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Wednesday, 20 March 2013 09:11

2013 African Film Fest offers great shorts and features

Maffe Tiga Maffe Tiga afripopmag.com
Written by Diane Carson
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Washington University hosts the African Film Festival from Friday, March 22nd through Sunday, March 24th. It includes three feature fiction premieres preceded by three accompanying short films. There's also a Saturday youth matinee of African animation accompanied by a short coming-of-age story. Several films have won awards, and two sessions include a Q&A with a director after the screening.

A panel discussion follows Friday's opening night films. That evening the festival kicks off at 7:00 p.m. with "Farewell Exile," a heart-breaking story of a Moroccan woman and her son separated from their husband/father working in France. Desperate after waiting for news and money to join her husband, the wife decides the time has come to risk illegal passage. What follows is suspenseful and unexpected. In a perfect pairing with this short, the Senegalese feature "La Pirogue" details Baye Laye's equally dangerous emigrant efforts. In a boat with 30 plus men intent on reaching Spain, lives hang in the balance fighting nature and fellow refugees. The interaction among the group reveals in a wonderfully integrated fashion their religious beliefs and the reasons they, and so many others, have risked everything in hopes of a better life. The panel discussion after both films, facilitated by the African Students of Social Work Association, will pursue the content and context of the evening's films.

In the Saturday youth matinee at 1:00 p.m., a selection of African animation, especially those from "Jungle Beat," will delight boys and girls with bright colors, funny animals, and charming stories. Unavailable for preview, the afternoon screenings will include "Lioness of Lisabi." Set in Nigeria in the 1940s and described as a coming-of-age story "inspired by the life of women's activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti," its director Stephanie Shonekan will lead a Q&A after the film. "Lioness of Lisabi" won the Jury Award in 2009 at New York's Women of African Descent Film Festival.

Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m., writer/director Mohamed Dione's short film "Maffe Tiga" dramatizes Oumou's struggles to negotiate her life in the U.S. as a scholarship student. Financial troubles loom as an important letter arrives from her Guinean grandmother, forcing Oumou to make difficult choices as she faces deep-seated beliefs. Next director Akin Omotoso's "Man on Ground" sends Ade from London to South Africa to find his brother Femi. This stylistically impressive film uses sound and story chronology in imaginative service to a gripping interrogation of political and personal turmoil. With flashbacks at first hinting at and then gradually revealing previous events between the brothers, "Man on Ground" moves quickly through a tangled web of interpersonal intimidation and xenophobic brutality. In several scenes, dialogue is heard in voiceover as characters face each other in silence. It's an effective and engaging, as well as a creative and unusual, choice.

Sunday night's closing films at 7:00 p.m. demonstrate the vibrancy of contemporary life in Namibia and Kenya. In "100 Bucks" the title money travels through several individuals' hands with themes of love, theft, bribery and work, each person's experiences revealing another aspect of Namibian life. Kenya submitted the closing night feature "Nairobi Half Life" as its Best Foreign Film Oscar entry. In it, Mwas follows his thespian dreams from his village to Nairobi where idyllic visions get quickly dashed. The energy, the acting, and the milieu feel so real it could be a docudrama, as director David Tosh Gitonga immerses Mwas in a callous back-street world of opportunistic wheeler-dealers. Tom Tykwer, director of "Run, Lola, Run," served as an advisor to Gitonga. The driving momentum and well-drawn characters suggest that Gitonga proved a receptive and savvy learner. Note that "Nairobi Half Life" is for mature audiences, though it never uses its language, situations or violence gratuitously or merely to titillate. Instead it captures the milieu with a clear-eye for its harsh realities.

All these provocative, professionally accomplished films have English subtitles as needed and screen in Washington University's Brown Hall, room 100. There is no charge for admission to any of the programs. For more information, you may call 314-935-7879 or go to wupa.wustl.edu/africanfilm.

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