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14 African Diaspora Films to See at the Los Angeles Film Festival (June 10-18)

14 African Diaspora Films to See at the Los Angeles Film Festival (June 10-18)

The Los Angeles Film Festival, produced by Film Independent, kicks off its 2015 edition tomorrow, June 10, and will run through June 18, with a diverse slate of 74 feature films, 60 short films, and over 50 new media works representing 35 countries. New sections this year are the U.S. Fiction and World Fiction Competitions and Launch, as well as the previously announced Buzz, Nightfall and Zeitgeist programs.

S&A will be present at the festival this year, so there will be some coverage.

Of specific interest to this blog, given its stated mission, highlights follow (trailers or clips where available):

1 – “Incorruptible” from director: E. Chai Vasarhelyi. A feature documentary on former president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade’s second term in office, when he saw his popularity take a beating, as many were upset by the lack of progress in dealing with infrastructure problems in the country as well as rising inflation. You might recall an item we posted here on S&A, which mentioned criticism Wade faced for his commissioning of a gigantic and expensive statue, later unveiled during Senegal’s 50th independence anniversary in April 2010, which Wade asserted that he’d essentially earned about 1/3 of any revenue generated by visitors to the statue, simply because he came up with the idea for it. But that was just one matter of contention out of a handful; his proposals to amend the country’s constitution in his favor, also drew much criticism; also, Wade announced his intentions to stand for re-election for a 3rd term, even though the constitution limited presidential terms to two, which he’d already would have served. However, the country’s Constitutional Council allowed him to go ahead with his bid for a third term, which of course also drew much criticism, both in Senegal and abroad, inspiring protests, although neither criticism nor protest stopped Wade from standing for re-election, in February 2012. He would seemingly receive the most votes – almost 35 percent, in a field of a dozen other candidates – the closest behind him being former prime minister Macky Sall, who won almost 27 percent of the vote. And because a minimum of 50% is needed in order to avoid a second round of voting, a run-off election between Wade and Sall was held a month later, which eventually led to an overwhelming victory for Sall, who won about 66 percent of the vote. Wade then stepped down in April of that year. That entire fiasco, we could call it, is the subject of director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, and is now titled “Incorruptible” (formerly “An African Spring”), promising an unbiased work of investigative cinema that captures the election and pro-democracy movement from both sides.

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2 – “Sweet Micky for President,” from Ben Patterson. Featuring the contributions of Wyclef Jean and Pras Michel of the Fugees, as well as presidential candidate Michel Martelly, aka Sweet Micky, who campaigns against all odds in Haiti’s third ever democratic election, Music and politics collide when Pras returns to his homeland of Haiti following the devastating earthquake of 2010, to mobilize a presidential campaign for Haiti’s most controversial musician: Michel Martelly aka Sweet Micky. The politically inexperienced pair set out against a corrupted government, civil unrest and a fixed election. When Pras’ former bandmate – superstar Wyclef Jean – also enters the presidential race, their chances seem even further doomed. But despite the odds, they never give up on their dream of changing the course of Haiti’s future forever.

3 – “Crumbs,” from Miguel Llansó. A Spanish-Ethiopian co-production directed by Spaniard Llansó, who actually lives in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), “Crumbs” stars Daniel Tadesse, and tells a story of diminutive superhero Gagano (Tadesse), a junk collector, who embarks on a “surreal epic journey”  that’s set against “post-apocalyptic Ethiopian landscapes,” says the press description. He’s had enough of collecting “valuable crumbs of a decayed civilization,” when a spaceship that has been hovering high in the sky for years, starts showing signs of activity, and Gagano has to overcome his fears – which includes a witch, Santa Claus and second-generation Nazis – to find out that the world isn’t quite what he thought it was.

4 – “French Dirty,” from co-directors Wade Allain-Marcus & Jesse Allain-Marcus. The debut feature film from brothers Wade and Jesse will screen as part of the fest’s LA Muse section – a competitive slate of indies that are “quintessentially Los Angeles.” The dramedy stars Wade Allain-Marcus as Vincent, a child of divorce, seemingly aimless, but in search of himself. Further: “Untethered to a job or any real responsibilities, he hangs out with Steve, his childhood best friend, and Jess, his girlfriend. That is until the moment he meets Roma. The chemistry is undeniable, but Vincent is still involved with Jess, so he introduces Roma to Steve and watches love bloom, forcing him to hide his deep feelings for her. When Steve leaves town, Vincent and Roma hook up, admit they are in love and vow to tell Steve by the end of the day. But as the sun sets behind the Los Angeles skyline, Vincent ruminates on his parents’ failed marriage, his own arrested development and the choice he must make to become a better man.”

5 – “Ayanda and the Mechanic,” from Sara Blecher. Set in the vibrant, Afropolitan community of Johannesburg’s Yeoville, “Ayanda and the Mechanic” is a coming-of-age story of a 21-year-old “Afro-hipster,” who embarks on a journey of self-discovery when she has to fight to save her late father’s legacy – a motor repair shop – when it is threatened with closure. She’s thrown into a world of greasy overalls, gender stereotypes and abandoned vintage cars once loved, now in need of a young woman’s re-inventive touch to bring them back to life again. This is director Sara Blecher’s follow-up to her critically-acclaimed 2011 drama “Otelo Burning” (covered quite extensively on this blog).

6 – “Sin alas,” from Ben Chace. a Cuban love story as recollected by a retired journalist, about his relationship with a celebrated ballerina, who has now died. When 70 year old, retired journalist Luis Vargas reads that celebrated ballerina Isabela Muñoz has died, his thoughts return to his brief, passionate, yet impossible relationship with her. A love story with great music and lots of local color. 

7 – “Treasure; From Tragedy to Trans Justice, Mapping a Detroit Story,” from dream hampton. A documentary that tells the story of Shelley “Treasure” Hilliard, a 19-year-old transgender woman of color from Detroit whose brutal murder was not tried as a hate crime. The documentary, as dream hampton describes, is more than just a film created in honor of Shelley Hilliard’s life and her mother Lyniece Nelson’s commitment to justice for the trans community –Treasure is “about projections and perceptions… communities misrepresented and misunderstood.”

8 – “A Girl Like Grace,” from Ty Hodges. A bullied High School girl seeks guidance from her deceased best friends older sister. It’s one of 6 titles selected to screen in the festival’s Zeitgeist program – “a competitive section of 6 curated films that embody key trends. 2015 captures hard knock, coming of age stories.”

9 – “The Drew: No Excuse, Just Produce,” a documentary from co-directors Baron Davis (yes, the NBA player) and Chad Gordon. From humble beginnings in 1970s South Central, the Drew League started out as a sanctuary from gang activity. Now, through the sweat and dedication of community members, the league has grown into the nation’s premiere court for pro-amateur basketball.

10 – “In a Perfect World…” from Daphne McWilliams. Entering adulthood, Chase begins to feel the impact of his father’s inconsistent presence in his life. Curious about how boys negotiate the absence of their fathers and the kinds of relationships they forge with their mothers, Chase’s mother turns the camera on him. Daphne McWilliams’ directorial debut takes an astounding risk by grounding her sociological inquiry in the most vulnerable of all subjects: her teenage son, Chase. 

11 – “Can You Dig This,” directed by Delila Vallot. In South Central Los Angeles, one of the largest food deserts in the US, inspirational stories of new gardeners reveal the beginnings of an urban gardening revolution and the lasting impact of planting seeds for a better life.

12 – “Out of My Hand” from Takeshi Fukunaga. Cisco is a devoted husband and father who toils every day on a rubber tree plantation, doing grueling, backbreaking work that pays just enough to make ends meet. When Cisco and his co-workers attempt to form a union, he loses his job and decides to follow in his cousin’s footsteps by leaving Liberia to become a cab driver in NYC. Soon his past catches up to him and he must face the old demons he’s tried to bury as well as new challenges that only life in America — and especially New York — can create.

13 – “Puerto Ricans in Paris” directed by Ian Edelmanwith. A story that follows 2 detectives working in NYPD’s Luxury Goods Recovery Unit, who are responsible for taking down bootleggers selling knockoff consumer items. The pair is sent to Paris to help a French designer recover a bag that is of some significance, from her latest line. Puerto Rican brothers–in-law Eddie and Luis just happen to be NYC’s two best counterfeit detectives. When the latest, must-have “It Bag” from celebrated Parisian fashion designer Colette’s new collection has been stolen, they head to Paris in hopes of cracking the case and collecting a handsome fee. With clashing sleuthing styles and personality traits, the comedic duo infuses a bit of color into the City of Lights.

14 – “I Am Thalente” directed by Natalie Johns. Thalente Biyela is about to turn 18 and needs to decide what to be when he grows up. His opportunities have been limited – but by 10 years old, his skateboard became a driving force to express himself, escape street-life, and find a community of friends who become family. When a video of Thalente skating is released online, pro-skater Kenny Anderson offers to take the promising star under his wing if he can get himself to America. From the skate parks of Duban, South Africa to Venice, California, Thalente puts his heart and soul to the test to navigate a new world of professional skateboarding and find his place in the world.

For the Los Angeles Film Festival’s full lineup, as well as screening dates and times, as well as ticket information, visit: http://www.lafilmfest.com/.

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