Film Africa 2016, the Royal African Society’s annual film festival, will take place from Friday October 28 to Sunday November 6 in London. Opening this year’s festival is the UK premiere of Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu
, the debut feature from South African director Mandla Dube. As part of the festival’s strand, Soweto: 40 Years On it’s fitting that the incredible story of Mahlangu – a young freedom fighter who played a key role in the Soweto student uprisings of ’76 – should make it to the big screen 40 years later.
Fresh from its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, Film Africa will close with Wùlu, the auspicious debut feature from Malian director Daouda Coulibaly, which touches on the known yet unspoken dysfunctions behind Mali’s 2012 coup d’etat. Both opening and closing directors, as well as Kalushi lead actor Thabo Rametsi, will attend the festival.
In light of the challenging discourse around migration today, Film Africa will present its flagship strand, Why I’m Here: Stories of Migration. Bringing together a collection of intensely personal stories, the strand will explore the complexities of modern migration and the relationship between self and place. Highlights include the UK premieres of: A Stray from Musa Syeed, set within Minneapolis’ large Somali refugee community; Robin Hunzinger’s To the Forest of Clouds which sensitively records his family’s journey back to the Ivory Coast, the birth place of his wife, using the past to explore whether we can ever truly go home again; and Giulia Amati’s documentary Shashamane – the region in Ethiopia that Emperor Halle Salassie reserved ‘for the black people of the world’ in 1948 – tells the story of those who have returned to live on their forefathers’ land, an exodus that for some has become a haven, but for others a cage with no escape. Those Who Jump, a powerful fly on the wall account of life in a refugee camp on the Spanish / Morocco border filmed by Malian refugee Abou Bakar Sidibé, will also be featured.
Film Africa 2016 will spotlight Nigeria’s rapidly expanding and evolving cinema industry in Nollywood Nights. The strand will present the latest works from three of Nollywood’s most popular directors, including Kunle Afolyan’s The CEO and the European premieres of Niyi Akinmolayan’s The Arbitration and Femi Odugbemi’s Gidi Blues – A Lagos Love Story.
The festival continues its exploration of Soweto: 40 Years On with the double screening of the 1994 musical Sarafina!, which will play alongside Soweto, Times of Wrath a documentary made this year by six young filmmakers living in poor areas of Soweto, which presents a country whose people are angry and wearied by endemic corruption.
The popular music strand Sounds of the Continent returns for the third consecutive year with three documentaries celebrating Africa’s rich soundscapes. In the preview screening of Mali Blues, some of the country’s most prominent musicians, including world music star Fatoumata Diawara, discuss their art and the threat they face from Islamic extremists who seized the northern regions in 2012. The Revolution Won’t Be Televised gets under the skin of Senegal’s now infamous political youth resistance movement ‘Y’en a marre’. Following this screening at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton, the high energy hip-hop crew Keur Gui – among the most popular music artists in Senegal and founders of the resistance movement – will perform live for the first time in the UK. For two years London-based director/producer Quino Piñero travelled across Ethiopia filming performances of all forms of traditional music from the time of Emperor Haile Selassie to the Azmari, the Ethiopian equivalent of European bards, documenting music that has been passed on from generation to generation for centuries. His exuberant musical road movie Roaring Abyss will screen at the Ritzy, Brixton on Saturday 5th November followed by the Film Africa Closing Weekend Party with live music from artists who feature in the film.
Other stand-outs in this year’s program include three films fresh from screening at Toronto: the UK premiere of Mbithi Masya’s debut feature Kati Kati – a poetic fantasy that offers a dark reflection on personal atonement in the shadow of Kenya’s violent past. Kati Kati was honored by the international FIPRESCI jury at Toronto, who described Masya as “an exciting and unique new voice in cinema”; Rahmatou Keïta’s first fiction feature, The Wedding Ring, gives voice to young women of Niger’s Sahelian people who question past ideas of love in an increasingly modern world; plus the documentary debut Hissein Habré, A Chadian Tragedy from one of the most important African filmmakers working today, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (A Screaming Man, 2010).
Also showing are preview screenings of Amma Assante’s A United Kingdom; the European premiere of Anisia Uzeyman’s psychedelic road movie Dreamstates, which tells the haunting tale of two wayward souls (Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman) who discover their love for one another while touring the US with some of the most pivotal figures of the Afro-Punk movement; Tamer El Said’s melancholic love-hate poem to Cairo In the Last Days of the City and Priscilla Anany’s debut feature Children of the Mountain which is set against a picturesque Ghanian backdrop and gives an honest exploration of a mother’s will in the face of adversity. Another notable documentary is Jonny von Wallström’s The Pearl of Africa, the inspiring story of Ugandan transgender woman Cleopatra Kambugu and her partner Nelson, living out a tender and playful love story against a backdrop of immense transphobic persecution in their native land.
The short film program this year highlights 12 shorts from seven African countries, which are vying for the 6th Baobab Award for Best Short Film, supported by MOFILM and judged by a panel of industry experts. The Film Africa Audience Award for Best Feature Film will return for its second year, giving festival audiences their say.
Other Film Africa program features include: The Industry Forum at BFI South Bank, which will look at the emergence and importance of film archives for Africa’s burgeoning film industries; Film Africa Family Day at the Rich Mix and a School Screenings program, in partnership with Picturehouse Education and Phoenix Cinema; plus a four-day Recreative Film School for budding filmmakers at the South London Gallery.
British actor Idris Elba, who presented his documentary Mandela, My Dad and Me at Film Africa 2015, said: “I want to say thank you to Film Africa for supporting my film and African film in general. The festival should keep introducing us to new African voices.”