The programme for this years BFI London Film Festival runs from 7-18th October 2015. Every year, EC Forde and I try and outline the films we think have an afrocentric slant to them, in the hope that you get the chance to see them before they disappear from London cinemas. Some of course will get a big cinema release, others, a smaller cinema release, and some you may catch at other festivals and screening events. The rest may just vanish from our radar, with the hope that they pop up somewhere in the future (e.g. TV/DVD/Event). That is the beauty of the Film Festival, the ability to have access to these films covering topics from all over the world.
This years films takes us to the mountains of Ethiopia (Lamb), introduces us to a female mechanic in Johannesburg (Ayanda), brings us love, lust and power in Lagos (Fifty), child rebel soldiers in an unnamed African country (Beasts of No Nation), a look at male friendship in St Louis (Cronies), and a documentary in Tottenham – friends and family of Mark Duggan explore his life and subsequent death in 2011 (The Hard Stop).
My love affair with music related films continues, and I am looking forward to the “Sonic” stream of music films at the festival, If I’m honest, I could probably watch all of the films in this section of films, but EC and I are giving a nod to three you should check out, including two films about Hip Hop. One on the clothing culture and how it influenced fashion on the catwalks and high streets (Fresh Dressed) and the other on Hip Hop Radio presenters Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia (Stretch and Bobbito:Radio That Changed Lives)… AND, if that isn’t enough, there is an after-party after the screening at Hackney Picturehouse, where Stretch and Bobbito DJ at Birthdays on Stock Newington Road (Saturday 17th)!
So much more to tell you, and we will be back with more films, particulary the short films worth catching, and maybe some of the films available online.
EC Forde & Jammie xx
In the meantime, here is our list of recommended films:
It’s 1914 and 12-year-old Adama lives with his elder brother Samba in a small west African village. They have been raised to be naturally sceptical of the negative forces or spirits that live outside the community, so the family is shocked when Samba runs away to become a warrior. Adama leaves the village soon after in order to search for him. His epic journey takes him across several continents and forces the boy to take stock of the world at large, particularly a war-strewn Europe where, it becomes clear, Samba has been sent to the front line trenches to fight. Adama is a richly animated film that deals with an important chapter in world history. It is as exciting and enlightening as it is moving.
Saturday 10 October 3:45pm @ Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2
Sunday 11 October 3:45pm @ BFI Southbank, NFT2
Sara Belcher’s Ayanda is a fresh, modern tale set in a vibrant and diverse Johannesburg. 21-year-old Afro-hipster and artist Ayanda (Fulu Mugovhani) is the child of a Nigerian father and a South African mother (Nthati Moshesh). After her father’s death she inherits his struggling garage and along with her mechanic boyfriend David (OC Ukeje) they work hard, combining their skills, to keep the business going. In order to attract custom they decide to specialise in the buying, refurbishing and selling of vintage cars. Using a collage-style ‘inspired by the possibilities of a modern African aesthetic’, Blecher presents colourful portraits of the multi-national residents living in Johannesburg’s Yeoville suburb, intercut with a rousing narrative of two individuals with nothing to lose overcoming all odds. A lively, engaging and ultimately celebratory female-centred story, Ayanda also highlights the Afro-cultural hub that modern South Africa is fast becoming.
Saturday 10 October 8:45pm @ Cineworld Haymarket, Screen 1
Sunday 11 October 6:15pm @ Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2
Beasts of No Nation
Cary Fukunaga’s (True Detective, Jane Eyre, Sin Nombre) unflinching adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s 2005 novel of the same name (itself borrowed from Fela Kuti’s 1989 album) is at once enthralling cinema and a gut-wrenching indictment of child exploitation. In an unnamed African country, civil conflict rips through the village where Agu, a sparky young boy, lives with his family. Witnessing unspeakable atrocities, including the brutal execution of his father and older brother, Agu is forced to run for his life. He is discovered, dazed and traumatised, by a group of rebel soldiers and is swiftly incorporated into their ranks by a fierce mercenary. The Commandant (Idris Elba), who receives his own orders from afar and for an unknown purpose keeps his militia fuelled with a heady mix of intoxicating bravado and hard drugs, maintains control through psychological and physical abuse. Rapidly adapting in order to survive, Agu is pushed to unthinkable limits. Idris Elba is charismatic and terrifying as the unhinged Commandant and newcomer Abraham Attah is a revelation as Agu, delivering a performance that (like his character) carries a weight beyond his years. Whilst deeply true to its African subject, the film resonates darkly beyond its situation, serving as a harsh reminder of childhoods destroyed in war zones and deprived urban areas everywhere.
Thursday 08 October 6:00pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 7
Thursday 08 October 6:30pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 5
Friday 09 October 12:30pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 5
Black Girl (La Noire de…)
The evolution of African cinema can be dated from Sembène’s astonishing first feature, which tells the tragic story of Diouana, a young Senegalese woman eager to find a better life and who takes a job as a governess for a bourgeois French family. Mistreated by her employers, Diouana’s hopes turn to disillusionment and she descends into a state of isolation and despair. Sembène draws from the Nouvelle Vague, but the film’s heart and soul is most definitely African. It is the perfect companion to Samba Gadjigo’s documentary Sembéne!.
Wednesday 07 October 6:20pm @ BFI Southbank, NFT3
Friday 09 October 1:30pm @ BFI Southbank, NFT3
Executive produced by Spike Lee and developed while director Michael J Larnell was in film school, Cronies is a funny, sharply-observed look at male friendship. Louis and Jack have been mates since their tough childhood in one of the poorer, mostly black neighbourhoods of St Louis. Now grown up, they’re growing apart with Jack partying every day, while Louis has a baby and a job at a carwash. Louis’ new friend Andrew, the white guy whose parents own the car wash, threatens the delicate balance of the pair’s friendship. Then a spontaneous day out turns into a weed-fuelled test of their bond. With hints of Clerks, not least in the gorgeous B&W photography and rough-hewn charm, Larnell delivers a smart film about growing up and an ode to his native St Louis with the three local actors giving performances full of great natural appeal.
Thursday 08 October 6:30pm @ Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2
Saturday 10 October 2:45pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 7
The Endless River
In a small South African town, a man returns home from a four-year prison sentence. Tiny, his wife, finds herself agonising over their inability to reconnect. Meanwhile, on the other side of town Gilles, a French ex-pat is devasted by the brutal murder of his wife and young children. United in their suffering, Tiny and Gilles form an unlikely bond, turning to each other for help and companionship. While the gorgeous opening credits feel like a homage to a classic Hollywood western, Oliver Hermanus’ third feature (following the acclaimed Shirley Adams and Beauty) soon proves to be something far more thought-provoking. Defiantly ambiguous in its storytelling and consistently surprising in its aesthetic choices, The Endless River is undeniably demanding. However, thanks to the extraordinary central performances from Crystal-Donna Roberts and Nicolas Duvauchelle, along with Hermanus’ intelligent direction, such formal invention never eclipses the film’s devastating emotional impact.
Tuesday 13 October 2015 18:20 @ Curzon Mayfair Cinema
Thursday 15 October 2015 21:00 @Vue Cinema Islington
Biyi Bandele’s follow-up to Half of a Yellow Sun is a riveting exploration of love and lust, power and rivalry, and seduction and infidelity, set in Africa’s most populous city, Lagos. It details a few pivotal days in the lives of four women at the pinnacle of their careers and revelling in the power and supposed wisdom that comes with age. Tola is a reality TV star whose marriage to lawyer Kunle never stood a chance, thanks to an unpleasant family secret. Elizabeth is a celebrated obstetrician whose penchant for younger men has estranged her from her daughter. 49-year-old Maria has an affair with a married man that causes explosive rifts in her social circle. And for Kate, her battle with a life-threatening illness has prompted an obsession with religion. Elegantly performed, featuring a vibrant, pulsating soundtrack and with Lagos evocatively filmed by Malcolm McLean, Fifty is a joy to watch.
Saturday 17 October 6:00pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 7
Sunday 18 October 6:30pm @ Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2
In this fascinating and lively directorial debut, Sacha Jenkins continues his chronicling of hip hop culture that began with his journalism in the 1990s, followed by his 2008 publication, ‘Piecebook: The Secret Drawings of Graffiti Writers’. Here, he tells the story of the colourful characters that emerged from urban roots to hustle the oversized pants and graffiti-emblazoned jackets from the New York discount stores and would go on to influence both the fashion world’s catwalks and middle America’s shopping malls. Channelled through an entertaining collage of original interviews, archive footage, gloriously ‘fresh’ stills and groove-inducing hip hop, Jenkins’ film connects the dots between music, style, self-expression and identity politics. Moving from pre-Civil War slavery to South Bronx in the 1970s and the super-connected niche cultures of today, Fresh Dressed is the story of freedom of expression as articulated by disenfranchised and oppressed peoples.
Saturday 17 October 6:30pm @ Hackney Picturehouse, Screen 1
Sunday 18 October 3:00pm @ Picturehouse Central, Screen 1
Gold Coast (Guldkysten)
In 1836, young botanist Wulff Joseph Wulff is dispatched to the Danish colonies in Guinea (present-day southeast Ghana) to establish and oversee a coffee plantation. He is fuelled by naïve optimism and what he believes is a progressive mentality, but his troubling experience of colonial life radically challenges his very European complacency. Based on fact, but far from a traditional historical drama, both in style and content, writer/director Daniel Dencik’s story evolves through a series of richly textured dreamlike vignettes. Dencik employs a creative collision of fact and imagination to build a mesmerising picture of Wulff’s moral compass, thoughts and inner life. And Jakob Oftebro (Kon-Tiki) delivers an extraordinary and extreme performance as Wulff, by turns visceral, conflicted and heartbreaking. The addition of Angelo Badalamenti’s ethereal contemporary score further helps to bring a distinctive freshness to this powerful and ambitious feature debut.
Sunday 11 October 6:00pm @ Cineworld Haymarket, Screen 1
Tuesday 13 October 6:30pm @ Vue Cinema Islington, Screen 1
Thursday 15 October 12:00pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 7
The Hard Stop
The Hard Stop is an intimate documentary revealing the story, away from all press coverage, of Mark Duggan’s friends and family following his death. He was shot and killed in a ‘Hard Stop’ police procedure in 2011, sparking the most violent riots in British history. For 28 months, director George Amponsah (The Fighting Spirit) filmed around Broadwater Farm in Tottenham, where Duggan grew up, capturing his family’s distress and focusing on two of his best friends, Marcus Knox and Kurtis Henville. We follow the men closely as they attempt to get on with their lives, look for a job, talk about the discrimination they experience on a daily basis and the impact Duggan’s death has had on the community. Duggan is present throughout, in peoples’ testimonies and news broadcasts. What emerges is a profoundly humane, thought-provoking and topical testament, which gives a voice to people who are rarely heard.
Saturday 17 October 8:45pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 7
Sunday 18 October 3:45pm @ Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2
They Will Have To Kill Us First
Stretch and Bobbito
The Hard Stop
Beasts of No Nation
Red Leaves (Alim adumim)
The Endless River
This is an exquisite, multilayered directorial feature debut that unfolds amidst the breathtakingly beautiful mountains of Ethiopia. After the death of his mother, 9-year-old Ephraim is taken from his drought-stricken home by his father who places him in the care of relatives while he goes to look for work in Addis Ababa. Ephraim has his pet sheep Chuni for company and they are inseparable, spending all their time playing together. Ephraim’s uncle, a hard working peasant-farmer, is frustrated that Ephraim doesn’t seem to be good at anything. However, the situation turns against Ephraim when he is told that Chuni will be sacrificially slaughtered at the next religious feast. Distraught at this news, Ephraim decides that he must take drastic action to save his only friend, even if that means returning home. Lamb marks the arrival of a major new African filmmaker in Yared Zeleke.
Friday 09 October 6:30PM @ ICA Cinema, Screen 1
Saturday 10 October 9:00pm @ Rich Mix Cinema, Screen 1
Jonas Carpignano’s riveting feature debut is an ultra-topical tale of two young African men, Ayiva and Abas from Burkina Faso who, in search of a better life, make the difficult and dangerous trip across the Sahara desert and Mediterranean Sea to reach Italy. Needless to say, their destination is more problematic than the two friends imagined. The Calabrian community is hostile to immigrants who attempt to eke out an existence there, which eventually leads to violence and rioting. Played by a largely non-professional cast (many having experienced similar problems), Mediterranea is a powerful, strikingly shot and utterly believable film. Directed with verve and considerable aplomb by director Carpignano, the film was developed from his award winning short A Chianna, which also drew on real life events.
Friday 16 October 9:15pm @ Curzon Mayfair Cinema, Screen 1
Saturday 17 October 1:00pm @ Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2
Sebastián Silva’s Nasty Baby is one of the most original works of the year, by turns beguiling, seductive and confrontational. Successful artist Freddy (Silva) and his boyfriend Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) are happily ensconced in Brooklyn and preparing to have a baby with Freddy’s best friend Polly (Kristen Wiig). Silva quickly draws us into their world and we identify with their worries: how to impregnate Polly; what Mo’s conservative family make of it; how to manage their increasingly disruptive neighbour. All against the backdrop of Freddy’s attempts to create a new work for a major gallery and struggling with the threat of deportation. These truthful and urgent cares are more than enough to make the film compelling. But the roguishly brilliant Silva hasn’t set out to deliver an absorbing ‘post-race’ drama about gay parenting. Instead, he plays a breathtaking and audacious late curve ball that is guaranteed to spark passionate post-screening debates.
Tuesday 13 October 8:45pm @ Cineworld Haymarket, Screen 1
Thursday 15 October 8:45pm @ Hackney Picturehouse, Screen 1
For his directorial debut, Sibs Shongwe-La Mer delves into the world of contemporary Johannesburg’s privileged youth. He plays Jabz, a twentysomething slacker who hangs out with best friend September in their uptown neighbourhood. They embark on a drug and alcohol-fuelled spree – their way of dealing with the circumstances that led to their friend’s live-streamed suicide a year before. Beautifully shot in black and white, Necktie Youth avoids the stereotypes that often undermine the country’s cinematic output, instead presenting a refreshing portrait of the ‘born frees’ – the generation born since 1990 and after the fall of Apartheid. Though their parents fought for or experienced the struggle against that regime, these youths are ill-equipped to handle the tragedy that blows apart their relatively sheltered lives. Winner of the Best South African Film and Best Director awards at the Durban International Film Festival, this is a promising film from a major new talent.
Friday 16 October 9:00pm @ Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2
Sunday 18 October 4:00pm @ Curzon Soho Cinema, Screen 1
Red Leaves (Alim adumim)
This marvellous first feature by Tel Aviv-based Ethiopian director Bazzi Gete tells the story of Meseganio, an immigrant who has been living in Israel for almost 30 years. After the death of his wife, he announces to his family that he will be selling his house and living with them. A stubborn patriarch, Meseganio is used to having everything done his way, so he is angry and hurt when his hard-line traditional values are challenged. He clashes with his daughter-in-law when she stands up to him and is shocked that his teenage granddaughter has a non-Ethiopian boyfriend. What makes this portrait of a man out of time with the world so compelling is Debebe Eshetu’s central performance. Scrupulously watched by Eddan Sasson’s camera – often in extreme close up to capture his anguish and outrage – Eshetu perfectly captures Meseganio’s inability to understand his children or exercise any power over them.
Thursday 08 October 9:15pm @ BFI Southbank, NFT3
Monday 12 October 6:30pm @ Ritzy Cinema, Screen 2
This incisive documentary chronicles the life of the internationally acclaimed filmmaker, considered by many to be the father of African cinema. Ousmane Sembène was a self-taught novelist and filmmaker. His ambition was to make films that would reach a vast African audience, from the illiterate to the educated. He dropped out from school when he was in the fifth grade and left Senegal, embarking on a journey that took him to Marseille where he worked as a docker. It was following an accident and the subsequent months lain in bed that Sembène began writing. From there he attended the Gorky Film Institute in Moscow and shortly after directed his first short film. Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman’s film details Semebène’s transformation into a world class filmmaker, through personal recollection, archive footage and the magnificent films he made. It is a fitting tribute to one of cinema’s great pioneers and storytellers. The director’s stunning feature debut Black Girl is also screening in the LFF.
Wednesday 07 October 8:45pm @ BFI Southbank, NFT3
Thursday 08 October 3:30pm @ BFI Southbank, NFT2
Stretch and Bobbito: Radio that Changed Lives
In 1990, Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Garcia started broadcasting on New York’s WKCR. The pair filled the airwaves with their intense passion for Hip Hop, uniquely infectious chemistry and sense of humour. Presenting exclusive demo tapes and live in-studio freestyles from a range of artists who were unsigned at the time but now read like a roll call who’s who of the hip hop world, the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show rapidly became a rally cry for rap. Their audience ranged from kids from the streets, the prison community and downtown fashionistas. It is a personal account of the show through its halcyon days, featuring previously unreleased footage and contributions from Nas, Biggie, Wu-Tang, Big Pun, Rosie Perez, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Q-Tip, Jay Z and many more. This is simply a must for any fan of hip hop.
Thursday 15 October 9:00pm @ Curzon Soho Cinema, Screen 1
Saturday 17 October 8:45pm @ Hackney Picturehouse, Screen 1
Fizzing and popping with the energy of as-it-happened classics like Before Sunset and Do the Right Thing, Sean Baker’s Tangerine, a tale of two transsexual hookers on Santa Monica Boulevard, could prove the sleeper hit of the year. On Christmas Eve, released from a brief stint in jail, Sin-Dee Rella meets her best friend Alexandra who reveals that her beau, Chester, has been cheating on her with a ‘white fish’ (a Caucasian female-born woman). The news propels the mercurial Sin-Dee to find Chester’s new girl and teach her a lesson. Remarkably, considering the richness of the bold, saturated colour and widescreen photography, Baker and his co-cinematographer, Radium Cheung filmed this on iPhone 5s, grabbing most scenes with just two cameras and dolly shots filmed from cycles. The result is a film of urgency and veracity, with charming performances from transgender non-actors Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez. From donut shop to Hollywood dive bar, the comedy of hair pulling and bitch slapping gives way to something altogether more tender and unexpected: a film about female friendship and solidarity.
Friday 09 October 8:45pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 7
Friday 09 October 9:15pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 5
Saturday 10 October 12:30pm @ Vue West End Cinema, Screen 5
Filmed on the remote island of Tanna in Vanuatu, this visually ravishing film tells the story of Wawu, a young woman who has fallen in love with her chief’s grandson, Dain. Despite their desire to marry, Wawa’s family forbid this union. When an inter-tribal war breaks out with a neighbouring community, her hand is unwittingly promised as part of the peace negotiations. With the threat of separation looming, Wawa and Dain abandon their homes in an attempt to be together, causing further upset between the warring clans. Based on the true story that took place in 1985, this is a stunningly photographed, evocative tale of two star-crossed lovers fighting the laws of ancient tradition and tribal custom. Working with an extraordinary cast of non-actors, acclaimed documentary filmmakers Martin Butler and Bentley Dean have made an arresting narrative debut, expanding on their previous work with indigenous communities, resulting in a truly special film.
Friday 16 October 9:15pm @ Curzon Soho Cinema, Screen 1
Sunday 18 October 3:30pm @ Vue Cinema Islington, Screen 1
They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music In Exile
Imagine living in a world with no radio, no stereos and no live music. It is difficult to contemplate, but that is exactly what happened in an area of Mali in 2012. Islamic Jihadists took control of Northern Mali and through a harsh interpretation of Sharia law they banned all forms of music. In a tragedy that constitutes nothing less than a crime against humanity for a country famous for its vibrant and colourful music, radio stations were destroyed, instruments burned and revered musicians faced torture, even death. For her feature debut, Johanna Schwartz intelligently captures the complexity and emotion of the life of musicians forced into exile and desperate to keep their music alive. The score was composed by the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner and there is music from a variety of artists, including Khaira Arby, Fadimata ‘Disco’ Walet Oumar, Amkoullel and Moussa Sidi
Tuesday 13 October 6:15pm @ Picturehouse Central, Screen 1
Wednesday 14 October 6:30pm @ Rich Mix Cinema, Screen 1