New York celebrates African cinema

A town hall African artist salon at the Greene Performance Space kicked off the upcoming 22nd edition of the African Film Festival New York (NYAFF).

Many artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers, among others, relished in the discussion of African diaspora artists living and creating outside of the continent and got a hint of the upcoming festival.

The two-week festival, which opened on Wednesday, May 6, with the N.Y. premiere of the South African film “noir Cold Harbour,” will screen in three venues.

The festival’s opening leg is at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s (FSLC) Walter Reade Theater (5/6-5/12), followed by four days of screenings at Harlem’s Maysles Cinema and wrapping at BAMCinematek (5/22-5/25).

There used to be a time when the only images coming from Africa were about poverty, dictators and natural disasters. Some 25 years ago, NYAFF Founder Mahen Bonetti’s aim was to create a festival to challenge the prevailing narrative about Africa through the cinematic arts.

These (negative stereotypes) things existed Bonetti admits, “But there are so many positive things about Africa, particularly its rich culture, that must be celebrated.” And, she set out to bring different observations and interpretations to a New York audience. Bonetti told those gathered Friday night how moved she was at the public’s overwhelming response to the films over the years.

The festival’s centerpiece film, “Red Leaves” by Ethiopian-Israeli Bazi Gete, is a tale of an aging Ethiopian immigrant in Israel caught between his fight to keep homeland traditions alive and his children’s way of life in Israel — a film about family, tradition and modernity (Lincoln Ctr-5/8, 5/10).

Twenty-six films in the festival include a mystery/crime film, dramatic narratives, documentaries and shorts. Films take place or are from filmmakers from Ghana, Brazil, South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, Israel, Ivory Coast, Mauritania, and Egypt.

There are numerous New York premieres, five U.S. premieres, two classics revived (“Black Orpheus,” “Kirikou and the Sorceress”), a work-in-progress documentary preview and a screening of the Foreign Film Academy Award nominee Timbuktu (BAMCinematek-5/23).

A festival subtheme “Women in the Media” explores strides of female filmmakers in the past decade and a half. Films include: “100% Dakar-More Than Art” by Sandra Krampelhuber, “Cold Harbour” by Carey McKenzie, “Love the One You Love” by Jenna Bass, “The Narrow Frame of Midnight” by Tala Hadid, “Mossane” by Safi Faye (closing night 5/12), and “The Prophecy” by Marcia Juzga, and “Ziara.” Many of the filmmakers will speak and field questions following the screenings.

In Short Programs #2 (Lincoln Center, 5/6, 5/8): Women in the Media presents seven insightful diverse films by women from a retelling of Rosa Parks in “Bus Nut” by Akousa Adoma Owusu to a young girl’s encounter with the Orishas in Brazil in “The Summer of Gods” by Eliciana Nascimento.

A free art exhibition “The Prophecy” accompanies the festival from May 6 – 17 at the Amphitheater in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. The environmental-themed photographs represent the intersection of art, fashion, mythology, and nature and raise awareness of environmental concerns. A behind-the-scenes digital exhibit of stills by Fabrice Monteiro will show how the Beninese-Belgian photographer created the images.

Festival Founder and Director Bonetti revisits her mission, “We see that our community has not only helped bring our masters to the attention of global audiences but that we continue to push to the forefront new voices that celebrate Africa in this important moment in history.”

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