The 18th annual New York African Film Festival kicked off to a packed crowd last weekend, with the United Nations’ International Year of Peoples of African Descent as the guiding theme. The highlight of the day was a spirited panel discussion led by venerable actor, filmmaker and social activist Harry Belafonte.

The festival also featured the showing of the film “African Rhythmus,” which spotlights delegates from 37 countries who gathered at the first World Festival of Negro Art in Senegal in 1966. Festival organizers said the gathering was the first-ever collective celebration of artists of the African Diaspora. The inimitable Josephine Baker was a participant.

The New York African Film Festival, which is co-produced by the Film Society of Lincoln Center, will run from now through April 12 at the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center at West 65th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.

It then moves on to Columbia University, Harlem and Brooklyn, offering a stunning array of films from across the continent of Africa, including both full-length films and shorts that capture many stories and images. The films are often followed by animated panel discussions.

“This year’s program offers a great deal of variety for moviegoers and a great deal of optimism for Africa,” said Mahen Bonetti, the executive director and founder of the African Film Festival. “The showings range from family oriented films to dark dramas, to informative shorts and documentaries.

“Viewers will not only be immersed in the rich lives of people from across the Diaspora, the films also allow filmmakers to show their view of Africa: one of pride, determination and hope for the future.”

Bonetti’s thoughts were echoed by Belafonte, an American of Jamaican and Martiniquan descent. Belafonte related that his first image of Africa around age 8 or 9 was that of Tarzan and the ape, which “negated me,” he said, “and turned me against the continent.”

“I was ashamed,” he added solemnly. “At that time I did not know that Africa was a hugely complicated continent suffering from the malevolence of the conquers.”

On Thursday, April 14, the festival moves from the Walter Reade Theatre at Lincoln Center to the Institute of African Studies at Columbia University, with free showings at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. followed by a panel discussion at 7 p.m. The film showings and the panel discussions will be held at 125 Zankel Hall at Teachers College, which is located at 525 W. 120th St., between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue. The movies are free.

The films slated for Columbia University are: “Mining for Change,” from South Africa, a story about the country’s glorious natural resources, and “Africans Out of Africa,” which looks at the bittersweet contributions around the world of Mother Africa’s far-flung children.

From April 29 to May 1, the festival moves to Central Harlem to the Maysles Cinema at 343 Lenox Ave., between 127th and 128th streets, offering a potpourri of films. The showings include “Zimbabwe’s Forgotten Children,” “Jazz Mama,” “Ladies in Waiting” and “Alex’s Wedding.” A donation of $10 is requested as an entry fee.

And on May 26, the festival moves to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), where it will close out Tuesday, May 31 after Memorial Day.

The BAM offerings include: “One Small Step,” an inspiring film from Nigeria by Remi Vaughan-Richards about a spirited hairdresser who takes a stand against a local corrupt councilman in the name of a clean environment and a neighborhood health disaster.

Other gems on show at BAM are “Beyond the Ocean,” a film from the Ivory Coast about the fate of two friends who are separated when one escapes a police raid and the other is seized by the cops. “Dr. Cruel,” a zany, nine-minute film about a white Scandinavian revolutionary who, along with several Africans, seize a white oil executive and hold him hostage in a hideout in oil-rich Lagos, Nigeria, is also on the BAM calendar. And on Monday, May 30 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., Sabar dancers from Senegal will execute their glorious, defying stuff in a film titled “Guew Bi-Sabar Dances of Senegal.”

The festival this year, as always, offers a potpourri of other full-length films from across Africa, including “A Trip to Algiers,” “Besouro,” “Restless City,” “All I Wanna Do,” “Shouting Silent, “Alex’s Wedding,” “North-South.Com” and “Driving with Fanon,” plus many short features.

The admission at BAM is $12 for the general public, and $9 for seniors 65 and over, children under 12 and students 25 and under with valid ID. Admission at Lincoln Center is $12 for the general public, $9 for students, $8 for seniors and $7 for Film Society members.

To verify showings and times, and to inquire about the purchase of a special five-film pass as well as special package requests, contact the festival organizers at (212) 352-1720. You can also visit the festival’s website for a complete list of showings at www.Africanfilmny.org.

The festival organizers will also present films outdoors at parks around the city beginning in the late spring, running throughout the summer and early fall, all free to the public. They too will soon be listed on the African Film Festival’s website.