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Farafina Magazine Presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF Festival

Day 1

Jerusalema

The PAFF Festival in Los Angeles kicks off today with the premiere of the South African movie Jerusalema. There are movies from all regions of the continent. Movies to be covered include Maroko (Nigeria), Munyurangabo (Rwanda), Distant Tremors (Senegal), and Stolen Kisses (Egypt), among others. We begin with the movie Divizionz. Divizionz is a Ugandan/South African production from the collective known as Yes! That’s Us. It is playing in the panorama section of the festival.

In a widening departure from the traditions that have come to define contemporary African cinema, Divizionz is a throw-forward in the ideals of African filmmaking. With a do-it-yourself attitude and style that exemplifies the African movie industry—as well as a healthy dose of the best of American independent cinema—it breaks new ground for cinema on the continent.

By focusing on a day in the life of four aspiring musicians who are on their way to an open mic performance in the city that might just change their fortunes, it sticks close to the human story, and employs this device to delve into the day-to-day existence of the city’s slum dwellers and the ways in which their lives collide with the cavalier politics of their leaders.

Still from Divizionz

Still from Divizionz

Kapo (played by rap star Bobi Wine) is the leader of the quartet which includes the female Kanyankole (Catherine ‘Scarlet’ Nakyanzi), Mulokole (Bobby ‘Lot’ Olem) and the devious, one-legged Bana (played by another hip hop star, ‘Buchaman’). Each member hails from a different ethnic group, with the relationship between Bana and Kayankole standing out for particular abrasiveness.

The journey to get a demo track for their performance leads us into the heart of the slum; the drug culture of the area manifests itself in interesting ways and exposes us, the viewers, to crooked cops who harass the dwellers, and rampant tribalism, which harasses too in its own way. In one scene on the streets of the slum, there is a particularly energetic chase of the lame Bana by Kapo on a chartered bike, Kapo having just been cheated by Bana.

The drama in the movie ultimately lies in whether all four singers will make it to the all-important open mic performance and if the consequences of this journey to leave the slums behind will permanently scar their friendship.

Using split screens a bit excessively and caught up with extensive dialogue sequences at times, it makes the most of its $6,000 budget. Shot on DV, its production values are better than average. Directors Donald Mugisha and James Taylor exhibit a sure command of camera technique and storytelling, and they possess an imaginative and ambitious narrative style that announces them as new talent in African cinema.

Post screening of the movie, I conducted an interview with director James Taylor (co-director Donald Mugisha did not make the trip to Los Angeles). Donald and James met at a film market at the Sitanghi campus in South Africa. It was there they struck up a friendship that led to the creation of Divizionz.

Divizionz was shown for free (and pay-what-you-can) in makeshift venues and beer houses in the areas where the movie was set. It was also shown at the Cineplex in Kampala. The movie was a hit with the audience and according to the director (this coming as a surprise to this viewer) a laugh riot to boot. James acknowledged that the jokes are ethnic in nature and play on mannerisms and stereotypes, and are thus more fully appreciated by an insider audience.

James Taylor (who works mainly in serial TV and on documentaries back in South Africa—his last project before Divizionz was a Ramadan religious program for the Islam TV station in South Africa) pointed out that the movie played in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival and was submitted by a friend directly to the judging committee. It was well-received and James relished the opportunity to network with other filmmakers from around the world—amongst them the acclaimed British director Mike Leigh. Divizionz was picked for sales and distribution by the French company, Wide Management.

Yes! That’s Us (whose motto is built on the Ubuntu philosophy which means I am, because we are) has made a bunch of music videos and short films. They are presently working on an ambitious movie project that will cut across four African countries. The project will deal with the topic of xenophobia on the African continent.

Are you at PAFF? Or do you think the best place to celebrate African cinema is on the African continent? Farafina welcomes your comments.

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