, Run, which was one of 15 projects selected for the Cannes L’Atelier in 2012 – 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. The synopsis reads: Run is running away… He has just killed his country’s prime minister. To escape, he has taken on the face and clothes of a madman, wandering throughout the town for months. Run speaks of his “transformation into a madman.” He tells the tale of his chaotic journey, like that of the Ivory Coast, by deliberately placing himself beyond the edge of reason. His life returns to him in flashes: his childhood with Master Tourou, when he dreamt of becoming a rainmaker; his incredible adventures with Greedy Gladys, and his past in the militia as a Young Patriot. Run has not chosen all of these lives. He has stumbled into them, escaping from one life to another. This is why he is called “Run.” The film’s starring cast includes Isaach de Bankole (likely the most familiar to American audiences; he recently starred in Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother Of George), Abdoul Karim Konate (he stars in Bamba Souleymane’s Burn It Up Djassa) and Rasmane Ouedraogo (the veteran featured in films like Ousmane Sembene’s Moolaadé). By the way, a short film by director Lacôte is currently traveling with the African Metropolis initiative, which features 7 African directors, each exploring their own “African Metropolis” on film. This should give Stateside audiences a first glimpse at the filmmaker’s work, while we wait for his feature debut, Run, to debut. The fact that it was selected for the Cannes L’Atelier film financing summit 2 years ago, bodes very well for the project premiering at Cannes (even if it’s not this year). The festival has essentially already given the film its stamp of approval, and the logical next step would be to make it an official selection. the project has already been the recipient of a number of cash awards, grants and such, including a CNC grant and the Pitching Prize in the Amiens Festival 2011.
Click over for the second 5 films…
6 – Spike Lee’s feature documentary Go Brazil, Go!, which will focus on the rise of that country (on the move, particularly politically and economically) on the international scene, as one of the so-called BRICS countries, an acronym that refers to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, gradually shifting global economic power away from the so-called long-dominating developed G7 economies. It is estimated that BRIC economies will overtake G7 economies by 2027, as the balance of power gradually shifts. From 2011 to 2012, in terms of GDP (gross domestic product), Brazil overtook both France and the UK, making it the world’s 6th largest economy. To be included in the documentary are interviews Spike will have with former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and artists like Gilberto Gil, Jorge Ben Jor, Chico Buarque and soccer icon Pele. Spike also visited the headquarters of the Afro-Reggae NGO known for offering opportunities through music to favela kids, where he held interviews as well; Also included are Brazilian actors, as well as community leaders in São Paulo & Rio de Janeiro, and much more. Spike has been vocal with criticism of the lack of black Brazilians in positions of power in the country, and he plans to address the racial discrimination question within the film. So, while the film will most certainly have as a central focus, the country’s advances on the international scene, it will also delve deep into the contradictions of a country that has as a principal feature, the diversity of races. The Brazilian government approached him to make the film by the way. It was said that his plan was to have the documentary ready in time for the 2014 World Cup, which will be hosted by Brazil, in May of this year. So a Cannes debut, ahead of the World Cup, could be in the cards.
7 – And speaking of soccer and Brazil, Exclusive Media’s Pelé biopic, which the company took to the Marché du Film (Cannes Film Market) last year, to sell international rights. Arguably the greatest footballer of all time, Pelé (born Edison Arantes do Nascimento) is the subject of this scripted feature film (not a documentary) backed by Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment. Jeff and Michael Zimbalist are co-writers and co-directors of the film which, according to Imagine Entertainment, is more of a coming-of-age story that will trace Pele’s childhood until he won his first World Cup in Sweden at the age of 17. Leonardo Lima Carvalho as Pelé at age 10 years old, and Kevin de Paula, who plays Pelé from ages 13 to 17, when he won his first World Cup, in 1958. Principal photography wrapped last fall, after a summer Brazil shootr, with the goal being to release the film prior to the 2014 World Cup. And just like Spike’s documentary above, I think a Cannes Film Festival debut wouldn’t be out of the question. Vincent D’Onofrio, Rodrigo Santoro, Diego Boneta, Colm Meaney and Seu Jorge all round out the cast of the film.
8 – Cairo-set action thriller titled The Cat, from Egyptian filmmaker Ibrahim El Batout (Winter of Discontent), which centers on the very topical subject of human organ trafficking in Egypt, with Amr Waked (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) producing and starring. Egypt’s recent political upheavals, which left a law enforcement gap in the country, reportedly allowed mob-led organ-trafficking rings to thrive, and that is where the film takes its inspiration. Also attached to star are Palestinian actor Mohammad Bakri, Egyptian actress-model Sarah Shaheen, and Egyptian actor Salah Al Hanafy, who played the sadistic security officer in El Batout’s Winter of Discontent (a film that was selected as the Egyptian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards, but was not nominated). The Cat is produced by Waked and Al Hanafy’s Zad Communication & Production, which they launched after the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising to make films depicting Egypt from new, uncensored angles. Production on The Cat took place last summer, and, has been in post-production at Paris-based Knightworks, so it could very well be ready to debut at Cannes 2014.
9 – An outside shot, a second Spike Lee project, his Kickstarter-funded “blood addiction” joint – which he’s titled Da Sweet Blood of Jesus – a film that I argued was likely a remake, or a re-imagining of Bill Gunn’s woefully-underseen 1973 film that revolutionized the vampire film, Ganja & Hess – a film that was suppressed in the United States because it wasn’t the Hollywood genre film that its producers had commissioned writer/director Bill Gunn to make. While the film’s plot is still being kept a secret, Spike has given us a few clues since the project was first announced last year – specifically, that the film will focus on human beings addicted to blood (although, as he repeatedly emphasized, it’s not a vampire movie), and that there’ll be lots of nudity. He’s also stressed his need for secrecy, because, apparently, the element of surprise is necessary for audiences to appropriately enjoy and appreciate the film, so we may never know exactly what the film is really about until we see it. The film’s cast boasts Michael K. Williams, Stephen Tyrone Williams (the film’s male lead) and Zaraah Abrahams (the film’s leading lady) – a perfect numerical match for the trio of actors who starred in Ganja & Hess – Bill Gunn (as George Meda), Duane Jones (as the film’s male lead, Dr Hess Green) and Marlene Clark (as the film’s leading lady, Ganja Meda). Spike has said that he’s been aiming for a summer 2014 theatrical run for the film. The film has been in post-production for a few months – most recently, in February, Spike announced a call for indie musicians interested in having their work added to the film’s soundtrack. I don’t expect it to screen at Cannes (Spike does have a history with the festival), but I won’t be surprised if it does, whether in or out of competition, ahead of its theatrical debut in the USA in a few months. Early Cannes Film Festival buzz would certainly help.
10 – And finally, also an outside shot, is Julien Temple’s Marvin Gaye biopic, Sexual Healing, starring Jesse L. Martin (as Gaye), S. Epatha Merkerson (as Marvin’s Gaye’s mother, Alberta Cooper Gay), and Dwight Henry (as Marvin Gaye’s father, Marvin Gay, Sr.). But, I’m assuming that the project finally got over its financial hurdles last year. To recap… last spring, production on the film stalled. The suspension was said to be due to an unavailability of certain locations, which led to an unavailability of certain cast members, although we weren’t told where and/or who exactly. At the time, it was reported that some 70% of the shoot had already been completed. Crew members were said to have not been paid fully for their work on the film, with one of the film’s producers, Jimmy De Brabant, stating that there was apparently a cash flow problem with the American investor backing the film; although he added that the funding that was promised by this investor had not yet arrived, and emphasized patience with the film’s cast and crew, suggesting that the money was indeed coming. So if you believed him, the money came eventually, production continued, everyone got paid, and a film has been made. The film is set in the early 1980s, and focuses on the making of the Midnight Love album, while Gaye was living in Belgium – a drug addict, considered something of a has-been at the time.
So what’s left?
Other names attached to projects that we’ve profiled in the last couple of years that could be announced as 2014 Cannes selections, tomorrow 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; although I haven’t heard a single thing about the prokect since I was first alerted to it over 2 years ago).
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 2 years ago, and has since won some financing awards/ grants.
Another outside shot is Kenyan filmmaker, Hawa Essuman’s supernatural thriller, Djin, which had been steadily collecting chunks of financing at various international film markets, but she may not even have begun shooting it yet.
Finally there are 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 with each.
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 Cannes Film Festival participation by filmmakers from the Caribbean (with films about people of the Caribbean), in Cannes’ history – specifically feature films selected to screen in competition, or in any of the major feature film categories. And unfortunately, I can’t think of one feature film title from the region that could premiere at the festival this year. But like I said, there are areas where we might see a surprise or two, when the official lineup is finally unveiled tomorrow.
And there are still other Sub-Saharan African countries with co-production deals (many with the French) that i came across as I dug through the S&A database, 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 in cinema – especially with black South African talents both in front of and behind the camera. You might recall that efforts by the South African National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF) internationally, traveling with delegations to prestige festivals around the world, to showcase films, and promote co-productions. The goal is 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’d guess that 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, as I already said, so, even though I’ve listed several titles here that have the potential to be selected by the selection committee, I’m sadly never expecting to find more than 3 or 4 Diaspora 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.
There very well could be a selection or two that we’ve never heard of. The S&A database is deep, but we do miss a few things here and there, and I’m looking forward to finding out what those *unknown* titles might be tomorrow – assuming there will be any. It’s always fun discovering new projects!