Africa in Motion 2019: Festival preview
Africa in Motion's collaborative approach to curation and ambitious scope has produced another lively, polyphonic programme. In this 14th edition, Afrofuturism, VR and gaming sit beside the oldest surviving feature film by an African-American director
Africa in Motion approaches its 14th edition having jettisoned the position of Festival Director, instead opting for a more horizontal approach to programming that has seen them open up fourteen curatorial positions to independent programmers. For a festival with such an expansive remit, this makes perfect sense, and the fruits of this openness to new voices are reflected in a collection of films, workshops, exhibitions and parties that pop with fun and invention.
Staged between Glasgow and Edinburgh, the festival celebrates cultural production from the African continent and diaspora, while embracing complexity and the interpolation between the personal and political, historic and contemporary. This year, a typically rigorous foundation in African screen heritage sits beautifully in conversation with a variety of contemporary cinematic approaches to queerness, African cosmology and new technologies.
Hybrid forms and the contested political ground of cinema are persistent themes across the programme. There's a focus on Afro-Brazilian short film, mining stories of resistance and belonging from family archives, while Queer Africa offers an effervescent snapshot into queer identity and desire across the continent. Curator Natasha Ruwona’s Afrofuturism programme, Black to the Future, features Kordae Jatafa Henry’s Earth Mother, Sky Father: 2030 (2019), John Akomfrah’s mind-bending essay on displacement, science fiction and techno, The Last Angel of History (1996) and Chelsea Odufu's coming-of-age story Ori Inu: In Search of Self (2015). The triple bill is punctuated by a club night at Edinburgh’s Wee Red Bar.
And the festival plunges further into futurology at the Africa in Motion Digital Hub at Glasgow’s Civic House. The Game On, Africa! exhibition is the UK’s first video games and VR film exhibition dedicated solely to work developed on the African continent – with playable games challenging Western conventions around narrative, gameplay and aesthetics. And an adjacent programme of feature films, workshops and discussions offers audiences an even deeper dive into the potential of new technologies to open up spaces for transformative thinking.
The festival also looks backwards in time, with two recently-restored films speaking to forgotten film histories and the relationship between memory and the moving image. Within Our Gates (1920), Oscar Micheaux’s silent drama of racial violence – and the oldest known surviving film made by an African-American director – stands as a direct riposte to DW Griffith’s notoriously racist The Birth of a Nation (1915). And there is a rare opportunity to see Mostafa Derkaoui’s long-censored classic of militant cinema, About Some Meaningless Events (1974) – a bracing docudrama questioning the role of art in Moroccan society.
Festival opener Talking About Trees (2019) is similarly concerned with notions of a national cinema. The heartfelt documentary charts the history of film in Sudan, following a group of retired filmmakers and their efforts to revive the once-thriving Sudanese Film Club. Its demise in the shadow of conflict precipitated their own stories of migration, creation and eventual homecoming that find poignant echoes elsewhere in the programme: in both Khalik Allah’s Black Mother and Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s Mother I’m Suffocating, This Is My Last Film About You – an aching, cinematic lament to creation in exile.
The co-mingling of past and present and cycles of migration are perhaps nowhere better articulated than in Malian filmmaker and cultural theorist Manthia Diawara’s An Opera of The World (2017), a meditation on centuries-old migration between West Africa and Europe. Restaging a performance of Wasis Diop’s opera Bintou Were, the film combines traditional Malian music with European arias, and oral histories with media footage of mass migration. Diawara will attend the festival in both cities to present the film, discussing the aesthetics of hybridity, and the “new meanings [that might] emerge [from the] porosity of borders and transgression of frontiers between Africa and the rest of the world.”
Rwandan filmmaker Joël Karekezi will also be in attendance, presenting his second feature film, The Mercy of The Jungle (2018) – winner of the top prize at Africa’s biennale international film festival Fespaco in Burkina Faso. Other must-see features include Søren Steen Jespersen and Nasib Farah’s Lost Warrior (2018), about a former Al-Shabaab terrorist in limbo between Somalia and the UK; and My Friend Fela (2019), Joel Zito Araújo’s fresh take on the legacy of legendary Nigerian musician Fela Kuti.
Africa in Motion takes places 25 Oct-3 Nov in venues across Glasgow and Edinburgh. For full programme info and tickets, head to africa-in-motion.org.uk