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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.

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF festival

Day 8

A Day of Short Films

There are a lot of short films playing in the festival. Short films often are the starting point for future talents in the movie industry. There are five films playing in the festival.

Worth mentioning is the short film, Happy Anniversary Punk!, which lasted for thirty minutes by Nigerian-American Mike Ajakwe, a successful TV and film writer. This was his first  project he directed and, which he solely funded.

Happy Anniversary Punk!

Happy Anniversary Punk!

Another film, Charcoal Traffic, which lasted 7 minutes, deals with deforestation as scenes are shown of trees chopped down and later sold as charcoal. Set in the hinterlands and rural region, the struggle for this wood leads to a violent and tragic end. Advertised as the first movie filmed on Somalia soil in fifteen years, it was directed by Nathan Collett who resides in Kenya.

Following after was Release, a six minutes film, which is a lyrical, impressionistic DV movie, filmed in Cameroon that celebrates African oral tradition—one of the stories was about two boys who run into olden spirits, and as a result they are required to complete a task that will bring peace to the continent.

Charcoal Traffic

Charcoal Traffic

Hair We Are, produced in the UK takes place on a school playground where the virtues of black hair are discussed.

The movies were not parochial, for there was Layla, which deals with the opium trade as seen through the eyes of a Palestinian immigrant. Although it was produced and directed by African American filmmakers, majority of the cast were of Arab and white origin. There was also My brother’s Keeper, a family comedy directed by Caucasian students from USC Film School. It is set in the 70s and deals with two African American brothers getting to know each other while their mom is out. It resembles the American sit-com classics Good Times and the Jeffersons.

Hair We Are

Hair We Are

Last was the movie, Warrior Queen, that excited the audience the most and stole all the questions during the Q & A. Warrior Queen, a twenty-two minutes flick from UCLA film grad, Hezekiah Lewis. It’s about the time when Asante Empire Queen Asantewa stood up to the English in the one of the final wars before Ghana was made part of the British Empire.

Epic looking, with cinematography and a big lush score straight out of Hollywood epics, and a Brave Heart theme about the oppressed standing up to the invaders, it offered excitement to an audience not used to seeing African culture played on a grand scale. Budget of the movie financed largely by grants was over a $100,000.

He was inspired to make the movie, after hearing African American poet and writer Maya Angelou lament the lack of stories about African empires.

My Brother's Keeper

My Brother's Keeper

Filmed in a hurry with some of Ghana’s most revered actors, he hopes to turn the movie into a feature film. This was the first première of what looks like many for this movie, which was only completed two weeks ago. Hezekiah Lewis has a long history directing. Warrior Queen is his thesis film.

Not part of a short program but attached to a movie is Kwame, directed by Ghanaian and first generation British citizen Edward Osei-Gyimah. The movie centres on a Los Angeles cab driver (Benjamin Ochieng, Tears of the Sun) who is haunted by memories and images of the 1979 Rawlings coup and his relationship with a Latina drug addict (Jessica Diz). It is a contemplative movie that offers a hopeful ending for the future of the character and Ghana.

Warrior Queen Production

Warrior Queen Production

Director Gyimah is a graduate of “The School”— University of Southern California Film Program—as it is called because of its relationship with the Hollywood movie industry.

Edward commented that he hopes to turn the movie into a feature film where he can focus more on the stratification of neighbourhoods in Los Angeles, which he finds so strange since he comes from London where everyone of the same income bracket lives in the same vicinity.

kwame

kwame

He talked about being black and the difficulty of getting such movies green lit because they don’t do well and are considered too narrow in its audience. He thinks that will change as Africa begins to tell its own story. He was surprised to see the Ghanaian movie, Run Baby Run which is playing in the festival (and financed in Ghana). He remarked that England is much tougher than Hollywood. Growing up, he never saw any black actors or filmmakers. He remembers John Singleton getting nominated for best director for Boyz in the Hood and that’s why he has always regarded America as the place of opportunity for African-centric filmmakers.

Layla

Layla

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the PAFF festival

Day 7

The Fine Arts Section of the Festival

At the festival, there is also a Fine Arts section. It’s taking place at the Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles.

Take a look at some of the stalls and goods on display.

paff-stall-1

PAFF stall

PAFF stall

Trinkets on sale

Trinkets on sale

Hats on sale

Hats on sale

Stall at PAFF

Stall at PAFF

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.

Farafina magazine presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF Festival

Day 5

A slow day with two documentaries films watched.

African Underground

African Underground

African Underground

The first is from Senegal titled African Underground: Democracy in Dakar. Following the Hip-hop movement in Senegal as it relates to political consciousness, it focuses on Hip-hop as the voice of the people in a country with high unemployment and poverty. Tracking the roots of rap in Senegal from the early nineties to the present, it follows the artists into the studio where discussions are mainly focused on politics framed around the upcoming presidential election from 2007. Milieu of the documentary is the five days leading up to the election.

Senegal is one of the few countries in Africa that has never experienced a military coup and has a long history of democracy, but the effects of the 2007 election has placed doubts on the effectiveness of democracy and the will of the people. Incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade who had the support of the Hip-hop community in 2000, however lost their support owing to allegations of corruption and ineffective leadership, and yet he won the election. More surprising, he won it in the first round. That had never happened in Senegal.

The film suggests one of two things: it was rigged or as many others put it, or potentially more disturbing, the people didn’t see any hope in the alternative candidates who were all formerly members of the president’s cabinet.africanundergrounddemocracydakar

It’s all bleak and dire, though certain people mention economic growth as the reason. The problem seems to be with freedom of speech and liberties, and of course the dividends of democracy not coming in as fast the people wish. The people’s only source for the truth is Hip-hop where the rappers state it in blunt terms. There are no booty shaking girls, misogynistic rhymes, just good old conscious rap.

Music can be heard at http://www.africanunderground.com.

Trouble the Water

Trouble the Water is the story of Hurricane Katrina that shook the city of New Orleans in 2005. Following two characters, Kim and her husband, who filmed most of the footage of the community before the Hurricane hit, it disclosed people who refused to leave the area. It continues with footage of the water rising while they are still in their homes and moving up as they flee to higher grounds. This footage gives the viewer a close look as the water rises. It is a scene most viewers of the disaster on TV have never seen.

Kim, a fast-talking aspiring rapper, takes us through the black community before and after the storm. Kim and her husband move away after the storm from New Orleans and their visit, a year later, reveals that nothing much has changed.

An interesting view into the lives of those affected by the storm, it doubles as a mark against the Bush government, and it impressed why black Americans don’t trust the government. It is a good addition to the Spike Lee documentary, When the Levees Broke, also about the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

Trouble for the Water is up for the best picture at the Academy Award.

Farafina Magazine Presents: Charles Mayaki at the 2009 PAFF Festival

Day 3

The third day of PAFF kicked off with a panel discussion on Notorious, a movie about the life of Christopher Wallace aka Notorious B.I.G. Moderated by journalist Farai Chideya, the panel was made up of producer Bobby Teitel, writers Cheo Hodari Coker and Reggie Blythewood, and casting director Twinkie Byrd.

Scene from Notorious

Scene from Notorious

The fast-paced discussion benefitted from the many nuggets brought to the table by Cheo Hodari Coker. A writer for the hip-hop magazine Vibe, Coker interviewed Wallace twice; once in 1994 and again, shortly before his murder. In his last interview with Coker, Biggie was all about family, and his daughter especially. Biggie, as the movie depicts, was also a mama’s boy—he was scared, up until the day he died, of what his mom would think.

Highlights of the discussion included debates about the misogyny that ‘dogs’ rap and the ‘Madonna whore’ concept espoused by the characters of Faith Evans and Lil’ Kim. Casting director Twinkie Byrd, a lively character, invited two actors from the movie onto the stage. Julia Pace Mitchell plays Jan, Biggie’s first baby mama who, as Julia put it, gets “dumped for the lighter-skinned chick”, referring to Faith Evans. While Julia had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Jan, actor Dennis White, cast as D-Rock, Biggie’s best friend who takes the fall for Biggie, wasn’t so lucky as D-Rock was still incarcerated at the time of filming. Both actors, who came across as intelligent and promising, are part of the Theatre Troupe of Howard University, Washington D.C.

A Q & A session with the audience followed where someone raised the issue of the movie’s inadequate treatment of the time Biggie time spent away from New York, while drug dealing in North Carolina, to which Cheo Hodari Coker answered that there was not enough time to put everything in and certain things had to be compressed. When Biggie got his record deal, Sean “Puffy” Combs had to go down to North Carolina and persuade him to come back to New York. Interestingly enough, the day after Biggie left, cops raided the area and a lot of his cronies got busted and ended up doing time.

Producer Bobby Tietel also talked about the difficulty of marketing the movie, which was completed only two weeks before opening. Obviously, he wished it could have reached a wider audience because it got excellent reviews.

Attendees also discovered that the movie project had surprisingly been pushed by Ms. Wallace rather than Puffy who joined in after production started.

A friend of Antonique Smith, cast as Faith Evans, provided comic relief when he took the microphone, after getting Smith on the phone, and put his cell on speaker so the actress could thank the casting director, producer and writers for giving her the role. She was speaking from the Berlin Film Festival where Notorious is part of the festival.

Coker got in the last word when he said the movie is ultimately about manhood and what it means to be a man.

Nubian Spirit: The African Legacy of the Nile Valley had a full house. In this movie, British-Jamaican director Louis Buckley set out to educate his audience and reclaim Egypt as a cornerstone of Black civilisation.

Nubian Spirit

Nubian Spirit

Most of the argument surrounding Egyptians is centred on King Tut and Cleopatra; why are they not depicted as black and why do European historians argue that they were not black? Buckley’s documentary helps put to rest these disputes by tracing the roots of Egypt back to the two original kingdoms of Kush (later Nubia and present-day Ethiopia) and Kemet (present-day Egypt), by the Nile Valley. From 4000–800 BC, these kingdoms enjoyed a close relationship and were populated by black people alone.

Only after 800 BC did the Assyrians defeat the people of Kemet, followed by the Persians, the Greeks under Alexander the Great, who renamed the union of the sister kingdoms Egypt, and finally the Romans who found Cleopatra as queen.

Along the way, conquerors came, rewrote history in their favour and appointed their descendants as Pharaohs. Kemet was segregated from Kush which was never conquered. By so doing, they also separated the people whose race differed only by virtue of the progeny of intermarriage and immigration to the region.

Tracking scientific, religious and educational innovations while referring to a plethora of historians, the documentary stresses the contributions people of the Nile Valley made to the world while outlining events which led to their diminished dominance and end of their empires.

Interesting and educational, Nubian Spirit places everything in time while emphasizing the need for archaeologists to look for more answers in Ethiopia and to understand its meriotic language in the same way they have combed through Egypt and deciphered its hieroglyphics language.

In the heated Q & A segment that ensued, audience members threw criticisms at Africans who care nothing about their history and also brought up the latest tour of the tomb of King Tut where he was depicted as an Arab-looking man. I think the director, a jovial character who cracked a lot of jokes, put it best when he said that “all civilizations have contributed to each other and should be recognized equally”. This is what the message this movie successfully conveys.

Scene from Rain

Scene from Rain

Rain is a Bahamian movie starring American TV actress CCH Pounder and newcomer Renel Brown as the titular Rain. The death of Rain’s grandmother takes her from a sheltered existence on a ragged side of the island to the capital city of Nassau where she rejoins the mother who abandoned her. Her mother Glory is a drug addict who lives in the seedy area of town nicknamed ‘the graveyard’ populated by prostitutes, pimps and homeless people. Rain is introduced into this life of primordial existence where the kids at her new school take a dislike to her and where people have no hope of breaking free of their situation. Rain has two things going for her; an exercise coach (CCH Pounder) who befriends her and her own innate ability on the race track which might get her a scholarship and pave way for her exit.

In this well made movie with convincing performances, Greek Bahamian director Maria Govan demonstrates an observant eye for the culture and people she depicts. Govan came to Los Angeles to make movies and worked on a few productions before returning to her native country where she started making documentaries. She raised the money for her productions by calling on the generosity of wealthy citizens of Nassau.

PAFF is Govan’s fourth festival promoting Rain and her hope is that the exposure will make it easier for acquisitions people to see the movie and to get Rain distributed.

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