Twenty-five years ago, Mahen Bonetti made a decision to help bring African stories and storytellers to New York and the world. As the founder of New York African Film Festival and Executive Director of African Film Festival Inc., at The Film Society of Lincoln Center, the month-long festival — which runs through June 10 —will screen 66 films from 25 countries at FSLC, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek, and Maysles Cinema in Harlem.
Under the theme “25 Years of the New York African Film Festival,” the international film organizations will pay homage to the pioneers of African cinema while marking the passing of the baton to a new generation of African visual storytellers who continue to transform and expand our understanding of the continent and its diaspora. The event also commemorates the 100th birthday of the venerated South African freedom fighter and national leader Nelson Mandela, with a crop of films from his native land.
“Since the founding of the New York African Film Festival, African cinema has moved beyond the art house and become the lingua franca of Africa and its diaspora,” Bonetti told ESSENCE. “From Nigeria to South Africa and Brazil, regional film industries are breaking down the artificial demarcations of the colonial era. For this 25th milestone, the festival is proud to showcase this new wave of a borderless cinema, which uses the tactility and immediacy of storytelling to offer audiences opportunities to imagine other futures for Africa and its diaspora.”
The opening night Gala was proceeded by the screening of Apolline Traoré’s award-winning film, Borders, which speaks to migration, as well as the struggles of African women, in a timely echo of the #MeToo movement. The film follows four women as they travel from Mali to Nigeria, supporting each other while battling sexism and corruption.
The NYAFF then heads to the Brooklyn Academy of Music Thursday, May 24 through Monday, May 28, as a part of BAM’s popular dance and music festival DanceAfrica. It closes with a series of classic and contemporary narratives and documentaries at Maysles Cinema in Harlem running Thursday, June 7, through Sunday, June 10.
Ahead check out a few highlights from, this year's much-lauded festival!
Directed by Berni Goldblat (Dioula and French with English subtitles)
Thirteen-year-old Ady no longer listens to his father, who is raising Ady on his own in France. Running out of resources, Ady’s father decides to entrust Ady to his Uncle Amadou for the summer who live on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, in Burkina Faso.
Abderrahmane Sissako: Beyond Territories
Directed by Valérie Osouf (French with English subtitles)
In Valérie Osouf’s portrait of world-renowned filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako (Life on Earth, Bamako, Timbuktu), we are invited not only into his physical territory but also his poetic and politically engaged terrain. Featuring interviews with acclaimed artists, such as Danny Glover and Martin Scorsese, and everyday movie lovers — including a film-loving police officer and philosophy professor.
Directed by Stephina Zwane
Baby Mamas is a comedic drama about the lives and loves of four professional women in Johannesburg, South Africa—each in her own stage of “baby mama drama.”
Directed by Aleksei Speshnev (Russian with English subtitles)
This long-unseen Russian drama, never before released in the U.S., is a fictionalized portrait of the leader of an unnamed African state.
The beautifully filmed and intensely political documentary showcases the contemporary reality of creative nonviolent resistance in Burkina Faso.
The Delivery Boy
Adekunle “Nodash” Adejuyigbe
Amir, a young orphan raised in an African extremist group, runs away on the eve of a suicide mission, taking his bomb vest with him. He has a mission of his own. Directed by Adekunle “Nodash” Adejuyigbe (Hausa and Pidgin with English subtitles).
Meokgo and the Stick Fighter
Directed by Teboho Mahlatsi,
Reclusive stick fighter Kgotso lives a solitary life high up in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho. Whilst tending sheep and playing his concertina, he sees a beautiful and mysterious woman dreamily staring at him from the water.
Five Fingers for Marseilles
Directed by Michael Matthews
Five Fingers for Marseilles fuses western influences — from classic John Ford to “spaghetti” to revisionist eras — into a contemporary South African crime drama with a local flavor. Saturday, May 19, 8:00 pm (Q&A with Michael Matthews) and Monday, May 21, 1:00 p.m.
Directed by Machérie Ekwa Bahango
Nineteen-year-old Maki’la, nicknamed Maki, has been living on the streets since she was 13, and has long been friends with young hoodlum Mbingazor, who has become the boss of a criminal gang. The two end up getting married; however, the relationship is founded on exploitation and violence and soon leaves Maki feeling trapped.
Directed by Joanne Hock
Stereotypes of Black youth are turned upside down in this inspirational documentary shadowing six high-school students on an emotionally powerful journey.
Directed by Jeferson De
After barely carving out a living by selling trinkets amidst the traffic-clogged streets of Rio de Janeiro, Paulo Gale sees an opportunity to change his life by becoming a football manager.
Selbe: One Among Many
Directed by Safi Faye, Senegal (Wolof with English subtitles)
U.S. Premiere of Reissue in Wolof. In focusing on the daily life of a Senegalese village woman, Selbe: One Among Many examines the economic and social roles rural African women are expected to play.
On Monday of Last Week
Directed by Akosua Adoma Owusu
Kamara, a Nigerian woman, works as a nanny for Josh, the five-year-old son of an interracial couple, Tracy and Neil. Tracy is an African American artist working on a commission in her basement studio — a space she rarely leaves