By Wilson Morales
The 26th New York African Film Festival(NYAFF) kicks off at BAM Film on Thursday, May 23, and runs through Monday, May 27, as a part of BAM’s popular dance and music festival.
The popular festival includes 68 films of multiple genres from 31 countries across the diaspora, and is presented by FLC and African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF).
Under the theme “Beyond Borders: Storytelling Across Time,” this year the event launches at BAM Film in May, heads to Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) from May 30 through June 4, and closes at Maysles Cinema.
Opening Night at Film at Lincoln Center at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 30 is the U.S. premiere of Frances-Anne Solomon’s triumphant feature HERO: Inspired by the Extraordinary Life and Times of Mr. Ulric Cross. The film, which won the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival People’s Choice Award in the narrative feature category, tells the story of Cross, the Royal Air Force’s most decorated West Indian of World War II, and his and his fellow West Indians’ lasting impact on world history, including several liberation struggles across Africa. The film was selected as part of NYAFF’s celebration of the 100th anniversary of the first Pan-African Congress, organized in Paris by W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida Gibbs Hunt in February 1919, when delegates from Africa and the diaspora convened to champion Africa’s self-determination. Tickets for the film and Opening Night post-screening reception are available online at africanfilmny.org for $100. Regular festival prices apply for screening-only tickets, which can be purchased at filmlinc.org.
Marking the 25th anniversary of the tragic Rwandan genocide of 1994, when between 800,000 and one million lives were lost, at 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, June 1 is the Centerpiece film, Rwandan director Joël Karekezi’s gripping drama The Mercy of the Jungle. One of a crop of films about the aftermath of the tragedy by Rwandan directors, it follows Rwandan soldiers hunting rebels separated from their unit as they fight to survive while lost in the war-torn countryside. Preceding The Mercy of the Jungle will be the short The Letter Carrier,a haunting, folkloric fairy tale told through original a capella song. The directorial debut of actor-directors Jesse L. Martin and Rick Cosnett imagines a black family from Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and the lengths they will go to save themselves from slavery.
In its look back, NYAFF also tips its hat to FESPACO(Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou), the historic festival in Burkina Faso now celebrating its 50th anniversary, with classic works from African trailblazers who continue to influence generations of filmmakers. Among the selections are the first FESPACO Best Film winner (Oumarou Ganda’s Le Wazzou polygame in 1972), most recent awardee (Karekezi’s gripping drama The Mercy of the Jungle), and several in between, including Mahmoud Ben Mahmoud’s Fatwa (bronze at FESPACO in 2019, first prize at Carthage Film Festival in 2018), Ola Balogun’s Black Goddess (1978),and Souleymane Cissé’s Baara (1978), all seminal works that define themes explored in contemporary African cinema. The final film screening at Film at Lincoln Center, on June 4, is the sweeping epic Sarraounia by Med Hondo, who passed away on March 2.
The festival also highlights some of today’s most buzzed-about directors of the diaspora, including South African comedian-actor-director Kagiso Lediga(Wizard / Matwetwe), the first African director to be tapped for a Netflix Original Series (Queen Sono, starring Pearl Thusi); Julius Amedume, whose thriller Rattlesnakes featuring Jimmy Jean-Louis won the Panafrican Film Festival Audience Award for Narrative Feature), and Cameroonian director Rosine Mbakam, whose Chez Jolie Coiffure captures the powerful real-life story of an undocumented hair-salon manager who escaped to Belgium from quasi-slavery in Lebanon.
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