Marie Wawa & Mungau Dain in Tanna, a Romeo-and-Juliet tale of young love torn asunder in order to preserve tradition.
The Pan African Film Festival—which bills itself as America’s largest annual black-themed filmfest—is celebrating its 25th anniversary this February in Los Angeles with 200 silver screen productions. Along with the films and discussion panels, there are awards, including a 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award to actress Alfre Woodard, who was Oscar-nominated for 1983’s Cross Creek and played Harriet Tubman in 1994’s TV movie Race to Freedom: The Underground Railroad.
The Pan African Film Festival remains the gateway for movies one may never otherwise get to see or where buffs can see productions from almost everywhere. PAFF continues to blaze new paths, presenting the wide world of black cinema. This year’s lineup includes commercial features, indies, documentaries, shorts, animation, and videos, by artists from more than forty countries.
Since 1992, exploring the black global experience through cinema has been the guiding vision of PAFF founder, current director, and former Black Panther Ayuko Babu.
A case in point of this planetary perspective is Tanna, now Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Co-directed by Australians Bentley Dean (who co-made 2002’s Anatomy of a Coup, about the attempted overthrow of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez) and Martin Butler (who previously collaborated with Dean on two Aborigine-themed documentaries), Tanna is the first feature film entirely shot on location in what’s now the Republic of Vanuatu, formerly New Hebrides. In this South Seas Romeo and Juliet, age-old customary arranged marriage, designed to prevent inter-tribal warfare, clashes with love marriage.
There are also feature films about the experiences of black Polynesians, including 2016’s The Patriarch, about New Zealand Maoris, directed by Lee Tamahori, who previously directed 1994’s Once Were Warriors and a James Bond flick.
© 2016 The Patriarch Limited
Temuera Morrison in The Patriarch, a compelling tale of family rivalry and reconciliation that unfolds against the stunning backdrop of rural New Zealand in the 1960s.
PAFF provides a top platform for African cinema—for example, the world premiere of Luanda-born Mario Bastos’ 2016 nonfiction Independencia, about Angolans’ struggle for independence against Portuguese colonialism.
The festival is also presenting the U.S. premiere of Meshack Enahoro’s 2015 Invisible Men, about undocumented migrants. These so-called “illegals” toss their passports into the Thames so immigration agents won’t know where to deport them to. Enahoro not only wrote and directed Invisible Men, but composed most of its music and plays a shyster attorney specializing in immigration law—and ripping off asylum seekers. The film’s protagonist is Okiki (Yannick Philippe), who leaves Lagos to seek greener pastures in London, where he moves into an overcrowded crash pad with a motley crew of fellow Africans who are economic refugees and fleeing corrupt regimes. But life in the U.K. proves to be tough.
Dispelling celluloid stereotypes is also part of PAFF’s mission, and the U.S. premiere of Italian-Ghanaian Fred Kuwornu’s Blaxploitation: 100 Years of Blackness in Italian Cinema analyzes how people of African ancestry are portrayed in Italy.
While U.S. moviegoers have been conditioned by a century of Tarzan movies to expect jungles in “deepest, darkest Africa,” Christopher Kirkley’s Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red in It shows that the black residents of the landlocked nation of Niger actually live in a Sahara Desert country, its terrain similar to that of Arab-inhabited North Africa.
Rain resets Prince’s 1984 movie Purple Rain in Agadez, Niger; its title is derived from the fact that there’s no word for “purple” in Tamasheq, one of Niger’s 10 official languages. Real-life guitarist Mdou Moctar reprises Prince’s role as a struggling musician.
Christopher Kirkley’s ‘Rain the Color of Blue with a Little Red’ in It resets Prince’s 1984 movie ‘Purple Rain’ in Agadez, Niger; there’s no word for “purple” in Tamasheq, one of Niger’s 10 official languages.
To observe its 25th anniversary the festival is screening more movies than ever before —call it a “PAFF-apalooza.” Among them are “Spotlight Films,” reviving some of the best previously screened productions as well as commercial, entertaining movies, such as its opening night gala of King of the Dancehall, which had its Los Angeles premiere at the prestigious Directors Guild of America on Sunset Strip. In this movie, directed by and co-starring Nick Cannon (Mariah Carey’s ex-husband), Whoopi Goldberg, Lou Gossett Jr., and Busta Rhymes, a young Brooklynite become part of Jamaica’s music world.
The festival’s “Centerpiece” screening world premiered Craig Ross Jr.’s Media, an Empire-like TV movie about competing clans of black communications industry moguls in Atlanta. With its soap opera-ish sex and violence between contending families, Media puts the “nasty” into dynasty.
The Pan African Film Festival is taking place through February 20 at the Cinemark Baldwin Hills Cinemas 15 (formerly RAVE Cinema), in Los Angeles.
L.A.-based critic and film historian Ed Rampell is the presenter and programmer of “10 Films that Shook the World,” a cinematic centennial celebration of the Russian revolution, premiering 7 p.m., February 24, at the Los Angeles Workers Center.