Friday, April 18, 2014

The New York African Film Festival

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On Wednesday night, the 19th edition of the New York African Film Festival was inaugurated at the Lincoln Centre, with a screening of Mika Kaurismaki's Mama Africa, a keenly-awaited documentary about the life of South African legend Miriam Makeba.

Honouring the 50th anniversary of the independence of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria and Jamaica, this year’s festival will once again set to examine themes of intra-national struggle, liberation and independence. Within that framework it will look at the role of the artist as activist as well as the literal and figurative homecoming in the 21st century by diaspora Africans.

While the list of notable films is long, not least because the festival runs over the course of two months (April-May), I am excited about two particular documentaries: Laura Gamse's 'The Creators', which analyses the role of artists in contemporary South Africa; and Osvalde Lewat's daring 'Sderot, Last Exit', an experimental film that attempts to portray the contradictions that arise in the Sderot film school, two kilometres from the Gaza border in south Israel. African Women in Cinema features an interesting little interview about the making of the film.

Amongst the features, the visually stunning ‘Restless City’ stands out. Having already screened at top festivals (including Sundance and BFI) last year, it tells the story of a young man surviving on the fringes of New York City where "music is his passion, life is a hustle, and falling in love is his greatest risk".

Another screening that catches the eye is Andy Amadi Okoroafor's 'Relentless' which follows a returning soldier from Sierra Leone to Lagos where he tries to re-build his life as an emotionally stunted security company director. Gideon Okeke's performance is captivating, while there's also a treat for Nneka fans with a supporting role performance and a contribution to the already special soundtrack (you can listen to the song here).

Movies aside, I also like the idea behind the festival's 'How to Teach Africa: Lessons of African Instruction for Educators' workshop that brings together African and African-American scholars to address the insensitivity of the American public school system towards the African diaspora. The workshop will take place on April 14 at the South African Consulate General on East 38th Street. For more info please click here.

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