Photo by Sundance Film Institute
Nine Highlights of 2023 New African Film Festival
The festival, which is run by the American Film Institute, has a crop of outstanding, must-see African films on offer this year.
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the New African Film Festival (NAFF), which is presented by the American Film Institute and Africa World Now Project. The event, which takes place in Washington, D.C, and is currently on until March 30th, features African movies from a wide range of countries on the continent, showcasing some of the most talked-about films currently playing.
Featuring 30 films from 22 countries, including six U.S. premieres, this year's festival is a solid example of a Pan African film festival at its best – playing host to a number of films making their U.S. premiere. From Egyptian American filmmaker Sherief Elkatsha's music documentary Far From the Nile, to Angolan filmmaker Ery Claver's urban fairytale Our Lady of the Chinese Shop; from Kenyan filmmaker Angela Wanjiku's drama Shimoni, to the Cannes-selected documentary A Daughter’s Tribute to Her Father: Souleymane Cisse, in which filmmaker Fatou Cissé explores the life of her pioneering filmmaker father.
But the festival is also a great chance to catch up on those African films that have been fast-gaining attention at film festivals across the world. OkayAfrica presents our round-up of highlights to look out for at this year’s New African Film Festival.
Bobi Wine: Ghetto President
BOBI WINE: THE PEOPLE’S PRESIDENT Trailer – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
Bobi Wine brought Ugandan politics and red berets to the red carpet of the Venice Film Festival last year, hoping to attract a broader interest in his mission to end dictatorial rule. Bobi Wine: Ghetto President opens the New Africa Film Festival, and continues his mission to bring attention to the issues going on in his home country.
Billed as an ‘observational documentary,’ the film brings Wine’s story – how he rose from the informal settlement of Kamwokya and became a music star – together with his pursuit of justice and democracy in Uganda. It traces the start of his grassroots political campaign, and centers the support he receives from his wife, Barbie, in all his endeavors. While Ghetto President details Uganda and Wine's specific struggle for democracy, the film resonates far beyond his homeland.
MAMI WATA Clip – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
C.J. Obasi is currently living his best life, as Mami Wata continues to thrill audiences wherever it is shown. One of seven filmmakers who debuted their films at Sundance that the LA Times is following for the year, the Nigerian director has been finding much success with his third feature. Obasi wanted to bring the legend of the Mami Wata folklore, a terrifying mermaid goddess popular across West Africa, to the big screen after he saw a vision of the mythical water spirit. His black and white fable has been lauded by early audiences who’ve seen the film, and it won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Cinematography at Sundance.
Our Father, The Devil
OUR FATHER, THE DEVIL Clip – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
Cameroon-born director Ellie Foumbi’s outstanding first feature film earned her a Film Independent Spirit nomination for best feature and it’s absolutely clear to see why. A mesmerizing performance from Babetida Sadjo ensures audiences remain on the edge of their seats for the entire film. Sadjo plays a former child soldier, living in a remote French village, who has to confront her violent past when a priest comes into her life. It’s the kind of film that lingers long after the credits have rolled, and an essential watch for any African cinephile.
NO U-TURN Trailer – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
Twenty-seven years ago, Nollywood filmmaker Ike Nnaebue set out on an elaborate journey, attempting to get from Lagos to Europe, first by road to Morocco, and then by boat to cross the Mediterranean. He got as far as The Gambia when he made a U-turn. The experiences he had up until then, and the lessons he learned on his aborted mission fill this personal documentary, which premiered in Berlin last year, where it was a hit in the Panorama section of the film festival. Nnaebue’s film centers on his story, but he also attempts to understand the minds of young people who wish to make a similar journey, leading to many insights about migration.
BRAVO, BURKINA! Trailer – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
Walé Oyéjidé’s various creative talents are brought together in this film, his debut feature. “It’s the best sandbox in which to play,” he told OkayAfrica when the film premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Bravo, Burkina! builds on what Oyéjidé hinted at in his short film After Migration: Calabria, which tells the story of two refugees settling in Italy. A sumptuous film, full of vibrant color and textures you can almost feel through the screen, the film makes good on the Nigerian-born director’s aim to pay homage to the many cultures he’s experienced and people he’s met on his journey in life so far.
No Simple Way Home
NO SIMPLE WAY HOME Trailer – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
Akuol de Mabior made history last year when she became the first director to bring a film from South Sudan to the Berlin Film Festival. The model-turned-filmmaker, who was born in Cuba and raised in Kenya, had the idea to make a film about her family’s story for quite some time before she decided to take a leap and do it.
Her father was John Garang de Mabior, former rebel commander of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, who became vice president when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, following 22 years of civil war between north and south. But he died 21 days later, and so the film follows his widow, and de Mabior’s mother, Rebecca Nyandeng de Mabior, – a leader in her own right – as she continues her late husband’s push for peace. By the end of the film, you’ll feel like you’re part of de Mabior’s family.
Public Toilet Africa
PUBLIC TOILET AFRICA Clip – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
With its provocative title, Public Toilet Africa, or Amansa Tiafi, is a labor of love and protest for Ghanaian filmmaker Kofi Ofosu-Yeboah. He wrote, directed, produced, and edited the film, which presents a commentary on societal ills that are usually left to operate in private. The film interweaves strands of different storylines, tethered by the revenge mission of Ama, the film’s protagonist, who was given as “a gift” to a white family when she was young and grew up to be their domestic worker. Committed to pursuing social change through film, Ofosu-Yeboah considers himself an offspring of Mambéty and Sembène, and this film shows how much he has to say.
CESÁRIA ÉVORA Trailer – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
Filmmaker Ana Sofia Fonseca keeps the legendary Cape Verdean singer's memory alive in this documentary, which features never-before-seen footage and intimate moments captured on film. She began making the film in the aftermath of Cesária Évora’s passing, evoking a side of the Grammy-winning singer only witnessed by those close to her.
The film pays tribute to Évora, who rose to international fame in the mid-’90s with her melancholic morna ballads, and shares stories from those who knew her best – from her manager José da Silva to her granddaughter, Janete. Beyond her music, Fonseca paints a rich portrait of Évora as an artist with a deep love for the people around her, and reminds us just how much we’ve lost in her passing.
Under the Fig Tree
UNDER THE FIG TREE Trailer – 2023 New African Film Festivalwww.youtube.com
French Tunisian director Erige Sehiri’s film may not have earned an Oscar nomination for best international picture, as many critics thought it deserved, but it still is a win for Tunisian cinema. Immersing the audience in a day in the life of a group of fig pickers – many of them played by first-time actors – the film reveals, over the course of the hours that pass, the individual passions, predilections, and problems that exist for the pickers. Come for the swirling shots of leaves and branches, stay for the larger discourse on the role of men and women in society.
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