For the second straight year, a record eight African films were submitted to the Academy for consideration, vying for a chance to bring home just the third statue for the continent in the nearly 50 years since Costa-Gavras won for the Algerian-French political thriller “Z.”
This year’s submissions aren’t likely to get the buzz of 2017 hopefuls “Felicité,” which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize in Berlin for Franco-Senegalese helmer Alain Gomis, or fest darling “The Wound,” by South Africa’s John Trengove. Both were shortlisted for the Oscar but failed to make the final cut.
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Even as recent years have showcased a wealth of burgeoning talent in sub-Saharan Africa, moviemaking on the continent remains a challenge, and few countries find the resources to produce Oscar-worthy candidates year after year. Tellingly, it took funding from five countries to power “Felicité” to its surprise run last year, and it was still the first foreign-language submission for Senegal — a nation that birthed the founding father of African cinema, Ousmane Sembene.
South Africa has had some success in recent years — Oliver Schmitz’s township drama “Life, Above All” was also shortlisted in 2010 — and this year will try its luck with Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s Western-style epic “Sew the Winter to My Skin.” The movie, which world-premiered in Toronto, was inspired by the story of the mid-century outlaw John Kepe, whose Robin Hood-style exploits made him a folk hero to many black South Africans and a public enemy in the eyes of the apartheid government. The film will look to join previous South African nominee “Yesterday” (2004) and Oscar winner “Tsotsi” (2005).
Kenya rarely gets mentioned as a filmmaking powerhouse, but the East African nation has had a consistent run at Oscar glory thanks to the decade-long collaboration between Tom Tykwer’s Kenyan shingle One Fine Day Films and Kenya’s Ginger Ink.
The duo’s third Oscar hopeful, Likarion Wainana’s “Supa Modo,” is the uplifting tale of a terminally ill girl whose village comes together to fulfill her dreams of becoming a superhero.
While feel-good films rarely make the Academy’s cut, the movie has had a strong festival run since it world premiered in the Berlinale’s Generation Kplus program.
Two newcomers also joined the foreign-language race this year. With the country’s first submission, “The Road to Sunrise,” Malawi’s Shemu Joyah tells the story of two suffering prostitutes who turn to each other for redemption, after one of the women stabs a client dead while fending off an attack.
Another first-time hopeful, from Niger, spins a more hopeful tale of modern African womanhood.
In “The Wedding Ring,” Rahmatou Keita tells the story of a young princess who returns to Niger after leaving behind the suitor she met in Paris. While waiting for his marriage proposal, she shares stories of love and loss with the women around her in a lyrical tribute to the Sahel region.
The odds are long for both first-timers. But for two of the world’s poorest countries, entering the Oscar fray is a victory in its own right.