Films of the African Diaspora Celebrated in New York - News Hunter Magazine

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Saturday, 13 December 2014

Films of the African Diaspora Celebrated in New York

NEW YORK—From countries across Africa to far-flung corners of the
globe, new films that give voice to people of color are screening at
the 22nd annual African Diaspora International Film Festivalin New
York.

From feature-length fiction and documentaries to shorts and
animations, the cinematic narratives are bound by concern for people
of color.

Founded in 1993 by Reinaldo Barroso-Spech, who is of Jamaican-Haitian
descent, and his French-Malian wife, Diarah N'Daw-Spech, the festival
is hosted by numerous venues around Manhattan.

This year's featured documentaries explore everything from the African
roots of Argentine tango, the life of President Obama's white mother,
Shirley Ann Dunham, and the Garifuna people of Honduras, to Karin
Junger'sSexy Money, — a so-called "musical documentary" about Nigerian
prostitutes living illegally in Europe, with songs by Nigerian singer
Nneka that discern a strange beauty in struggles of two women
reclaiming their lives after being deported.

"If they arrest you, you won't say a word to the police. You won't
tell who brought you to Europe. You won't tell them where you live.
You won't give them any information," one woman says in a scene from
the movie.

Fiction films include several recent award-winners, such as 2012's The
Pirogue, by Senegal-born director Moussa Touré, about a group of
African men and one woman who risk the dangerous journey to Spain in a
fishing boat.

Elza, a 2011 feature film by Mariette Monpierre, Guadeloupe's first
female director, tells the story of a young woman raised in France who
returns to her native Caribbean to search for her father.
An "epic" biographical film,Njinga, Queen of Angola, dramatizes the
16th century ruler who led her people in a struggle for freedom from
Portuguese usurpers.

Supremacy, the opening night film, features American actor Danny
Glover in a drama about white supremacists who take an
African-American family hostage.Rengaine, a 2012 French film by Rachid
Djaidani, is being shown as part of a themed series on race issues in
France. It's the story of an Algerian Muslim woman in Paris whose
plan to marry a black African, a Christian, is opposed by her eldest
brother, who attempts to enlist his 39 younger brothers to stop the
wedding.

Expanding options for African film

The festival holds screenings at venues around Manhattan, including
the famed Riverside Church, a one-time center for anti-apartheid
activism, where Nelson Mandela spoke after his release from prison.
Colleen Birchett, a college writing professor, is among the church's
African Fellowship members who volunteer for the Festival.

"They represent African filmmakers, and African filmmakers have such a
difficult time getting what we call their counter-narratives, their
perspectives into the mainstream media, so that their voices are
heard," she said, "There's been a whole history of stereotyping of
Africans, and telling very narrow slices of the truth."

Filmmaking by black Africans was discouraged, even illegal in some
countries, before independence. "During the colonial period, film was
used mainly in a political sense, and also to point out the atrocities
of apartheid," said Temple University professor Molefi Kete Asante,
who spoke at the festival's celebration of 20 years of democracy in
South Africa. "So in South Africa, the films that I grew up on, were
films that made you want to do something about the condition in the
country," he said.

One of those screened at the festival,Come Back, Africa, made by
American director Lionel Rogosin in 1959, is a drama about black South
Africans living under apartheid. It won the critics award at the
Venice Film Festival, and was banned by the South African government.

Mmabatho Ramagoshi, chair of the National Film and Video Foundation
introduced several young South African filmmakers at the democracy
celebration, including 25-year-old Lwazi Mvusi, whose 24-minute film
The State screened at the festival.

"It's a sci-fi, it's projecting 20 years into South Africa's future,
and it's basically a dystopian world, where the population's been
separated into supporters of the state and detractors of the state,"
Mzusi said. She said she is concerned that "Africa does have this
trend of 20, 30 years into their democracies becoming dictatorships,
and anyone who is supporting the government or president who has been
sitting there for 20 years, they have it better than those who
detract. And are we moving down that same line?" she asked.

New stories

The centerpiece film of the South African celebration,Between Friends,
was billed as the first-ever romantic comedy from the country, and its
polished cinematography and familiar story, about a group of affluent
young professionals on a holiday, might have come out of Hollywood.
Director Zuko Nodata said in fact, that he was influenced by the comic
films of American director Tyler Perry.

"Why not tell a story that the people love, that people will go and
see?" he asked. "I think it was about time that people wanted to watch
a film that they would feel good afterwards," he continued. "We
realized we do have good stories to tell now in our country, as
opposed to black people that are always seen as struggling. People in
South Africa these days can take a holiday, can go on honeymoons. So,
this was one of those stories we decided to tell, to show we as a
country have really moved on," he said.

Mvusi said she was sure that film was a force in liberation. "I think
as much as you talk politics, when you tell people stories, they
understand - they understand characters, they understand the things
that other people go through," she said. "Not just in South Africa,
but across the continent."



Credit: VOA News

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