Film Africa explodes onto the cultural scene again this year with a visual rollercoaster of the continent’s fictional, factual and fantasy-based stories. A kaleidoscope of political, romantic, comic and musical stories are part of a cinematic menu of over 50 films from pretty much all corners of the continent. The following reviews are a small selection of what a few key directors have to tell through stories from South Africa, Morocco, Ethiopia and Kenya, although the cinematic map is spectacularly wide this year.
Filmed by six young directors, Soweto: Times of Wrath kicks off with jubilant scenes of a dancing Mandela. 1994 was a time when generational voices of hope predicted an optimistic future within South Africa. Fast forward to the present and the same voices are now expressing a deep anger long after Madiba’s presidency. Tracking the lives of citizens still living in township shacks, the filmmakers’ hone in on the resulting layers of communal dysfunction that has formed over more than two decades of broken promises. Shattered aspirations have created too many township sanctuaries for hustlers, rock smokers and kidnappers. However, the film shows the dogged resistance of the tireless community activists, to whom the term ‘born free’ is a myth that reinforces the dual realities of a South Africa whereby opportunities are still marked out along racial lines.
Travelling North to Morocco, themes of emigration, family, separation and culture are deftly tackled in director Adil Azzab’s autobiographical My Name Is Adil . The story is told in flashback from boyhood to adulthood, starting with his early life as a reluctant shepherd in the sparse village of his birth. With an emotionally and physically brutal uncle dictating the quality of his day-to-day existence, Adil yearns to escape to Italy where his father is working. Three faces of Adil are presented to us by young actors who take us through the various stages of his life, with his adolescence being both touching and heartbreaking in equal measure. The fact that non actors – including those playing Adil’s mother, uncle and friends – were chosen for the roles adds another layer of poignant depth to a universal but totally personal story where a sense of love and belonging is held to be crucial for human survival.
Music is a form of language, and this rings true in Ethiopia where pride in the country’s 88 dialects comes through in Roaring Abyss, a lyrical road movie. A countrywide series of jam sessions are captured by filmmaker Quino Piñero in his audio and visual documentary of musical cultures that showcase the sounds of the Tigray Police Orchestra Band, Kaffa music from the forest and the mesmerising Awerus music culture amongst a wide palette of others. The importance of tradition is evident, with a specific sense of cultural sentiment harnessed in old established bands such as the Harar City Music Society – who were started during Haile Selassie’s reign – with original members steadfastly preserving and playing the same instruments that the band was founded with. If you seek it, rhythmic strands of ragga, reggae, juju and samba can be heard in some of the film’s acoustics, and with musicians referencing the likes of Shakespeare as well as tonal Indian voice scales, this is an Ethiopian experience that although steeped in tradition, is also a message about the universality of musical harmony.
This year’s selection of Baobab Shorts are a perfect example of films that specifically show the skillful directorial art of pulling on our emotions in a matter of carefully paced minutes. Gems to look out for include Wintry Spring, an Egyptian submission from director Mohamed Kamel who steers us though the painful tension that grows between a young girl, Nour, and her father who’s raising her on his own. Unable to articulate the changes she’s going through, her sullen withdrawal causes a painful domestic confusion that clouds their loving relationship.
In the beautifully shot Monsoons Over the Moon Part 1 & 2, dreams clash with reality in Nairobi, a dystopian city in which the internet is forbidden and written manuscripts have become a form of hard currency. Freedom becomes a dangerous journey of cat and mouse for lead character Shiro, whose exit from jail starts her on a quest to find ‘The Chemist’ before she’s captured by those who are tracking her for what she’s seen and what she knows.
Lazy Susan is a smart 10-minute dig at pretentious café culture in Cape Town. The focus is on a roll call of characters from high rollers to hipsters, all interacting with their dexterous waitress, with things going reasonably well as far as her shift goes – right up to the brow-raising ending.
Nana Ocran is a London-based writer, editor and lecturer, specialising in contemporary African trends. She was Editor-in-Chief for the Time Out Group’s series of guides to Lagos and Abuja and has consulted on and established publications on West African culture for the Danish Film Institute, Arts Council England, the Institute of International Visual Arts (Iniva) and the British Council. She was a curatorial advisor for the Afrofuture design programme at La Rinascente during Milan Design Week 2013, and is a regular features writer for Arik Air’s in-flight magazine, Wings. She also writes for Ethiopian Airlines, as well for South Africa Airways, Kenya Airways, Virgin Atlantic and also for Cape Town’s Design Indaba.