After a week of African cinema, the 12th Annual New African Film Festival has concluded. The festival spotlighted a collection of films and experiences throughout the rich African continent.
While the films examined various tribal and cultural traditions, there were still several themes that ran through many of the films. First and foremost, many of the women in the stories existed as passing distractions or devices to move many of the films along. There were rare cases such as Fifty, Aisha, Morbayassa and The Price of Love where they had the opportunity to shine on the level of their male counterparts.
While women’s rights have evolved to a certain extent in the West, conditions remain draconian for women in African cinema. In far too many of the films, women were often treated as afterthoughts in the majority the stories. In many cases, they were either forced into prostitution (Morbayassa, The Price of Love), presented with questionable moral character (Cuckold, Katutura), or demonized (Aisha, The Cursed Ones).
Another conflict in many of the stories was the specter of war, most notably in the documentaries such as They Will Have to Kill Us First, Eye of the Storm and Beats of the Antonov. Finally, youthful angst was highlighted in several coming-of-age stories, including Lamb, Necktie Youth and The Boda Boda Thieves.
Without further ado, let’s take a look back at the top films of NAFF:
1. Eye of the Storm (Burkina Faso)
This riveting story of a young prosecutor who reluctantly decides to defend a former rebel leader accused of unspeakable war crimes. This story full of political intrigue examines the roots of evil behavior and how much does one’s past comes into play on how we perceive their acts. A white-knuckle, tension-filled film that featured great storytelling, wonderful performances and a knockout ending that left the audience stunned. Head and shoulders, the best film of the festival.
2. Aisha (Tanzania)
Happily married for six years and operating a pharmacy in the city with her husband, Aisha goes back to her village to prepare her sister for her impending wedding. She encounters an old love, who still pines for her and after she discourages his attempts, he arranges to have her gang-raped to teach her a lesson. The most difficult film to watch as her family and friends turn their back on someone who was brutally victimized.
3. Lamb (Ethiopia)
After his mother succumbs to the drought and with his father physically incapable of caring for him, a young boy and his favorite companion, a lamb, must navigate the rough terrain of manhood to ultimately find his way. Along the way, he learns the true meaning of friendship and when to let go as everyone he loves leaves him. Truly a heart-breaking tale.
4. Morbayassa (Guinea)
The story of a young seductive Cabaret singer held against her will in Dakar who fights to escape to retrieve a daughter she put up for adoption 15 years earlier is a tale of two stories. Featuring the breakout star of the festival, Mali singer/actress Fatoumata Diawara, she anchors this film which is all about possibilities, hope and ultimately, family.
5. Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It (Niger)
Thirty years ago, Prince shot to superstardom in the semi-autobiographical story of a Minneapolis musician who has to overcome his own insecurities to find his voice. This story, which is based on the Prince’s original vision, has been updated to a Niger musician who must endure his own set of challenges to let his talent shine through despite jealous rivals, as well as his unsupportive father. A very creative update with an overlong title due to the fact that there is no word for “purple” in their culture.
MOST POLARIZING FILM OF THE FESTIVAL
Cuckold (South Africa)
The story of a depressed college professor, whose wife left him, moves an old school buddy into his home and once his wife returns, continues the awkward arrangement that ultimately comes back to haunt him. Very brave subject matter from writer/director Charlie Vundla, that deals with physical abuse and major anxiety issues.
MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM OF THE FESTIVAL
Madame Courage (Algeria) AND Things of the Aimless Wanderer (Rwanda) TIE
Whether featuring long shots and minimal dialogue (Wanderer) or a story that feels woefully incomplete (Courage), both films stood out as examples of how bad film execution. Courage focuses on a young teen who is simply going through the motions, either stealing or getting high. He becomes obsessed with one of his victims and spends the rest of the film stalking her but never expressing how he truly feels. The other extreme of frustration occurs in Wanderer, which features three actors in several vignettes that are neither interesting or particularly watchable. A film more suited for a film class than major release, Wanderer is the rare film that feels like a chore than an enjoyable experience.