Saturday, December 17, 2011

They exist because I exist

The title of this piece is taken from, a poem entitled Ode to Envy by Pablo Neruda. Day 2 at theAmakula Kampala Cinema Caravan Festival found this viewer in insular mood and as result the three films mentioned hereafter, focus on individual performances that caught the eye. Also considering that today is the anniversary of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian trader, is self immolation that sparked the Arab spring, according to the news media's narrative; the ego is especially prominent at the moment, bear with I.

Ernest Okeyo from Kenya stand up, your short film, Istanbul is a mustard seed. The story revolves around a young man who happens to be a fan of Liverpool FC but also an individual whose choices and actions have hurt his family in more ways than one. Be warned this film has a happy ending and is predictable which is inevitable since a key part of the narrative is based on past events, namely Liverpool FC's memorable triumph in Istanbul, 2005. However, it is still moving and well paced by the writer/director, Ernest Okeyo and I am not just saying that because I am fan of the said football club.

Individual choices are also at the root of Saleh Haroun's offering entitled,A Screaming Man set in present day Chad at a time of insurrection. This film is characterized by  powerful individual performances especially from Youssouf Djaoro the lead character who decides to give up his only son to the war effort against the rebels. Prior to this the son takes the father's job as a pool cleaner at a luxury hotel and as a consequence of these events the happy family is broken.

I want them to know
I cannot wire my mouth shut
so they can write poetry in my place
 Pablo Neruda, Ode to Envy

The tension between the individual and the family are also played out in Anusha Rizvi's, Peepli. A tragic comedy set in present day India about a farmer whose land has been repossessed by the bank over his failure to repay a loan of 100,000 rupees. Desperate,he hears of a government scheme that offers 100,000 rupees to the family of any farmer who commits suicide because of indebtedness and so he decides to commit suicide within earshot of a journalist who runs with the story, setting off a series of events that reveal the poverty and despair of India's farmers as well as the depravity of the political system aided and abated by the news media motivated, as both these institutions are, by self interest. This is Bollywood without the bright colours and fanfare, like you have never seen. Probably the best I have seen in a minute.
But don't take my word for it, come on down to the UNCC and see for yourself.

A Prophet With Honour

A Prophet With Honour

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Has History been kind to African cinema

 The Amakula Kampala Cinema Caravan Festival is many things, on at the National Theatre, a fixture on the Kampala film and social scene, not well publicized, among other things. But over the years, I have been to the last four mind; it can’t be faulted on its programming. Its strength and indeed the main draw for me are the rich and varied films on show that I would otherwise never have seen. The least you expect from any self respecting film festival is to be entertained, educated and even offended by the selection of films on show.
This brings me to this year’s event which runs from the 14th to the 17th December at the National Theatre. On this year’s program on day one, is a silent film by Harold.M Shaw entitled The Overlanders made in 1916.Like anyone whose been to this festival knows, the evening screenings offer rather eclectic fare. This choice by the festival directors intrigued me and by the time I got to my seat on the upper deck of the theatre I was ready to be regaled. Percussion Discussion provided the live score of traditional Kiganda drums, engaalabi, shakers and vocals. The presentation on their part was flawless in that in no way was it intrusive and the viewer is left undistracted to watch this film.
The film is about the Great Trek of the Boers that is the ancestors of the Afrikaners in South Africa. These people traversed South Africa looking for a place to settle, dispossessing the indigenous natives along the way. This film focuses on the battle of Blood River which took place on December, 16, 1838, a day that lives on in infamy, to borrow a phrase from FDR. I think the festival directors would have been better served showing this on day 3, December 16, it has symmetry to it. The Boers equipped with gun powder and rifles massacred Dingaan the Zulu King’s warriors and it is this event that is celebrated in the film.
The filmmaker to be fair cast Africans in their roles rather than whites with painted faces that was the staple of minstrel shows and Hollywood at the time. That is the most I can say for the film the rest is painful to watch, the African stereotypes of gullibility, servility are there for all to see. It is humiliating to watch the proud Zulu warrior, Sobhuza portrayed as a man who owes his conscience to Christianity as taught to him by a white missionary. Any student of South African history will cringe at the premise of this film.
It is also worth mentioning that most nations have exploited each other before or since, the Zulu empire itself was built on exploiting among others the Khoesan who are the South African aboriginals, so called bush men. Therefore my issue with the film is not only personal moral reservations about lionizing exploitation but also portraying the victims of exploitation as better off for it, even complicit in their own downpression and the perpetrators as noble in their intentions that just happen to involve  plunder.
The duplicity of the  white settlers in manipulating the Zulu’s to turn against each other best seen when Sobhuza assassinates  King Dingaan, because the latter killed  Sobhuza’s baas(South African slang for slave owner); Piet Retief, is glossed over and the weak mindedness of King Dingaan or his lack of intellectual self defence played up.
Film some say has no responsibility other than to entertain but film has been used by among others Leni Reifenstahl, a Nazi apologist, even our own government, to manufacture consent, propaganda which history itself is guilty of.
 Bantu education springs to mind, South African youths were taught self loathing( a government policy mind you) that is at the root at many of the problems in the black community, such as xenophobia, the very problems that the late great, Steve Bantu Biko dared to confront through his Black Consciencessness Movement.
All in all it’s a film worth seeing if only to recognize the propaganda value of film. Be that as it may I was entertained by Percussion Discussion’s live score, clearly offended and yet I can’t say my understanding of South African history is enhanced at all by this film. Don’t take my word for it though, come on down to the UNCC (National Theatre) and see for yourself.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Love scenes for African cinema

This is a meditation not so much on social mores and all things niggy, it's an observation from one cinema fiend to another, when was the last time you saw a memorable love scene in an African film and I use the description African film to mean a film set in Africa and features a predominantly African cast retelling a story that espouses African beliefs and world views the latter and former are plural in keeping with a society that is polytheistic and multicultural?

I ask this question because I recently watched Viva Riva and was haunted by it's imagery and depiction of life in modern day Kinshasa although it could be set in any teeming sprawling urban metropolis on this continent. Before I saw this film i could not think of a memorable love scene in African cinema. I wonder why that is? Well I guess it has something to do with the fact we are in the main coy when talking about sex in Uganda it took the HIV Aids pandemic to change attitudes about sex when it became clear that ignorance about sex in general and the disease (its still called the disease)in particular was the main cause of death and still is.

Still that does little to explain how unprepared I was for what has been described as
gratuitous sex and violence by some critics not including Hon. Nsaba Buturo ex minister of ethics renowned for his anally retentive disposition. The thing about love scenes in cinema and what marks them from soft porn is the poetry, what the audience doesn't see or hear,think Last Tango in Paris. The camera is not intrusive in a bid to empathize with the passions of the characters.Supafly and in particular the love scenes with Miss Fraiser and Supafly himself come to mind. What happens in Viva Riva is the director oscillates between the sensual leave as much to the imagination as possible school emulating European tastes and detached attitudes to sex like in Last Tango in Paris, as well as the raunchy leave a little less to the imagination of 1970s African American cinema as seen in Supafly. For the first encounter between Riva the lead character and his muse, the director leaves little to the imagination imposing on the viewer a vision that is at once arresting and immediate causing one to ask whether they were acting,suspending disbelief in this case is as easily said as it's done, the director shows you how our protagonists passions boil over as opposed to letting you imagine their rapture and the mood changes for the next encounter between the same protagonists by now better acquainted and with more time to spend together, the director reverts to a vision that is coy, as the song says the first cut is the deepest. This treatment adds variety that is... aesthetically pleasing but also helps the plot along.

I can't speak of variety without mentioning the first love scene in the film, it's a lesbian love scene another first for African cinema as far as I know and I stand corrected.It is handled coyly and fans the flames sparked by the chemistry between the two protagonists.This scene brought to mind the chemistry between Jennifer Tilley and Gina Gershon in Bound. It is a rare feat this Viva Riva, a vision to light your way through times of load shedding but.... don't take my word for it, go see it yourself.