Africa Film Festival
With the 50th anniversary of the Democratic Republic of Congo's independence from Belgium fast approaching, it's logical that Leuven's Africa Film Festival should mark the event. But its decision to revive Raoul Peck's 1999 drama Lumumba has proved controversial in some quarters. The film's depiction of Belgian involvement in the murder of the country's first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba, is not how some people want to commemorate the period.
Leuven’s annual event highlights features from Congo
But it's an excellent movie, and the festival has much more to say about the Congo at that. There's Mobutu, roi du Zaïre, Thierry Michel's fine documentary on the 30-year Mobutu dictatorship, and Cemetery State by Leuven anthropologist Filip De Boeck, which brings us right up-to-date with a portrait of a vast, overgrown Kinshasa graveyard.
Supposedly closed years ago by the city authorities, Kitambo cemetery is still used for burials and plays host to an informal economy that sees gravestones turned into market stalls. De Boeck befriended a group of freelance grave diggers, and it is through their daily routine that the film explores the sites. It also describes how burial rites in the city are changing with diminishing respect for the dead. It is not unusual for funerals to be taken over by groups of angry young men who insist on parading the coffin through the streets.
Elsewhere in the festival, the Congolese point of view can be seen in a programme of short films from Kinshasa, and a lifetime achievement award will be presented to director Mweze Ngangura. This is followed by a screening of his 1998 film Pièces d’identités, about a Congolese royal arriving in Brussels to look for his daughter, sent here to study medicine.
Other festival highlights from sub-Saharan Africa include opening film Shirley Adams by Oliver Hermanus, about a woman struggling to get on in contemporary Cape Town after her 20-something son is left paralysed after a shooting. There's also From A Whisper by Wanuri Kahiu, about the 1998 terrorist attacks on the US embassy in Nairobi, and Terra Sonambula by Teresa Prata, about Mozambique's long civil war. For a lighter evening out, choose Nha Fala by Flora Gomes, a 2002 film about a woman launching a singing career in Paris against the advice of her superstitious mother back in Guinea-Bissau.
The Leuven festival is also about North Africa, which has a different cinema tradition, ranging from Egyptian melodramas to Moroccan social issues. There's a particularly strong selection this year dealing with life in Casablanca, from a gritty tale of street kids in Ali Zaouna, to noir-ish crime in Casanegra and crossed destinies in Heaven's Doors.
On top of these films new to Belgium there are revivals of recent releases, such as the sharp child soldier drama Johnny Mad Dog. Sneak previews include Claire Denis' excellent White Material and Belgian films Vent de sable, femmes de roc and Le Jour où Dieu est parti en voyage (pictured).
Selections from the Africa Film Festival’s programme also screen in Brussels, Ghent and other cities across Flanders
16 April - 1 May