This year, the United Nations declared the opening of a 10 year celebration entitled: “The International Decade of People of African Descent.” The 22nd edition of the New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) is commemorating this special decade by illustrating the experience and journey of Africans through film. The annual event, which opened on the first of May and is currently underway at locations throughout the city, has dedicated this festival to those Africans who have utilized film to highlight and to portray the struggles and triumphs of the people of the Continent. The festival presents a mix of new and old film to illustrate the resiliency and strength of the African experience.
The movie, “Dakar 100%” is a documentary that explores the creative community in the Senegalese capital. Through interviews and glimpses of these creators at work, the viewer is able to understand the level of commitment to developing their craft in a climate that is not always accepting and understanding of art that elsewhere would be considered contemporary; in Dakar, these efforts appear to be avant-garde. We observe choreographers, dancers, fashion designers, hip hop artists and rock musicians as they develop and guide their projects while dealing with the inevitable friction with local culture and traditions. They have traveled the world to learn their craft and absorb knowledge while understanding that to create a genuine and legitimate cultural statement they must return home and attain success there.
It has been stated at many international conferences and meetings that the African Continent will suffer the effects of climate change to a greater degree than the developed world. In the film “The Prophecy,” photojournalist Fabrice Monteiro and designer Doulsy (Jah Gal), present a photo collection that utilizes fashion to illustrate the 10 most pervasive environmental issues facing Senegal. Among these are extensive use of beach sands in construction leading to severe erosion, massive trash dumps containing tons of plastic products that are not biodegradable and the problem of unusable fishing nets that eventually end up in the sea. Mr. Monteiro is the photographer that demonstrated the horrors of the slave trade in his previous project “Marron”. The photographs of current day citizens of Benin wearing slave trade era control and punishment devices made quite an impression and sealed the photographer’s reputation as a man not afraid to frighten viewers in order to make his point.
Perhaps one of the most awaited films will be presented during the festivals weekend dates at the Mayseles Cinema in Harlem. “Maybe Dreams Can Come True,” written, directed and produced by New York native Electra Weston tells the story of Chocolat, an American living and working successfully in Europe yet longing to return to the USA to a relationship that is both nascent and palpable. Ms. Weston, in a recent interview, describes a life on the road as an entertainer starring in road companies of Broadway shows, singing and acting. She indicates that for those performers who live and travel abroad, bridges must be built between the two worlds – love/ personal – professional and cultural, USA – international. It is an process of creating a balance and stability. As Ms. Weston said: “I am always home.”
The issues explored in Ms. Weston’s film are complicated and present some dilemmas for viewers. We have many new residents in the USA whose arrival was due to deteriorating conditions in their homelands particularly economic, political or religious. Often these immigrants leave in mortal danger. At the same time we have many Americans who travel overseas for opportunities to pursue careers and build wealth. In one case we call the new arrival a refugee and the other an expatriate. We rail against undocumented “illegals” in the USA while abroad many American “expats” are undocumented or “illegal” in their selected countries of residence. As we see, the illegal here is vilified while the expat is looked upon as a romantic character in the mold of Hemingway, Baker and other American luminaries that found success in Europe.
The films of the NYAFF provide the viewer with a fresh perspective on many aspects of our daily lives and the issues we face. There is no doubt that these films will provoke a range of emotion and will be the source of lively discussion for the foreseeable future.
For information about the festival and upcoming films please visit: http://www.africanfilmny.org/.