C-U African Film Festival

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Hankering for a tweak on your senses? The C-U African
Film Festival promises a respite from the commercial winter
fare of Hollywood. Beverly Cinemas in Champaign will host
the festival from February 22-28. Organized by the Center
for African Studies at the U of I, the festival will offer multiple
screenings of feature films from different African countries,
including a full-length animated feature for children.
African filmmaking excited notice this year with Danny
Glover’s well-publicized involvement in Bamako, a mock
courtroom drama by the acclaimed filmmaker Abderrahmane
Sissako. Glover co-produced and also has a hilarious
cameo appearance in the film. Although nominated for his
role in Dreamgirls, Glover skipped the 2007 Academy
Awards ceremony to participate in the Panafrican Film and
Television Festival of Ouagadougou in West Africa. Democracy
Now’s Amy Goodman conducted a phone interview
the next day with Glover, which reverberated through the
Internet. The Panafrican film festival of Ouagadougou
(known for short as FESPACO) is the biggest film event in
Africa. Some of the films to be screened in the C-U African
Film Festival were awarded prizes at FESPACO.
Urbana-Champaign moviegoers have had a few scattered
occasions to view African films. Both The Roger Ebert Film
Festival and the Tournées French Film Festival have included
some outstanding examples in past years. Yet, it is still
hard for the average viewer to distinguish an “African movie”
from a television documentary, or Euro-American drama that
casts a white hero against an exotic backdrop of wilderness.
The African Film Festival presents a glimpse of the genuine
article—films conceived by African directors and wrought
by African crews, a diverse menu that will stimulate and
entertain, as it unsettles predispositions.
Bamako is set in the domestic courtyard of a home in the
capital city of Mali. A trial pitting African civil society
against the World Bank is about to be engaged, and
lawyers from both sides arrive armed with passionate
accusations. In surreal contrast, the everyday life of the
families encasing the courtyard presses forward. Chaka
thinks of his impending break-up with his sexy wife Melé
and his urgent need to find work. A local detective, a
bedridden sick young man, newlyweds celebrating their
marriage, a crime scene photographer, and a woman leading
a fabric dyers workshop intercut the proceedings and
lend poetic tribute to daily existence.
Ezra is the story of a Sierra Leonian teenage boy, formerly
a child soldier, facing a Truth and Reconciliation
Commission which is trying to piece together the puzzle
of a devastating attack on a village during the country’s
murderous civil war. The film is a punch in the gut that
eschews easy emotions. The Nigerian filmmaker, Newton
Aduaka, won the Grand Prize in FESPACO in 2007 for his
deft direction of this movie, Plan’s Special Child Rights
Award conferred by a jury consisting mostly of children,
and the UNESCO’s Peace Promotion Prize.
Tasuma is a laid-back comedy from Burkina Faso filmed
against the fetching vistas of a hilltop village. An elderly veteran,
still affectionately called “Fire” for his bravery in the
battlefields of his colonial army days, bumps along his bicycle
in the rock-strewn descent from his village to the main
road, wearing his medal-laden uniform, in the hopeless
pursuit of his pension. He gets in trouble trying to do good,
but everything works itself out when the women decide to
take matters into their own hands. Director Kollo Sanou
won a Bronze Stallion at FESPACO for this charming movie.
The Hero is a compassionate film from Angola, another
civil war torn country, around a decorated veteran who
waited months to receive a prosthetic leg. Indifference,
joblessness, and theft dash his hopes for a dignified new
life. Other characters enter his life, all carrying different
sorts of scars. As they learn to lean on each other, the film
abjures deluded romanticism but offers a hopeful and
humane anticipation of the future. This powerful creation
earned director Zeze Gamboa the World Dramatic Grand
Prize at Sundance in 2005.
Les Saignantes is a film with an attitude by the most
experimental of filmmakers, Cameroon’s maverick Jean-
Pierre Bekolo. This stylized sci-fi-action hybrid is about
two young femmes fatales who set out to rid a futuristic
country of its corrupt and sexually obsessed powerful
men, against eye-popping color and décor. Adèle Ado’s
performance won her the Best Actress Award at FESPACO.
The film’s intentionally cheap-looking DV frames, aesthetics
of the cool, and hyperactive editing produced mixed
reviews after festival screenings, but Slant Magazine’s Keith
Ulrich called it “an unqualified masterpiece.”
Kirikou and the Sorceress is an animated movie with snappy
visuals that exquisitely recounts the adventures of tiny
Kirikou as he sallies forth to free his village from the curse of
wicked Karaba. A great box office success, it features a
soundtrack by Senegalese music giant Youssouf N’Dour.

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