New African Film Festival


Cinema from the continent will be on display this weekend as the 12th Annual New African Films Festival kicks off later this weekend in the Nation’s Capital. This annual festival showcasing the best in African filmmaking will be held in the historic AFI Silver Theater.

Many of this year’s offering will be unfamiliar but due to the increasing number of films coming out of the African continent (Nigeria’s industry, Nollywood, produces over 1,000 films a year) there is a wealth of untapped talent for audiences starved to see non-traditional images of themselves on screen.

This year’s event also features a tribute to the late, great Senegalese film director, producer and writer Ousmane Sembène.

This festival, co-presented by AFI, Africa World Now Project and Afrikafé, provides a golden opportunity to see some films that rarely screen in the United States, less more in DC. The festival will run at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, MD from March 11-18. For more info, including how to buy tickets, click HERE.

Check out a list of the festival offerings, below:

Opening Night

Fri, March 11, 7:15 p.m.; also screening Sun, March 13, 4:45 p.m.
Yared Zeleke’s remarkable feature debut tells the story of young Ephraim, a half-Jewish Ethiopian boy who is sent by his father to live among distant relatives after his mother’s death. Ephraim uses his cooking skills to carve out a place among his cousins, but when his uncle decides that his beloved sheep must be sacrificed for the next religious feast, he will do anything to save the animal and return home. Beautifully shot against the majestic backdrop of Ethiopia’s southern mountains, this is an affecting tale about what people will risk in order to take charge of their own destinies. 2016 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar® Submission, Ethiopia; Special Jury Prize, 2015 Denver Film Festival; Official Selection, 2015 Cannes, Toronto and London Film Festivals. DIR/SCR Yared Zeleke; PROD Laurent Lavolé, Ama Ampadu, Johannes Rexin. Ethiopia/France/Germany/Norway/Qatar, 2015, color, 94 min. In Amharic with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Fri, March 11, 9:30 p.m.; Wed, March 16, 5:15 p.m.
Twenty-three-year-old writer/director Sibs Shongwe-La Mer referenced a painful loss as a teen to make this personal, stylized debut. Shongwe-La Mer’s film offers an authentic perspective of life in Jo’burg, or Johannesburg, South Africa, as he knew it. The film begins on a harrowing note: a wealthy white teen has hanged herself from a tree, using her school necktie. To make matters worse, her death has been live-streamed. From there, the filmmaker follows other teens peripherally connected to the girl, all of whom make up a contemporary génération perdue — young people who are wrecked and defeated, unsure of the present and the future. With polished black-and-white cinematography, the film rings true beyond its focus on post-apartheid South Africa, and speaks more generally to a millennial tragedy. (Note courtesy of AFI FEST 2015 presented by Audi.) Best South African Film, Best Director, 2015 Durban Film Festival; Official Selection, AFI FEST 2015, Berlin, Tribeca and London Film Festivals. DIR/SCR Sibs Shongwe-La Mer; PROD Elias Ribeiro, John Trengove. South Africa/Netherlands, 2015, b&w, 93 min. In English, Afrikaans and Zulu with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Sat, March 12, 1:15 p.m.; Mon, March 14, 5:15 p.m.
Sudan has been in an almost constant state of civil war since it achieved independence in 1956, and split into a pair of sovereign countries in 2011. On the border between Sudan and South Sudan, Russian-made Antonov planes indiscriminately drop bombs on settlements in the Nuba Mountains below. Yet incredibly, the people of the Blue Nile respond to adversity with music, singing and dancing to celebrate their survival. This documentary explores how music binds a community together, offering hope and a common identity for refugees engaged in a fierce battle to protect cultural traditions and heritage from those trying to obliterate them. (Note courtesy PBS.) Winner, Grolsch People’s Choice Documentary Award, 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. DIR/SCR Hajooj Kuka; PROD Steven Markovitz. Sudan/South Africa, 2014, color, 68 min. In Arabic with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Sat, March 12, 3:00 p.m.
Smanga (filmmaker Charlie Vundla, HOW TO STEAL 2 MILLION, 2012 New African Film Festival) is a celebrated young professor whose life unravels when his wife leaves him. He spirals into a drug- and sex-induced tailspin that places both his career and house in jeopardy. Smanga’s path of self-destruction is interrupted when he meets an old schoolmate, Jon, whom he invites to move into his place. Jon convinces Smanga to save his house by selling the marijuana growing in the backyard and using the cash to pay off the debt. Smanga’s wife abruptly returns and also moves back into the house, and these three misfits begin a unique living experiment. Things become complicated by an unexpected pregnancy, and, as the tension in the house rises, Smanga faces a complex decision that will define the lives of his tribe. Official Selection, 2015 Toronto and Chicago International Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Charlie Vundla; PROD Jeremy Nathan, Morbo Nkawe. South Africa, 2015, color, 95 min. In English and Zulu with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Sat, March 12, 5:00 p.m.
After the smashing success of HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, filmmaker Biyi Bandele tells the story of four middle-aged friends who are forced to take stock of their personal lives, while juggling careers and family in the upper middle-class neighborhoods of Lagos. Tola is a reality TV star whose marriage to lawyer Kunle never stood a chance, thanks to an unpleasant family secret. Elizabeth is a celebrated obstetrician whose penchant for younger men has estranged her from her daughter. Maria’s affair results in some unexpected news, while Kate’s battle with a life-threatening illness has plunged her into religious obsession. In this tender but unflinching exploration of love and lust, power and rivalry, life and loss, these women rise triumphantly to the challenges of contemporary life. Featuring appearances (and music) by King Sunny Ade, Femi Kuti, Nneka, Tiwa Savage and the irrepressible Waje. DIR Biyi Bandele; PROD Tope Oshin Ogun. Nigeria, 2015, color, 101 min. In English. NOT RATED

Sat, March 12, 7:15 p.m.; Wed, March 16, 7:15 p.m.
A recovering addict, Teddy drives his cab across the sprawling Addis Ababa in the hopes of making an honest living. But when Teddy picks up the beautiful prostitute Fere, just as she’s escaping an abusive john, he’s thrust back into the world of trouble he tried to escape. After an act of retribution, which leaves Teddy’s cab stolen, he joins forces with Fere in the hopes of saving both their lives. As romance blossoms between the two outsiders, they learn the hard way that love comes with a price. One of the leading female filmmakers from Ethiopia, Hermon Hailay examines tough social issues with great finesse in this gripping contemporary drama. Special Prize, 2015 FESPACO Film Festival; Official Selection, 2015 Toronto International Film Festival. DIR/SCR Hermon Hailay; SCR/PROD Max Conil. Ethiopia, 2015, color, 99 min. In Amharic with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Sat, March 12, 9:30 p.m.
In an unidentified African country plagued by civil war, Emma is a young idealistic lawyer, officially assigned to defend a rebel — and former child soldier — accused of heinous war crimes. As everyone around her begins to question her actions, Emma becomes even more resolute to stand up for justice and offer her client a fair trial. Maimouna Ndiaye and Fragass Assandé both won acting awards at the FESPACO Film Festival for their brave performances in this thrilling feature debut from Sékou Traoré. DIR/PROD Sékou Traoré; SCR Luis Marquès, Christophe Lemoine; PROD Axel Guyot, Philippe Braunstein. France/Burkina Faso, 2015, color, 104 min. In French with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Sun, March 13, 1:05 p.m.
In 1952, Ousmane Sembène, a dockworker and fifth-grade dropout from Senegal, began dreaming an impossible dream: to become the storyteller for a new Africa. This documentary tells the unbelievable true story of the “father of African cinema,” the self-taught novelist and filmmaker who fought, against enormous odds, a monumental, 50-year-long battle to give African stories to Africans. The story is told through the experiences of the man who knew him best, colleague and biographer Samba Gadjigo, using rare archival footage and more than 100 hours of exclusive materials. This true-life epic follows an ordinary man who transforms himself into a fearless spokesperson for the marginalized, becoming a hero to millions. After a startling fall from grace, can Sembène reinvent himself once more? Official Selection, AFI FEST 2015, Sundance, Cannes and New York Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Samba Gadjigo, Jason Silverman. Senegal/U.S., 2015, color, 82 min. In English and French with English subtitles. NOT RATED

New DCP Restoration. 50th Anniversary!

Sun, March 12, 2:50 p.m.
Ousmane Sembène’s first feature — the movie that opened the way for African cinema in the West — is by turns tough, swift and true in its aim. A young woman (Mbissine Thérèse Diop) leaves Senegal with dreams of a more carefree and glamorous existence in France, where she procures a job as a live-in maid and nanny for a young couple in the French Riviera. She is gradually deadened by the endless routines and tasks and rhythms of life in the tiny apartment, and by the dissatisfactions felt by the husband and wife, which they project onto their “black girl.” Sembène’s “perfect short story,” wrote Manny Farber, naming it as the best movie of 1969, “is unlike anything in the film library: translucent and no tricks, amazingly pure, but spiritualized.” It is a formative and eye-opening work, and one of Sembène’s finest. (Note courtesy New York Film Festival.) DIR/SCR Ousmane Sembène; PROD André Zwoboda. France/Senegal, 1966, b&w, 65 min. In French with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Preceded by:

The genesis of black African cinema can be traced to this short, stark masterpiece that chronicles a day in the life of a Dakar cart-driver. The frustrating day of this borom sarret (a Wolof expression for cart-driver) leaves him cheated out of his wages and deprived of his cart. In this striking film with evocative urban details, Sembène conveys the toll of natural loss, poverty and the stain of European colonization on Africa. (Note courtesy African Film Festival New York.) DIR/SCR Ousmane Sembène. Senegal, 1963, b&w, 18 min. In French with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Restored by The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project in collaboration with the Sembène Estate, Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, Laboratoires Éclair and Centre National de Cinématographie. Restoration carried out at Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata Laboratory. A Janus Films release.

U.S. Premiere

Sun, March 13, 6:45 p.m.; Fri, March 18, 5:20 p.m.
Omar ekes out a meager living in the slums of seaside village Mostaganem, snatching valuables off passersby to feed his addiction to Madame Courage: Artane tablets, popular for their euphoric effect of invincibility. When he crosses paths with Selma, a beautiful girl with a shiny necklace he pockets, Omar finds a new obsession. But his stalking is met with intrigue and the two form a dangerous connection. Algerian filmmaker Merzak Allouache (THE REPENTANT, 2013 New African Film Festival) brings a gritty intensity to this delicate examination of the male psyche, buoyed by incredible performances by his two young lead actors. Official Selection, 2015 Venice and London Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Merzak Allouache; PROD Antonin Dedet. Algeria/France, 2015, color, 90 min. In Arabic with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Sun, March 12, 8:45 p.m.
Thirty-year-old Bella (singer Fatoumata Diawara, seen in the 2015 Oscar®-nominated TIMBUKTU) works in a mafia-run cabaret in Dakar, struggling to accept the limitations of her miserable life. Having given up her daughter for adoption 15 years prior, Bella is wracked with guilt over her past actions. But when she meets Yélo, a fellow Guinean working for the UN, she has a chance for redemption as the two set out to find her daughter and rebuild a life worth living. This inspiring drama celebrating the female spirit comes from filmmaker Cheick Fantamady Camara (CLOUDS OVER CONAKRY, 2008 New African Film Festival). Official Selection, 2015 Seattle, FESPACO and Zanzibar Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Cheick Fantamady Camara; SCR Marc Gautron, Catherine Foussadier. France/Guinea, 2015, color, 124 min. In French with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Mon, March 14, 7:15 p.m.
Aisha, a young, ambitious businesswoman living in the city, returns to the village of her youth to attend her little sister’s wedding. As she re-connects with her past, catching up with family and old friends, something unexpected happens, and the consequences are devastating. Everyone else would rather turn a blind eye, but Aisha decides to fight a tough battle for justice. This film is dedicated to all women who have gone through the same extraordinary suffering as Aisha. DIR Chande Omar; SCR Hamadi Mwapachu; PROD Amil Shivji. Tanzania, 2015, color, 112 min. In Swahili with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Mon, March 14, 9:30 p.m.
Farmers Maro and Bissoon spent their lives working on sugarcane fields, but as tourism increased on the tropical island of Mauritius, their fields were razed to make way for ritzy hotels and lush golf courses. As tensions rise between residents both new and old, Marco and Bisson must forge a new path not just for themselves but for their besieged culture. Filmmaker David Constantin, credited with putting Mauritius on the cinematic map, has crafted a thoroughly modern narrative, exploring the downsides of globalization with impressive cinematography and performances from non-professional actors. Best Screenplay, 2015 Durban Film Festival; Official Selection, 2015 Seattle Film Festival. DIR/SCR/PROD David Constantin; SCR Sabrina Compeyron. Mauritius/France, 2014, color, 88 min. In Creole, English and French with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Tue, March 15, 5:15 p.m.; Thurs, March 17, 9:30 p.m.
When the first explorers visited East Africa, the local Bantu populations called them wazungu, from the verb kuzunguka, meaning “to spin around,” as a result of the explorer’s propensity to get lost in their wanderings. In this film, a white man meets a black girl. Then the girl disappears. The white man tries to understand what happened to her and eventually finish a travelogue. The story plays out over three mesmerizing vignettes in this complex meditation on colonialism from Rwandan filmmaker Kivu Ruhorahoza (GREY MATTER, 2012 New African Film Festival). Official Selection, 2015 Sundance, Rotterdam, Beijing and Sydney Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Kivu Ruhorahoza; PROD Antonio Rui Ribeiro. UK/Rwanda, 2015, color, 78 min. In English. NOT RATED

Tue, March 15, 7:15 p.m.
Married ex-con Dangi is struggling to lead a clean and law-abiding life while juggling a relationship with his ex-mistress and their son, neither of whom his wife knows about. Shivago, Katatura township’s most notorious gangster, is a drug dealer looking for a new market to sell his product. Kondja, a teenager in a wheelchair with a penchant for helping street kids, experiences his first love. The collision of their lives creates a powerful and volatile story of both the brutality and hopefulness of life in the township. DIR/SCR Florian Schott; SCR/PROD Obed Emvula. Namibia, 2015, color, 112 min. In English. NOT RATED

Tue, March 15, 9:30 p.m.; Thurs, March 17, 5:15 p.m.
Set against the backdrop of spectacular post-apocalyptic Ethiopian landscapes, the film follows a strange-looking scrap collector, Gagano (the charismatic Daniel Tadesse). Alternately gripped by daydreams and constant fears, the diminutive Gagano has had enough of collecting the priceless crumbs of decayed civilization, including the most valuable: merchandise from Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan. When a spaceship that has been hovering high in the sky for years starts showing signs of activity, Gagano must overcome his fears — as well as a witch, Santa Claus and second-generation Nazis — to discover things aren’t quite what he thought. Official Selection, 2015 Rotterdam, BAFICI, Los Angeles and Denver Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Miguel Llansó. Ethiopia/Spain/Finland, 2015, color, 68 min. In Amharic and Afrikaans with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Wed, March 16, 9:30 p.m.
Fifteen-year-old Abel is forced to provide for his family and man their boda boda (moto taxi) after his father is injured in a traffic accident. Looking for a quick fix, he gets lured in by a local hustler who offers him the chance to be a getaway driver, diving headfirst into a world of easy money and quick thrills. But after Abel is robbed of his taxi, the lies pile up as he searches for the stolen motorbike through the underbelly of Kampala. Filmmakers Donald Mugisha (THE KAMPALA STORY, 2014 New African Film Festival) and James Tayler drew inspiration from the Italian neorealist film THE BICYCLE THIEF to create this updated African homage. Official Selection, 2015 Seattle and Vancouver Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Donald Mugisha, James Tayler; SCR/PROD Wanjiku Sarah Muhoho. South Africa/Germany/Kenya/Uganda, 2015, color, 85 min. In Luganda with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Thurs, March 17, 7:15 p.m.
Music is the beating heart of Malian culture. But when Islamic hardliners took control of northern Mali in 2012, they enforced one of the harshest interpretations of sharia law in history and banned all forms of music. Radio stations were destroyed, instruments were burned and Mali’s musicians faced torture, even death, and were forced into hiding or exile. But rather than lay down their instruments, the musicians are fighting back, standing up for their cultural heritage and identity. With a specially commissioned soundtrack from Mali’s most exciting artists and a score written by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, this documentary leaps headfirst into a tale of courage in the face of conflict. Official Selection, 2015 SXSW and London Film Festivals. DIR/SCR/PROD Johanna Schwartz; SCR Andy Morgan; PROD Sarah Mosses, Kat Amara Korba. UK, 2015, color, 105 min. In French, Songhay, English, Bambara and Tamasheq with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Fri, March 18, 7:15 p.m.
This rollicking rock-u-drama tells the universal story of a musician trying to make it “against all odds,” set against the backdrop of the raucous subculture of Tuareg guitar. The protagonist, real life musician Mdou Moctar, must battle fierce competition from jealous musicians, overcome family conflicts, endure the trials of love, and overcome his biggest rival — himself. Carried by stunning musical performances from Mdou, the story was drawn from his own experiences while stylistically borrowing from Prince’s 1984 classic PURPLE RAIN. DIR/SCR Christopher Kirkley; SCR Mdou Moctar. Niger, 2015, color, 75 min. In Tamashek with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Fri, March 18, 9:00 p.m.
A series of misfortunes leads a West African village to accuse a young girl, Asabi (Ophelia Klenam Dzidzornu), of witchcraft. Their pastor (Fred Nii Amugi, BEASTS OF NO NATION) insists that salvation lies in her exorcism and death, using his compelling rhetoric to incite fear into the people and turn Asabi’s mother (Ama K. Abebrese, BEASTS OF NO NATION) against her own daughter. Disillusioned reporter Godwin (Oris Erhuero, SOMETIMES IN APRIL) finds himself swept up in the witch hunt. With the help of a young schoolteacher (Joseph Otsiman), he attempts to save Asabi’s life, fighting back against corruption and false prophets (Jimmy Jean-Louis, JOY, HEROES). Based on true events, this is a story of morality, corruption and community in the heart of Africa. DIR/SCR Nana Obiri-Yeboah, Maximilian Claussen; SCR Nicholas K. Lory. UK/Ghana, 2015, color, 100 min. In English. NOT RATED