Late last year, the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) announced that it had received a three-year grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to design a program that would highlight the "diverse and burgeoning hotbed of filmmaking activity emerging across the continent of Africa." We previously published their press release here.
Dustin Kaspar, one of SIFF's programmers, recently returned from a lengthy international trip during which he unearthed the hidden gems from the continent with the poorest cinematic representation on the planet. I was lucky enough to meet him during the Busan leg of his journey and his passion for African cinema was evident.
Now SIFF has announced the 11 titles that will comprise the first 'African Pictures' program. To be honest, I'm not familiar with any of these films and that's exactly the problem. A great program like this could go a long way to redressing our collective cluelessness about African cinema.
The below press release originally appeared on Indiewire's Shadow and Act blog. Check out the piece here, which is written by someone who actually knows what he's talking about.
SEATTLE (March 21, 2013) - Tonight, SIFF will unveil the first round of films that will screen at the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival. The announcement will take place before a nationwide screening of Nairobi Half Life; Seattle International Film Festival programmers will reveal film selections and present trailers from SIFF's new African Pictures program.
In 2012, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded SIFF a multiyear grant for its African Pictures program, which aims to celebrate the diverse and burgeoning hotbed of filmmaking activity emerging across the continent of Africa. This grant gives SIFF an unparalleled opportunity as a major international film festival to showcase a substantive program of indigenous films from Africa along with films by African filmmakers working outside the continent.
"We are excited to launch African Pictures as a major program of the Seattle International Film Festival," said SIFF Artistic and Co-Director Carl Spence. "With vital support from AMPAS along with other partners we look forward to the opportunity to shine a light on and bring awareness to provocative, relevant and entertaining stories being told across the continent of Africa through the medium of film."
The live announcement of the African Pictures program will precede a special screening of Nairobi Half Life. The film will screen care of the Feature Film Project as a new concept in film distribution presented by the creators of the Manhattan Short Film Festival. Nairobi Half Life will be shown simultaneously in one hundred art house cinemas across the United States; audience goers will vote to decide whether or not the film will receive further theatrical distribution.
"Beneath the Sahara, features like Nairobi Half Life announce the arrival of accomplished work with a uniquely African voice," said SIFF Programmer Dustin Kaspar. "Reflecting the maturation of Nigeria's Nollywood cinema, the blossoming filmmaking communities in Uganda and Rwanda, and the strong creative craft of South Africa's industry, SIFF will bring a broad spectrum of African Pictures (and many of the filmmakers) to Seattle this May and June."
Nairobi Half Lifeis the feature directorial debut of Kenyan filmmaker Daniel "Tosh" Gitonga, and was Kenya's Official Submission for this year's Academy Awards®. The film follows Mwas (the incredible Joseph Wairimu), an aspiring young actor from a small Kenyan village who leaves his home to embark on a journey to Nairobi. A few innocent mistakes lead to jail and a connection with a tough street gang. Although Mwas learns how to survive in the dangerous and sprawling urban center, he is torn between his new lifestyle of theft and violence, and his dream of becoming an actor.
"In the wake of the Arab Spring, which began in Tunisia before spreading to Egypt and Libya, there has been unprecedented interest in films from North Africa," said SIFF Programmer Justine Barda. "While this part of the world has a long and distinguished filmmaking tradition, the struggle against repression has inspired filmmakers to tell their stories with a new urgency and purpose."
The following African Pictures selections are first announced films of the 2013 Seattle International Film Festival:
The African Cypher
North American Premiere | Dir Bryan Little | South Africa | 2012 | 89 min
Beginning as a survey of the extraordinary street dance styles across South Africa, director Bryan Little's vibrant documentary drills deeper into the philosophy of the dancer's self-expression and, especially, the souls of two extraordinary young performers.
Coming Forth by Day (Al-khoroung lel-nahar)
North American Premiere | Dir Hala Lotfy | Egypt/United Arab Emirates | 2012 | 96 min
An exciting new female auteur from the Arab world, Hala Lotfy makes her debut with Coming Forth by Day. The daily struggles of a mother and daughter are a far cry from the riots of Tahrir Square, but offer equally compelling insight into Egyptian society today.
Comrade President (Camarada Presidente)
North American Premiere | Dir Mosco Kamwendo | Zimbabwe | 2012 | 89 min
The life and suspicious death of Mozambique's revolutionary leader, Samora Moises Machel is explored in this documentary, providing insight into the Mozambican fight for independence and subsequent political changes.
Fanie Fourie's Lobola
Dir Henk Pretorius | South Africa | 2013 | 90 min
After he takes Dinky, a strong Zulu woman, to his Afrikaans family wedding, the two find an unexpectedly fun cross-cultural romance. But, if Fanie is going to marry Dinky the right way, he must negotiate with her family to pay Lobola (a South African dowry).
World Premiere | Dir Leah Warshawski, Chris Towey | USA/Rwanda | 2013 | 57 min
Hillywood, the Rwandan Film Industry, is given the spotlight in this affectionate portrait featuring the filmmaking community, the blossoming film festival culture, and the joy of the people as they experience Rwandan cinema on the big screen.
North American Premiere | Dir Mugisha, Kasper Bisgaard | Uganda | 2012 | 62 min
Apio, a 14-year-old Karamojong girl and her mother run their household on money wired from her father who works in the capital of Uganda. When the money transfers stop, Apio must travel alone to the big city in search of her father.
Last Flight To Abuja
North American Premiere | Dir Obi Emelonye | Nigeria / United Kingdom | 2012 | 78 min
An ill-fated flight provides the setting for this suspenseful multi-character pot-boiler filled with romance, blackmail, and murder in Obi Emelonye's Nollywood box-office smash.
The Pardon (Imbabazi)
Dir Joel Karekezi | Rwanda | 2013 | 73 min
Bridging narrative simplicity and emotional depth, first-time Rwandan filmmaker Joel Karekezi showcases friends who find themselves on opposing sides of the Rwandan genocide. Years later, they must navigate their horrific past toward an emotional future.
The Repentant (El Taaib)
Dir Merzak Allouache | Algeria/France | 2012 | 87 min
Nearly a decade into the country's civil war, a young Algerian Jihadist takes advantage of a national amnesty to leave the mountains and rejoin civil society. But the past is not so easily set aside. A beautifully made, deeply felt drama from veteran director Merzak Allouache.
Dir Samouté Andrey Diarra | Mali/France | 2012 | 72 min
Having lost their jobs due to climate change and overfishing, a group of fishermen have been dubbed Sand Fishers, and now harvest wet compact sand and gravel from the bottom of waterways for use by the construction industry.
World Premiere | Dir Donovan Marsh | South Africa | 2013 | 90 min
Spud is still marching slowly toward puberty as a sophomore at a South African boarding school. While he's no longer the youngest in school, that's not going to save him from challenges of growing up. John Cleese returns in this spectacular sequel to the SIFF 2011 favorite.