Africa in Motion 2012: Redraw Your Movie Map
“It’s time to redraw the map of movie history that we have in our heads; it’s factually inaccurate, and racist by omission.” So says Mark Cousins in the opening voiceover to his landmark documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey. He’s not wrong. Cast your eyes across the programme of your local multiplex or art-house theatre for the names of the directors: the majority are Anglo Saxon, with a few more exotic names from Europe or Asia peppered between. Africa in Motion (25 Oct – 2 Nov, Filmhouse and GFT), the UK’s largest celebration of African cinema, the area of the world most ignored by film distributors, is helping restore the balance.
AiM, now in its 7th year, kicks off 25 Oct with Uhlanga (The Mark), a poetic tale following three teenagers in rural South Africa dealing with abuses caused by outdated prejudices still lingering in Zulu culture. Ndaba ka Ngwane’s utterly singular direction mirrors this clash of modernity with archaic rituals by using jarring shifts in tone and style to bracing effect. The soundtrack too seems like a battle between new and old Africa, with traditional music giving way to blistering hip-hop.
Modern Africa is the official theme of this year’s festival but, given the abundance of sci-fi on offer, future Africa would also be apt. The most bonkers looking of these future visions is Kichwateli (TV-Head), part of Africa Science Fiction (26, Oct), a programme of sci-fi shorts. Set in the slums of Nairobi, it follows a time-travelling youngster from a post-apocalyptic Africa, who dreams of himself as a robot with a TV for a head. I’ve not seen Kichwateli, but it sounds like a funky mashup of La jetée, Tetsuo and Videodrome, which makes it unmissable. I have, however, seen Hasaki Ya Suda (Swords), from the same programme, and I can confirm it's a blast. Three samurai warriors with telekinetic powers and killer moves that make the five point palm exploding heart technique look like a Chinese burn do battle for the right to a parched expanse of land in an unnamed country. Behind all the fun swordplay there's a sobering message about the futility of violence. The jewel in this mini-programme is The Last Angel of History, John Akomfrah’s searing video essay from 1995, a mesmerizing weave of Pan-African culture blended with the ideas found in funkmaster George Clinton’s 1975 sci-fi concept album Mothership Connection.
Musicals are another genre rarely associated with African cinema, but AiM have tracked one down in the form of eye-popping comedy The Square (27 Oct), from Algeria. As I watched the film’s ebullient protagonists, a dozen young men and women of varying singing abilities, take on an evil capitalist planning to build a shopping centre on the eponymous hangout I was reminded of the ramshackle stylings of the Muppets – this is backed up by an irrepressible humanist vibe and a cast that’s not shy about breaking the fourth wall.
Girl power seems to be an unofficial theme in the programme – and it's a welcome one. In MAMMi (31 Oct), a devoted single mum struggles to raise her only child, who grows up to be a celebrated footballer and national hero; Les Saignantes (26 Oct), a sci-fi/action/horror from Cameroon, features two ass-kicking femmes fatales who take on the country's corrupt male elite using sex appeal and kung-fu; while Quartier Mozart (28 Oct) is an effervescent sex comedy about a spiky young girl who’s transformed into a handsome young man by a local sorceress so she can find out how her community's male hierarchy really behaves.
There’s also three art exhibitions, a series of Arab Spring Documentaries, and a programme of African Films for Children. The curtain comes down on AiM on 2 Nov with the remarkable closer Restless City. Using a woozy style of elliptical fades and staccato rhythms, director Andrew Dosunmu envelops us in the world of Djbirl (Sy Alassane), a young Senegalese musician trying to scratch a living in New York City.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, so get ferreting in the entrails of AiM's wide reaching programme to continue redrawing your movie map.