Filmmaker Manthia Diawara returns to his native Guinea — which he and his parents fled four decades earlier — for the loose but illuminating docu “Conakry Kas.” Tapping various local luminaries (and a couple U.S. celebrity supporters) for their take on country’s past, present and future, pic offers a range of opinions rather than any particular thesis or conclusion. Fests, broadcasters and educators interested in contempo African history make want to take this trip.
Guinea’s successful struggle for independence from France during the Cold War years was a key event in Africa. But while President Sekou Toure’s long reign started out with strong socialist intentions, economic hardship and other factors made it become a dictatorship whose new forms of repression chased Diawara’s family abroad in the early ’60s. In the post-Toure era, the outlook for improvement is variably hopeful and pessimistic, depending on who’s asked.
One surviving strength is Guinea’s strong emphasis on national culture and arts, repped here by performance segs with musicians, dance troupes, etc. Worries include impact of globalization, HIV, crumbling infrastructure, and refugees flooding in from war-torn neighboring countries.
As Diawara visits the capital city, he reflects on the pan-African ideals of his youth, which seem further from reality than ever. A high-profile supporter of the newly independent nation at that time was Harry Belafonte, who provides some typically warm, sharp latter-day insights here; helmer is also joined in Guinea for a few days by another stellar pal, thesp Danny Glover.
Locals spoken to run largely toward older-generation artists, intellectuals and retired diplomats. There’s perhaps too little heard from the man-and-woman-on-the-street, though Diawara’s talk with some highly opinionated college students does briefly provide a fresher p.o.v.
Mood is leisurely, but Diawara’s obvious affection for his homeland doesn’t render pic overly bland or unquestioning. Editing is lively, tech package crisp.