The virtual 28th edition of the New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) will open with Desmond Ovbiagele’s The Milkmaid, Nigeria’s entry for the 2021 Academy Award for Best International Feature Film. Depicting the impact of extremism on the families of those it touches, the drama follows a Fulani milkmaid as she confronts the religious insurgents who kidnapped her sister.
The Centerpiece selection is Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s acclaimed Sundance prizewinner, This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, which recently became Lesotho’s first-ever Oscar entry. The film paints a stirring portrait of an elderly woman whose plans for death are interrupted when news arrives that her village will be flooded and its inhabitants resettled to make way for a reservoir.
Presented by Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) and African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF), this year’s NYAFF will showcase ten features and 21 short films from Africa, Europe, North America, and South America. The event will be presented under the banner “Notes from Home: Recurring Dreams & Women’s Voices” in FLC’s Virtual Cinema from February 4 to 14 and at the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem from February 18 to March 4.
Presenting an array of offerings that capture “Africanness” in its myriad iterations and manifestations, NYAFF spotlights the global Black community’s influence on our cultural pasts, present, and futures.
Other features in the program include the documentary Sankara Is Not Dead, which follows the young poet Bikontine as he travels along Burkina Faso’s only rail line in the wake of the 2014 uprising and encounters the enduring legacy of the late President Thomas Sankara; Pascal Aka’s Afro-noir Gold Coast Lounge, about a Ghanaian crime family fighting to prevent its lucrative lounge from getting shut down by the government amidst danger and intrigue; Mohamed Ismail’s La Mora, in which a young Spanish woman embarks on a journey of self-discovery to Morocco after finding a secret about her parentage in a letter left behind by her late mother; Amleset Muchie’s Min Alesh?, an Ethiopian drama about a young woman’s quest to change her family’s fate through her passion for running; Hawa Aliou N’diaye’s documentary Invisible Husband, which introduces audiences to the phenomenon of jinn possession in the director’s community in Mali; Atiq Rahimi’s Our Lady of the Nile, based on Scholastique Mukasonga’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, which brings viewers into the lives of teenage girls at a prestigious Rwandan boarding school as a growing inferno engulfs their nation; and A Day with Jerusa, which captures a mystical, intergenerational encounter between two Black women in Sāo Paolo, Brazil.
The feature presentations also include a new restoration of Camera d’Afrique (African Cinema: Filming Against All Odds), Férid Boughedir’s 1983 documentary capturing the rise and the striking visions of African auteurs like Ousmane Sembéne, Souleymane Cissé, Safi Faye, Oumarou Ganda, and Gadalla Gubara at a time when African countries were emerging from the shadows of colonialism.
This year’s NYAFF will showcase a retrospective of trailblazing filmmaker Fanta Régina Nacro, who became the first woman from Burkina Faso to direct a fiction film with her 1991 short, A Certain Morning (Un Certain Matin). A founding member of the African Guild of Directors and Producers, Nacro explores modernity and tradition from a woman’s perspective in films that are poignant, satiric, and often surprisingly comic. A program of her shorts will include A Certain Morning, Bintou, Open Your Eyes (Puk Nini), and Konaté’s Gift (Le truc de Konaté). Nacro will join the festival for a special Q&A about her career.
“Each generation takes a sprint and then passes the baton. Looking back, our filmmakers act as modern-day griots, grabbing that baton and weaving the story of their time while also propelling us forward,” said AFF Executive Director and NYAFF Founder Mahen Bonetti. “This year’s festival captures that look toward the past that helps our storytellers meet the present moment with inspiration from the elders.”
The 28th NYAFF will present 17 additional films in three genre-spanning shorts programs. “Notes from Home,” an exploration of Africa on the continent and abroad, includes Joe Penney’s Sun of the Soil, Marin Sander-Holzman’s 1000 Songs, Che Applewhaite’s A New England Document, and Akosua Adoma Owusu’s Pelourinho: They Don’t Really Care About Us. “New World Order” presents tales of women power throughout the ages, including Chelsea Odufu’s Black Lady Goddess, Hlumela Matika’s Tab, Vatora Godwin’s Omi, Mmabatho Montsho’s Joko Ya Hao, Kyung Sok Kim’s Furthest From, and Tomisin Adepeju’s Appreciation. “City Dreams,” a tapestry of desires expressed and realized in urban areas around the globe, includes E. G. Bailey’s KEON, Laurence Attali’s Tabaski, Ukachi Arinzeh’s The Inconvenience of Being Black, Will Niava’s Zoo, Edem Dotse’s Linger, Sylaz Ud’ee’s The Elevator, and Manu Luksch’s ALGO-RHYTHM.
The NYAFF Digital Art Exhibition will feature short experimental and performance works by Kenyan artist Ingrid Mwangi. Mwangi and her partner Robert Hutter, together known as Mwangi Hutter, often use their own bodies as sounding boards to reflect on social interrelationships. These works will be presented on africanfilmny.org.
Beginning February 18, the festival has a two-week virtual run at the Maysles Documentary Center.
2021 New York African Film Festival Films Lineup
Desmond Ovbiagele, Nigeria, 2020, 136m
Hausa with English subtitles
Set in a village in sub-Saharan Africa, Desmond Ovbiagele’s thriller tells the story of Aisha, a Fulani milkmaid, who is kidnapped by religious extremists along with her younger sister Zainab. Aisha manages to escape, but she decides to go back and confront the extremists to try and bring Zainab home. Her quest proves complicated in a world of festering conflict. The Milkmaid—chosen as Nigeria’s entry for the 2021 Academy Awards—showcases the vibrancy of Hausa and Fulani culture while drawing attention to the plight of the victims of the real-life militant insurgency in Nigeria.
This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection
Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, 2019, Lesotho/South Africa/Italy, 120m
Sesotho with English subtitles
In the mountains of Lesotho, an 80-year-old widow named Mantoa eagerly awaits the return of her son—her only living kin—from the South African mines where he works. When instead she receives news of his death, she puts her affairs in order and makes arrangements to be buried in the local cemetery. Her careful plans are upset abruptly by the news that provincial officials intend to resettle the village, flood the entire area, and build a dam for a reservoir. Determined to die on her own terms and in her own land, Mantoa resolves to defend the spiritual heritage of her community.
Caméra d’Afrique (African Cinema: Filming Against All Odds)
Férid Boughedir, 1983, Tunisia/France, 95m
French with English subtitles
Seventy years after the invention of the cinema—and after several decades of colonial cinema using Africa as an exotic setting, often denying humanity and dignity to its people—newly independent Africans finally took hold of the movie camera. Undeterred by the lack of means and infrastructure, they showed African reality in its variegated forms, seen at last through African eyes. Using extracts from significant films, interviews with filmmakers, and rare vintage footage, Camera d’Afrique recalls the first 20 years of the new auteur cinema of Sub-Saharan Africa, which bears witness to an indefatigable—and still-enduring—drive for self-expression. 2K restoration from the original 16mm print done by the Laboratory of the CNC with the support of L’Institut français.
A Day With Jerusa
Viviane Ferreira, Brazil, 2020, 74m
Portuguese with English subtitles
The lives of two women intersect in Viviane Ferreira’s beguiling film, set in São Paolo, Brazil. Silvia is a young medium and a market researcher struggling to make ends meet while awaiting the results of a public exam. Jerusa is a gracious 77-year-old lady who bears witness to daily life in Bixiga, a neighborhood that brims with ancestral memories. On Jerusa’s birthday, while she waits for her family’s arrival, an encounter between her deepest memories and Silvia’s mediumship allows the two of them to travel through time and their intertwined histories.
Gold Coast Lounge
Pascal Aka, 2019, Ghana, 118m
English and Ga with English subtitles
In this Afro-noir set amid the nightlife of post-independence Ghana, a crime family has to unite and clean up their act before the government shuts down their lucrative lounge. When their leader is mysteriously poisoned, it is up to Daniel—the eldest son—to take power. As Daniel struggles to implement his own policies, he is faced with power tussles, love triangles, tribalism, and a murder investigation.
Invisible Husband / Un Invisible mari
Hawa Aliou N’Diaye, 2020, Mali, 68m
Malian filmmaker Hawa Aliou N’Diaye believes that she is possessed by a jinn. In this documentary, she interviews other women in her community who also believe that they are controlled by jinn, which in some cases claim to be their husbands. Delving into Malian traditions and myths, N’Diaye explores the ethereal dimensions of the world around her.
Amleset Muchie, 2019, Ethiopia, 84m
Amharic with English subtitles
Set in Merkato, a sprawling, open-air market in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Min Alesh? tells the inspiring story of 21-year-old Selam, whose perseverance transforms her life for the better. Having grown up amid poverty and hardships, Selam is determined to change her and her family’s circumstances through her passion for running. An international race offers her a chance to achieve her dream.
Mohamed Ismail, 2020, Morocco, 90m
Spanish and Arabic with English subtitles
After her mother, Maria, passes away, Rosa, a young Spanish woman, discovers the secret of her biological roots in one of her mother’s old letters. The letter recounts how Maria fell in love with Rosa’s father, Choaib, who was one of the many young Moroccan soldiers (known as the Regulares) forced to fight alongside General Francisco Franco’s troops in the Spanish Civil War. Rosa journeys to Morocco to meet her paternal family and discovers the reasons for her father’s death.
Our Lady of the Nile
Atiq Rahimi, 2019, France/Belgium/Rwanda, 93m
French and Kinyarwanda with English subtitles
Rwanda, 1973. At Our Lady of the Nile, a prestigious Catholic boarding school perched on a hill, young girls are trained to become the Rwandan elite. They share the same dormitories, dreams, and teenage concerns. But both within the school and without, a deep-seated antagonism is rumbling, about to change these young girls’ lives—and the entire country—forever.
Sankara Is Not Dead
Lucie Viver, 2019, Burkina Faso/France, 109m
French with English subtitles
After Burkina Faso’s October 2014 popular uprising, the young poet Bikontine starts to question his dreams of seeking a better life in the West. He decides to go meet his fellow citizens along the country’s only rail line. From south to north, through cities and villages, he learns about their dreams and disappointments, confronting his poetry with the realities of a rapidly shifting society. His journey ultimately reveals the enduring political legacy of storied former president Thomas Sankara, who was known as the “African Che Guevara.”
Spotlight on Fanta Régina Nacro
With 1992’s Un Certain Matin, Fanta Régina Nacro became the first woman from Burkina Faso—home to FESPACO, the largest Pan-African film festival in the world—to direct a fiction film. Since then, Nacro has developed a rich body of shorts (as well as one feature film) in which the old and the new cohabitate, illustrating stories from her matrilineal upbringing. Her work depicts the courtyard effect: the entire community comes together to agree and disagree but always finds a positive and collective path to a solution. As Nacro eloquently states: “It is a vision, a certain gaze on our world, that we are proposing.”
A Certain Morning / Un Certain Matin
Fanta Régina Nacro, 1992, Burkina Faso, 13m
Mooré and French with English subtitles
Fanta Nacro’s debut film is a provocative look at cinematic illusions versus deadly realities. Riga is a farmer who lives peacefully with his wife and children on the Mossi plateau. When he hears a woman calling for help one day, his entire world is called into question. The first fiction film directed by a Burkinabé woman, A Certain Morning was presented at the 1992 Carthage Film Festival.
Open Your Eyes / Puk Nini
Fanta Régina Nacro, 1995, Burkina Faso, 30m
Dioula with English subtitles
A beautiful noble Senegalese woman arrives one day in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, and creates chaos through the city with her remarkable seductive powers.
Konaté’s Gift / Le truc de Konaté
Fanta Régina Nacro, 1997, Burkina Faso, 27m
Dioula with English subtitles
When Djénéba returns from the city where she has been visiting her cousin, she brings her husband, Konaté, a wonderful gift: a condom. Konaté is furious and refuses to change his habits. Djénéba, well aware of the effects of AIDS, refuses to give in.
Fanta Régina Nacro, 2001, Burkina Faso, 31m
Mooré with English subtitles
Bintou wants to make sure that her daughter goes to school, but her husband Abel doesn’t think it’s worth it and claims there is only enough money to educate their sons. But Bintou won’t give up and starts her own business to make the extra money. Abel, wary of losing control and scared that Bintou’s newfound financial freedom will lead her to adultery, tries to sabotage her efforts. Bintou tackles sexuality, gender relations, and the fraught relationship between tradition and modernity with joyful satire.
Shorts Program: Notes from Home Part. 2
A program of shorts exploring layered histories, notions of home, and the footprints of Africa in the world.
Sun of the Soil
Joe Penney, 2019, USA, 26m
English and French with English subtitles
In 14th-century Mali, an ambitious young royal named Mansa Musa ascended the throne of the richest kingdom in human history. Sun of the Soil follows Malian artist Abdou Ouologuem on a journey to discover the truth behind the legendary African king. Abdou and Musa’s arcs weave together, punctuated by performances that illustrate key moments in Musa’s reign.
Marin Sander-Holzman, 2020, USA, 10m
1000 Songs features 83-year-old Brooklyn musician and R&B singer Ricky Rose. Ricky has been playing music for 70 years, and despite never making it to the big leagues, his passion for performing live has never dimmed.
A New England Document
Che Applewhaite, 2020, UK, 16m
Using found footage with selected images and text from The Marshall Family Collection at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, A New England Document reconstructs the impulse of two ethnographers’ photographic encounters in the Kalahari Desert in Namibia from a reparative perspective.
Pelourinho: They Don’t Really Care About Us
Akosua Adoma Owusu, 2019, USA/Brazil, 9m
English and Portuguese with English subtitles
Freely inspired by a 1927 letter from American sociologist and Pan-Africanist W.E.B. Du Bois to the American embassy in Brazil, this colorful film takes us back to a time when it was impossible for African Americans to travel to Brazil and reminds us of the inequality still faced by the Black inhabitants of that country.
Shorts Program: New World Order
Set in the past as well as the speculative future, the shorts in the program tell nuanced stories about women of various generations.
Black Lady Goddess
Chelsea Odufu, 2019, USA, 25m
In Black Lady Goddess, a satirical Afrofuturistic series set in the year 2040, humans have discovered that God is a Black woman, and reparations of $455,000 have been issued to each person of African descent. In this brave new world, a young activist, Ifeoma Johnson, comes into her own.
Hlumela Matika, 2019, South Africa, 13m
English and Xhosa with English subtitles
Khanya and Sandiswa’s father leaves them in his car outside the local horse racing tracks under strict instructions to stay put. Khanya gets her period and decides to enter the arena. When she is confronted by her father, the true confines of their delicate relationship come to light.
Vatora Godwin, 2019, USA, 12m
When a salacious tape threatens a woman’s marriage, an unexpected encounter offers her a door she must choose to open or close.
Joko Ya Hao
Mmabatho Montsho, 2020, South Africa, 36m
Xhosa, Zulu, and English with English subtitles
Set in 1955 in Gracetown, South Africa, Joko Ya Hao follows Nozizwe, a 30-year-old woman who dreams of becoming a lay preacher in the Methodist Church. Standing in her way is Mr. Mvelase, a theology teacher who does not believe in women’s ability to lead. As Nozizwe confronts Mr. Mvelase’s prejudices, she also finds herself facing a bigger problem: the forced removals of Black South Africans by the apartheid government. Inspired by the memory and spirit of Winnie Mandela, Joko Ya Hao is a celebration of the power of women.
Kyung Sok Kim, 2020, USA, 18m
1999, Novato, California. Eight-year-old girl Jessie is enjoying what little time she has left to spend with her best friend, Lucas. The trailer park they live in will soon be closed due to MTBE water contamination, and the whole community will be forced to evacuate. For Jessie, this means learning to say goodbye to all that tethers her to her little pink trailer.
Tomisin Adepeju, 2019, UK, 14m
When an African Pentecostal pastor in London undergoes a life-changing event, she questions everything she believes in.
Shorts Program: City Dreams
Tales of love, struggle, and resilience that paint a bold and expressive mosaic of the African diaspora.
E.G. Bailey, 2020, USA, 27m
Keon, a young Black photographer, embarks on a journey with his brothers Amiri and Dre to acquire a new camera to complete his art school admission portfolio. Along the way, the three of them negotiate obstacles and dangers, confronting an environment intent on policing their bodies and expression.
Laurence Attali, Senegal/France, 2019, 26m
French, English, and Wolof with English subtitles
In Dakar, a few days before the feast of Tabaski, a painter shuts himself away in his studio to work on the theme of the ritual sacrifice of the ram. Red paint drips from sketches hanging on clotheslines. An inscription on the wall reads: “Tabaski, who’s next?.” Three characters and a sheep revolve around him and reconnect him with reality. Blending fiction, art and politics, this film is freely inspired by Iba Ndiaye, who through his work addressed the victims of colonization, segregation, and apartheid and the wave of assisanions in post-colonial Africa and the diaspora.
Will Niava, 2019, UK, 10m
A misunderstanding between three teenagers and a troubled man escalates to a point of no return.
Edem Dotse, 2019, USA, 9m
While making dinner one night, an immigrant contemplates his complicated feelings toward his girlfriend back home.
The Inconvenience of Being Black
Ukachi Arinzeh, 2020, USA, 8m
During a routine traffic stop, a young motorist faces the challenge of driving while Black.
Sylaz Ud’ee, 2019, USA, 17m
Ben and Sharon work in the same building. One evening, on their way out, they are trapped together in a malfunctioning elevator.
Manu Luksch, 2019, UK/Austria/Senegal, 14m
French, Wolof, English, and German with English subtitles
Shot in Dakar with the participation of leading Senegalese musicians, poets, and graffiti artists, ALGO-RHYTHM probes the rise in the algorithmic management of daily life and the insidious threats it poses to human rights and agency. Using hip hop, drama, street art, and data-driven filmmaking, Manu Luksch’s film explores how our embrace of machine intelligence, refracted through the slick interfaces of smartphone apps, makes us vulnerable to manipulation by political actors.