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.

July 16, 2017

Umu Igbo definitely show off in Houston

June 24th second generation descendants of Nigerian immigrants from the Southeastern region of Nigeria in the diaspora gathered in a soiree to celebrate their culture in Lighthouse Hall, Houston Texas. Umu Igbo Unite (UIU) is an organization formed to keep young Igbos and professionals connected to their roots in the motherland through networking and social advocacy. Since its inception in 2005, the platform has grown to ten chapters across the United States and is expanding. This banquet would be the first for the Houston chapter since its inception nine years ago.

The chapter went all out on the June 24th weekend with three days of events that brought together so many Igbos, many from other states to one place. The impressive turnout could be easily attributed to the tireless work by the chapter's executive board, campaigning for months on end, reaching out to the community as a whole and raising the awareness.  You can always tell when you're in a Nigerian event when you hear Afrobeats reverberating in the background and you suddenly find yourself with the urge to roll your waist even just a little, the environment takes a familial tone only recognized by the people gathered, it becomes home away from home. It is not uncommon to hear me breakout in what I call "the bush girl" character (an inside joke only known to a friend). Igbonics and pidgin suddenly becomes the only language I know, and because the environment had become so familiar, I felt right at home. Another familiarity within the community is the tendency to live up to the stereotype of arriving fashionably late where an appointed time only means its time to start getting ready and the majority don't start to arrive to an event until about three hours later. I do however have to admit that we did better this weekend for the banquet in starting on time.
Eze and Lolo Igbo
The start of red carpet on the day of the banquet seemed like a brief abbreviation on a party that carried on all night, with everyone deciding to touch base with home to freshen up, arriving in their colorful best—mostly traditional garb designed specifically for the occasion. Ladies didn't disappoint with hair and makeup on "fleek." The gentlemen did good too. The evening held a promise of a long awaited chain of events advertised for months—good music, food and drinks, performances, special guests and a chance to meet and mingle with new people. MCofLife and Prince Kalu moved the evening along smoothly keeping the audience entertained in their light-hearted, yet rough comedy and jabs at each other. There was enough on the evening's itinerary to ensure an engaged and a well-entertained audience with performances and special guest speakers to include some comedy and traditional dance performances. A notable act to mention is the performance by the author and poet Mr. Ben Amushie, taking the audience on a journey back to the motherland even if just for a moment with his conscious-raising drama ensemble and poetry.


The evening was mostly fun, however serious issues where discussed by some keynote speakers. Notable was mental illness in the community that can be overlooked or stigmatized due to lack of awareness or long held traditional values that prohibit seeking help. The overall mission of the event would not be complete without discussing ways to move forward as a community both in the diaspora and back home to ensure a better future for those that come after us. One can only hope that an event such as this one moves the needle forward.
#MCofLife & Prince Kalu
UIU Dancers 
Ben Amushie's performance
Traditional dancers
No Nigerian Occasion is complete without the spraying of money
UIU Houston's E-Board

Enjoy the video below, you can find videos like this and more on Youtube, find me as MsadakuMsadaphotography on Facebook.

May 8, 2017

TAFF premieres a brand new trophy inspired by the World Cup

The brand new trophy was inspired by TAFF Executive Director's love for sports.
The African Film Festival is at its second inception this year. There will be at least 25 countries participating and 40 forty films according to the festival’s executive director, Mr. Kelechi Eke. Planning a film festival in not without it’s unique challenges, even more so, planning a festival that uniquely caters to films made by African independent filmmakers or filmmakers of the African decent. Be it as it may, Mr. Eke is beating the odds. Response has been outstanding across the continent of Africa as well as the USA, Europe and Australia. The film festival is now attracting the likes of Academy Award nominee Angela Bassett who Executive produced and narrated a film to be screened during the closing night on July 3, 2017 at Dallas City Performance Hall (DCPH). Oscar caliber films have also been selected to be screened during the festival. African Film Legend, Richard Mofe Damijo is slated to host this years festival awards gala.

The highlight of this year’s festival is the brand new trophy that filmmakers will covet, inspired by Mr. Eke’s love for soccer. The golden masterpiece is born out of the need to inspire African independent filmmakers to continue pursue cinematic excellence. To demonstrate just how they are doing that, award categories include “Best Poster” and “Best Trailer” to encourage putting more thought to the overall finished work. TAFF has opened a world stage for quality African films and now, the world is watching. In a recent interview, Mr. Eke shed some light on the making of the new trophy and what’s in store for this year’s festival.
Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe Winner Angela Bassett's film Remand will screen on the closing night on July 3, 2017 at DCPH, Dallas Texas.

The African Film Festival is gaining momentum this year, how do you feel about that?
Great. Feels good. The excitement, the anticipation by filmmakers and film lovers is quite encouraging. All the work that we put in last year is paying off going into the second year—the quality of films, the caliber of filmmakers that we’re able to attract this year, makes it even more exciting.

This year, you have a brand new trophy, what’s the inspiration behind it?
Well, the direction we’re going with TAFF is to make it one of the biggest, (pure) African film festivals in the United States and in that effort, what comes to mind as the biggest and the best, as a sports aficionado is the World Cup or the Super Bowl. I dubbed the trophy as the World Cup of African films. As a soccer player, what really inspired that trophy is looking at the World Cup itself, I spent quite some time, lots of nights thinking of how to bring out Africa and film at the same time in that trophy, you know—like the World Cup. I was able to do that with a film strip at the base of the cup, then springing out the map of Africa. It was quite a unique concept. Finally, when the vision came to me, I drew it out back and forth with the manufacturers to make sure they got my design exactly as I envisioned it. After 2 months of trial and error, they got it right and once they got it I said “Yes, this is it. This is what I designed, this is what I was looking for” and you know, something to encourage filmmakers to work hard and anticipate lifting one of those trophies. That’s really the inspiration. 

Did you experience any challenges in the making of this year’s trophy?
One of the challenges is actually accepting the weight of the trophy, as the winners will find out. It’s weight is just like a dumbbell, you know, but Africans are strong and picking up a 5kg dumbbell wouldn’t be a big deal to them and of course when they’re holding on to it, they feel like they’re holding something. But, 5kg is roughly 10 pounds. It was kind of a challenge on whether to reduce the size or leave it as is. Its about 14 inches tall, so a little over a foot, you know, so it’s something that you wouldn’t put in your back pocket and move on. Once [filmmakers] fly into Dallas and take that trophy across the airport, everybody that sees them will stop and say “hey where did you get that trophy?” That was part of the motivation and will be, for the filmmakers to feel the same way and carry that good-sized trophy home. The challenge was the size decision and I don’t think I want to make it any smaller than it is.

Amazing story! So, what has been the response to this new trophy?
Overwhelmingly great, and I welcome constructive criticism but I’ve had none. A poll out of a thousand people and one hundred percent responded with two thumbs up. All the feedback has been positive, everybody is excited to see it. It was pretty much the same design as last year, but the difference was trying to bring out the cultural African roots, we actually had a sculptor carve each of those trophies by hand so those were pretty unique. This time around, in manufacturing this design, people actually said that we’ve upped our game, that’s the best film trophy that they’ve ever seen and that’s actually what I want out of it. So, it’s not about the trophy, it’s just one of the motivating factors for filmmakers to want to win one and when I heard one of the seasoned filmmakers actually make that comment that “hey, this trophy will motivate me to want to make a good film to get one” I said “yes, that’s exactly the purpose of this trophy.”


Very interesting. We can’t all wait to see who takes this trophy home this year. So tell me, what are the plans for this year’s festival, do you have any special guests or events?
Yes, we have a special guest, Richard Mofe Damijo will be hosting the show and we have filmmakers such as Lancelot Imasuen coming, and quite a few filmmakers from across the globe: Ghana. Gambia, Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria etc. There are American filmmakers as well that are making African films that will be in the house. We have a couple of them here in Dallas, the makers of Cornerstone, for example with be here. The makers of Massai: 10th Tribe of Israel, a Kenyan story plan to be here. They are all Americans telling African stories, so we call them African filmmakers (laughs), so they’ll be here. There’s so much diversity, we have films from the Cape coast, South Africa to Cairo, Egypt. We have films from Senegal all the way to the horn of Africa—Tanzania. So, it cuts across the continent and that’s exactly our mission—to bring these films together and unite people and bridge cultures. It’s exciting, it’s hard to pinpoint any one of the filmmakers without mentioning the others because all of them are equally important to the organization. So we look forward to having a great time with those that finally get to make it.  

Any special events?
For the first time in film festivals history (I can boldly claim), instead of a workshop this year, we will actually do practical workshop to shoot a film. So, we’re looking forward to that from June 24th, before the festival opens to the general public on June 30th, we will be shooting a short film called “4” and “4” is only four minutes, and it dubs the question “what will you do if the world where to end in four minutes?” So, we’ll be carrying out an audition for that starting May 20th, that’s exactly 2 weeks from today and then on June 24th, we will shoot the short film leading to the festival. The short film covers our networking, seminars, workshop where seasoned filmmakers will be there early to actually guide budding filmmakers to accomplish this task and if we’re able to do that, that would be quite a feat. Now we’re taking it from just film screenings to practical filmmaking, so it’s a revolutionary effort in our second year, a great vision and we’re looking forward to pulling it off.

This is all amazing! And, I have say that now I can’t wait for this festival, we’re all anticipating it at this point. So how can one purchase tickets to this year’s festival?
The tickets are available at Ticket DFW. It is also available on our website. Another exciting thing coming up on the closing night is the showing of Remand, a short film executive produced and narrated by Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Angela Bassett. We’re hoping she can join us on the closing night to kind of see people’s excitement or reaction on the film the she was part of. That’s how far we’ve gone, when we’re getting the attention of the likes of Angela Bassett whom we all respect in the film world, it says a lot about the direction of where The African Film Festival is going. We’re quite excited.

And we are excited for you! We’re proud of what you’ve accomplished and we say keep it up! We look forward to what unfolds int he near future.
Thank you.


The African Film Festival is slated for June 30-July 3 2017. Don’t miss it. Get your tickets now.

April 27, 2017

RMD is hosting TAFF 2017!

Legendary actor Richard Mofe Damijo will host The African Film Festival in its second year.

The legendary actor is slated to grace the stage on the closing night on July 3, 2017 at the Dallas City Performance Hall (DCPH) in a black-tie/traditional event that will be marked by glitz and glamor and guaranteed to bring out the best in the film industry. The best in the African independent film industry will be awarded with a golden trophy reminiscent of a great Egyptian fortress. "The inspiration for this year's trophy is my love for soccer." TAFF Executive Director gushes excitedly, "I can't believe how wonderful it turned out." We share your love too Mr. E.D and we can't wait to see who takes home this golden trophy this year. For this year's selected films, click here

About Richard Mofe Damijo

Richard Mofe Damijo is from Warri, Delta State. He always had a penchant for acting right from childhood belonging to his school's drama club and majoring in Theatre Arts in the University of Benin. He would star in many popular films, theatre and TV shows. He gained major popularity in the highly acclaimed soap opera RipplesOut of BoundsScores to Settle, Private Sin, are just a few notable films under a long resume that spans over twenty years. Some of his latest work are The Wedding Party and 30 Days in Atlanta.

He dabbled into politics becoming the Commissioner for Culture and Tourism in Delta State, Nigeria.

Get your tickets now. Go here.

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