There is an African proverb that says: “Examine what is said, not who is speaking,” and after reviewing the synopsis of the movies being screened at the Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) and African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF)—May 12 to 17—it seems that this proverb is a running theme throughout the films kicking off the 29th year of the festival.
This year’s festival is a mixture of in-person screening at FLC theaters coupled with select virtual screenings. The films chosen focus on a myriad of strong themes under the banner Visions of Freedom, presenting diverse and interconnected notions of freedom pertinent to Africa, the diaspora, and the world at large while recalling activism of the past and ushering in new anthems of the future to embrace a united front for liberation and expression.
“The events of the recent past have illuminated how interconnected our worlds are. Through it all and across the globe, the collective vision of freedom has come into sharp focus,” said AFF Executive Director and NYAFF Founder Mahen Bonetti. “This year’s festival takes a look at the past, while capturing the present pulse and looking forward to envision a brighter future.”
“Knowledge is a garden. If it isn’t cultivated, you can’t harvest it”—wise words and can accurately paint the opening night New York premiere of Gessica Généus’ feature directorial debut “Freda,” framed by the ever-present violence and dangers surrounding a family’s life in Haiti and their longing to escape it. Tanzanian filmmaker Amil Shivji’s Centerpiece selection “Tug of War” spotlights a rebellious young revolutionary who falls for an Indian-Zanzibari girl escaping an arranged marriage.
Two festival features are U.S. premieres: Charles Castella’s “Abderrahmane Sissako, un cinéaste à l’Opéra,” chronicling acclaimed director Sissako’s unique task of creating an opera about the history of Africa at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, with music composed by Damon Alban, leader of the bands Blur and Gorillaz; and “Ayaanle,” directed by Ahmed Farah, which follows a series of unlikely events befalling the title character, who goes from optimistic actor to the most wanted man in Kenya. The festival is also proud to host the U.S. premieres of two short films: Johanna Makabi’s “Notre mémoire,” featuring “Black Girl” star Mbissine Thérèse Diop’s reflections on being a Black actress in the 1960s; and
“Shaka – iNkosi Yamakhosi” by Manzini Zungu and Nick Cloete, a profound tale of resilience depicting the coming-of-age of a great warrior and king, Shaka Zulu.
Other highlights include the New York premiere of “Juwaa,” Nganji Mutiri’s drama about a mother and son reflecting on the events of a traumatic night many years before; and Aïssa Maïga’s documentary “Marcher sur l’eau (Above Water),” following the process of convincing an NGO to build a well in a Nigerien village, saving many residents from having to travel several kilometers each day to gather what exists 200 meters below their feet.
“Cinema of Liberation: From Inception and Execution to Exhibition,” a master class by veteran Ethiopian filmmaker, Haile Gerima, on Saturday, May 14, at 11:30 a.m. will teach the role of film in propelling forth freedom movements and arming viewers to take up the mantle of change. The event takes place in the amphitheater at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.
NYAFF will present a Town Hall at Lincoln Center’s David Rubenstein Atrium on Wednesday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m., featuring African and diaspora artists displaying and discussing work that explores the festival’s theme Visions of Freedom. Participants include hair stylist and Hair by Susy founder Susan Oludele; dancer, lawyer, actor and pianist Justin Lynch; singer, songwriter, and international DJ Nikki Kynard; and actress and director of the Opening Night film, “Freda,” Gessica Généus.
An interactive digital art exhibition, featuring work by the artist Zainab Aliyu, which celebrates the festival theme will run in the Amphitheater from May 12-17.
Tickets go on sale April 29 at noon ET. In-theater ticket prices are $15 for the general public; $12 for students, seniors, and persons with disabilities; and $10 for FLC members. See more and save with the $59 All-Access Pass or the $25 Student All-Access Pass. Tickets for the Opening Night Party in the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery in the Walter Reade Theater are $200 and can be purchased at africanfilmny.org starting Friday, April 22.
Virtual Cinema prices are $10 for the general public; $8 for FLC members. See more and save with the 4-Film Bundle for just $20 (approx. 50% savings!).
The festival continues at Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem from May 19 to 22 and culminates at the Brooklyn Academy of Music under the name Film Africa from May 27 to June 2 during Dance Africa.
Here are a few stands-outs to consider.
“Tug of War / Vuta n’kuvute”
New York Premiere
Amil Shivji, 2021, Tanzania/South Africa/Germany/Qatar, 92m
English and Swahili with English subtitles
Denge, a young freedom fighter, meets Yasmin, an Indian-Zanzibari woman, in the middle of the night as she is on her way to be married. Passion and revolution ensue in this coming-of-age political love story set in the final years of British colonial Zanzibar.
Johanna Makabi, 2021, France, 12m
French with English subtitles
Mbissine Thérèse Diop played the starring role in Ousmane Sembène’s landmark first feature, 1966’s “Black Girl (La Noire de…).” Today, she looks back on her experience as a Black actress in the 1960s.
Friday, May 13 at 6:30 p.m. (Q&A with Amil Shivji)
Monday, May 16 at 2 p.m.
“The Gravedigger’s Wife”
Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, 2021, Somalia/France/Germany/Finland, 83m
Somali with English subtitles
Guled and Nasra are a loving couple, living on the outskirts of Djibouti City with their teenage son, Mahad. However, they are facing difficult times: Nasra urgently needs an expensive surgery to treat a chronic kidney disease. Guled is already working hard as a gravedigger to make ends meet: how can they find the money to save Nasra and keep the family together?
Virtual—May 13-17, 2022
“Mother of Moeketsi / Mma Moeketsi”
Reabetswe Moeti, 2018, South Africa, 25m
New York Premiere
Sotho with English subtitles
Based on true events, this film recounts a 2012 massacre in which a group of South African mine workers went on a wage-increase strike, leading to a national tragedy in which 34 miners were brutally killed by the police.
Master Class with Haile Gerima
A master class led by renowned Ethiopian filmmaker, Haile Gerima, will take place on Saturday, May 14 at 11:30 a.m. in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Amphitheater. The class, titled “Cinema of Liberation: From Inception and Execution to Exhibition,” will center on the content, form, and aesthetics of liberation cinema, empowering one’s particular narrative logic and the construction of audiences for partnership in liberation.
Saturday, May 14, at 11:30 a.m.
For more information, visit www.filmlinc.org and follow @filmlinc on Twitter and Instagram;
and www.africanfilmny.org, and @africanfilmfest on Twitter and Instagram.