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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.

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