August 7, 2017

Event recap: The African Film Festival

TAFF Awards ceremony
The second installment of The African Film Festival concluded with a keen sense of optimism that's made for a hopeful future. Filmmakers gathered once again in Dallas, Texas on 4th of July weekend in 2017 to watch a marathon of independent films about Africa by independent filmmakers that are not necessarily all African. A total of 43 independent films in all, served up by filmmakers from 25 different countries to include The USA. Films addressed a range of issues; from Uganda came pertinent topics addressed by American filmmakers. One was about the Northern Ugandan genocide—the restructuring and rebuilding of lives after much have been lost, another addressed the journey to rebuilding a broken Ugandan justice system, while another highlighted a man's journey leaving his American dream to fulfill that of many orphans to the HIV/AIDS epidemic by building schools and homes restoring hope to the children that are otherwise victims.

From Ghana came a dance movie that's probably the first in the African Independent filmmaking history, a refreshing change from the usual plot lines centered on infidelity and spiritism. From Ethiopia came an adaptation of one man's true life story as a refugee, he stars in the heart wrenching film where he escapes his homeland as an orphan in the midst of turmoil to make a better life for himself in the Western world. The journey to a better life is not without peril, which he must get through to see the light at the end of the tunnel. From Nigeria came the story that touches on a piece of its history, a critically acclaimed film that sheds light on the detrimental effects of corruption. All of the above were just highlights of the many meaningful films screened, proving that these filmmakers have only scratched the surface when it comes to the dynamics in the fiber the shapes the African continent.
Film screenings took place at the Texas Theatre, African American Museum and Dallas City Performance Hall, each screening ending in a Q&A session with filmmakers.
Film screenings where just a part of the full weekend, The festival began effectively with an Acting Masterclass taught by TAFF Film Legend Award winner and gala host Richard Mofe Damijo. The class was made up of filmmakers and enthusiasts who came to learn from the screen veteran with at least twenty years under his belt. He didn't disappoint as he delved effectively into his role as teacher and sometimes sinking into a character or two. The audience were more than delighted to have him in their midst as he reflected on his experiences, even indulging them in some scene practice sessions.

The Symposium on African Cinema was also one of the festival's highlights. Held at the Dallas Public Library, filmmakers headed the panel to discuss the evolution of African cinema over the years, the challenges and the breakthroughs. African cinema continues to face challenges of adequate funding and the commercialism of the industry where filmmakers feel the need to make a marketable film over a meaningful film. As aforementioned, Africa is a continent full of untold stories and rich in history and just a handful of filmmakers are delving deep into them. Concerns raised by the non-African filmmakers on the panel were the lack of filmmakers willing to put their resources together to continue to raise the awareness of issues that stare them in the face everyday, pointed out by Debi Lang. She gathered film students, most without any experience and traveled to Uganda to help make her documentary film. Just like her, other non-African filmmakers made their films, partly because no one else was making them. There are still limited screening outlets in Africa, with the exception of Nigeria and South Africa, most cinemas in most African countries can be summed up in one hand. This is a far cry from the rest of the developed world and due to this challenge, most filmmakers are limited by way of distribution. Most countries do not have regulatory agencies that protect filmmakers' intellectual properties, as a result piracy is rampant. A lot of filmmakers are hard-pressed to recoup their production costs considering the above factors. It truly becomes the survival of the fittest. There are many factors that can discourage even the most courageous.
The festival brought many filmmakers together in one place to celebrate African independent films.
The festival season would eventually come to an end, but not without the much anticipated gala. Thirty-four filmmakers were nominated in sixteen award categories. The trophy this year had been dubbed the "world cup" of African films by the festival organizers as it was inspired by the biggest sports trophies—the World Cup and the Super Bowl. The idea was to recognize some of the finest filmmakers and encourage them to continue to set the example. In all, sixteen film awards and one honorary award were given, see the chart below:

 TAFF Nominees and Winners

Notable winners were the makers of Remand, its stars Tumusiime Henry and Jim Gash as well as producer Randy Brewer accepted the award for Best Documentary Feature. To them the award represented a triumph in more ways than one. Henry is a young man whose life was hanging on a balance of justice in Uganda, convicted of two murders, he was looking at a possible life sentence on remand in a juvenile home were he would spend years with others, many of them without any substantial criminal convictions. Jim Gash is a Lawyer from Pepperdine University from Los Angeles California who came for a different project in the country when they crossed paths and the rest of the story would lead them to Dallas City Performance Hall on July 3rd 2017.  Read more about their heart wrenching story here. Another touching narrative centers around another young man named Zekarias Tibebu Mesfin, a young Ethiopian refugee that adapts his life story for the big screen. He produces and stars in Ewir Amora Kelabi, another story about the realities of many refugees in Africa that meet various hardships while fleeing war zones and civil unrests only to end up in other predicaments to include death. The film accurately portrays a young man's struggle for survival against the odds. Mr. Mesfin won the Best Emerging Filmmaker Award of TAFF 2017. More on his film can be found here.

 Mr. Damijo was honored during the finale for his outstanding achievements and contributions to the African cinema. He became the second TAFF African Film Legend award recipient, after Ms. Patience "Mama G" Ozokwor who received the award in 2016.

More on The African Film Festival can be found here.

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