You know when a film festival has made an impact … it’s when journalists whose audience can’t possibly see any of the films showing start to cover it.
The New York African Film Festival has been in that category for quite some time. Years before I moved to New York, I used to report on the festival for international audiences. It wasn’t a ploy for getting a free trip to Manhattan either, my boss never fell for that one! However, I did get to share with international audiences some of the emerging trends in African cinema, which were explored, celebrated and curated at a New York film festival of all places.
In the early days people were just curious to see what African filmmakers were producing. Now mainstream media is being influenced by movies in the festival program.
Just this week, the CBS program “60 Minutes” reported on Central Africa’s only symphony orchestra in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. Last year the documentary that inspired the “60 Minutes” story was the opening film at the New York African Film Festival. (You can catch “Kinshasa Symphony” again this year, back by popular demand on May 27 at BAM.)
When I talked to Mahen Bonetti, New York African Film festival founder and executive director, she was ebullient about this year’s program. (Listen to the audio from our chat above.) The theme is “21st Century Homecoming,” with all the films exploring the notion of home and homeland.
With more than 20 films on offer over two months there are a lot to choose from and Bonetti insists they’re all special. However, here are a few stand-out movies worth checking out.
Mama Africa This bio-pic is a loving tribute to the late Miriam Makeba, the South African singer who became known as “Mama Africa.” Stay after the screenings to chat with Bill Salter, one of Makeba’s long-time musicians. Showing on April 11 at 7:15 P.M. and on April 13 at 1:30 P.M. at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.
How To Steal 2 Million When cold-blooded Jack goes back to the streets after spending five years in jail for robbery, he is resolved to leave his criminal life behind. Of course things get a little complicated for Jack in this crime thriller starring some of South Africa’s best known actors. Don’t rush out of the theater after seeing this film noir, the movie’s director Charlie Vundla will be taking questions from the audience. Showing on April 12at 8:15 P.M. at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.
Relentless This striking film shot in Lagos about a former Sierra Leone peace-keeper battling his war demons on his return home to Nigeria has its U.S. premiere at the festival. Along with the screening, there will be dancing, delicious food from the African continent and a theater full of filmmakers, including the director of “Relentless,” Andy Amadi Okoroafor, Showing on April 13at 8 P.M. at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.
Fire in Babylon The true David and Goliath story of the brilliant West Indian cricket team that showed England, the country that invented cricket, just how the game should be played. Stay after the screening for a play-by-play discussion about the making of the documentary with director Stevan Riley. Showing on April 15at 8.30 P.M. at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center and on May 6at 7.30 P.M. at the Maysles Cinema.
For the full New York African Film Festival program, click here.
WNYC Radio is a community media sponsor of the New York African Film Festival.