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African Cinema (films  from/about Africa)

Africa (especially West Africa) is producing quite a number of films. Sadly very few of these ever reaches USA and Europe - and even less are released on video or DVD. The style and cinematographic language of films produced in Africa are slower and very different from what we are used to (up north and in the west). But that should absolutely not scare you off. Some African films are highly acknowledged works of art and others gives you a rare chance to understand African history or life in Africa today. All in all it can be very rewarding to dig a little deeper into african films. The movies below could be a place to start

Samples of African Movies

Lumumba

France (2000)
Directed by Raoul Peck
The political thriller is the true story of Patrice Lumumba, the first head of government in Congo 1960. Lumumba had only 2 months in the government as he was soon after killed with assistance from CIA and Joseph Mobutu (later Mobutu Sese Seko). Director Raoul Peck also made a documentary about Lumumba in 1991.

Patrice Lumumba

 Jit

Zimbabwe (1990)
Directed by Michael Raeburn

Romantic comedy about a young african man fighting to get the beautiful girl.

JIT is the name for the pop-music of Zimbabwe. The film has an almost full-length soundtrack of great music. The main character is a young boy called UK. People has always said he will go far -maybe as far as the United Kingdom. UK is ambitious, but he has not plans of leaving Zimbabwe - All he wants is to marry the beautiful Sofi. That is not easy when you are without money and too clumsy to keep a job. One point in the story is that UK has to combine his new modern money-seeking life with the traditions. He should not forget to take care of his family in the village - and he should certainly not forget to honour and pay attention to advises from his ancestors. Everywhere he goes UK has a guardian angel: the woman Yukwa, is a beer drinking ancestor trying to keep him on the track. In the end UK manages to get the money for the bride-price. Sofi finally falls in love with him - not for the money, but for his strong will, ingenuity, honesty and charm.

The film is first of all for a young audience and can easily be used for education purposes. But the story is entertaining for others also as it is told with humour and originality. Anyone who has experienced life in a modern African city will enjoy the atmosphere and many of the scenes from this film.

The Gods Must Be Crazy

Botswana, 1980
Directed and written by Jamie Uys

Bushmen, schoolteachers and gangsters in an action-comedy written and directed by Jamie Uys. The story starts when a pilot trows away an empty Coca Cola bottle when overflying Botswana. The bottle hits a bushman who wonders why the Gods gave him this strange gift. After experiencing the dark side of modern technology, he sets out to find the end of the world and throw away the bottle. Not big art, but actually very funny. Complete with a dry (but hillarious) narrator, lousy music, slapstick comedy, fast-motion sequences and cheap technical tricks, a clumpsy white scientist and finally a bushman who turns out to be a real hero. Strangely, this is actually a film I still enjoy very much.

The film was followed by a sequel in 1989 (which is also said to be good). Another sequel was released in 1991. It is a Chinese (!) film called "Fei zhou he shang". The Chinese people in this story crashes in Africa and ends up in the Bushman village we know so good. What a crazy idea

Settlers in Africa

Chocolat

France, Cameroon , 1988
Starring: Isaach De Bankolé, Giulia Boschi and François Cluzet
Directed by Claire Denis
Slow paced and demanding, but VERY recommendable film about a young woman's memories of her childhood in Cameroon. Autobiographical film by French director Claire Denis. Without doubt the best movie made about the European colonisers in Africa, because it dares to take up the complex relationships between black and white - master and servant.

Nowhere in Africa

Germany (2002). Original title: "Nirgendwo in Afrika"

Based on a true story (autobiographical novel by Stephanie Zweig) of a Jewish family who flees the Nazi regime in 1938 for a remote farm in Kenya. Written and directed by Caroline Link.

 
 
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African Film Review

There seems to be little on the Web about African Film on sites that are nonspecialist. Although I do not have any expertise in African culture and African film and could not pretend otherwise, I can do two things.

As a film reviewer, I can write reviews of as many African films as I can see and think I have coherent opinions about. I can only do this as what I am: a white male who grew up in the US in the '50s. Catching the meaning of a film depends partly on having basic cultural responses, and my lack of familiarity with African culture hinders me. Still, this is a problem with reviewing any film, and I always have to be sensitive to the possibility that I have failed to grasp what a film-maker has tried to do. Even if I don't catch all that an African might, I still can see what can be seen of a film from my specific vantage point and I still have my basic equipment as a reviewer. No one can hope to say everything, and I can try to say something distinctive and helpful. Also, by reviewing these films, I express my belief that they need to be taken seriously, that they should be on our agenda. Perhaps I can encourage others to see them, review them, and add their voice.

As webmaster of a site visited by filmgoers generally, and not just specialists in African culture, I also can try to increase awareness of African film by acting as a signpost, by maintaining the following list of links to resources about African film.

Samba Traoré

1993.
Directed by Idrissa Ouédraogo.
With Mariam Kaba, Abdoulaye Komboudri, Bakary Sangaré, Irene Tassembedo.
Written by Idrissa Ouédraogo, Jacques Arhex, and Santiago Amigorena.
Cinematography by Pierre Laurent Chenieux.
Film Editing by Joëlle Dufour.
Music by Wasis Diop and Falon Cahen

Samba Traoré had left his village years ago to seek his fortune in the big city. He has found only unemployment and rootlessness. As the film begins, he is part of a filling station holdup in which his partner is killed but Samba Traoré, determined, takes the money at gunpoint.

He returns to his village, hides the money, and lets out that he has been successful and now wants to live at home. He resumes old friendships. He marries. His impulses run away with him as opportunities arise to spend more and more of the money. At first people just think he did well in the city. Then they think he did amazingly well. Then they think that they never dreamed anyone could make so much money. Finally his trail becomes so obvious that the police hear of him.

Like many of the film makers that Joan and I really admire, Idrissa Ouédraogo is a humanist. He is not primarily concerned with plot, but with people. The plot of Samba Traoré is rudimentary. It's only there because at each turn of the plot the context in which his characters live changes and so they act and express new sides of themselves. We come to see them with great subtlety. Samba Traoré himself, for example, is sometimes generous in sharing with his friends, but he overreacts with possessiveness when his girlfriend is visited by an old boyfriend. At other times he might be anywhere in between these extremes. One doesn't find these differences contradictory; one is moved and amazed at how richly complex people are.

Ouédraogo draws these portraits sharply. When Samba Traoré attacks the boyfriend or the service station operator, there is no motive of personal malice or vindictiveness or greed or brutality; his motive is simply that his own needs come first and he is accordingly direct and practical but relentless.

Ouédraogo is constantly aware of the physical landscape in which his characters live. He photographs the details of the people, of the countryside, and of the village with loving respect. He seems to be saying, "Look at these ordinary things. These people are living in paradise."

Samba Traoré is a fine film, entertaining and touching, within the great humanist tradition. but with a distinctively African way of thought and expression.

Ousmane Sembène

The Sénégalese director Ousmane Sembène is regarded by many as a father of African film. His voice and his example have encouraged Africans to build a tradition of expressing themselves in this medium, and by now they have a rich heritage.

More generally, Sembène has called for Africans to assume responsibility themselves to find their own way and to build on their continent a world that they want.

It is ironic to read Sembène's words and to realize that Africans could help their economy, not only by gaining control of distribution and exhibition in their own countries, but also by exporting films. They have developed the ability to make films of high artistic quality in reasonable quantity. However, they have almost no distribution in, for example, the US, where people would rather line up at shopping malls and pay to see films like Steven Spielberg's Amistad than to see films that genuinely represent Africa. It is not that Amistad is a superior film. To some degree, it may be a matter of taste: these people may actually prefer Spielberg and find his glossy expensiveness an indicator of quality. However, to some degree it is also a matter of lack of distribution, lack of familiarity, and lack of awareness that there are outstanding African films to go to.

I am maintaining this page in honor of Ousmane Sembène and of his belief in an indigenous African vision. As a member of the human race—as one with a need to complete the picture I see from where I stand with visions told me by others standing elsewhere—I can assure him that I also have a concern that Africans succeed in doing so, and on their own terms

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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