“The African Desperate” (directed by Martine Syms)
The festival’s closing night selection promises to end the event on a high, unexpectedly hilarious note. Artist Martine Syms’ feature debut seems to be suffused with all the same themes and concepts as her previous work – namely, contemporary black identity, queer theory, and the power of language – but put together inside a thrilling new package. Starring fellow artist Diamond Stingily as her protagonist Palace, “The African Desperate” seems to chronicle a world the duo know a lot about: American art schools, so often white, rigid, and not too interested in mixing things up.
When Palace earns her MFA from an upstate art school (of note, Syms’ MFA is from Bard, while her co-writer, Rocket Caleshu, earned his MFA from Cal Arts), she opts to skip out on graduation festivities ASAP, heading back to her hometown of Chicago instead. What follows is 24 hours in Palace’s wild life that are, per the film’s IMDb description, pops with its filmmaker’s “celebrated conceptual grit, humor, and social commentary to the cinematic form.” —KE