This year’s Pan African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF) is currently underway at the Balwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, Los Angeles, California. The 26th edition kicked off February 8, with a slate featuring over 100 fine visual artists and craftspeople from the U.S., Africa, South America, Europe, the South Pacific and Canada. And over 125 new movies from Africa and the diaspora to be shown. Now, that’s a whole lot of movies, which includes feature-length documentaries, short documentaries, narrative feature films, narrative shorts, and web series.
But don’t you fret. It’s six days into the festival and I can say that I have been quite impressed with the films that have been screened and the exploration of compellig themes. I have picked a handful of them but, mind you, this is a curation that will incorporate film synopses and trailers.
Directed by Manlakayise Dube, Kalushi is a South African biopic about Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu, a 19-year-old hawker from the streets of Mamelodi, a ghetto township outside Pretoria, South Africa. In the film, Kalushi is brutally beaten by the police and later goes into exile following the 1976 Soweto uprisings to join the liberation movement. His sacrifice immortalises him as a hero of the struggle and a national icon of the youth joining Umkhonto we Sizwe. Why do I like this film? It’s Apartheid-based cinema and because many have focused on Nelson Mandela, Kalushi is a refreshing addition to the stories of South Africa’s struggle for freedom.
Bigger Than Africa
The Yoruba people are the focus of this feature documentary that borders on the historical and epic. Bigger than Africa is directed by Toyin Abraham Adekeye, and follows the trans-Atlantic slave trade route from West Africa to six different countries – the U.S., Nigeria, Brazil, Republic of Benin, Trinidad & Tobago and Cuba. It explores the prominence and survival of the West African tribe, and how the Yoruba culture has served as a precursor for other cultures.
This Sade Oyinade-directed short film falls back on dusty Nollywood storylines, where the rich can’t marry the poor and two people can’t be together because of tribal differences. But what’s refreshing about Yemi’s Dilemma is the location. Sisters Yemi, Lola and Tayo are first-generation Nigerian Americans navigating two different cultures. Yemi, the eldest, is expected to marry a Nigerian man, but she keeps his tribe as a secret, and this threatens the dynamic within her family.
The Train of Salt and Sugar
Mozambique is in the midst of a civil war. A single train connects Nampula to Malawi. No civilians are allowed and yet hundreds risk their lives through 700 km of sabotaged tracks. Salomão and Taiar are two soldiers who don’t get along. Rosa is a young nurse on her way to her first job, who soon becomes an object of desire. Mariamu, her close friend, only hopes to trade salt for sugar. Amongst bullets and laughter, life goes on and stories unfold as the train advances under attack, ever so slowly, towards the next stop. Led by a military commander, The Train of Salt and Sugar, directed by Licínio Azecedo, is a bumpy journey aboard an African train that carries hundreds of unknown heroes.
Based on the Mandera bus attack of December 21, 2015, this Kenyan film was nominated for Best Live Action short film at the 90th Oscar Awards. A film by German student Katje Beneath, Watu Wote centers on the conflicts of the Muslims and Christians in Kenya, who have been targeted by the brutal terrorist attacks of the Al-Shaaab. The incessant anxiety created around this conflict continues until one day, passengers on a bus prove that faith and solidarity can prevail acts of terror and violence.
On Monday Last Week
An adaptation of the same name from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story collection, The Thing Around Your Neck, On Monday Last Week is brought to life by Ghanaian production company Obibini Pictures, and stars Nigerian actress Chinasa Ogubagu as Kamara, who takes on a nanny job caring for Josh, the 5-year-old son of Tracy and Neil, an interracial couple living in an upscale urban home. On Monday Last Week is directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu.
Prison movies can be tiring. We know the script and sequence, the scalloped, hermetic world of fights, violence, and well-preserved hierarchy. But Woodpeckers is a film by José María Cabral that comes up with an interesting hook based on an actual custom at the Dominican Republican facility where it was shot. It chronicles the romances between convicts at adjacent male and female prisons, and they must bridge the gap of…well…distance through elaborate sign language communication. The title, Woodpeckers, comes from male prisoners’ practice of perching on windowsills and “pecking” messages with their hands to female prisoners. Tedious maybe, but I call it improvisation.
All right. How can I possibly skip a film that has Eric Bana in it??? The Forgiven is a Dolan Joffé film based on the Michael Ashton play The Archbishop and The Antichrist, and stars Eric Bana and Forest Whitaker. The story follows Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s (Whitaker) work as President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa, and his struggle with a brutal murderer Piet Blomfeld (Nana) over concession and redemption.