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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

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