50 years ago, on May 25th 1963, 30 of 32 independent African states founded the Organization of African Unity (OAV), and this day was called Africa Day. Let’s review what has happened in Africa in the 50 years since: Apartheid, civil wars, tribal wars, genocide, dictators, child soldiers, violent coups… I can’t find unity. I don’t know how to break it to you, guys, but it seems that your organization hasn’t done such a good job. But then again, I want to see how united you’ll be if the European powers colonize you, draw arbitrary borders, enslave your people and pillage your natural resources. So instead of celebrating an imaginary African unity and some failing organization, today I choose to speak to the people, and plead for it: listen to the nice dentist and unite!. Even though there are many differences between you, you have one common goal: better the life of African people, and that will only be achieved by being united. You have the power - natural resources the rest of the world covets - and the only thing standing between you and a bright future is unity. As we continue to wait and hope for true African Unity, let’s look at some of the great films that this continent has produced:
Democracy, we westerners never stop talking about it. When will it arrive in the developing world? we ask constantly. So here it is, in all its glory – depicting the political campaign and elections in Ghana. It’s a different kind of political documentary, it’s not agenda-driven, corruption-exposing or system-fighting, it’s a fly on the wall descriptive film that shows us democracy – African style. With a lot of vibrance, (over) enthusiasm, and mess and confusion. Ultimately, you’ll learn that democracy is the same everywhere – you make a lot of promises but nothing really gets done.
This story is set in Chad, about a father who has a good and stable job as a lifeguard at a luxurious hotel. Not only does he get fired and replaced by his son, when the civil war breaks, the rebel forces demand that he come fight with them – and he does not resist. Riddled with guilt, the father goes on a perilous journey to retrieve his son. It’s a sad and bleak film, but one that offers an unfiltered inside perspective into the African situation.
This Senegalese film depicts last day in the life of Satché (Saul Williams), who returns home from America. He goes on an introspective journey through his past, and meets his old friends, his old flame, the wife and children he left behind, and prepares for his expected demise. There seems to be an outbreak of films that deal with the end of the world and how people spend their last moments, but this film does not over-analyze the situation, leaving you with a lot to think about, which is how I like my films.
Rarely have I seen such a contrast between the subject matter and the mood of a film. This drama from Senegal, but set in Burkina Faso, deals with female circumcision and the fight of one village to end this inhumane tradition. Director Ousmane Sembene has crafted such a touching and understated film that never aims to shock. The matter-of-fact approach, the almost documentary feel is cliché-free, and never gets sappy or too emotional. The power of the film comes from its sincerity.
5. Ezra (2007)
From one pleasant topic to another – child soldiers. This film by Nigerian born Newton I. Aduaka tells the story of one such child, from his kidnapping by rebel forces, through his brainwashing and the atrocities he committed, up to his arraignment before a tribunal. While there’s no subtlety in this film, the transformation of this child into a killer is an emotional roller coaster, from pity to hate, to sadness… I guess sometimes you don’t need subtext.
This Oscar Winning crime drama from South Africa shows life in the urban ghetto of Johannesburg. A gang member kills a woman and hijacks her car only to find a baby in it. He starts to care for this infant and gets attached to him. Slowly but surely he begins to appreciate life. But this is not a sentimental film, it’s a pretty bleak film, but its pace and soundtrack will keep you captivated until the end.
In 1986 Paul Simon released his most successful solo album – Graceland – a fusion of American and South African music styles. The problem was, this was the height of the Apartheid in South Africa, and Paul Simon was accused of breaking the cultural boycott. 25 Years later the legendary singer-songwriter returns to South Africa for a reunion concert, and talks about those turbulent times, along with the African musicians involved and other colleagues. It’s a great film, about friendship, breaking race barriers and music, not exclusively for Paul Simon fans.
Set in an unnamed African country this French-Cameroonian coproduction tells the story of a white French woman (Isabelle Huppert) caught in the middle of political unrest. Claire Denis, who is known for her special relation to the ‘Motherland’ crafts a sensitive film, that aptly depicts the complex relations between Blacks and Whites.
While there’s a huge difference (and hostility) between black Africa and Arab Africa, their history is not that different. Gillo Pontecorvo’s Masterpiece reconstructs the Algerian War of Independence, their struggle to decolonize from France. It was a revolution that lasted nearly eight bloody years and took the life of some 700,000 people. The film’s strength lies in balanced and matter-of-fact approach, showing atrocities from both sides.
We’ll end on a bittersweet note – it’s the story of how, long ago, people from different religions, lived together in peace. Sounds like a fantasy, I know. The story takes place during the sixties in Tunisia, where three teenaged best friends - a Muslim, Jewish and Christian – swear to lose their virginity by a certain date. No, this is not American Pie 11, but a touching coming of age story about friendship and community. For me, the message of the film is that whether we like one another or hate one another is all a question of circumstance, so let’s make our circumstance better.
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