The 20th annual NY African Diaspora Film Festival opens on Friday, 23rd November. Although the bulk of the selection deals with African-American and Caribbean experience, there are a number of intriguing offerings from the continent. Here’s our list of five must-see films from this year’s festival:
Doctor Bello is the latest product of the much-feted marriage between Nollywood and Hollywood (the last offspring of this coupling was 2011’s Black Gold). From the looks of this trailer, director Tony Abulu weds a number of tropes from both industries. The film boasts the sort of improbable plot for which Nollywood is beloved (a cure for cancer in the Idanre Hills? who knew!) while the entire story set in motion by the need to save a blue-eyed child from death’s yawning maw: quintessential Hollywood. Doctor Bello is being marketed as offering the Nigerian film industry ‘hope’ by helping its stars cross over, but don’t buy into the Hollywood-as-promised-land hype: Nollywood is the second largest employer in Nigeria, the third largest film industry in the world and has a subversive ‘indie’ scene all of its own. That said, I’m going to see it, if only to watch the inimitable Genevieve Nnaji on a big screen. Doctor Bello opens the festival this Friday 23rd November, and has its Nigerian premiere on Sunday 25th November at the Eko Convention Centre, VI, Lagos.
The United States of Africa has been on our radar for a while. Filmmaker Yanick Letourneau follows Senegalese hip hop artist and activist Didier Awadi as he travels through Burkina Faso, France, Senegal, South Africa and the United States completing a string of collaborations with artists including Zulu Boy, M1 of Dead Prez, and Smokey for his conceptual album Présidents d’Afrique. Check out our preview of the film and interview with the filmmaker here.
If you haven’t seen Moussa Touré’s film Toubab Bi (1992), a comedy of post-colonial estrangement and a Paris porn shop, then treat yourself and watch it on the African Film Library website. Since then, Touré has made fifteen documentary films but La Pirogue (2011) is the Senegalese filmmaker’s latest feature: a sea epic that tells the story of 30 people making the journey from Dakar to Spain by boat. Contemporary artists including Isaac Julien and Berni Searle have made thoughtful work about migration across the perilous Strait, but it’s the headlines that prevail in popular memory – Britain’s Nick Griffin telling the European Parliament to ‘sink several of those boats’, the 63 travellers left to die of hunger and thirst in 2011, and the anti-immigration prattle. Touré has said that his work addresses the dearth of realistic representations of migration to Europe, while the film was inspired by the question of why young people are leaving Dakar. The answers promise to be beautifully-shot and lyrical, if hard to swallow: ‘What’s there left to do here? We can’t even see the horizon anymore.”
Strictly speaking, this film’s events take place in the Caribbean, but now that Haiti is officially part of the African Union it stands. Directed by Philippe Niang, Touissaint l’Ouverture is a two-part movie which dramatises the events of the Haitian revolution. The film has caused a sensation on the festival circuit winning a slew of awards at the 2012 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and the LA Pan African Film Festival. Starring Jimmy Jean-Louis alongside Aïssa Maïga (of Bamako fame) Touissaint is noteworthy not just for providing black actors starring roles in a costume drama (usually a remarkably white genre), but also for foregrounding the often-sidestepped Haitian Revolution, a carefully strategised revolt of enslaved people which established Haiti as the first independent black nation in the New World. Don’t miss this one: it plays on December 1st and 2nd.
Promising ‘restoration’ and ‘redemption’, South African film Hopeville (dir. John Trengove) tells the story of recovering alcoholic Amos, who wants to repair his relationship with his son and society. The trailer suggests a quiet slow-burner, that is until the 20 second mark when any wishful comparison with father/son and pool-based film A Screaming Man dissipates (watch it on Netflix). One minute and 20 seconds in, and things are starting to turn around for Amos, although all the ‘One man’s courage’ stuff invites an unflattering comparison with The Pursuit of Happyness. But perhaps that’s just the trailer; let’s trust the good people at the Rose d’Or Festival who gave the television show on which the film is based awards for Best Drama and Mini Series.