15th Annual African Film Festival – Diane Carson reports

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2021 African Film Festival offers a rich world of African shorts and features

Washington University’s 15th annual African Film Festival runs March 26 through 28 with a short subject plus a feature each evening. In addition, Saturday’s Youth Matinee includes three animated films and two live-action shorts plus a Q&A with animators. A highlight will be Mamadou Dia’s return with his first feature, Nafi’s Father, followed Saturday evening by a discussion with him.

The fest kicks off Friday with Tunisian director Amel Guellaty’s short Black Mamba, Sarra Mouhli’s boxing tag. Though her mother has planned her wedding, Sarra has other ideas and literally fights to pursue her dreams. Kenyan Ravneet Sippy Chadha’s Subira watches another young woman, 18, express similar, initial resistance to an arranged marriage. Inspired by her father to challenge the local custom that only boys swim in the ocean, she surreptitiously embarks on swimming lessons. Based on true events, Subira’s courageous, assertive rebellion is told through vibrant colors and a wealth of cultural details.

Saturday morning’s Eye on Youth program brings lessons and laughs with both clever animation and live-action appeal. One teenage finds support after disappointment over her School Trip. Three animated Brats teach a bully a lesson and save Christmas for a friend. In another, a mocked girl performs a life-saving belly flop and in Cairo a vigilante superhero in a burqa bonds with her father.

Saturday evening Ethiopian Hiwot Getaneh’s A Fool God finds another young woman defying tradition by taking on a male job and retelling a familiar fable with her progressive interpretations. In that same vein, Senegal’s Mamadou Dia’s Nafi’s Father explores Islamic practices and imam allegiance navigated by male and female citizens of Yonti where the political and the personal intersect with religion. Disputed marriages and college aspirations, illness and a mayoral race add complex conflict.

Sunday, last year’s Oscar nominated The Nefta Football Club provides ironic humor. After two boys accidentally discover dozens of powder-filled bags, their disposal of the goods highlights a distressing communication failure, with a witty Adele/Hadel music mix-up. Next, director Amjad Abu Alala’s Sudanese feature You Will Die at Twenty concludes the fest. It poignantly conveys Muzamil’s story, living from infancy with a Sheik’s prediction of Muzamil’s death when he turns twenty. His and his mother’s burden reveals the deep-seated beliefs of their dogmatic Muslim community, powerfully conveyed by arresting compositions and haunting music and sound. This year, You Will Die at Twenty was Sudan’s first ever submission for a Best International Feature Film Oscar.

A bonus short film available Saturday and Sunday, “My Beloved Co-Wife” watches as two wives with conflicting perspectives establish cooperation in a most unexpected way. This immensely rewarding African Film Festival achieves its goal to enhance awareness of the diversity of the African continent through visually appealing stories. With English subtitles as needed. More information is available at africanfilm.wustl.edu.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.