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Farafina Magazine Presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF Festival

Day Two

 Day two was spent seeing three movies: The Yellow House from Algeria, Life Now from Togo and The Bloody Writing is Forever Torn. As the festival enters its second day, it is clear that many of the African filmmakers will be unable to attend the festival, the cost of travelling to the United States being a deterrent. At the moment it is hard to tell which filmmakers will actually be in town for the screenings of the movies. This hopefully will be made clearer in the future. This weekend, there will be a couple of major industry panels including a screenwriting panel led by Reggie ‘Rock’ Blythewood who wrote the recently released movie Notorious, which is about the life and death of the rapper Biggie Smalls.

 Other events include a screenplay pitching session to some of the industry’s established writers and a fine arts market where African artists will exhibit their work.

 The Bloody Writing is a short documentary film about a conference that took place in Ghana in 2007 on the history and effects from what is commonly called the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. It was the first major conference on the slave trade held in Africa in 46 years. Most importantly, it was the first time that European, South American and American scholars gathered with their African peers to discuss the slave trade.

 Focusing on the trade from the Gold Coast area, it takes us into two of the major forts at Elmina and Cape Coast castle, where slaves were held before being shipped across the Atlantic. It is interesting to note that Elmina was recently a night club and restaurant until outraged activists—and the potential loss of revenue from tourism their protests would have caused—led the Ghanaian government to transform into the historical site it deserves to be.

 It is noted in the documentary that most Africans do not discuss or understand the impact of the slave trade and its history because of the refusal to teach it in schools, this largely due to the fact that many of the ethnic groups participated in it. It is at this time we meet a Chief from Northern Ghana who demands to be part of the conference. His tribe were the targets of the stronger Asante Empire during the slave trading days and many of his people were captured and sold as slaves. History in Ghana has tended to ignore this issue. We visit his village where a slave defence wall built back then still stands. More disturbing is the ostracism of descendants of slaves in certain quarters.

 All these issues are enlightening in a nimble piece of work that exposes ideas and themes not often covered in discussion of slavery; that is, the Africans culpability in selling their own brothers and neighbours. Though the documentary contains some unnecessary and obtrusive slave capture re-enactments set to a variation on the theme music from Braveheart, it still has its heart in the right place. It ends with a powerful theatrical dance performance by the Ghana National Company titled Musu. This dance, a journey through the ordeals endured by a slave, is more much more powerful than any of the staged re-enactments.

 The director was not available after the screening but there was a Q&A with David Hiller, a member of the Omohundro Conference who sponsored the confab. It publishes the quarterly journal, William & Mary. It was only supposed to be a conference of American scholars, but that changed when they began receiving calls from African scholars wishing to participate and had to find a way to raise the budget to accommodate 50 of them.

 David Hiller mentioned the difficulty some of the African scholars had in discussing the issues raised, some even wishing to ignore it because their ethnic groups had been slave capturers. An African American in attendance asked if there was talk of expanding the discussions to include seeking reparations from the countries involved in the slave trade, to which Hiller replied that the organization only puts ideas out there and tends not to be activist in nature.

 Another conference, though smaller in scope, will be held again in Ghana later this year. To hear papers read and delivered at the conference, visit the Omohundro website.

The Yellow House

The Yellow House


“There is no cure for sadness,” says a doctor to Mouloud, the lead character in The Yellow House (La Maison Jaune). As the film opens information reaches Moloud—who lives in the hinterlands away from society—that his son is dead, and he sets out for the city in an oxcart to retrieve his body.

 This part of the movie is contemplative, with little dialogue and long passages of silence. In the city, Moloud struggles to find the mortuary. On his return after the burial, he finds he has a problem. His wife has fallen into depression. Hence the statement from the doctor he visits. Mouloud and his three daughters must find a cure for her illness. The journey to find this cure is what this great piece of cinema is about.

 Directed with a sure hand by the fifty-year-old veteran actor Hakkar Amor, this film falls into the tradition of African cinema characterized by Sembene and Chahine, albeit with some touches of 90s Iranian cinema characterised by Abbas Kiarostami. The film creates an atmosphere, one of simplicity and honesty, that the audience relishes in.

 The Yellow House won the best film category at the Dubai Film Festival.


Scene from Life, Now

Scene from Life, Now


Despite the enrichment Francophone cinema has provided over the years to PAFF, none of it has ever come from the 6 million-strong nation of Togo. The movie Life, Now goes some way to addressing this deficiency, as this film from Togo measures up favourably with movies from bigger nations on the continent.

 The advent of video with its cheap cost and processing has provided Africans the opportunity to take the cameras into the streets and tell the tales of the common man. The two biggest industries, Nigeria and Ghana, have used the opportunity to overwhelm us with melodrama and love stories stolen from the worst of Indian cinema and the Brazilian telenovela industry. In many other African countries, this crass aesthetic is absent. One can’t talk about this movie without referencing the shift in African cinema from those Francophone movies set in rural areas towards the stories of the citizens in the slums of urban cities, whether as seen in the Ugandan movie Divizionz, or the Kenyan movie Kibera Kid and popping up in other video films embraced by the public in other countries.

 The storyline for Life, Now begins in the streets of Togo, where three friends run a racket stealing high-end cars and shipping them across the border to the larger nation of Nigeria. As a character says, “You can’t imagine how big Lagos is. It is about three times the size of Togo.” The characters and director seem enamoured with Nigeria.

 This is not the only connection the story has to Nigeria. Pamela, a girl sent away at a tender age, lives with a cruel Nigerian madam who curses at her and makes her do all the house chores. She arrives back in Togo to look for the parents she does not know. At the same time a wealthy merchant seeks the son he gave up years ago—this son turns out to be Eli, the leader of the three-member gang of smugglers. To say these stories are intertwined is stating the obvious and the director spends most of the screen time bringing it all together.

 Director Steven AF shows a strong command of camera and is obviously influenced by old French and Italian cinema. Choice of music is especially strong though not mixed and edited professionally enough to make for a perfect sync. The director seems a big fan of the music of Ennio Morricone.

 While most African video movies lack adequate lighting due to the high cost, this movie luxuriates in it. It gets too much at times and it is an example of why even if you give an inexperienced DP the best tools, he will still find a way to mess it up. But the mistakes are fixable and probably will be because this looks like a rushed print (the movie has a January 2009 copyright date). Also, the movie appears to have been dubbed old Indian movie style with dialogue recorded in post-production, creating mouths that move out of sync with the dialogue.

 Director Steven AF is obviously talented but in this movie he tackles a storyline he is not quite ready to handle; the story is melodramatic with rape and incest as major topics and an obvious allusion to Greek Tragedy, especially Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. Wide screen lensing and camera set ups range from good to excellent.

 A point of note: The Nigerian government ought to hire the director to be their PR agent. Nigeria comes across as the land of plenty, with Lagos representing some form of El Dorado.

 Life, Now and The Yellow House are playing in the Panorama section of the festival.


Coming up… tomorrow, the industry panel discussion with the writers and casting director of Notorious, the B.I.G. story