What better organization than TransAfrica Forum could there be to screen new films from Africa? Although most of the eleven films were released in 2006, a few offerings dated back to 2004 and 2005. The New African Films Festival, screened over five days, demonstrated the diversity of cinema coming from the continent including drama, documentary, musical, Nollywood-ish (Nigerian) type and Afro-Hollywood hybrids films.
The festival opened with a screening of one of Africa’s most prolific filmmaker, Abderrahmane Sissako. His latest film, Bamako, is a collaboration with Danny Glover, who also sits on the Board of Directors of TransAfrica Forum, the organization founded in the 1980s by Randall Robinson which staged the extended protests at the South African Embassy to end Apartheid. At the heart of Bamako is a mock trial of the World Bank and the IMF, where witnesses testify about the injustices they suffered from globalization and policies concocted far from the people whose lives they govern. The powerful docudrama co-produced by Mali, France and the United States, sheds light on the pervasive nature of the financial institutions to change indigenous culture, cause displacement of communities and destruction of village life.
“This film is a culmination of the process, the journey of the continent’s filmmaking,” Danny Glover said about the making of Bamako. “This relationship is not about the stories only, but the incredible moments that provide us with a glimpse of the magic. It’s the apex of a new relationship between Africa and the African Diaspora that includes African America. We know the stories we need to see, and the lives and the images we need to see as well.”
In another instance of Hollywood meets Africa, the festival also premiered the winner of the 2005 FESPACO grand prize, Drum, featuring Hollywood heartthrob Taye Diggs as the assassinated South African journalist, Henry Nxumalo. Nxumalo was at the forefront of the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1950s, as the divisive policy was just being instituted to its fullest extent. Based on the journalist’s true story, Drum combined an entertaining and compelling plot with an undeniable message, as the former integrated Sophiatown community in Johannesburg was razed to make way for racially segregated townships like Soweto. Drum was screened with another South African short film, Meokgo the Stick Fighter, by producer/director Teboho Mahlatsi. The visually stunning 19 minute short combined African magical realism with undertones of a spaghetti Western in a fable that was both European in nature, and African in spirit.
The Nigerian film Abeni capitalized on the recent popularity of the Nollywood industry, and although director/producer Tunde Kelani claims that this film does not fall into the genre, its soap-opera plot of forbidden love between a Yoruba chief’s daughter, Abeni, and her Beninoise childhood sweetheart smacks of syrupy sweet melodrama. The Governor’s New Clothes, from Congolese director Mwezi Ngangura, once again features his friend and collaborator Papa Wemba, who stands in as the griot, providing a musical narrative of this retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of head-swelling power and blinding pride. Tribalism, corruption and abuse of power are transferred to a Central African village, with all of the idiosyncrasies of African film, including the superimposition of the griot, Makasi, into the moon, a river and the sky. The simple, relatively low-budget film, carries the pulse of Africa through the rolling, lulling Congolese rhythms sung by Papa Wemba, who is unmistakably Zaire’s most popular and enduring vocalist. He made his film debut in Ngangura’s first film La Vie est Belle, which told the story of African immigrants living in Paris.
Among the strongest of the selections, Indigenes (Days of Glory), co-produced