Despite the snow and the cold, the Twin Cities are a place many Africans call home, and those over at the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul decided to celebrate that fact with a festival called Images of Africa.
Starting Friday, the film fest will span nearly a week, featuring 27 films (both narrative and documentary) from 15 countries. Some, like Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George, show Africans living in America, walking the line between their native culture and that of the melting pot. Others, like Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Grisgris, tell African stories: tales of love and dreams; the struggle for revolution and a new political thinking; art after tragedy; and the journey to healing.
Festivities begin at 3 p.m. at the St. Anthony Main Theatre, at which the majority of the screenings take place. The opening night headliner is Jehane Noujaim’s The Square, which is both preceded and followed by receptions at Aster Cafe. The director herself may very well be in attendance, so if you’re looking for insight into Egyptian politics there’s no other place to be this weekend (as far as the Midwest goes). Likewise, many other filmmakers, educators and actors (some with Minnesota ties) will be in a attendance at screenings to engage with festival-goers in discussions throughout the week. Things all wrap up on Thursday, Nov. 21, with Mother of George and a reception at Aster Cafe.
Below are bite-sized reviews from the ‘CCO Movie Blog crew, and here’s a link to the full screening schedule. This festival overlaps with Sound Unseen, so if you’re looking to culture bomb yourself this weekend, you’ve got a world of options.
The African Cypher (Nov. 15 at 5 p.m.; Nov. 19 at 5 p.m.; St. Anthony Main Theatre)
In a just world, The African Cypher would be as ubiquitous among the teen set as the Step Up series, and as buzzworthy among hipsters as last year’s Girl Talk musical All Day // Girl Walk. OK, maybe it’s not as immediately, kinetically enveloping as either of those examples, but director Bryan Little’s bracingly fresh look at how dance informs the lives of South African youths, some of whom have no other tangible agency, boasts nearly as many moves you’re going to want to copy at home in front of the mirror. Furthermore, Little expands his focus beyond the dance itself to show how his various dancers (including the indomitable troupes Soweto’s Finest, who espouse their “bourgeois” elegance, the Movers and Shakers, and the tight Genesis Kings) express their individuality through their moves, which run the gamut from krumping and B-boy, which Americans are already familiar with, to ready-to-break sister styles like isi-pantsula (a street dance that, in its high-stepping exhuberance, strongly resembles B-boy breakin’) and sbhujwa (a super-flexible display of gliding feet and smooth transitions). As with almost any dance movie ever made, The African Cypher does culminate in a dance-off battle, but Little’s social acuity prevents it from ever devolving into some sort of UNICEF Let’s Get Served. I dare you to keep your legs from twitching with jealousy during the film’s gorgeous final slo-mo montage (among my very favorite scenes of the year, if you’re counting). — Eric Henderson
Die Welt (Nov. 16 at 3:15 p.m.; Nov. 18 at 5 p.m.; St. Anthony Main Theatre)
It won’t take long for the main character of Die Welt to endear himself to anyone adventurous enough to see movies like, well, Die Welt. An employee at a DVD store in Tunisia, Abdallah (Abdelhamid Naouara) spends what seems like an eternity trying to convince a customer that renting Transformers 2 is giving into American imperialism, acquiescing to capitalism at its most flagrant. And if his customer has to watch decadent American productions instead of homegrown product, he could at least have the decency to watch movies that take place closer to home — “like Syriana.” The customer ignores Abdallah’s advice, but maintains he’s interested in the Michael Bay movie. Die Welt takes place on the eve of Tunisia’s first free elections, and in an odd way, the scene sets a tone of what living in “the free market” really entails. Abdallah’s political beliefs are part of the fabric of a complex family dynamic, one which director Alex Pitstra (who cast his own father to play Abdallah’s father) weaves easily into his look at the country’s uneasy balance between Islamic ideals and creeping westernization — at one point, Abdallah snaps at his sister for spending too much time on Facebook, telling her she no longer “lives” in Tunisia. Incisive about without ever being cutting, Die Welt is ultimately a pretty light touch, not a heavy hand. — Henderson
The Battle of Tabatô (Nov. 16 at 9 p.m.; Nov. 20 at 4:45 p.m.; St. Anthony Main Theatre)
War and music. Those are the main elements of The Battle of Tabatô, a dreamscape journey set in the west African nation of Guinea-Bissau. In an uber-stylized way, the movie tells the story of an exiled veteran, a man who journeys to a village of musicians for his daughter’s wedding. She is to the take the hand of a popular musician, but things don’t go quite as planned. In the end, our old soldier finds himself in another battle — a musical one that perhaps cleanses him of the horrors he lived through in the struggle for independence. In black and white, the film is obsessed with faces in profile. We see the sides of actors’ faces as jungle landscapes and cities and villages run by in a wash. The film’s tone is hallucinatory. Dialog is spoken very slowly, with considerable pauses between questions and answers. Thus, The Battle of Tabatô is a film that seems foreign to certain conventions of western film-making. It’s the very sort of thing you’d hope to see in a film festival: someone else’s story, someone else’s music, someone else’s dreams. — Jonathon Sharp
Mama Africa (Nov. 17 at 5 p.m.; St. Anthony Main Theatre)
No one is more responsible for introducing the world to African music, and inspiring the sprawling genre of “world music,” than Miriam Makeba. A product of apartheid-era South Africa, Makeba’s angelic, soaring voice was so undeniable and enchanting that it threatened the very notion of black South African inferiority in the eyes of the white-run government. This threat was addressed when her citizenship was revoked during a trip to the Venice Film Festival in 1960 – sparking an exile that lasted until Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990. The most fascinating aspect of Mama Africa is Makeba’s transition from oppressed, South African to a citizen of the world, in the truest sense of the phrase. She even influences the increasingly revolutionary American Civil Rights Movement in the late 60s, becoming persona non grata to the U.S. government in the process. Makeba’s life is endlessly compelling, and is handled with care by Finnish filmmaker Mika Kaurismaki. “I do not sing politics, I merely sing the truth,” Makeba said. And it’s her truth and essence that make for an unforgettable documentary. — Stephen Swanson
Finding Hillywood (Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.; St. Anthony Main Theatre)
What does one do after genocide? After one’s mother, along with 20 percent of the population, is murdered? How does one move on without forgetting? The answer, for Ayuub, is to make movies. Finding Hillywood, a documentary on the budding Rwandan film economy, follows the actor and filmmaker as he stages the festival that brings cinema to the Rwanda’s rolling countryside. Hillywood, get it? While stylistically the doc breaks no ground, the subject matter and the people featured are as compelling as, say, the origins of German New Wave. We meet filmmakers, like Ayuub, who are now helping to harvest a whole new crop of directors and actors. We also meet a young woman in the industry who’s directing: an act in and of itself that’s changing social norms. Clocking in at only an hour long, the film leaves you curious at what art these men and women, many of whom have lived through hell, can create. As money continues to flow toward incarnated comic book heroes in our culture, here’s to hoping that Rwandan cinema finds it roots, its financial footing and that movie screenings next to mass graves can prompt healing, change. — Sharp
After The Battle (Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.; Nov. 21 at 9:45 p.m.; St. Anthony Main Theatre)
A love story turns into a political affair when Rim, a successful, creative-class Cairo woman, finds herself crushing hard for Mahmoud, a handsome horseman who’s confused and humiliated after riding against Tahrir Square protesters and getting his ass kicked. While there’s some pity-kissing romance early on, the relationship between the two quickly morphs into a political dialog. On one side is Rim’s people — Mac-Book-Pro-using protesters seeking to oust Egypt’s long-ruling president. On the other is Mahmoud’s — people who scrape their livelihood from Pyramid tourism, seemingly used as pawns by neighborhood bosses. Again and again, politics and sentiment collided. The film effectively shows a portrait of the country as yearning for political change but unsure how to make it happen. Performances are solid, but sometimes over-the-top. And the story occasionally struggles to carry its own weight. Yet one must applaud Yousry Nasrallah’s effort to use the 2011 mass protests as a framing device, since they basically just happened. While the political setting is, amazingly, old news (the next elected leader was kicked out just months ago), the movie still lends an emotional insight to the political issues spilling the banks in the land of the Nile. — Sharp
William and the Windmill (Nov. 20 at 7 p.m.; St. Anthony Main Theatre)
The life of Malawi-native William Kamkwamba is radically altered when the world gets wind of his wind-harnessing skills. As a teen, he’s forced to leave school in the early 2000s due to the failure of his family’s farm during Malawi’s famine and resulting food crisis – a disaster which continues to this day. But the end of William’s formal studies is just the beginning of his self-guided studies at a local library, which soon lead to the creation of several windmills that provide electricity to his family’s home. His story soon spreads on the internet, and he’s invited to the 2007 TEDGlobal conference. American patrons began to take him under wing, a book deal and foreign education follows. And in the midst of all this unfathomable change, William tries his best to take it all in stride, coping with the burden of his astounding potential, and the tug-of-war between his family and homeland and the aggressive beckoning of the First World. William and the Windmills is an extraordinary look at an extraordinary youth. Director Ben Nabors will be in attendance at the film’s sole screening. — Swanson
Mother of George (Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.; St. Anthony Main Theatre)
Adenike, a recently married Nigerian woman living in Brooklyn, finds herself crushed under cultural pressures as she tries and tries and tries to get pregnant. Our girl (played by Danai Gurira of Walking Dead fame) is tasked by her mother-in-law during the nuptial ceremony to have a son and name him George, hence the title. But it soon becomes obvious to Adenike that either she or her husband is infertile. The pressure becomes unbearable as her husband refuses anything to do with Western medicine, and now our girl is trapped. She isn’t allowed to get a job, and her womanhood, as seen in the eyes of her community, is virtually forfeit due to her lack of a baby bump. In an attempt to assert herself, Adenike makes a gamble that seems doomed from the get-go. All the while, the tragedy simmers, wrapped in silky shots by acclaimed cinematographer Bradford Young (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pariah). The slow burn ends with a climax that leaves you with far more questions than answers. But if you really want them, you can perhaps pry some from director Andrew Dosunmu, who’ll be attending the festival. Indeed, there should also be some top-shelf discussion on culture clash, globalization and women’s issues following Mother Of George. It’s inevitable, really. — Sharp