Under the banner “Streaming Rivers: The Past into the Present,” the New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) returns virtually December 2-6 with a spotlight on the cinema of two nations: Nigeria and the Sudan. Presented by Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) and African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF), this year’s regional NYAFF will screen six features and eight short films in the FLC Virtual Cinema, as AFF celebrates its 30th anniversary.
The festival will transport audiences to the Sudan and Nigeria, two nations whose film industries were disrupted in their nascency—in Nigeria by an economic decline in the late 1970s and early 1980s; in Sudan by the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir, whose 30-year grip on the country was ended by the 2019 uprising. In recent years, Sudan’s film industry has been revived by an emerging crop of filmmakers, who are also dedicated to restoring the works of the veterans on whose shoulders they stand. Nollywood can claim the mantle of being Africa’s homegrown film industry, which has influenced filmmakers globally and provided the template for other nations to jump-start their own nascent motion picture businesses.
The event includes films from some of each nation’s trailblazing directors and latest wave of filmmakers. NYAFF will present two of esteemed Sudanese filmmaker Ibrahim Shaddad’s brilliant works: Hunting Party (1964) and Human (1994). Suhaib Gasmelbari’s acclaimed documentary Talking About Trees captures the efforts of Shaddad and fellow friends and retired Sudanese filmmakers Manar Al Hilo, Suleiman Mohamed Ibrahim and Altayeb Mahdi—each of whom was trained abroad and whose work was suppressed for decades by Islamist censorship after the 1989 coup—to reopen an outdoor cinema. Among the film’s 12 prizes is the Panorama Audience Award at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival and the Documentary Award at the 2020 Palm Springs International Film Festival.
The Opening Night film is Amjad Abu Alala’s arresting drama You Will Die at 20, winner of the Lion of the Future “Luigi de Laurentiis” Award for a Debut Film at the 2019 Venice Film Festival and Sudan’s first-ever entry for Best International Feature Film, for the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards. In the film, a young man, who the village’s holy man has prophesied will die as he reaches his second decade, turns 19.
Nollywood, the world’s most prolific film industry after Bollywood, was born out of the resourcefulness of creatives working despite economic challenges. NYAFF’s Centerpiece film is the 40th anniversary screening of Kadara (“Destiny”), the debut work of one such filmmaker, the late Adeyemi Afolayan (known as Ade Love), considered one of the fathers of Nollywood. Afolayan wrote and stars in the humorous film, which captures the rivalry between a handsome, charming farmer and a rich brute as they compete in a wrestling contest to prove their worthiness for the hand of the kingdom’s beautiful princess.
In Three Thieves, Udoka Oyeka’s Nigerian comedy, three friends hired to commit a simple theft end up as accidental kidnappers—all while being pursued by the police and the robber whose job they took.
Filmed over four years, Marwa Zein’s documentary Khartoum Offside follows the Sudanese Women’s Football Team as they defy a ban imposed by Sudan’s Islamist military government against women playing soccer—and in doing so, Zein herself defies the ban against women making movies. The film won Best Documentary at the 2019 Africa Movie Academy Awards, as well as Best Documentary at the Carthage Film Festival (JCC).
Set in South London, Ngozi Onwurah’s Shoot the Messenger (2006)—winner of the Dennis Potter Screenwriting Award and two BAFTA TV Awards—stars David Oyelowo as Joe, a teacher whose life spirals out of control after he is falsely accused of hitting a student and branded a racist by the local Black community. The film features Daniel Kaluuya in one of his breakout roles.
“Art generally reflects our reality and the evolution of our world,” said AFF Executive Director and NYAFF Founder Mahen Bonetti. “While our programs might highlight the challenges Africa faces, they also illuminate her greatness and her vast contribution to our global cultures!”
The festival also includes a shorts program featuring Zein’s A Game, an adaptation of the Italian short story “Let’s Play a Game,” depicting a confrontation between a divorced woman and her young daughter; Onwurah’s Coffee Colored Children, which speaks to the current moment with its story of two siblings of mixed heritage who, faced with racist taunts, try to scrub their blackness away; and Lande Yoosuf’s Love in Submission, in which a meeting between two Black Muslim women brings a big revelation. Sarra Idris’s My Sister Sara captures Sudanese activist and writer Sara Elhassan in conversation with her brother, ESPN NBA Analyst and TV personality Amin Elhassan, about the 2019 Sudanese revolution and her ongoing activism through social media. Troublemaker, by Olive Nwosu, tells the story of a 10-year-old’s loss of innocence as he hurts his grandfather, reanimating the latter’s traumatic memories of the Biafra War. The program is rounded out by Adé Sultan Sangodoyin’s A Cemetery of Doves, a film about a teenager coming to terms with his sexuality.
This special edition of NYAFF will also showcase a fantastic digital dance piece titled Forever (Brother’s Keeper), choreographed and performed by self-taught Nigerian twins, the Ebinum brothers. The performance will include catchy Afrobeat tunes spun by the popular DJ mOma at a gorgeous spot in Zanzibar.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
You Will Die at 20
Amjad Abu Alala, 2020, Sudan/France/Egypt/Germany/Norway/Qatar, 105m
Arabic with English subtitles
Shortly after Muzamil’s birth, the village’s holy man predicts that he will die at age 20. Muzamil’s father can’t stand the curse and leaves home. His mother, the overly protective Sakina, raises her son alone. One day, Muzamil turns 19.
Talking About Trees
Suhaib Gasmelbari, 2019, Sudan/France/Germany/Chad/Qatar, 93m
Arabic and Russian with English subtitles
Ibrahim Shaddad, Manar Al Hilo, Suleiman Mohamed Ibrahim, and Altayeb Mahdi have been filmmakers and friends for more than 45 years. In 1989, they formed the Sudanese Film Group, an independent collective that was suspended soon after its founding when a military coup established an Islamist dictatorship in Sudan. Nearly three decades later, they’ve reunited to resurrect their old dream: to make cinema a reality in Sudan. Talking About Trees chronicles their efforts to revive a defunct movie theater in the city of Omdurman in the face of religious censorship and inefficient bureaucracy.
Marwa Zein, 2019, Sudan/Norway/Denmark, 76m
Arabic with English subtitles
A group of exceptional young women in Khartoum are determined to play football professionally, in spite of the ban imposed by Sudan’s Islamist authorities. In Khartoum Offside, Marwa Zein captures their relentless, fearless, and often humorous struggle to be officially recognized as Sudan’s National Women’s Team. Through her intimate portrait of these women, filmed over a number of years, we witness their hopes, their disappointments, and their unwavering grit.
Ibrahim Shaddad, 1994, Sudan, 27m
In this dialogue-less film distinguished by its innovative use of sound, Shaddad paints a dramatic and powerful portrait of the trials and alienation of a Sudanese villager who moves to a large city.
Ibrahim Shaddad, 1964, Germany, 41m
German with English subtitles
Made as a graduation project at the German Academy of Film Art in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Shaddad’s seminal film is a Western-inspired treatise on racism. Shot in a forest in Brandenburg, it portrays a white mob’s hunt for a black farmworker.
Ade Love (Adeyemi Afolayan), 1980, Nigeria, 94m
Yoruba and Hausa with English subtitles
Tradition dictates that the marriage of the beautiful princess of a kingdom will be decided by a wrestling contest open to all. In Ade Love’s charming, swooning tale, a handsome and endearing farmer and a brutish man of considerable wealth face off for the princess’s hand.
Udoka Oyeka, 2020, Nigeria, 108m
In this hilarious comedy of mistaken identities, three discontented friends are contracted to commit a seemingly simple theft. But complications arise when a young girl slips into their car, turning their robbery into an unwitting kidnapping.
Shoot the Messenger
Ngozi Onwurah, 2006, UK, 100m
In Onwurah’s provocative tale, David Oyelowo plays Joe, a school teacher in South London who is falsely accused of hitting one of his pupils. As the local Black population turns on him, branding him as a racist, a destitute Joe is forced to confront his fear and hatred of his own community.
Shorts Program: Notes from Home
Marwa Zein, 2010, Egypt/Sudan, 6m
Arabic with English subtitles
In Zein’s adaptation of a short story by the Italian writer Alberto Moravia, a playful game turns into a revelatory confrontation between a divorced single mother and her little daughter.
Coffee Colored Children
Ngozi Onwurah, 1988, Nigeria/UK, 16m
In this lyrical and unsettling film, racist harassment prompts two young mixed-race children to try and whiten their skin with scouring powder. Ngozi Onwurah’s semi-autobiographical testimony to the struggle for self-definition and the internalized effects of bigotry is a powerful catalyst for discussion.
Love in Submission
Lande Yoosuf, 2020, USA, 19m
In the suburbs of central New Jersey, two Black Muslim women from different backgrounds meet for the first time—only to discover that they are bound by an explosive secret.
My Sister Sara
Sarra Idris, 2020, USA, 15m
English and Arabic with English subtitles
In late 2018 and throughout 2019, Sudan experienced months of protests that ultimately overthrew a 30-year dictatorship. Sara Elhassan was among the young grassroots activists who kept the world informed and connected during this time through social media, helping to mobilize global support for the cause of the Sudanese people. In My Sister Sara, Elhassan and her older brother Amin, an ESPN sports analyst and TV personality, engage in a candid dialogue on survivor’s guilt, youth movements, and the role of women in the Sudanese revolution.
Olive Nwosu, 2019, Nigeria, 11m
Igbo with English subtitles
On an excruciatingly hot day in East Nigeria, a young boy learns the hard way that all actions have consequences. Troublemaker is a coming-of-age story about masculinity, violence, and the devastating costs of war across different generations.
A Cemetery of Doves
Adé Sultan Sangodoyin, 2019, Nigeria, 15m
When a teenager’s declaration of love for an older man is met with rejection, he struggles with heartbreak and fear for his safety and future in a society intolerant of the LGBTQ community.