About the Festival
When: February 9-16
Where: Alma Duncan Salon, Ottawa Art Gallery, 10 Daly Ave, Ottawa, ON K1N 6E2
For more information visit the Canadian Film Institute website.
Welcome to the fourth edition of the African Film Festival of Ottawa (AFFO). It is a pleasure to offer again to the Ottawa cinephilic audience a sample of some of the best in contemporary African cinema. This year marks a historic shift in the young history of the festival. For the first time it will be held during Black History Month. The idea is to be able to be part in this month-long celebration of the cultures of people of African descent in Canada. We consider cinema one of the most significant contributions of artists and cultural workers from Africa and of African descent to culture. Indeed, the cinema is one of the artistic forms that most illuminates what it means to live as human beings on this planet, one of the most thoughtful, sensitive and sensible spaces for reflections and meditations on the human condition. What better time to screen African films than in a month of intensified awareness of African and Afro-diasporic cultures and their indispensable role in shaping Canadian culture daily in a multiplicity of forms? Black History Month is thus one of the most propitious moments to have a conversation between Africa and Canada around culture, and more specifically film culture. It is part of an effort to make African cinema an indelible part of Canadian film culture and to broaden the cinematic palates of Canadian in a meaningful manner.
In continuity with our original project to represent the various regions of the African continent each festival, the films selected this year come from North Africa (Morocco), West Africa (Senegal and Nigeria), East Africa (Kenya) and Southern Africa (Zambia) with the Senegalese film set in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (Central Africa).
While we focused on the question of film heritage during our 2017 edition, we thought we would return to some of the most vibrant experiments taking place in African cinema today. The films we have chosen for you definitely feature in that category. They all feature strong voices (some established, some emerging, but each compelling) which are poised to play a significant role in African and world cinema the years and decades to come.
Our opening film Félicité is a masterpiece by Alain Gomis, an original voice in cinema. He is returning to AFFO after the screening of Tey in 2016. This narrative of the journey of a single mother (played by newcomer and absolute revelation Véro Tschanda Beya Mputu) across Kinshasa, one of Africa’s most dynamic yet infrastructurally-challenged city, in an effort to find resources for her son’s leg operation is a mix of documentary realism, naturalism and surrealism, featuring the legendary Kasai All-Star Band and the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra. A narrative of resilience, resistance and emergence if makeshift love in a context of extreme scarcity, this city symphony marks the increasing triumph of the Djibirl Diop Mambety school in African cinema. Félicitéwon the Golden Stallion at FESPACO (Africa’s most important film festival), the Berlinale’s Silver Bear and was Senegal’s Oscar entry for Best Foreign Language Film.
We have been very much looking forward (for a number of years now) to introducing the Ottawa audience, to Faouzi Bensaidi, the Moroccan-born master of the film frame and sculpting bodies in space. His latest film Volubilis (2018) gives us the opportunity to do just that. Choosing to train his kino-eye on those socially marginalized globalization (this planetary equal-opportunity marginalizer), he examines the ways in which class inequality exacerbated by rampant consumerism and cultural leveling combine to crush the least of these but also provoke profound identity crises with reverberations far beyond the shores of the African continent and indeed throughout the other continents. Bensaidi was one of the first to register this with his 2006 film What a Wonderful World. Premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Volubiliswon the Silver Tanit at the Carthage Film Festival and was voted Moroccan Film of the Year in 2018.
I am Not a Witch (2017)
Rungano Nyoni is truly one of the genuine emerging cinematic voices in African cinema. This was already clear with her 2009 short film Mwanza the Great. With I am Not a Witch, the Zambian-Welsh director offers us an absurdist, surrealist and feminist satire of this “bio-political technology” of gender and age-based marginalization known as “witchcraft” through the compelling story of nine-year old Shula who is accused of being a witch and ends up quarantined in a witch camp. Using primarily non-professional actors, this first major fiction and feature film from Zambia, featuring several Zambian languages (Bemba, Nyanja and Tonga) required the audition of over 900 children to find its protagonist played by Maggie Mulubwa.I am Not a Witchpremiered at the Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes and the UK’s 2017 Oscar submission.
Izu Ojukuw’s 76 partakes in profound industrial shifts, which are transforming the world-renowned Nollywood industry. Indeed, it is part of what has been referred to as “The New Nollywood,” an increasingly formally and aesthetically rigorous auteurist tendency that seeks to lead the way in this intensely prolific cinematic tradition. Exploring the space of a national political trauma, the film revisits events around the both 1976 military coup, which saw the assassination of then President Murtala Muhammed. However, while coup d’états are often the stuff of masculinity in its militarily-exacerbated form, Ojukwu chooses to also meditate the significance of said events through the experiences of the wives and families of those involved. Reportedly the first Nigerian film to be shot in army barracks, the film received support from the Nigerian military whose Defense Academy advisers were involved in training the cast over 21 days. 76was shot on super 16mm and, stars A-list Nollywood actors Ramsey Nouah and Rita Dominic and premiered at TIFF 2016 as part of the festival final City to City section, which focused on Lagos.
Kati Kati (2016)
What if you woke up one day in a hospital gown and were informed that you were already dead; that you were in the zone of in between-ness, in “Kati Kati” (the halfway passage) as it were, the space of the purgatory, free of material wants, where you needed to expiate your earthly faults before moving to the next stage? This is the conceit of Mbithy Masya’s compelling and original exploration of the afterlife in his first feature film, which won the International Federation of Film Critics (FEPIRESCI) award at TIFF, and Best East African Film of the year 2017. The film may be seen as partaking in a conversation with Alain Gomis’ Teywhose protagonist calmly sets out to meet his death on the last day of his life. The director of commercials and music videos, and member of experimental art collective and house punk group Just A Band, Mbithi Masya joins Judy Kibinge (Something Necessary), David Tosh Gitonga (Nairobi Half Life) and Wanuri Kahiu (Rafiki) among others, in contributing over the past decade to turning Kenya into an increasing powerhouse in African cinema.
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