Film Reviews

Exceptional is the opportunity to feast for an entire weekend on contemporary films from Africa, shorts and feature works, live action and animation. Now, with in-person screenings Friday, March 25 through Sunday, March 27 at Washington University, four different programs invite engagement with works from South Africa to Ethiopia, Ghana to Nigeria, Sudan and Qatar to Chad, Senegal, and Tunisia.  

The festival begins with the strong short “Tab,” from South Africa, in English and Xhosa, followed by the superb feature “Min Alesh (Changed the Day),” from Ethiopia, in Amharic. In “TAB,” a father meant to drive his two daughters to school stops at a racetrack. An unexpected incident derails their peace. In “Min Alesh,” in the vibrant, colorful Addis Ababa market, Salem Ashenafi, aka Speedy, runs—literally runs—errands for vendors. Her exuberant, unfettered ways get her fired. Seeking needed income to support her mother, herself, and her neighbors, Salem enters a beauty contest at her boyfriend Bini’s urging. Needing to train to meet the low weight requirement, her transformation, inspired by the great Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie in a cameo, leads to her unexpected entry in a lucrative, international New York race. Writer/director Amleset Muchie expertly and rapidly propels the action, powerfully communicating the overwhelming motivation when proudly representing one’s country.

Saturday morning brings an animation workshop with New York animator David Heredia. The program includes the animated short “Begho” from Ghana with a visit to another thriving, exciting marketplace, this one from 16th century West Africa. Details from pre-colonial Ghana history and the oral tradition make this an educational experience. From Nigeria, the feature animated film “Lady Buckit and the Motley Mopsters” screens in the same children’s program, focused on a young girl on a search for self-discovery and realization.

Saturday evening kicks off with “Al-Sit.” In a traditional Sudanese village dependent on the cotton trade, fifteen-year-old Nafisa confronts following the arranged marriage tradition endorsed by her grandmother Al-Sit or choosing her husband, an unprecedented and discouraged option. Sunday’s program opens with the unusual Senegalese short “Tang Jër.” Interaction takes place entirely in a very strange Dakar restaurant frequented by a diviner who reads cowrie shells, a young girl, and human-like dogs, a horse, a chicken, and more. Told “Your place is a singular offering to the world,” the vampirish manager Onfaaya serves every customer, taking it all in stride, as we should. Director Selly Raby Kane, a fashion designer and visual artist interested in African futurism, channels her avant-garde aesthetic into this imaginative, surreal menagerie.  

Finally, from Tunisia, the more political “Un Fils/A Son” traces eleven-year-old Aziz’s medical crisis. Returning from a family gathering, parents Pares and Meriem Youssef escape a terrorist ambush with Aziz badly wounded, eighty percent of his liver destroyed. Tension never relents for the remainder of this 95-minute film as personal tragedy ensnares a wider political and medical community. Powerful, emotional performances dominate with reliance on camera close-ups compellingly thrusting viewers into these individuals’ lives until the last searing image.    

There’s more in the African Film Festival as this informative, entertaining weekend reveals the rich cultural and technical African world. All films have English subtitles as needed. The African Film Festival screens Friday, March 25 through Sunday, March 27 at Washington University's Brown Hall. For more information, you may go to

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