Cinematek series offers perfect introduction to African cinema

Summary

Leuven’s recent Afrika Film Festival celebrates its 20th birthday with a Brussels leg at Cinematek that marries pioneering films with obscure treasures

Organisers’ favourite films

Following celebrations in its hometown of Leuven, the Afrika Filmfestival marks its 20th anniversary this year with a retrospective of its favourite films at Cinematek in Brussels. The programme makes for an excellent introduction to African cinema and is a chance to discover films that rarely make it onto our screens, big or small.

Ousmane Sembène and Djibril Diop Mambety, both from Senegal, are among the better-known directors on the programme. Sembène’s Moolade (2004) is a powerful condemnation of female circumcision, typical of the director’s lifelong stance as a militant and also his final feature in a 40-year career.

Mambety’s Hyenas (1992) is more cosmopolitan, taking its inspiration from a play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt. It concerns an old woman who returns to her village 30 years after being banished, intent on revenge.

Among the obscure treasures in the selection is Taafé fanga (1997) by Adama Drabo, a lighthearted satire about a traditional village where the women overthrow the men. The film is also worth seeing for its setting, among the strange cliff dwellings of Mali’s Dogon people.

There is also a rare chance to see Sambizanga (1972) by Sarah Maldoror, a film about the Angolan resistance movement that effortlessly combines a political message with poetic images and a moving personal story. A contemporary of Sembène, Maldoror is only now getting the recognition she deserves as a pioneer of African cinema.

Other figures from the early years of African cinema are mainly represented with later films. These include Idrissa Ouedraogo from Burkina Faso (Samba Traoré, 1992), Henri Duparc from Ivory Coast (Bal poussière, 1989) and Haile Gerima from Ethiopia (Teza, 2008). The next generation of directors includes Mahamat-Saleh Haroun from Chad (Daratt, 2006) and Salif Traoré from Mali (Faro, la reine des eaux, 2007).

In parallel with this African programme, Cinematek is revisiting the work of pioneering African American filmmaker Charles Burnett. The timing is perfect, since Burnett studied alongside Gerima at the University of California, Los Angeles film school in the 1970s, where both men looked to African directors such as Sembène for inspiration.

Don’t miss Burnett’s debut feature, Killer of Sheep, a portrait of ghetto life that puts social realism above the clichés of blaxploitation.
Afrika Filmfestival at 20, 8 April to 5 May at Cinematek, Baron Hortastraat 9, Brussels
Charles Burnett, 7-17 April at Cinematek, Baron Hortastraat 9, Brussels
Photo: Haile Gerima’s 2008 film Teza