This year’s selection of films includes a list of films that you would be familiar with, given that we’ve covered the majority of them on this blog, in some cases, quite comprehensively.
This year’s event also features a tribute to the late, great Ousmane Sembène.
If you’re in the area, you’re strongly urged to take advantage of this opportunity to see these wonderful films on the big screen (some of them have barely screened in the USA), because you may not get another chance any time soon, if at all!
For more info, including how to buy tickets, click here.
Fri, March 11, 7:15 p.m.; also screening Sun, March 13, 4:45 p.m.
Fri, March 11, 9:30 p.m.; Wed, March 16, 5:15 p.m.
Twenty-three-year-old writer/director Sibs Shongwe-La Mer referenced a painful loss as a teen to make this personal, stylized debut. Shongwe-La Mer’s film offers an authentic perspective of life in Jo’burg, or Johannesburg, South Africa, as he knew it. The film begins on a harrowing note: a wealthy white teen has hanged herself from a tree, using her school necktie. To make matters worse, her death has been live-streamed. From there, the filmmaker follows other teens peripherally connected to the girl, all of whom make up a contemporary génération perdue — young people who are wrecked and defeated, unsure of the present and the future. With polished black-and-white cinematography, the film rings true beyond its focus on post-apartheid South Africa, and speaks more generally to a millennial tragedy. (Note courtesy of AFI FEST 2015 presented by Audi.) Best South African Film, Best Director, 2015 Durban Film Festival; Official Selection, AFI FEST 2015, Berlin, Tribeca and London Film Festivals. DIR/SCR Sibs Shongwe-La Mer; PROD Elias Ribeiro, John Trengove. South Africa/Netherlands, 2015, b&w, 93 min. In English, Afrikaans and Zulu with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sat, March 12, 1:15 p.m.; Mon, March 14, 5:15 p.m.
Sat, March 12, 3:00 p.m.
Smanga (filmmaker Charlie Vundla, HOW TO STEAL 2 MILLION, 2012 New African Film Festival) is a celebrated young professor whose life unravels when his wife leaves him. He spirals into a drug- and sex-induced tailspin that places both his career and house in jeopardy. Smanga’s path of self-destruction is interrupted when he meets an old schoolmate, Jon, whom he invites to move into his place. Jon convinces Smanga to save his house by selling the marijuana growing in the backyard and using the cash to pay off the debt. Smanga’s wife abruptly returns and also moves back into the house, and these three misfits begin a unique living experiment. Things become complicated by an unexpected pregnancy, and, as the tension in the house rises, Smanga faces a complex decision that will define the lives of his tribe. Official Selection, 2015 Toronto and Chicago International Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Charlie Vundla; PROD Jeremy Nathan, Moroba Nkawe. South Africa, 2015, color, 95 min. In English and Zulu with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sat, March 12, 5:00 p.m.
After the smashing success of HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, filmmaker Biyi Bandele tells the story of four middle-aged friends who are forced to take stock of their personal lives, while juggling careers and family in the upper middle-class neighborhoods of Lagos. Tola is a reality TV star whose marriage to lawyer Kunle never stood a chance, thanks to an unpleasant family secret. Elizabeth is a celebrated obstetrician whose penchant for younger men has estranged her from her daughter. Maria’s affair results in some unexpected news, while Kate’s battle with a life-threatening illness has plunged her into religious obsession. In this tender but unflinching exploration of love and lust, power and rivalry, life and loss, these women rise triumphantly to the challenges of contemporary life. Featuring appearances (and music) by King Sunny Ade, Femi Kuti, Nneka, Tiwa Savage and the irrepressible Waje. DIR Biyi Bandele; PROD Tope Oshin Ogun. Nigeria, 2015, color, 101 min. In English. NOT RATED
Sat, March 12, 7:15 p.m.; Wed, March 16, 7:15 p.m.
A recovering addict, Teddy drives his cab across the sprawling Addis Ababa in the hopes of making an honest living. But when Teddy picks up the beautiful prostitute Fere, just as she’s escaping an abusive john, he’s thrust back into the world of trouble he tried to escape. After an act of retribution, which leaves Teddy’s cab stolen, he joins forces with Fere in the hopes of saving both their lives. As romance blossoms between the two outsiders, they learn the hard way that love comes with a price. One of the leading female filmmakers from Ethiopia, Hermon Hailay examines tough social issues with great finesse in this gripping contemporary drama. Special Prize, 2015 FESPACO Film Festival; Official Selection, 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. DIR/SCR Hermon Hailay; SCR/PROD Max Conil. Ethiopia, 2015, color, 99 min. In Amharic with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sat, March 12, 9:30 p.m.
Sun, March 13, 1:05 p.m.
In 1952, Ousmane Sembène, a dockworker and fifth-grade dropout from Senegal, began dreaming an impossible dream: to become the storyteller for a new Africa. This documentary tells the unbelievable true story of the “father of African cinema,” the self-taught novelist and filmmaker who fought, against enormous odds, a monumental, 50-year-long battle to give African stories to Africans. The story is told through the experiences of the man who knew him best, colleague and biographer Samba Gadjigo, using rare archival footage and more than 100 hours of exclusive materials. This true-life epic follows an ordinary man who transforms himself into a fearless spokesperson for the marginalized, becoming a hero to millions. After a startling fall from grace, can Sembène reinvent himself once more? Official Selection, AFI FEST 2015, Sundance, Cannes and New York Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Samba Gadjigo, Jason Silverman. Senegal/U.S., 2015, color, 82 min. In English and French with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Ousmane Sembène’s first feature — the movie that opened the way for African cinema in the West — is by turns tough, swift and true in its aim. A young woman (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) leaves Senegal with dreams of a more carefree and glamorous existence in France, where she procures a job as a live-in maid and nanny for a young couple in the French Riviera. She is gradually deadened by the endless routines and tasks and rhythms of life in the tiny apartment, and by the dissatisfactions felt by the husband and wife, which they project onto their “black girl.” Sembène’s “perfect short story,” wrote Manny Farber, naming it as the best movie of 1969, “is unlike anything in the film library: translucent and no tricks, amazingly pure, but spiritualized.” It is a formative and eye-opening work, and one of Sembène’s finest. (Note courtesy New York Film Festival.) DIR/SCR Ousmane Sembène; PROD André Zwoboda. France/Senegal, 1966, b&w, 65 min. In French with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sun, March 13, 6:45 p.m.; Fri, March 18, 5:20 p.m.
Omar ekes out a meager living in the slums of seaside village Mostaganem, snatching valuables off passers-by to feed his addiction to Madame Courage: Artane tablets, popular for their euphoric effect of invincibility. When he crosses paths with Selma, a beautiful girl with a shiny necklace he pockets, Omar finds a new obsession. But his stalking is met with intrigue and the two form a dangerous connection. Algerian filmmaker Merzak Allouache (THE REPENTANT, 2013 New African Film Festival) brings a gritty intensity to this delicate examination of the male psyche, buoyed by incredible performances by his two young lead actors. Official Selection, 2015 Venice and London Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Merzak Allouache; PROD Antonin Dedet. Algeria/France, 2015, color, 90 min. In Arabic with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Sun, March 12, 8:45 p.m.
Mon, March 14, 7:15 p.m.
Aisha, a young, ambitious businesswoman living in the city, returns to the village of her youth to attend her little sister’s wedding. As she re-connects with her past, catching up with family and old friends, something unexpected happens, and the consequences are devastating. Everyone else would rather turn a blind eye, but Aisha decides to fight a tough battle for justice. This film is dedicated to all women who have gone through the same extraordinary suffering as Aisha. DIR Chande Omar; SCR Hamadi Mwapachu; PROD Amil Shivji. Tanzania, 2015, color, 112 min. In Swahili with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Mon, March 14, 9:30 p.m.
Farmers Maro and Bissoon spent their lives working on sugarcane fields, but as tourism increased on the tropical island of Mauritius, their fields were razed to make way for ritzy hotels and lush golf courses. As tensions rise between residents both new and old, Marco and Bisson must forge a new path not just for themselves but for their besieged culture. Filmmaker David Constantin, credited with putting Mauritius on the cinematic map, has crafted a thoroughly modern narrative, exploring the downsides of globalization with impressive cinematography and performances from non-professional actors. Best Screenplay, 2015 Durban Film Festival; Official Selection, 2015 Seattle Film Festival. DIR/SCR/PROD David Constantin; SCR Sabrina Compeyron. Mauritius/France, 2014, color, 88 min. In Creole, English and French with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Tue, March 15, 5:15 p.m.; Thurs, March 17, 9:30 p.m.
When the first explorers visited East Africa, the local Bantu populations called them wazungu, from the verb kuzunguka, meaning “to spin around,” as a result of the explorer’s propensity to get lost in their wanderings. In this film, a white man meets a black girl. Then the girl disappears. The white man tries to understand what happened to her and eventually finish a travelogue. The story plays out over three mesmerizing vignettes in this complex meditation on colonialism from Rwandan filmmaker Kivu Ruhorahoza (GREY MATTER, 2012 New African Film Festival). Official Selection, 2015 Sundance, Rotterdam, Beijing and Sydney Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Kivu Ruhorahoza; PROD Antonio Rui Ribeiro. UK/Rwanda, 2015, color, 78 min. In English. NOT RATED
Tue, March 15, 7:15 p.m.
Tue, March 15, 9:30 p.m.; Thurs, March 17, 5:15 p.m.
Set against the backdrop of spectacular post-apocalyptic Ethiopian landscapes, the film follows a strange-looking scrap collector, Gagano (the charismatic Daniel Tadesse). Alternately gripped by daydreams and constant fears, the diminutive Gagano has had enough of collecting the priceless crumbs of decayed civilization, including the most valuable: merchandise from Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. When a spaceship that has been hovering high in the sky for years starts showing signs of activity, Gagano must overcome his fears — as well as a witch, Santa Claus and second-generation Nazis — to discover things aren’t quite what he thought. Official Selection, 2015 Rotterdam, BAFICI, Los Angeles and Denver Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Miguel Llansó. Ethiopia/Spain/Finland, 2015, color, 68 min. In Amharic and Afrikaans with English subtitles. NOT RATED
Wed, March 16, 9:30 p.m.
Thurs, March 17, 7:15 p.m.
Music is the beating heart of Malian culture. But when Islamic hardliners took control of northern Mali in 2012, they enforced one of the harshest interpretations of sharia law in history and banned all forms of music. Radio stations were destroyed, instruments were burned and Mali’s musicians faced torture, even death, and were forced into hiding or exile. But rather than lay down their instruments, the musicians are fighting back, standing up for their cultural heritage and identity. With a specially commissioned soundtrack from Mali’s most exciting artists and a score written by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, this documentary leaps headfirst into a tale of courage in the face of conflict. Official Selection, 2015 SXSW and London Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Johanna Schwartz; SCR Andy Morgan; PROD Sarah Mosses, Kat Amara Korba. UK, 2015, color, 105 min. In French, Songhay, English, Bambara and Tamasheq with English subtitles. NOT RATED
This rollicking rock-u-drama tells the universal story of a musician trying to make it “against all odds,” set against the backdrop of the raucous subculture of Tuareg guitar. The protagonist, real life musician Mdou Moctar, must battle fierce competition from jealous musicians, overcome family conflicts, endure the trials of love, and overcome his biggest rival — himself. Carried by stunning musical performances from Mdou, the story was drawn from his own experiences while stylistically borrowing from Prince’s 1984 classic PURPLE RAIN. DIR/SCR Christopher Kirkley; SCR Mdou Moctar. Niger, 2015, color, 75 min. In Tamashek with English subtitles. NOT RATED