In his second year at the helm as artistic director of the Africa Intl. Film Festival (AFRIFF), Newton Aduaka said his goal when curating this year’s edition, which unspools Nov. 11-18 in Lagos, was “to present a rigorously selected program with an international gaze.”
It’s an acknowledgment by the Paris-based filmmaker, who was born in Lagos but left more than 30 years ago, that the inward-looking Nigerian industry stands to benefit from exposure to “a wider international aesthetic of filmmaking.” Said Aduaka, “There has to be room for other kinds of cinema, other kinds of voices.”
Eight years after AFRIFF’s founding, the festival will present more than 140 features, shorts, documentaries and animated films from across Africa and the rest of the world. For Nigerian filmmakers, said Aduaka, the selection presents an opportunity to “shift the gaze” away from cinema as a means of popular entertainment – as evidenced by the wildly prolific and successful Nollywood industry – and “start being critical of this society which they live in.”
Eleven of the twelve feature films selected for the official competition of this year’s festival are from African helmers. For the opening film, the organizers selected South African adventure epic “Sew the Winter to My Skin,” written and directed by Jahmil X.T. Qubeka. The film was inspired by the story of the mid-century outlaw John Kepe, whose Robin Hood-style exploits made him a folk hero to his own people and a public enemy in the eyes of the apartheid government. Aduaka described Qubeka as an “unflinching” filmmaker who is “moving against the current,” adding that the director’s voice is “very important right now. Not just for South Africa.”
The fest closes with “Nigerian Prince,” Faraday Okoro’s semi-autobiographical tale of a Nigerian-American high-schooler sent to live with family in Lagos. Executive produced by Spike Lee, Okoro’s feature debut bowed in Tribeca. Aduaka praised the film for grappling with a young man’s sense of alienation, saying it did so “with some humor, and in an honest way.”
Other highlights include “Where Is Kyra?”, by Nigerian-born filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu, whose profile has been on the rise since he planted roots in New York. Starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Kiefer Sutherland, Dosunmu’s latest feature was described by Variety at its Sundance world premiere as a “difficult, visually stunning study in psychic pain” full of “ravishing beauty.”
Ahmed Fawzi Saleh’s “Poisonous Roses,” which world premiered in Rotterdam, is a brother-sister drama set in the festering world of Cairo’s centuries-old tanneries described as “visually striking” by Variety.
For local audiences, two emerging Nigerian filmmakers are also in competition. Adekunle Adejuyigbe’s “The Delivery Boy” is the story of two young Nigerians – an orphan raised in an Islamic extremist group and a sex worker on the run from a lynch mob – whose lives become intertwined one night in Lagos. “Kasala!”, a low-budget comedy by debut director Ema Edosio, is set in the metropolis’ working-class suburbs, where four young friends scramble for cash after wrecking a stolen car.
Other films in competition include “Farewell Ella Bella,” by Lwazi Mvusi (South Africa); “Tokoloshe,” by Jerome Pikwane (South Africa); “Azali,” by Kwabena Gyansah (Ghana); “El Concursante,” by Carlos Osuna (Columbia); “Tafu Chafu,” by Novartus Mugurusi (Tanzania); and “T-Junction,” by Amil Shivji (Tanzania).
Reflecting on the selection, Aduaka said he hoped to see more African helmers “talking about the reality of their lives, and dealing with their struggles.” He compared the opportunities for filmmakers today to other disruptive moments in cinematic history, as when the tumultuous social changes in Europe after the Second World War gave rise to Italian neorealism and the French New Wave. “This is where African cinema should be going,” he said.