- Liesel Bishop
- March 6, 2022
The African thread at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival illuminates with kaleidoscopic light the fruitful and innovative industry of the continent, showing horror, gender and war
As an important element of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, African stories celebrate a variety of film industries with fresh insights into genres and themes. History, culture, identity, art, socio-economics, sexuality and gender are just some of the broader topics covered in the impressive selection.
The ghost of colonialism haunts Sarah Maldoror as well Sambizanga and Jafar Ghasem Heliopolis, established in Angola and Algeria respectively. Born in Guadeloupe, the 1972 Maldor-born masterpiece has finally been honored by the glorious 4k restoration carried out last year by the African Film Heritage Project. For decades, the only access to this groundbreaking classic with English subtitles was a 16-millimeter print kept in the New York Public Library. The restoration is a tribute to Maldoror, who passed away in April 2020.
Secretly filmed and originally banned in Portugal, this film was Maldoror’s attempt to draw attention to the brutality of that country’s colonial regime with the help of a film activist and informative filmmaker. He finds a modern companion in Goethe’s sweeping, melodramatic work Heliopolis (2020), in this case reminds us of the colonial atrocities of France in Algeria. These films present cinema as a collective memory, in particular emphasizing aspects of history that are often marginalized or simply ignored by the West.
For decades, African cinema has strongly told the tragic, festive, joyful and daily stories of this continent, stories that in the West are often misrepresented, stereotyped or simply forgotten. The drama by Finnish-Somali director Hadar Ayderus Ahmed, set in Djibouti in 2021, is set in a small corner that will be little known to Western audiences. Grabar’s wife is a homage to love and family when poor gravedigger Guled struggles with every opportunity to afford the medical care his desperately sick wife Nasra desperately needs. The film features slow meditative scenes, evocative mise-en-scène, and beautiful cinematography in shades of ocher and sepia. Director Ahmed wanted to show his community with dignity and compassion, and he accomplishes this feat with great success.
Several films touch on cultural, sexual and gender identities, most notably in the film by Kenyan documentary filmmaker Pete Murimi I’m Samuel (2020), which reflects the struggle of Samuel and Alex, a same-sex couple struggling to overcome homophobia in their private and public lives. Meanwhile, South African director Lindive Matshikiza One Take Grace from last year is an amazing experimental documentary that shows the traumatic but inspiring life of Motiba housemaid and part-time actress Grace Bapella through a first-person digital story, performance, improvisation, animation, poetry, music and silence.
Thematically related to One Take Grace is a colleague from South Africa Jen Kato Bass Good lady (2021) is perhaps the most amazing and fascinating find of the festival. A new look at the black horror that shares genealogy with films like Jordan Peel Get out and Remy Weeks His House, Good lady Mavis, a domestic worker trapped in a South African suburb whose livelihood depends on making her “good madam” happy and healthy. Haunted house, gloomy family home, superstitions, ritual, servitude and racism – these are some of them Good ladya film that, like the examples mentioned above, presents socio-cultural politics as horror.
Youth culture, art and creativity presented by veteran Moroccan director Nabil Ayuch Casablanca strikes (2021), a soulful improvisational film about a group of Arab young people who find meaning and are guided by hip-hop, guided by their initially harsh but ultimately caring teacher Anas. Unraveling a story familiar from Hollywood movies such as Fame, Society of Dead Poets and Dangerous mindsthe context here is everything, as North African politics, the tension between tradition and modernity, and the long-lasting effects of the Arab Spring form a powerful backdrop for this collective musical drama of maturation.
Creative discovery and innovation reach their zenith in Catherine Chubek One day in Uganda, a 2020 documentary depicting the unorthodox and sometimes just silly world of filmmaking by Isaac Nabwana, the director of an off-budget action movie. Nabwana is the creator of a local film industry called Vocalwood, named after Vocaligi, a neglected area of Uganda where he makes his films.
The audience of the Glasgow Film Festival will definitely be entertained and provoked by the innovation, depth and breadth of African film production presented in these films. Films succeed in what we expect from a better story, combining the universal and the special in authentic, close-knit stories and forms.
The Glasgow Film Festival runs until Sunday, March 13; see details showing African stories here; Liesel Bischoff is a Senior Lecturer in Film Studies at the University of Glasgow and the Founder of the Africa In Motion Film Festival.
African Stories at the Glasgow Film Festival
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