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Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF festival

Day 10

Another Love Story

What country has the largest black population in the world after Nigeria? If you answered Brazil, you guessed right, though this qualification comes with its own protestations. To reiterate, while people of mixed descent are referred to, in most other countries as black, in Brazil they are called ‘Pardo’ to differentiate from black.

This notion and misidentity permeates itself in the Brazilian movie, Another Love story where a black female character accuses her dance teacher of being partial to a white girl (actually ‘Pardo’) and the teacher responds, “What are you talking about? Everyone here is black…” The silence that follows speaks volumes.

Another Love Story has racial identity as a theme and is the reworking of Shakespeare’s love story Romeo and Juliet set in the favelas (slums) of Brazil. It is a gang movie, dealing with both Pardos and Blacks, who are the predominant residents intersperse with Hip-hop music: an unusual combination of musical fantasy and abject realism.

Set in a dance studio where teenagers come to be part of a dance troupe as a gang turf war takes off; it is part of a Brazilian genre reflected in the movies City of God and its sequel City of Men (also playing at the festival), which bare the hallmarks of the hood movies the United States learnt to make in the nineties.

But acclaimed Brazilian director Lucia Murat adds embellishments that take away its emotional core and tucks the love story in the background. As a result, the viewers are bound to forget they are watching a love story. And it is doubtful if Shakespeare made the changes ascribed here, his story would endure as long.

Stylized with interesting hip-hop musical numbers and ‘breaking dancing’ in certain scenes, the director displays a talent and a documentary no-frills-style with kinetic choreography that will serve another story better.

Kangamba

Kangamba

Kangamba

Big budget war movie (by LDC standards) offers the history of the battle of Kangamba fought in Angola between the South Africa backed UNITA and the Soviet/Cuba backed FAPLA factions in 1983 when Cuban armed forces were transported into the country to support the FAPLA. Eventually every country reaches that point when they must make an ode to the armed forces.

Filled with gung-ho heroism about a war won against all odds, it has received the approval of Fidel Castro himself. The movie is interesting because African film makers do not make war movies because of cost. It emphasizes Cuban heroism and keeps the Angolans’ role in the background except for a tacked on undeveloped love story between the lead Cuban officer and a local girl. The movie was filmed entirely in Cuba.

As for its shortcomings, it wastes the impressive sets, stunts and explosions–although the movie is technically excellent–on a dull story. Long on narrative and poor on insight (the details of the war and what led to war is in short supply) it offers melodrama instead of drama. Movie was filmed on film stock more associated with documentary cinema.
Sugar

Sugar

Sugar

There is nothing more American than the game of baseball, but Sugar is an American movie with a catch. It follows the journey of a baseball recruit from the Dominican Islands in Central America to the Big Leagues of the States.

The success of Central American ball players in the States has made it a poaching ground for the American teams who set up shop in these smaller nations to scout talent. Potential talent are taught to say common American words and phrases. The lucky few are sent to the little leagues in small towns. There, they have to earn their way to the Big Leagues.

The competition is fierce. Not everyone is going to make it. ‘Sugar’, the lead character’s nickname, is one of the lucky ones. But he has to deal with a language he does not understand—a lot of the dialogue is in Spanish—culture shock, the threat of failure and pressure to succeed like he has never experienced.

This movie, which can be interpreted as the pursuit of the American dream as seen through the eyes of a foreigner in a strange land is simple, honest and bound to create conversation when it finally opens.

The lead actor (Algenis Perez Soto) who had never acted before gave a commanding performance, and the end of the movie breeds a new kind of optimism in an unegalitarian society.

Jerusalema

Opening night movie, Jerusalema is a Robin Hood tale that details the rise of a hoodlum to the top of South African society. With its tagline, ‘If you are going to steal… steal big and hope like hell you get away with it’, it promises a high-octane action filled ride which it more or less delivers.

Jerusalema

Jerusalema

The year is 1994; the end of apartheid and in the new South Africa, Lucky Kunene (Jafta Mamabolo) needs 20,000 Rand to pay for college. To get the money he signs to steal cars for the local gang lords. It’s a profitable venture that eventually ends when the police nab the masterminds.

Fast forward a few years and Kunene now played by the much stronger Rapulana Seiphemo works at a gas station. Harassment from the police, forces Kunene to go into business cleaning up the streets neglected by the new government of South Africa. Most blacks live in seedy neighbourhoods owned by whites who collect rent but don’t care about the welfare. Kunene tells them to stop payment. The landlords go into default and he steps in to buy it all up. Of course, he also cleans the streets getting rid of prostitutes, drug dealers, the homeless and undesirable foreigners. The crooked Nigerians offer resistance and to put it mildly, they are eliminated. This earns Kunene the nickname the ‘Hoodlum of Hillbrow’. But his actions lead a cop, (Robert Hobbs) who is determined to bring him down.

Jerusalema has a lot going for it, fast paced narration, the Robin Hood factor, good cinematography and razor sharp direction by top commercials director, Ralph Ziman but suffers from being hollow at the core.

It never settles on a clear tone nor a distinctive voice, contains misbegotten jokes and a misguided introduction, a white love interest and drug addict who are just pawns to push the movie towards its ending.  A muddled screenplay that loses its way towards the ending, it wants to say something about poverty and breaking out of it anyway possible but ends up being a poster for gang recruitment and xenophobia.

I was warned about the xenophobia beforehand so I was less taken by its bluntness but news reports make it seem an accurate portrayal of South African opinion of Nigerians. Played by South Africans who try largely and succeed mightily in butchering the Nigerian accent, they are caricatures instead of human beings.

Afraid not to entertain and at the same time afraid of charges of sensationalising violence, it pretends to aspire to seriousness in a package that is attractive on the outside but hollow within. A hit in South Africa, Jerusalema was South Africa’s official submission to the Oscars.

Bongoland II: There’s no place like home

This is the last movie I saw as part of the festival and it is a good one. It deals with the return of an African who has spent many years away from home. These men and women have to reintegrate themselves into a society they left behind.

Video feature from director Josiah Kibira is his third feature and a sequel to his first feature Bongoland, a movie about a Tanzanian illegal immigrant in Minnesota.

Bongoland

Bongoland

Juma (Peter Omari) returns home from the United States to start a job with a local company in Bongoland, Tanzania. Things have changed since he left. His mother is a widow. His brother is a drunk, unemployed and his wife has taken the kids and gone. He is taken back to the uncouth methods and disrespect for law and process that exists in the society. The common refrain prevails. “This is not America. This is Bongoland.”

Juma is a fed up man, with his brother Hamisi (Shafii Abdul), mother Asia (Thecla Mjatta) who wants to break the rules of marriage, Zaina (Chemi Che-Mponda) who confronts her mom on her hypocrisy. Even his childhood friend Kamanda (Hamisi Abdallah) is not honest to him. He only has the trust of his girlfriend Naomi (Sabrina Rupia). In the end, Juma has a decision to make. Should he stay or go?

Shot in Tanzania on a budget of $30,000 on High-Definition Video. Apart from format, movie is technically excellent. It does tend to risk derailing itself with the addition of melodrama and heightened plots to the story but the sure hand of the director brings everything back to earth. Movie contains a final word that rings true and leaves you thinking on the way out; it is a certainty for the festival circuit.

CLOSING NOTES ON THE FESTIVAL

The Pan African Film Festival comes to an end today. It was a celebration of the best of African cinema and the new voices in African American cinema. The festival ran for 12 days with a record attendance of over a quarter of a million people. There were thirty world premieres and movies from over forty-two countries.

Paff Awards

Paff Awards

It was the first time the festival was being held at the location, the Culver Plaza theatres in Culver City California. And its association with the Culver Hotel provided a good hangout for the filmmakers to meet and mingle.

African cinema is taking advantage of video technology to tell its stories, and the movies from across the continent offered promise for the future. A lot of the movies, especially the best ones, are made by filmmakers who reside outside the continent. Besides South Africa, top notch post production facilities do not exist on the continent.

3289313625_07af2b240a

Distribution is tougher than ever for African American and African movies in the world market; few distributors pick them because of the tough market. Pan African distribution within Africa is limited with few movies crossing borders, and till Africa creates a pan African distribution network, most movies will probably never been seen outside home markets.

Director Edward Osei Gyimah gives an acceptance speech

Director Edward Osei Gyimah gives an acceptance speech

Aside the movies showed at the Pan African Film and Arts Festival to an appreciative African American audience. There was also the arts market and a fashion show for African designers that took place on the last day of the festival. It was impossible to catch everything, so I missed the movie from Ghana, Run Baby Run and Hot Button documentary The End of Poverty and Zimbabwe movie The Street Children of Kinshasa.

Out of those I had the opportunity to catch, the best movies were American movies The Prince of Broadway and Sugar. The best African movie goes to Bongo Land II; there’s no place like home from Tanzania with an honourable mention to the movie Zimbabwe. Below are the official results.

3289347393_87d7199f88_s

The winners of the 17th PAN AFRICAN FILM AND ARTS FESTIVAL were announced today. They were as follows:

17th PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL
FILM COMPETITION WINNERS

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“Prince of Broadway” US
Honourable Mention
“Happy Sad” Trinidad/Tobago

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Cuba, An African Odyssey” France
Honourable Mention
“The End of Poverty?” US

BEST NARRATIVE SHORT
“Kwame” US
Honourable Mention
“Warrior Queen” Ghana

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
“Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre” US
Honourable Mention
“Faubourg Treme’:
The Untold Story of Black New Orleans” US

BEST FIRST FEATURE – DIRECTOR
“Rain” Bahamas

JURY FAVOURITE
“Skin” US

17th PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL FILM
AUDIENCE FAVOURITE WINNERS

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“Skin” US

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Nubian Spirit: The African Legacy of the Nile Valley” Sudan/UK

17th PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL
DIRECTOR’S AWARD

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“Sugar” US

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Milking the Rhino” US

17th PAN AFRICAN FILM FESTIVAL
PROGRAMMER’S AWARD

BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE
“Run Baby Run” Ghana

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
“Standing N Truth” US

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at PAFF Festival

Day 9

A Day of Documentaries and a classic

Cuba: An African Odyssey (2008)

When Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, one of the first people he asked to meet was the Cuban Leader, Fidel Castro. This BBC documentary explains why, and might be the finest example on why Cuba is important to Africa. In the middle of the Cold War, when most African countries were afraid to take sides, Cuba made its policy to free all the African countries that were still colonized.

Cuba African Odyssey

Cuba African Odyssey

Beginning with the tragic death of one of Africa’s great minds, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo at the hands of an American backed coup d’etat, a result of Cold War confluence, Cuba which traces the roots of its citizens back to the Congo sent a combat team led by the maverick guerrilla fighter Che Guevara to overthrow the illegal government.

Unsuccessful due to cultural differences and a poorly trained army, Cuba retreated but would still continue to support rebels all over Africa; they would gain success in Equatorial Guinea, the Portuguese in Angola and later, the apartheid South African government-backed UNITA in Angola. The war and concessions led to the liberation of Namibia in 1990 and the fall of apartheid in 1994. His victories made him popular in Africa, in which he toured as a hero in the seventies.

This funny and engaging documentary (ranging from the sixties to Reagan eighties) with good footage and interviews with the major players is a must see. It’s in the Documentary Feature competition.

Kassim: The Dream (2008)

Festival favourite, Kassim the Dream centres on a former boy soldier in the rebel army of incumbent Ugandan President Museveni, who later fled to the United States and became a world middleweight champion.

Kassim Ouma is a jovial personality that hides demons.We follow him into the ring as he boxes for a living and rises to the top. But more importantly, Kassim needs a military pardon to go back to Uganda to visit his family. He deserted the army where he learnt how to box. Using the influence of Congress and his local state representative, pressure is put on the Ugandan government and he is allowed to go home.

Kassim the Dream

Kassim the Dream

But coming home is bitter sweet. His father is gone. Although he knows this already, the guilt of not being there haunts him. Part redemptive journey, partly a journey into a bloody past, Kassim needs to make crucial decisions.

Because the filmmakers do not sugar coat the facts, we see the effects of war and how one man can seemingly get out of the morass without ever leaving it behind. A fine documentary that has won awards at many other festivals; it is in the Documentary Feature Competition.

Black Orpheus


Black Orpheus

Black Orpheus

Part of the festival is the re-launch of evergreen classics. This year’s films are Black Orpheus (1959) from Brazil, a retelling of the Orpheus mythology set in Rio, Killer of Sheep (1977) United States, involving a working class African American man dealing with a lot of problems, In the Heat of the Night (1967), the Sidney Poitier movie about race relations in the South while a murder investigation is underway, and The Chronicle of the Years of Embers (1975) about the Algerian independence movement.

Out of the four, I have never seen The Chronicle of the Years of Embers. Directed by Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina, winner of the Palm D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, it is not available on DVD and it’s hard to find on video.

Shown in a scratchy print, it details the movement against the French in Algeria. Starting before World War II and ending in the sixties. It details six epochs and eras that make up the movement, each titled with the beginning, ‘The Years…’

Black Orpheus

Black Orpheus

The film opens in the desert with a man announcing that he is going to back to France because the river is dry. It details the Berbers search for water, the fight over it and the land they build there. The next years are filled with wars, famine, death, love and betrayal, copulating with the massacres by the French that led to the resistance movement that claimed 1,000,000 Algerian lives before their independence was granted.

Making use of a one-man chorus, a mad man whom everyone ignores, and who appears frequently to pontificate on the state of affairs, focusing more on observation and atmosphere. The first thirty minutes are essentially silent and difficult to follow; its six passages delves into the mindset and attitude of a people with the intent not to tell a story but to establish the kind of people who are ready to make sacrifices and the experiences that demand such sacrifice.

In the Heat of the Night

In the Heat of the Night

Often musical and shot with the camera in wide screen to capture the mountains and visage around the desert and not concerned with plot than character, it is not for the Hollywood crowd but those who wish to be involved in the process of watching a movie rather than being dictated to.

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF festival

Day 8

A Day of Short Films

There are a lot of short films playing in the festival. Short films often are the starting point for future talents in the movie industry. There are five films playing in the festival.

Worth mentioning is the short film, Happy Anniversary Punk!, which lasted for thirty minutes by Nigerian-American Mike Ajakwe, a successful TV and film writer. This was his first  project he directed and, which he solely funded.

Happy Anniversary Punk!

Happy Anniversary Punk!

Another film, Charcoal Traffic, which lasted 7 minutes, deals with deforestation as scenes are shown of trees chopped down and later sold as charcoal. Set in the hinterlands and rural region, the struggle for this wood leads to a violent and tragic end. Advertised as the first movie filmed on Somalia soil in fifteen years, it was directed by Nathan Collett who resides in Kenya.

Following after was Release, a six minutes film, which is a lyrical, impressionistic DV movie, filmed in Cameroon that celebrates African oral tradition—one of the stories was about two boys who run into olden spirits, and as a result they are required to complete a task that will bring peace to the continent.

Charcoal Traffic

Charcoal Traffic

Hair We Are, produced in the UK takes place on a school playground where the virtues of black hair are discussed.

The movies were not parochial, for there was Layla, which deals with the opium trade as seen through the eyes of a Palestinian immigrant. Although it was produced and directed by African American filmmakers, majority of the cast were of Arab and white origin. There was also My brother’s Keeper, a family comedy directed by Caucasian students from USC Film School. It is set in the 70s and deals with two African American brothers getting to know each other while their mom is out. It resembles the American sit-com classics Good Times and the Jeffersons.

Hair We Are

Hair We Are

Last was the movie, Warrior Queen, that excited the audience the most and stole all the questions during the Q & A. Warrior Queen, a twenty-two minutes flick from UCLA film grad, Hezekiah Lewis. It’s about the time when Asante Empire Queen Asantewa stood up to the English in the one of the final wars before Ghana was made part of the British Empire.

Epic looking, with cinematography and a big lush score straight out of Hollywood epics, and a Brave Heart theme about the oppressed standing up to the invaders, it offered excitement to an audience not used to seeing African culture played on a grand scale. Budget of the movie financed largely by grants was over a $100,000.

He was inspired to make the movie, after hearing African American poet and writer Maya Angelou lament the lack of stories about African empires.

My Brother's Keeper

My Brother's Keeper

Filmed in a hurry with some of Ghana’s most revered actors, he hopes to turn the movie into a feature film. This was the first première of what looks like many for this movie, which was only completed two weeks ago. Hezekiah Lewis has a long history directing. Warrior Queen is his thesis film.

Not part of a short program but attached to a movie is Kwame, directed by Ghanaian and first generation British citizen Edward Osei-Gyimah. The movie centres on a Los Angeles cab driver (Benjamin Ochieng, Tears of the Sun) who is haunted by memories and images of the 1979 Rawlings coup and his relationship with a Latina drug addict (Jessica Diz). It is a contemplative movie that offers a hopeful ending for the future of the character and Ghana.

Warrior Queen Production

Warrior Queen Production

Director Gyimah is a graduate of “The School”— University of Southern California Film Program—as it is called because of its relationship with the Hollywood movie industry.

Edward commented that he hopes to turn the movie into a feature film where he can focus more on the stratification of neighbourhoods in Los Angeles, which he finds so strange since he comes from London where everyone of the same income bracket lives in the same vicinity.

kwame

kwame

He talked about being black and the difficulty of getting such movies green lit because they don’t do well and are considered too narrow in its audience. He thinks that will change as Africa begins to tell its own story. He was surprised to see the Ghanaian movie, Run Baby Run which is playing in the festival (and financed in Ghana). He remarked that England is much tougher than Hollywood. Growing up, he never saw any black actors or filmmakers. He remembers John Singleton getting nominated for best director for Boyz in the Hood and that’s why he has always regarded America as the place of opportunity for African-centric filmmakers.

Layla

Layla

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the PAFF festival

Day 7

The Fine Arts Section of the Festival

At the festival, there is also a Fine Arts section. It’s taking place at the Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles.

Take a look at some of the stalls and goods on display.

paff-stall-1

PAFF stall

PAFF stall

Trinkets on sale

Trinkets on sale

Hats on sale

Hats on sale

Stall at PAFF

Stall at PAFF

Farafina Magazne presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF Festival

Day 6

The African immigrant’s experience is rarely shown on screen but today’s programme included two movies tackling that very theme.

In Prince of Broadway, Lucky, portrayed by Ghanaian Prince Adu, is an African immigrant who hustles “knock off” designer goods in New York for his Armenian boss, Levon (Karren Karagulian). He lives alone in a studio apartment, where he sometimes receives fellow immigrant friends, and his girlfriend Karina (Kenyali Mayaga).princebroadway2

Lucky’s world is shattered when his ex, Linda (Kat Sanchez) shows up, places an 18-month-old child at his feet while he is working on a deal and dashes off. As Lucky chases after her across downtown New York, he encounters her new boyfriend and the scuffle that follows, opposing the two rivals, sets the tone of this rough-hewn movie with a fly-on-the-wall style of narration. Faced with the responsibility of raising a child which barely even looks like him, Lucky read just his priorities to the detriment to his relationship with Katrina and his work with Levon. Incidentally, Levon is also going through personal life changes with a shaky marriage and new born.

The sweeping change in Lucky’s life is the crux of this serio-comedy. At the Q & A afterwards, director American Sean Baker mentioned that he originally wanted to make a movie that focused on Levon’s character involving two Armenian store owners, but as he came to know the West African community, he decided to include them in the movie. He was then introduced to Prince, who helped him with the movie: he found all the locations and the actors who participated in the movie. It was Prince who selected Kenyali who played his girlfriend Karina. The baby who might really be the star of the whole show is the real-life daughter of Kat who played Linda.

Although the movie had a written script, it was largely improvised by the actors. For the record, all the actors are excellent, and Prince proved to have charisma and talent necessary for a budding movie career.

The movie is up for the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards and is in the Narrative Feature Competition here at PAFF.

13 Months of Sunshine

13months13 Months of Sunshine is about a group of Ethopian immigrants who live in Los Angeles. The movie centres on Solomon (Sammy Amare), who is dumped by his long time girlfriend for his lack of ambition. Solomon works in a coffee shop but has long harboured dreams of opening his own shop. Later in the movie, he is offered $20,000 to marry recent émigré from Ethiopia, Hanna (Tion Fekreselassie) an attractive model with nary an accent.

Solomon submits to temptation and accepts the deal, but soon begins to fall for her. However, Hanna is caught up in her modelling career and is in a crux with her manager, the American Morris (Delaine Knight) and her traditional African values in an industry that expects a lot more than she is willing to give. All this time, she doesn’t realise that Solomon is falling in love with her.

It is an old fashioned romantic drama as done by many Hollywood movies, but from a different perspective. There are funny scenes such as the interview with the immigration services, which does not go well and as a result, they are classified as suspicious—a clear fraternity among the Ethiopian community in Los Angeles as seen in Solomon’s interaction with his friends.

A clear love for Ethiopian coffee and coffee is evident. You might want to buy a cup after seeing it and the use of Amharic in most of the scenes.

Sharp direction by Bobby Yehdego, and scenes with better than normal production for a $100,000 movie, gives the movie a better than expected result. Producer Jeremiah Lewis who also doubled as editor and lead actor, Sammy Amare were available for the Q & A.

The movie, inspired by a true story, was well received in Ethiopia and it was shot over two and a half years.

Kobalat Masroka (Stolen Kisses) Egypt

stolenkisses3There are really only two movie industries on the African continent: Nigeria and Egypt. Egypt has always had a history of filmmaking, an industry that was most active for years but towards the late eighties, the number of films produced in Egypt dropped from a hundred per year to seven by 1997. This period saw the rise of the Nigerian movie industry which is covered in the documentary Peace Mission, also playing in the festival. However, for the last four years, the Egyptian film industry has been on the rise back to prominence, owing to more investments in theatres. This has been led by an edgy fare of films that are made for the youth and breaking taboos. Kobalat Masroka (or Stolen Kisses) falls into this category. The director was sued by the producer for putting too many kiss scenes in the movie. Fittingly, the movie was a big box-office hit in the Arab world.

It follows six college students who are dating. There is Marwa who is from a rich family who loves Ihab who is not. Ihab needs to be able to support himself financially before he can ask her family for their daughter’s hand in marriage. Ihab’s sister is Hanan who dates Ihab’s friend Ezzat. Ezzat like Ihab is not wealthy. Hanan is attracted to her college professor Fawzi’s deep pockets and the ease of life he can provide. Last of all, Mohsen and Hala, also struggling and in love, except that her parents will never consent to the marriage. There is a sub-character Layla, who works her way through school as a lady of the night. stolenkisses1

If it all seems like a soap-opera, it is. Director Khaled El Hagar keeps the emotions simmering instead of boiling over. Shot with film stock long abandoned in the West, it gives the movie the look of the 70s era cinema that fits well with the story, it comes across like the Harold Robbins and Jackie Collins novels that once ruled screens in the melodramatic sixties and late fifties. With picturesque locations, nice vistas of the River Nile, lagoons and beaches the movie has a pleasant if not exotic look.

The first hour where the scenarios are set up is much better than the latter half where the movie becomes soap-opera-like complete with murder, rape, pornography and lots of kisses. Stolen Kisses is in the Narrative Feature competition.

Coming up, coverage of the centrepiece gala showing of Skin starring Sophie Okenodo about a black girl born to two white parents in apartheid era South Africa.

SKIN

Skin, a British/South African production, is the centrepiece gala screening at the Pan African Film Festival. Before the screening Ja’net Dubois, best known for her role in the 1970s sitcom, Good Times and one of the founders of the festival gave a speech. Lively and energetic, she regaled the audience with the story of her first trip to South Africa in the seventies, which led to the idea of creating the festival. A moment of silence was taken for the late South African singer, Miriam Makeba. Afterwards, Anthony Fabian the director of Skin, introduced the movie.skin-poster

Review:

In apartheid South Africa, a coloured girl is born to two white Afrikaans. The girl’s name is Sandra (Sophie Okenodo) and her unusual birth is what is called a “throwback” – a case when Whites with black genes manifests in later generations. Hidden away from the her community by her parents who refuse to let her be judged as any race other than white, Sandra is let out when she attends a public school for the first time.

Although Sandra has been declared white on her birth certificate, everyone else sees her as black. Thus she suffers racial discrimination from students and teachers. Sophie’s life through the period of the apartheid regime is momentous in detailing the stringency and inhumanity of the apartheid policy.

Born white, declared black, undeclared black and declared black for one final time by choice, Sandra’s exodus and return covers the terrain that is, even till today, the two spheres of South Africa.

The hall before the start of Skin Screening

The hall before the start of Skin Screening

Director Anthony Fabian is passionate about her story but does not take the time to dwell on psychological probing or character study and details, which a story like this needs to come to life. Very Hollywood-like in storytelling, it seems more like an audition for bigger projects, rather than an exploration of racial segregation that it needs to be.

It never captures the emotional truth of the situation and at its best attempt, succeeds only with its narrative. Despite strong performances such as Sam Neill as Abraham Laing, Sandra’s father chews into his role the only way he can, fully and unbending, yet, the reason for his hatred is hard to grasp. What drives him is never known and the fact that his character never realizes as a three dimensional character is more the fault of the script’s than his. This lack hitherto makes his later transformation and actions a bit hard to swallow.

His wife, played by Alice Krige, is more rounded and nuanced in her performance, even exhibiting the necessary conflict that must exist in a mother who loves her daughter but wilfully denies what she really is.the-lobby-before-the-screening1

Sophie Okenodo is brilliant, capturing the edges of Sandra, as well as the cloth the character is forced by society to wear.

With fine supporting performances by the black characters, many who speak volumes about their opinion of apartheid with just the movement of their eyes including Tony Kgoroge who portrays Sandra’s husband, the movie educates about one of the major stories from the post-apartheid era. The movie despite its flaws strikes a chord within the human in all of us.

During the Q & A, to my surprise: the real Sandra flown in from South Africa for the event joined director Anthony Fabian on the stage. A full standing ovation was accorded her by everyone in attendance. Sandra who is very shy took some questions from the audience and some of her statements give away key plots in the movie.

She expressed regret that she never got to see her father again after he disowned her for marrying a black man. She also felt that she needed their forgiveness for choosing a black man over her family. This statement brought tears to her eyes.

Her biography is called When She Was White, and was written by Judy Stone.

She has never spoken to her brothers, up till today because they refuse to contact her.

Sandra did go back to the school she was expelled from in the movie. Her story is being told all over South Africa and she got to meet the parliament and its members. They all profusely apologized to her.

Sandra has seven grandchildren

When asked what race she now considers herself, she answered “coloured.”

The final question was whether Sandra felt she was God’s vessel or God was using her to unite humanity. She answered a firm “Yes.”

Director Anthony Fabian talked about the difficulty of casting. Originally, he wanted to cast white South African actors for the role of Sandra’s parents but the nature of the business is such that they wanted the story to be about them.

Then he saw Sophie Okonedo’s picture on a magazine. She had just been nominated for an Oscar for her role in Hotel Rwanda, and he sent her the script to which she agreed to within two weeks.

Afterwards was an after party at the Japanese restaurant Gyenari for cast, crew, friends and press.

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF Festival

Day 5

A slow day with two documentaries films watched.

African Underground

African Underground

African Underground

The first is from Senegal titled African Underground: Democracy in Dakar. Following the Hip-hop movement in Senegal as it relates to political consciousness, it focuses on Hip-hop as the voice of the people in a country with high unemployment and poverty. Tracking the roots of rap in Senegal from the early nineties to the present, it follows the artists into the studio where discussions are mainly focused on politics framed around the upcoming presidential election from 2007. Milieu of the documentary is the five days leading up to the election.

Senegal is one of the few countries in Africa that has never experienced a military coup and has a long history of democracy, but the effects of the 2007 election has placed doubts on the effectiveness of democracy and the will of the people. Incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade who had the support of the Hip-hop community in 2000, however lost their support owing to allegations of corruption and ineffective leadership, and yet he won the election. More surprising, he won it in the first round. That had never happened in Senegal.

The film suggests one of two things: it was rigged or as many others put it, or potentially more disturbing, the people didn’t see any hope in the alternative candidates who were all formerly members of the president’s cabinet.africanundergrounddemocracydakar

It’s all bleak and dire, though certain people mention economic growth as the reason. The problem seems to be with freedom of speech and liberties, and of course the dividends of democracy not coming in as fast the people wish. The people’s only source for the truth is Hip-hop where the rappers state it in blunt terms. There are no booty shaking girls, misogynistic rhymes, just good old conscious rap.

Music can be heard at http://www.africanunderground.com.

Trouble the Water

Trouble the Water is the story of Hurricane Katrina that shook the city of New Orleans in 2005. Following two characters, Kim and her husband, who filmed most of the footage of the community before the Hurricane hit, it disclosed people who refused to leave the area. It continues with footage of the water rising while they are still in their homes and moving up as they flee to higher grounds. This footage gives the viewer a close look as the water rises. It is a scene most viewers of the disaster on TV have never seen.

Kim, a fast-talking aspiring rapper, takes us through the black community before and after the storm. Kim and her husband move away after the storm from New Orleans and their visit, a year later, reveals that nothing much has changed.

An interesting view into the lives of those affected by the storm, it doubles as a mark against the Bush government, and it impressed why black Americans don’t trust the government. It is a good addition to the Spike Lee documentary, When the Levees Broke, also about the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Trouble for the Water is up for the best picture at the Academy Award.

THE CHANGE-A-LIFE PROJECT

cal-logoThe Change-A-Life project in partnership with the Lagos State Government will celebrate its seventh year of operations by becoming formally institutionalized as Change-A-Life Foundation. The event will be televised live on Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) on February 21, 2009 between 7pm – 9pm.

The project, which is championed by Ms. Funmi Iyanda, began in 2002 with the support of the former governor of Lagos State Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The first edition of the project, which aired on January 1, 2002, saw sixty-eight people awarded grants of N10, 000 each for micro-businesses and educational projects.

Over the years, Change-A-Life has affected 150 children and over 3000 people with its scholarship and health care support services.

Speaking about her motivation for the project, Ms. Funmi Iyanda remarked “we were just doing what we thought was right at the time—helping hardworking people who just needed a hand—it is really about human dignity.” She further explained that Change-A-Life is being launched as a full-fledged organization in order to accommodate more deserving youth and families with exceptional potential.

To see more details, click on this link:

http://www.facebook.com/n/?event.php&eid=125603605723&aref=26140667