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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.

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