2016 NY African Film Festival Kicks Off Today, Celebrating 50 years of African Filmmaking
Photo Credit: S & A

2016 NY African Film Festival Kicks Off Today, Celebrating 50 years of African Filmmaking

NYAFF 2016 Opening Night Film – “Tanna”


Hey New York… another year, another New York African Film Festival – this year’s edition (the 23rd) kicks off today, running from May 4-10, with the tagline “Modern Days, Ancient Nights: 50 Years of African Filmmaking” (marking the 50th anniversary of Ousmane Sembène’s feature debut “Black Girl”), presented and hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and African Film Festival, Inc, with Maysles Cinema and BAMcinématek also acting as screening locations.

Single screening tickets are $14; $11 for students and seniors (62+); and $9 for Film Society members. See more and save with the 3+ film discount package. Visit filmlinc.org for more information.

A reception will follow tonight’s Opening Night Film at the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery at the Walter Reade Theater. Tickets for the movie and Opening Reception are $100 and are available online at africanfilmny.org. Regular festival prices apply for the screening only, and tickets can be purchased at filmlinc.org.

After opening at Film Society of Lincoln Center, the NYAFF heads to Maysles Cinema in Harlem (May 13-15). The festival concludes over Memorial Day Weekend (May 26-30) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of its popular dance and music festival DanceAfrica.

Lots to chew on here in terms of this year’s lineup, including 25 feature-length films and 27 short films from 26 countries; S&A will cover some of the festival, so expect future posts (reviews and whatever else is within resource reach). For now, check out the full lineu-up via press release below.

Films and Descriptions for New York African Film Festival

All screenings take place at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center (144 West 65th Street) unless otherwise noted

Opening Night


Bentley Dean & Martin Butler, Australia/Vanuatu, 2015, 104m

Nauvhal with English subtitles

Tanna is set in the South Pacific where Wawa, a young girl from one of the last traditional tribes, falls in love with her chief’s grandson, Dain. When an intertribal war escalates, Wawa is unknowingly betrothed as part of a peace deal. Soon after, the young lovers run away, but are pursued by enemy warriors intent on killing them. Dain and Wawa must choose between their hearts and the future of their people, while the villagers wrestle with preserving their culture and adapting to the increasing outside demands for individual freedom. Bentley Dean and Martin Butler’s feature debut is based on a true story and its cast features members of the Yakel tribe in Vanuatu.

Wednesday, May 4, 7:00pm* (Q&A with Bentley Dean, cultural director Jimmy Joseph Nako, and distributor Arnie Holland)

Monday, May 9, 3:45pm

*Venue: Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street


Price of Love

Hermon Hailay, Ethiopia, 2015, 99m

Amharic with English subtitles

Teddy (Eskindir Tameru), the son of a prostitute who grew up on the streets after his mother’s death, desperately tries to avoid the temptation of his old ways of chewing khat and drinking. His only support system is his priest, who bought him a taxi license on the condition that he live a decent life away from his past. But after Teddy intervenes in a fight between a prostitute, Fere (Fereweni Gebregergs), and her ex-boyfriend, who sells women to “work” in the Middle East, his taxi is stolen by the latter as leverage. As a result, Teddy finds himself caught up in a relationship with Fere, and during the search for the car, they discover the price of love.

Friday, May 6, 6:30pm (Q&A with Hermon Hailay)

Tuesday, May 10, 9:30pm

Closing Night

Negritude: A Dialogue Between Wole Soyinka and Senghor

Manthia Diawara, USA/France/Germany/Portugal, 2015, 59m

English and French with English subtitles

This imagined dialogue between Léopold Sédar Senghor, one of the founding fathers of Negritude, and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was reconstructed almost entirely from archival materials. It probes the relevance of the concept of Negritude against the views of its many critics, not only to the decolonization and independence movements of the 1950s and 1960s but also to an understanding of the contemporary artistic and political scenes of nationalism, religious intolerance, multiculturalism, the exodus of Africans and other populations from the South, and xenophobic immigration policies in the West.

Tuesday, May 10, 6:00pm (Q&A with historian and Director of Columbia University’s Institute for African Studies Mamadou Diouf + guests)

Closing Night

Shorts Program 2: Africa in New York (TRT: 61m)

A collection of films—all by or about New York City–based African creatives—reflect the experience of the New York corner of the African Diaspora.

Afripedia – New York

Teddy Goitom, Benjamin Taft and Senay Berhe, Sweden/USA, 2016, 12m

Part of larger docuseries, this installment of Afripedia is a visual guide to the creative minds in fashion, music, film, and more in New York. U.S. Premiere


Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, USA/Uganda/Germany, 2016, 5m

German with English subtitles

A young German boy longs for his father in Africa.


Mamadou Dia, Senegal/USA, 2016, 8m

French with English subtitles

A man quarantined for being suspected of having Ebola begins to question his health as well as his psychological state. U.S. Premiere


Alfonso Johnson, USA, 2016, 7m

Young couples in NYC fall in and out of love.

Reluctantly Queer

Akosua Adoma Owusu, Ghana/USA, 2016, 8m

This epistolary short film invites us into the unsettling life of a young Ghanaian man struggling to reconcile his love for his mother with his love for same-sex desire amid the increased tensions incited by same-sex politics in Ghana. A New Directors/New Films 2016 selection.

New York, I Love You

Iquo B. Essien, USA, 2016, 21m

Viviane is a neurotic, struggling actress given to childish flights of fancy—like moving to Los Angeles on a whim. But can she really leave New York and Kazembe, the love of her life, behind? U.S. Premiere

Tuesday, May 10, 7:45pm (Q&A with Alfonso Johnson, Akosua Adoma Owusu, Iquo B. Essien, Maame Yaa Boafo, Mamadou Dia, and Hoji Fortuna)


Izu Ojukwu, Nigeria, 2016, 138m

English and Igbo with English subtitles

’76 provides a deep and unusual portrait of the military—not of soldiers in battle but of soldiers and their families at war with integrity. The film depicts the life of Suzie, the pregnant wife of a young soldier accused of complicity in the abortive coup of 1976. Through Suzie’s struggle to find the truth and exonerate her husband, director Izu Ojukwu touches on the often invisible pain of the families of those who serve, as well as the enduring Nigerian cultural values of courage, resilience, patience, loyalty, and faith. Set during the oil boom of 1970s—a decisive decade in which Nigeria emerged as an economic giant—’76 is a stylized drama enriched with deep philosophy and history that celebrates the quality of the true African woman in a visually pure, emotionally engaging, and amorously therapeutic way. U.S. Premiere

Saturday, May 7, 8:45pm (Q&A with Izu Oujkwu)

Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai / Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red in It

Christopher Kirkley, Niger, 2015, 75m

Tuareg with English subtitles

Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai tells the universal story of a musician trying to make it against all odds, set against the backdrop of the raucous subculture of Tuareg guitar. The protagonist, the real-life Mdou Moctar, must battle with competing artists, overcome family conflicts, endure the trials of love, and face his biggest rival yet—himself. An homage to Western rock-dramas, particularly 1984’sPurple Rain, the film draws from the experiences of Mdou Moctar and his peers and is carried by stunning musical performances. The first fiction feature in the Tuareg language—meaning “Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red in It,” a literal translation of “Purple Rain” (Tuareg has no word for “purple”)—is by turns a window into the Tuareg guitar scene in the city of Agadez, an experiment in modern ethnographic filmmaking, and a celebration of cross-cultural collaboration.

Saturday, May 7, 6:30pm (Q&A with Mdou Moctar)

Monday, May 9, 2:00pm

La Belle at the Movies

Cecilia Zoppelletto, UK/Belgium/Congo, 2015, 67m

French with English subtitles

Kinshasa is a city of 10 million people without a single cinema. La Belle at the Movies examines the decline of the movie business in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s capital city by putting us in touch with audiences cut adrift from their beloved theaters. Through passionate, insightful, and deeply nostalgic interviews with filmmakers, cinema owners, government officials, and film lovers, Cecilia Zoppelletto’s lyrical documentary reveals complex politics and past events inexorably linked to the fate of “the movies”—an industry feeling orphaned but living in hope for a brighter future.

Screening with:

Twaaga / Invincible

Cedric Ido, France/Burkina Faso, 2013, 30m

Mooré, French, and Arabic with English subtitles

In 1985, Burkina Faso was a country in the throes of revolution. Manu, a young boy who loves comic books, tags along with his big brother Albert. When Albert decides to undergo a magic ritual, Manu realizes there are real powers to rival even those of superheroes.

Friday, May 6, 4:15pm

Monday, May 9, 8:30pm (Q&A with Cecilia Zoppelletto)

Black Jews: The Roots of the Olive Tree

Laurence Gavron, Cameroon/Senegal/Israel/France, 2016, 56m

French, English, and Hebrew with English subtitles

Over the course of the 20th century, a large number of groups in Sub-Saharan Africa spontaneously converted to Judaism and claimed Jewish identity. These communities respect the worship rituals and dietary restrictions of Judaism, which they often learn from the Internet, as well as through Jewish culture (including cuisines, music, and language). Laurence Gavron’s film gives an account of this black Judaism through an African community— that of Cameroon, with Serge Etélé as its spiritual leader. Featuring an interview with Rabbi Capers Funnye, Michelle Obama’s cousin and leader of the black Jewish community in the United States.

Screening with:

The Dance of King David

Axel Baumann, USA, 2011, 32m

English and Amharic with English subtitles

In this documentary about the history and contemporary worship of the Ark of the Covenant, Axel Baumann examines the disappearance of the Ark from Israel and its reemergence in Ethiopia, and witnesses the “Dance of King David”—an ancient rite still performed by Jews and Ethiopians alike.

Monday, May 9, 6:00pm (Q&A with Laurence Gavron and Axel Baumann)


Charlie Vundla, South Africa, 2015, 95m

English and Zulu with English subtitles

The second feature by Charlie Vundla (director of How to Steal 2 Million, a selection of the 2012 New York African Film Festival),Cuckold tells the story of a young African-American professor in Johannesburg (played by Vundla) who falls apart after his wife leaves him for another man. While trying to drink himself into oblivion, he has a chance encounter with an old schoolmate who is now a homeless life coach. Together (with a little help from the drug trade), the two men prop each other up, and things soon ease back into normalcy… until the professor’s wife reappears sobbing at his doorstep. An unusual ménage à trois arrangement follows, one that seems destined to wreak havoc on the fragile state of affairs.

Thursday, May 5, 8:30pm (Q&A with Charlie Vundla)

Tuesday, May 10, 3:45pm

The Cursed Ones

Nana Obiri Yeboah & Maximilian Claussen, UK/Ghana, 2015, 95m

A series of misfortunes lead a West African village to accuse a young girl, Asabi (Ophelia Dzidzornu), of witchcraft. Their pastor insists that salvation rests in her exorcism and death, and uses his compelling rhetoric to incite fear into the people and to turn Asabi’s mother (Ama K. Abebrese) against her own daughter. Disillusioned reporter Godwin (Oris Erhuero) finds himself swept up in the witch hunt, and with the help of a young schoolteacher, he attempts to save Asabi’s life, fighting back against corruption and false prophets. Based on true events, The Cursed Ones is a story of morality, corruption, and community in the heart of Africa.

Thursday, May 5, 6:00pm (Q&A with special guest)

Tuesday, May 10, 1:30pm

In the Eye of the Spiral / Dans L’oeil de la Spirale

Raynald Leconte & Eve Blouin, USA/Haiti/UK, 2014, 56m

English and French with English subtitles

In the Eye of the Spiral details an artistic and philosophical movement born in Haiti called Spiralism, which has spread across the arts, touching upon spirituality (including voodoo and African ancestry) and even politics. The film sheds light on the state of a country hit by corruption and natural disaster, as well as the incredible will of Haitian artists who decided to produce art as a personal form of redemption and survival. With its striking imagery detailing the colors and flavors of Haiti, In the Eye of the Spiral reveals another side of the country through the fascinating voices of some of its most successful native artists. Featuring the poised and authoritative narration of Annie Lennox and the music of Brian Eno.

Screening with:

About a Mother

Dina Velikovskaya, Russia, 2015, 8m

Dina Velikovskaya’s animated short is about a mother who has given so much that it seems as if she has nothing left… until life opens up new opportunities.

Sunday, May 8, 7:15pm (Q&A with Raynald Leconte and Eve Blouin)

Intore / The Chosen

Eric Kabera, Rwanda, 2014, 64m

Intore offers a rare and powerful look at how Rwanda survived a tragic past by regaining its identity via music, dance, and the resilience of a new generation. It’s a story of triumph and a lesson in how to forgive and live, told through the eyes of a mother whose grief provides hope; an artist, who chooses to forgive rather than seek revenge; a maestro, who brings together the National Ballet with an incredible touch of genius; and a young man, whose determination and hard work has given the Rwandan culture a new dimension of identity and celebration. These characters and others show viewers how a nation rose above the ashes of a horrific 1994 genocide to become a world model of post-conflict peace and unity. Featuring performances from Rwanda’s top traditional and commercial artists in music and dance, interwoven with poignant interviews with genocide survivors and perpetrators who sit side by side, Rwandan leaders, and the Hollywood elite.

Screening with:

Some Bright Morning: The Art of Melvin Edwards

Lydie Diakhaté, USA/France, 2016, 51m

Born in the American South of the late ’30s during segregation, Melvin Edwards is now a world-recognized sculptor. As a black internationalist, Pan-Africanist, and one of the major Modernist innovators in the New York art scene from the days of Abstract Expressionism up through the current Conceptual wave, Edwards is one of the few African-Americans who has a particular strong connection with Africa beyond his origins. Lydie Diakhaté’s film reveals how in Edwards’s work, the global black initiative operates like a vital lifeline in his artistic expression and how exploring different techniques of welding and engaging his cultural and political values he established his own artistic language across five decades.

Sunday, May 8, 1:30pm (Q&A with Lydie Diakhaté and Melvin Edwards)

Martha & Niki

Tora Mårtens, Sweden, 2016, 93m

Swedish with English subtitles

In 2010, Swedish friends Martha Nabwire and Niki Tsappos were the first-ever female hip-hop dance duo to beat all of their opponents—men included—at the most important international street-dance competition, Paris’s Juste Debout. Armed with boundless energy and huge amounts of talent, they annihilated the opposition. But what happens when they don’t come out on top? After one such disappointment, the first cracks began to appear in their friendship, and in spite of their shared passions, the girls’ different backgrounds and personalities come into conflict. This documentary not only captures two successful dancers in action, but also two young adults grappling with very different life questions. Where are your roots, and what elements of your culture do you bring along from your homeland? How do you keep your heritage alive, and how can you deal with all of these things within such a dynamic friendship? Co-Presented by Margaret Mead Film Festival.

Saturday, May 7, 1:30pm (Q&A with Tora Mårtens and Niki Tsappos)

Pastor Paul

Jules David Bartkowski, USA/Ghana/Nigeria, 2015, 70m

An interesting take on the “white man in Africa” tale, Pastor Paul relates the story of Benjamin (Bartkowski), a tourist who becomes possessed by a ghost after being cast as one in a Nollywood film. Framed as a Chaplin-esque fool, Benjamin wanders around cities and villages seeking the mathematical secrets behind African drumming, only to have his project disturbed when his body becomes a vessel for the spirit of a colonial-era white missionary. Suddenly he’s prone to uncontrollable utterances and tongue-speaking bible quotes—words of his Nollywood character’s namesake, Pastor Paul.

Screening with:


Clarence Peters, Nigeria, 2015, 26m

Edgy and suspenseful, Hex centers on five young friends and how one night’s mistake still haunts them a year later. U.S. Premiere

Friday, May 6, 9:00pm (Q&A with Jules David Bartkowski)

Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess

Roy T. Anderson, Jamaica, 2015, 59m

Jamaican Patois and English with English subtitles

Nanny was a queen captured in her homeland and forcibly transported across the Atlantic Ocean in the belly of a slave ship. In the New World, she rose up to become the leader of a new nation—of free Africans. However, not many people outside of Jamaica know about the legendary warrior chieftainess of the Jamaican Maroons. She is the only female among Jamaica’s seven national heroes, and her likeness appears on the country’s $500 bill, yet little is known about her. This landmark documentary, conceived by award-winning Jamaican-born, New Jersey–based filmmaker Roy T. Anderson and history professor Harcourt T. Fuller, unearths and examines this mysterious figure, who led a band of former enslaved Africans in the rugged and remote interiors of Jamaica in their victory over the British army during the early to mid-18th century.

Screening with:

Yemanjá: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil

Donna C. Roberts & Donna Read, USA/Brazil, 2015, 52m

English and Portuguese with English subtitles

This documentary, narrated by the Pulitzer Prize–winning author Alice Walker, explores the ethics, social justice, racism, ecological sustainability, and power found in community and faith via the stories of four extraordinary elder female leaders of the Afro-indigenous Candomblé spiritual tradition in Bahia, Brazil. In metropolitan Salvador, the Americas’ main port during the transatlantic slave trade, slavery’s brutal history was transformed into a vibrant religio-cultural tradition in Brazil, the world’s largest Catholic country. Candomblé is a brilliant example of resilience, profound dedication to one’s heritage, and the forces of nature that sustain us all. In the face of tremendous planetary and humanitarian crises, these ancient wisdoms offer inspiration for our shared global concerns. Co-Presented by Cinema Tropical.

Sunday, May 8, 4:15pm (Q&A with Roy T. Anderson and Donna C. Roberts)

While You Weren’t Looking

Catherine Stewart, South Africa, 2015, 104m

English, Xhosa, and Afrikaans with English subtitles

Catherine Stewart’s feature debut takes a look at South Africa through the experiences of a cross section of queer relationships in Cape Town. The changing landscape of post-Apartheid South African politics and lifestyles is portrayed through two central relationships: a successful black real-estate agent who is cheating on her white wife; and their bohemian daughter, who’s dating a gender-nonconforming woman in the Khayelitsha township. Beautifully shot on locations in and around Cape Town, with a stellar South African cast and a soundtrack of great local music, While You Weren’t Looking wrestles with the complexities of queerness and its overarching intricacies of class and fading relationships.

Friday, May 6, 2:00pm

Sunday, May 8, 9:15pm

Shorts Program 1: Quartiers Lointains (TRT: 103m)

“Paris, ooh la la!” “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?” Declaimed in the language of Molière, these sentences do not fail to impact when speaking of France abroad, because love is part of the French culture, and emerging filmmakers emerging in the country do not fail to deal with it. Through the male sexual confusion of Yohann Kouam’s The Return,  dancing bodies and timidity in Jean-Charles Mbotti Malolo’s The Sense of Touch, the complexity of traditional weddings in Zangro’s Destino, and also through the difficulty to love that Alice Diop interrogates in Towards Tenderness. The short films of this program shake us, move us, and amaze us by seizing a French—but also universal—feeling.

The Return / Le Retour

Yohann Kouam, France, 2013, 22m

French with English subtitles

When the older brother he idolizes comes back home after a year away, Willy realizes that he doesn’t know him as well as he thought. An NYFF52 selection.

The Sense of Touch / Le sens du toucher

Jean-Charles Mbotti Malolo, France, 2015, 15m

French with English subtitles

Chloe and Louis are deaf and mute. They are also secretly in love, but they don’t admit it. Their gestures are substitutes for words, and as they dance, each word is choreography. U.S. Premiere


Zangro, France, 2015, 26m

French with English subtitles

Two young guys from the neighborhood, Loïc and Mehdi, have set up a little business filming Arabic wedding celebrations and then editing them in the “audiovisual laboratory” in their minivan. But when Mehdi starts to film the marriage of his pretty ex-girlfriend, fate steps in. U.S. Premiere

Towards Tenderness / Vers la tendresse

Alice Diop, France, 2015, 40m

French with English subtitles

An intimate exploration of a masculine territory in a French suburb, Towards Tenderness follows a group of vagrant men, while a universe is revealed where female bodies are nothing more than ghostly and virtual silhouettes. U.S. Premiere

Saturday, May 7, 4:00pm (Q&A with Alice Diop and programmer Claire Diao)

Special Events:

New York African Film Festival Town Hall Event: Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow

The 23rd New York African Film Festival opens with a special live, interactive town hall event featuring the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow. New Yorkers are invited to share their family photos and stories, and discover the communal linkages that underlie our common humanity. A panel discussion with African Diasporan creatives will follow the event.

Sunday, May 1, 2:00pm*

*Venue: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Amphitheater, 144 West 65th Street

Digital Exhibit: Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow*

A digital art exhibit featuring portraits and images from the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow will serve as a companion piece to the 23rd New York African Film Festival.

*Venue: Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, Amphitheater, 144 West 65th Street

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