Last Monday I went to the Ritzy in Brixton for a Film Africa screening of four short films – Pumzi, Garagouz, Lezare and Zebu and the Photo Fish. All four are up for the Silver Boabab Award for best short African film (results were announced last night but aren’t up online yet).
The night began with Wanuri Kahiru’s highly acclaimed Pumzi, one of Africa’s first sci-fi films. Set thirty five years after the end of World War III, the film takes place in an underground bunker — protection from a world made uninhabitable by water shortages. Residents generate self-sustainable energy by powering exercise machines, and sweat and urine must be recycled to help preserve the little water that remains. On receiving a mysterious soil sample with high water content, Asha, a scientist at the Virtual Museum of Natural History, breaks out of the compound to search for fertile ground in the desert landscape outside.
You can watch the trailer here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZKfLXcZ_7YE
Next was Garagouz, an award-winning short from Algerian director Abdenour Zahzah, a filmmaker who has previously only worked on documentaries. The film tells the story of a puppeteer and his son, who travel in a battered sky-blue van across the Algerian countryside to perform a children’s puppet show. As their journey progresses, they lose more and more of their puppets — in return for a canister of water, as a bribe demanded by a local official, and to a band of hitchhikers who deem the dolls sacrilegious.
The trailer is up online here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owwY8KgZrkA
Next was Lezare (‘For Today’), another award-winning short, this time from Ethiopian director Zelalem Woldemariam. The film is based on a modern fable (incidentally, Ethiopia is one of the suggested birthplaces of Aesop) which teaches the importance of planning for the future rather than attending only to present needs, however urgent they may seem. The film opens with a homeless boy waking to the smell of freshly baked loaves, sold by a beautiful girl and her mother. He spends the morning begging for money, and is eventually given a gold coin by the village schoolteacher as a reward for helping his neighbours plant a field of young trees. These trees will protect the village in years to come by helping to prevent desertification. Racing back to buy a loaf of bread, the boy realises that he has misplaced his prize. He then returns to the field of saplings and rips them all out of the soil, gleefully clutching his salvaged coin at the film’s close as the young girl looks on in horror.
You can watch a tiny excerpt here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnWUvac0E74
Finally, we watched Zebu and the Photo Fish by Kenyan director Zipporah Nyaruri (now based in Uganda). Zebu, a fisherman’s son, is angered by his father giving away his fish to pay off a debt to a local businessman while his family go hungry. Using the maths skills he has learnt at school, along with a newfound talent as a salesman, Zebu pulls his family out of debt and saves enough money to buy medicine to treat his mother’s malaria. Nyaruri was one of many new women filmmakers represented at this year’s Film Africa (like Zahzah, she comes from a background in documentary film production).
You can watch a short excerpt (in which the film’s title is explained) here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSFoSS3dZRc
Partly a response to Film Africa 2011, Hannah Pool posted an interesting article on Comment is Free a couple of weeks ago in which she writes about the poor circulation of African films and the danger of viewing African cinema “through the Western prism”. She also sings the praises of Viva Riva! (mentioned by Kate in an earlier post) and cites a brilliantly scathing article from 2005 by Binyavanga Wainaina for Granta called “How to Write About Africa” (highly recommended reading).images: filmafrica.org.uk – newsdire.com – berlinale-talentcampus.de