Wednesday, March 8, 2017

25th Annual Pan African Film Festival - Los Angeles - Part 2

Among the films that played recently at the 25th Annual Pan African Film Festival - Los Angeles, held at the Cinemark 15 Baldwin Hills Theater at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, I was able to view and review the following:

 White Colour Black [2016] (written and directed by Joseph A. Adesunloye) tells the story of a Senegal-born photographer named Leke (played by Dudley O'Shaughnessy) who begins the story living a quite dissolute / hedonistic lifestyle in London among the glamour / fashion model set.  Then he gets word that his father had died back in Senegal and decides, reluctantly, that _for this_ (his father's funeral) he has to go back.  Complicating things are (1) that the two, Leke and his father, had last parted not on good terms, and (2) Leke had seemed to acquire something of a drug habit up there in London.  So it takes him a while (at least a few days) after arriving from London in Senegal's capital of Dakar before he gets around to heading out to the seaside town where his father's family was from.  TO SOME EXTENT, the beginning of the film feels almost like a take on Apocalypse Now [1979] -- "Saigon [Dakar], damn Saigon [Dakar], I'm only in Saigon [Dakar]..." 'Cept when Leke finally makes it out to the lovely seaside town where his dad's family's from, it turns out to NOT really be "The Apocalypse."  SURE he finds that he has to "make amends" and not only to his uncle Dabo (played wonderfully by Wale Ojo), the keeper of Leke's father's legacy, but TO THE ENTIRE VILLAGE that simply does not understand _how_ he could have missed his father's funeral.  But, after initially stumbling, he finds a way ... and the film becomes a LOVELY tribute to the enduring power and beauty of both Family and Reconciliation -- 3 Stars

The Last Disciples [2016] (written and directed by the Isabelle Brothers) well produced, MTV "Reality Show"-like modern-day adaptation of several Biblical stories -- notably of Cain and Abel, Noah and Job.  The language is often quite offensive (so it would not be for kids).  However, for teenagers who've already "heard the bad words" as well as college-aged young adults, I do think that the film offers a quite captivating approach to comtemporizing the stories of the Bible -- the story of Job, for instance, is really presented in "Entertainment Tonight " / "reality show" like format.  What's also remarkable is that the Isabelle Brothers made this film working out of their hometown of Huntsville, Alabama.  As such, they provide a tantalizing glimpse of a decentralized future of video / cinematographic storytelling, one which won't necessarily need to be centered in major cities like New York or Los Angeles. -- 3 Stars

Rebecca [2016] (written and directed by Shirley Frimpong-Mansa) is a very simple film GHANA-originating film that's presented then in a quite interesting format -- in English _with_ English subtitles.   First about the story, then a few words about the format.

The story's about a couple, Clifford (played by Joseph Benjamin) a rich Ghana-descended businessman who flew back "home" from the U.K. to get himself a wife through an arranged / brokered marriage, and then Rebecca (played wonderfully by Yvonne Okoro) the village woman who he basically bought for himself.  The two find themselves "stuck in their car," which had broken down on the road somewhere in the hinterlands of Ghana between Rebecca's village and the airport from where they would fly then (back) to the U.K.

So at the beginning of the story Clifford's clearly "in charge."  After all, he was "the one with the money" who flew out to again effectively "buy" Rebecca.  But, sitting there on the clearly not well traveled road, awaiting someone to pass by to give them assistance, power and the initiative begin to clearly swing back to Rebecca.  After all, they find themselves "stuck" in _her country_, SHE knows what's going on, HE doesn't have a clue ...  As simple as the story is -- nominally about a couple stuck in the car at the side of a largely abondoned road -- it leaves Viewers with _a lot_ to talk / reflect about.

Now about the film's format.  THE Los Angeles based DISTRIBUTOR of the film was present at the end of the screening to take questions.  He said that the format -- English with English subtitles -- was intentional, noting that there are over 2 billion people across the world for whom English is a second language.  The format English, with English subtitled may irritate many (younger) North Americans for whom English is their native language (and they are still NOT "hard of hearing").  However, he said that EVEN IN THE UNITED STATES about 35% of the potential viewing public would appreciate those subtitles.  Who would they be?  Immigrants AND older people.  Then outside of the United States, this format would allow those 2 billion people to practice their English.

Again both the story and the film's viewing format offered much to think about -- 3 Stars

AfroLatinos: An Untaught History [2016] (directed by Renzo Devia) is a DOCUMENTARY that given the size of the audience present at its screening at the PAFF-LA has an audience.   For all the problems that African Americans have had in the United States to (re)discover their voice / identity, this _excellent_ documentary (which will actually be exploded into a seven part documentary series) notes that across ALL OF LATIN AMERICA over 150 million Afro-Latinos have yet to really do so.  Almost everywhere, again ACROSS ALL OF LATIN AMERICA, almost EVERY _African descended / imported characteristic_ from curlier hair, to darker skin, to African-descended languages, dialects or accents to African-descended religions / religious conceptions are MARGINALIZED / LOOKED-DOWN UPON by the wider culture.  And yet, ALL OF THESE CHARACTERISTICS have SELF-EVIDENTLY CLEAR / INTRINSIC BEAUTY.

What's going on?  What happened?  While taking some time to explain some of the history of Afro-Latino marginalization in Latin America, the great and truly _beautiful_ strength of this Documentary is that it's A CELEBRATION OF AFRO-LATINOS and all that they can and at times already offer the larger society / world.  For instance, modern West Africans travel to Latin America, notably to Brazil, Suriname and coastal Colombia to _learn_ African languages / dialects and about African religions / religious conceptions now largely lost in their native West Africa.   Then the mixing of the cultures and races produces some truly fascinating and beautiful conceptions in both fashion and the arts.  All in all, this really promises to be A GREAT / FASCINATING DOCUMENTARY SERIES -- 4 Stars

The Healing Passage: Voices from the Water [2004] (written and directed by S. Pearl Sharp) is a remarkable DOCUMENTARY that presents AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTISTS, POETS and PHILOSOPHERS grappling with the MEANING and LOSS resulting form the FORCED TRANSPORT OF 10-12 MILLION AFRICANS AS SLAVES FROM WEST AFRICA to THE AMERICAS (and the DEATHS OF MILLIONS of OTHERS in transport) during the Era of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Imagine simply THE BONES of MILLIONS OF BODIES spread along the bottom of the Mid-Atlantic between Africa and the Americas.

Neither is it simply an issue of simply Blacks coming to terms with the Horror and Magnitude of this Tragedy: One of the more striking moments in the film involved a twenty-something young woman from an old Massachusetts family that made its fortune (presumably) in 18th early 19th century through the Slave Trade.  She and several of her relatives when back to Senegal to partly atone for their ancestors' part in this horror.  Truly a beautiful and again _very_ powerful / thought-provoking film -- 4 Stars

Nawara [2015] (written and directed by Hala Khalil) is a striking EGYPTIAN film about the tragedy of the by now quite defunct Arab Spring.

Taking place during the 2011 Protests on Tahrir Square which eventually brought down the Regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the film's about an ever-smiling 20-something  Muslim domestic worker named Nawara (played magnificently by Menna Shalabi) living seemingly on one side of Cairo and -- three buses later -- working completely on the other side (Note that while stationed in Chicago, I knew of Latina domestic workers who made similarly crazy daily commutes from South Chicago all the way to the wealthy suburbs of the North Shore). 

It was clear that Mubarak was on the way out.  The news on both State TV and Radio were now suddenly (but consistently) about the corruption of the Mubarak Regime.  Nawara and her family were excited by the promise that so much looted wealth will be returned to Egypt that EACH EGYPTIAN would receive some 200,000 Egyptian pounds in compensation.  Among other things, Nawara and her largely unemployed / working odd-jobs electrician boyfriend Ali (played by Ameer Salah Eldin) would FINALLY be able to get married.  But of course such a prospect -- that so much wealth could possibly be returned back to the county -- was horribly ... naive.  How could ever smiling, ever optimistic, but POOR Nawara possibly hope that "things would turn out well" for her and her kind?  All in all an excellent film _personalizing_ the supreme tragedy of the betrayal of the Arab Spring -- 4 Stars

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