Those who have never experienced Africa firsthand can come close to doing so at the 15th Annual New York African Film Festival, presented by African Film Festival Inc. The much anticipated yearly celebration of African and African Diaspora cinema begins on April 9 and continues until April 15, with additional screenings on select days in May.
This year boasts an invigorating lineup of 40 films from 22 countries throughout Africa and the African Diaspora. The AFF’s goal is to dispel unfavorable myths about Africa and its inhabitants through cinematography created by people of African ancestry. “I found that everyone had something to say about Africa but there were no African voices saying it,” says Mahen Bonetti, the AFF’s founder and executive director. “With film, we have the ability to undo some of the wrongs, or at least put these wrongs into perspective.”
Setting the record straight and exposing audiences to the vast history of Africa requires cohesiveness in thought and unity of goals in the films selected. Each year’s motifs are a continuation of those of the preceding year. “We look at it as weaving a story together. Where we left off the year before is where we continue from the next year. We are telling a story, like a griot,” says Bonetti.
This year’s stories are diverse in content but are all connected to the AFF’s 2008 overarching theme of “Cinema and History: Africa and the Future.” The mission is to highlight the struggles and triumphs of the past in order to understand the progress and hope that is possible today and in the future. Prominent guests this year include Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, filmmakers Charles Burnett and Newton I. Aduakas.
Burnett, a renowned director, will present his latest work, Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, starring Danny Glover. The film will premiere on the opening night of the festival. Nigerian director Aduakas’s film Ezra, winner of the 2007 Stallion de Yennenga Fespaco Award, will also be featured.
One of the most anticipated events during this year’s festival is Soyinka’s presentation of the untold story of the intercontinental African slave trade, immortalized in the film The African Slave Trades: Across the Indian Ocean, which is also narrated by Soyinka. Directed by Diane Seligsohn and Richard Rein, the film seeks to unearth the lesser-known slave trade route from southern Africa to eastern and northern Africa.
Other highlights include the celebration of Guinea (Conakry)’s 50th anniversary of independence with never-before-seen footage from the Russian State Archives. The archives plus a full program honoring late President Ahmed Sékou Touré will be an important facet of the festival.
The work of six female directors will also be showcased this year. Their films, which include those of cinematographers Osvalde Lewat-Hallade, Ngozi Onwurah, Katy Léna Ndiaye and Zina Saro Wiwa, challenge and question the taboos of the Continent and the Black community at large.
“I feel so proud of the program. Film is so important to giving us access to our history. We have the ability to tell the story and whether it’s good or bad we are telling it,” declares Bonetti.
Screenings will take place at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater in April and will continue at the French Institute-Alliance Française in association with its “Cinéma Tuesdays at FIAFF” series. In keeping with tradition, the series will conclude at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in conjunction with the annual “Dance Africa” celebration.
For more information on specific dates, screening times, films and ticket purchases, visit www.africanfilmny.org.