22 Feature Films Of The African Diaspora To See At The Toronto International Film Festival
Photo Credit: S & A

22 Feature Films Of The African Diaspora To See At The Toronto International Film Festival


A repost, considering the festival begins today! 

I think you can almost always tell when there’s a non-white curator/director/executive/creative mind/influence behind a film festival – especially the majors. All you have to do is just take a look at how diverse the lineup offerings are. 

And Cameron Bailey, who’s Canadian of Caribbean descent, is the man behind the Toronto International Film Festival, which, for as long as I’ve been following it closely, since I started this blog 4 years ago, always delivers when it comes to what we could label contemporary world cinema. It truly is a global film festival, and you’re guaranteed to find offerings from almost every continent each year. 

Outside of African film festivals here in the USA, and abroad, it’s probably the one mainstream, top-tier film festival where you’ll find the highest selections of African Diaspora films. Which should be more than enough of a reason for me to have attended the film festival by now, but I’ve never personally been to the festival, although it’s near the top of my “to do” list.

This year, Zeba is covering it for S&A, so she’ll be soaking in the festival’s offerings in my absence.

And she has quite a lot to consider as she preps her festival schedule with regards to films of the Diaspora that she’ll be seeing and writing about over the next 2 weeks.

So with that, ahead of the festival’s start in 2 days, September 5, I thought I’d highlight those diaspora titles on Zeba’s “for consideration” list – many of them films we’ve been following here on S&A since they began production, so you should recognize some of these 22 names.

First, Steve McQueen’s highly-anticipated drama 12 Years A Slave.

The R-rated slave narrative, McQueen’s 3rd feature, boasts a rather impressive cast of actors, including: Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Solomon Northup, the star of the film and whose story it tells), Michael FassbenderRuth Negga, Adepero OduyeAlfre WoodardLupita Nyong’oPaul DanoBenedict CumberbatchScoot McNairyGarret DillahuntBrad PittMichael K. Williams Paul GiamattiSarah Paulson and others. 

I expect it to be an awards season favorite, especially in key roles, both in front of and behind the camera, and TIFF has proven to be an early testing ground for Oscar-caliber films.

Here’s the first trailer for the film if you missed it:


MandelaLong Walk to Freedom, starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela, in a film directed by Justin Chadwick, which highlights Mandela’s early life, education and 27 years in prison. 

Likely another Oscar contender. Producers have said that the film will have an “epic sweep,” from a script written by GladiatorShadowlands and Les Miserables writer, William Nicholson.

South African stars Tony KgorogeRiaad Moosa, Zolani MkivaJamie Bartlett, Lindiwe MatshikizaDeon Lotz and Terry Pheto, round out the cast.

The film is said to be a definitive work on the life of Nelson Mandela. 

Check out the first full trailer below:


Biyi Bandele’s Half Of A Yellow Sun – a film adaptation of celebrated author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange Prize-winning novel of the same name – will make its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The long-awaited, much-anticipated film adaptation, Bandele’s feature film directorial debut, stars Thandie Newton, John BoyegaChiwetel EjioforAnika Noni RoseJoseph Mawle and Genevieve Nnaji

Described as an epic love story, here’s the official synopsis released by the film’s producers which tells us what role each starring actor will play:

… weaving together the lives of four people swept up in the turbulence of war. Olanna (Newton) and Kainene (Rose) are glamorous twins from a wealthy Nigerian family. Returning to a privileged city life in newly independent 1960s Nigeria after their expensive English education, the two women make very different choices. Olanna shocks her family by going to live with her lover, the “revolutionary professor” Odenigbo (Ejiofor) and his devoted houseboy Ugwu (Boyega) in the dusty university town of Nsukka; Kainene turns out to be a fiercely successful businesswoman when she takes over the family interests, and surprises herself when she falls in love with Richard (Mawle) an English writer. Preoccupied by their romantic entanglements, and a betrayal between the sisters, the events of their life loom larger than politics. However, they become caught up in the events of the Nigerian civil war, in which the lgbo people fought an impassioned struggle to establish Biafra an independent republic, ending in chilling violence which shocked the entire country and the world. 

The crew includes award-winning cinematographer John de Borman (An EducationThe Full Monty), production designer Andrew McAlpine (BAFTA winner for The Piano), and Grammy and Ivor Novello nominated artist and composer Ben Onono and RTS award winning Composer Paul Thomson are composing original music for the film.

Half Of A Yellow Sun is a film we’ve been looking forward to all year, wondering when and where it would eventually debut, after one high profile film festival after the next, came and went, but no Half Of A Yellow Sun sightings. 

So now we look to TIFF.

Here’s its first trailer… finally (as an aside, 2013 should be a big year for Chiwetel Ejiofor):

nullAll Is By My Side, another high-profile film based on the life of a real-life person that we’ve been following, that’s been burdened with controversy since it started production, will also make its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

This is the Andre Benjamin Jimi Hendrix project that didn’t have the approval of Jimi Hendrix’s estate to use any of the musician’s original songs, with reps for the estate accusing the filmmakers of moving forward with the project without their official permission. 

That didn’t stop the production of the film, however, which was shot last summer in Ireland.

The film will be free of all Hendrix-written classics like Purple Haze or The Wind Cries Mary, because of rights issues, and the producers actually set the film in “Hendrix’s pre-fame era,” as they said, and the music used will be covers of other musicians’ songs Hendrix performed.

This is the second feature film on this list that was scripted by John Ridley. He also adapted 12 Years A Slave.

He’s writer AND director in of this particular film.

Now we wait for that first trailer…


South African filmmaker Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s Of Good Report, which debuted to controversy at the 34th Durban International Film Festival (DIFF), in Durban, South Africa, in July.

Following the refusal to classify the film, citing that it “promotes child abuse & pornography,” the South African Film and Publications Board reversed their decision and gave the film the US equivalent of an R-rating. 

DIFF manager Peter Machen awarded the film a newly-created annual award for Artistic Bravery. 

Described as an homage to classic film noir, Of Good Report tells the story of a demented school teacher’s attempts to get away with the brutal murder of a teenage beauty queen. 

The filmmaker calls it a “serial killer origins story about how a social misfit turns into an inadequate man hell-bent on satisfying his shameful lust. It is Little Red Riding Hood, told from the wolf’s perspective.

TIFF, where it’ll screen next, says Of Good Report is “superbly filmed in black and white,” and that it “takes us well out of our comfort zones with the boldness of an artistic and political maverick. Audiences should be forewarned: the film’s depictions of Sithole’s crimes and their aftermath is heavy viewing that may disturb even seasoned cinema-goers, and is bound to jolt and to challenge usually complacent representations of South African — and universal — morality.

Mothusi Magano stars in the film, along with Petronella Tshuma

It’s produced by Mike Auret and Luzuko Dilima (Spier Films).

Here’ the first full trailer for the film:

nullThe Venezuelan drama Bad Hair (Pelo Malo), written and directed by Mariana Rondon, which centers on a 9-year old boy’s obsession with straightening his own hair, which elicits “a tidal wave of homophobic panic in his hard-working mother.

As Vanessa noted in her previous profile of the film, what’s interesting about it, from it’s longer synopsis is how the filmmaker seems to interweave issues of sexual and racial identity – homophobia and racism – through the eyes of a young boy and his racially diverse family.  

In Bad Hair, Junior (Samuel Lange) is harboring a fantasy of becoming a long-haired singer. The boy’s black grandmother (Nelly Ramos) seems to encourage her grandson. Conflict arises when Junior’s mother – who panics at the thought of her son becoming gay – “sets out to “correct” Junior’s condition before it fully takes hold.

Here’s a full synopsis, courtesy of TIFF:

Junior (Samuel Lange) is a beautiful nine year- old boy, with big brown eyes, a delicate frame, and a head of luxurious dark curls. But Junior aches to straighten those curls, to acquire a whole new look befitting his emerging fantasy image of himself as a long-haired singer. As the opportunity approaches to have his photo taken for the new school year, that ache turns into a fiery longing. Junior’s mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo), is barely hanging on. The father of her children has died, she recently lost her job as a security guard, and she now struggles to put a few arepas on the table for Junior and his baby brother. She loves her kids, would endure almost anything for them, but she cannot abide Junior’s preening and fussing over his appearance. The boy’s grandmother (Nelly Ramos), however, encourages and nurtures his behaviour; even though she knows why he visits the same newsstand every morning — the one tended by a handsome, slick young man. Junior doesn’t even know yet what it means to be gay, but the very notion prompts Marta to set out to “correct” Junior’s condition before it fully takes hold. 

Watch the trailer below:


Amma Asante’s period drama Belle – a period drama about the trials and tribulations of a mixed-race girl, in the 1700s – will make its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

It stars Gugu Mbatha-RawMiranda RichardsonTom Wilkinson, Sarah GadonSam Claflin, and Matthew Goode

The story takes place in the 1780s, and is based on a true story – specifically, the true story of Dido Belle, a mixed-race woman raised as an aristocrat in 18th-century England. It follows Belle, adopted into an aristocratic family, who faces class and color prejudices. As she blossoms into a young woman, she develops a relationship with a vicar’s son who is an advocate for slave emancipation. 

Her full name was Dido Elizabeth Belle, born 1761, died 1804; she was the illegitimate daughter of John Lindsay (a white British Naval officer) and an African slave woman known only as Belle

Mbatha-Raw is of course playing the lead role. 

Tom Felton (from the Harry Potter movies), Sam Reid (playing Belle’s love interest), James Norton and Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) co-star.

Misan Sagay penned the script; Damian Jones produced.

And now the wait for the film’s first trailer begins…


We featured their last production, U-Carmen, an adaptation of perhaps the world’s most-loved opera, Bizet’s Carmen, and to follow that acclaimed film, the internationally acclaimed South African Theater CompanyIsango Ensemble, is re-imagining another operatic work, this time, Benjamin Britten’s 1957 piece, Noye’s Fludde.

Director Mark Dornford-May (who made his feature film debut with U-Carmen) helmed the project previously titled Unogumbe, but will now retain the title of Britten’s original opera, which is a medieval retelling of the Noah’s Ark story.

The film stars stars Pauline Malefane, who also starred in U-Carmen, playing the lead role, updated to “Mrs Noah,” in a work that’s described as a complete reworking of Britten’s original opera piece.

True to form and following our Berlinale winner UCarmen eKhayelitsha and Sundance hit Son of Man, the Isango company have come up with a thoroughly engaging and wonderfully entertaining piece of work,” said producer Film & Music Entertainment’s Mike Downey.

The film stars Khayelitsha Township-based theatre company Isango Ensemble. 

Here’s how TIFF describes it:

This modern adaptation of a Benjamin Britten one-act opera on the myth of Noah’s flood is sung entirely in Xhosa, with South African opera star Pauline Malefane as Noah, and is a striking metaphor for man’s inhumanity to man. A stunning feat from a troupe whose U-Carmen eKhayelitsha won the Golden Bear at Berlin in 2005.

Making its World Premiere at TIFF next month, here’s your first look at Noye’s Fludde, via a trailer:

nullFrom director René Sampaio comes an action/drama titled Brazilian Western (Faroeste Caboclo), in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the festival.

Here’s how TIFF describes it:

Loosely based on legendary Brasilia rock band Legiao Urbana’s seminal folk song, René Sampaio’s lyrical, fable-like debut feature follows a young man from the provinces who decides to try his luck in the capital, where he falls in with a rough crowd — and falls for a senator’s daughter.

The film stars Fabrício Boliveira, Isis Valverde, Felipe Abib, Antônio Calloni, and Flavio Bauraqui.

A trailer follows below (although it’s not subtitled in English). 


Titled iNumber Number, the violent action/drama from South African filmmaker Donovan Marsh (his third feature directorial effort), stars Sdumo Mtshali, Presley Chweneyagae, Israel Makoe, Hlubi Mboya, and Owen Sejake.

Here’s a synopsis:

When Chili Ngcobo, an honest but ambitious undercover cop, is cheated out of a major reward by his corrupt superiors, he infiltrates a cash-in-transit heist gang, and instead of busting them, he decides to participate in a one off score. He must face off against his partner who refuses to let him do it and one of the gang members who recognizes him as a cop.

The film is set to make its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this month. 

TIFF calls it action-packed and adroitly-written and directed by Marsh, with an oddball cast that provides some comic relief.

Watch the gritty trailer below:


From German filmmaker Tom Tykwer (Run Lola, Run, Perfume) via his alternative film production company, One Fine Day Films, which he co-founded in 2008 with his girlfriend/partner, Marie Steinmann, with the goal being to promote and support filmmaking for aspiring filmmakers in Nairobi (Kenya), with Nairobi-based producing partners Ginger Ink.  

S&A has covered every film that’s been developed under the One Fine Day Films banner – Soul Boy, from director Hawa Essuman (which had its official world premiere at the Göteborg International Film Festival in Sweden, in February 2010; later screened at the Rotterdam Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, and the Africa Diaspora Film Festival here in New York, among others); and, most recently, the crime drama titled Nairobi Half Life, from director David Tosh Gitonga, which made its world premiere at the Durban International Film Festival in South Africa last month, where its star, Joseph Wairimu, won the Best Actor award, was generally very well received. We look for it to continue its film festival travels, and hopefully get a theatrical or at least home video, VOD release here in the USA.

The company’s upcoming 3rd feature film project, in collaboration with Ginger Ink, Something Necessary, scheduled to screen at TIFF next month, will introduce us to the talents of yet another Kenyan filmmaker, Judy Kibinge; although, for some familiar with her work, it’ll be more like a re-introduction, because she’s made 2 feature films already – one in 2002 titled Dangerous Affair, and the other in 2004 titled Project Daddy. Unfortunately, neither appears to be readily available for rent or purchase here in the USA… yet.

From a screenplay written by Mungai Kiroga and JC Niala, the synopsis for Something Necessary reads:

SOMETHING NECESSARY is an intimate moment in the life of Anne, a woman struggling to rebuild her life after the civil unrest that swept Kenya after the 2007 elections claiming the life of her husband, the health of her son and leaving her home on an isolated farm in the Kenyan countryside in ruins. Once a nurse, with a solid career and loving family, she now has nothing but her resolve to rebuild her life left. Joseph, a troubled young gang member who participated in the countrywide violence is drawn to Anne and her farm seemingly in search of redemption. Both he and Anne need something that only the other can give to allow them to shed the painful memories of their past and move on – but will either of them find it?

Tom Tykwer, Marie Steinmann, Sarika Lakhani, Ginger Wilson & Guy Wilson are all listed as producers on the film, set to screen at TIFF.

Here’s the film’s first trailer:


The feature film debut of French/Senegalese director Dyana Gaye, whose short film, the vibrant, unorthodox musical Saint Louis Blues, was one of 5 projects selected, financed and produced under the Focus Features Africa First program (she was part of the very first class, announced in 2008).

Titled Des Etoiles (or, in English, Under the Starry Sky), the project was one of 22 selected for the annual Co-production Village, which ran from December 11-13, 2011 at the 3rd Les Arcs European Film Festival; then it was announced as one of 5 debut feature film projects selected at the last 2011 session of the second advance on receipts committee of the National Film and Moving Image Centre (CNC); and most recently, it was one of 15 projects selected for the Cannes L’Atelier last year – an initiative which runs during the Cannes Film Festival aimed at finding financing for projects by upcoming directors that are in an advanced state of development.

Shot much earlier this year the film’s synopsis reads:

Over one winter, through the cities of Dakar, Torino and New York, we follow the exiled paths of several interconnected characters. For her husband’s funeral, New Yorker Mame Amy returns to Dakar with her 19-year-old son Thierno, who takes his first ever steps on African soil. Sophie, 24-years-old, leaves Dakar for Torino to join her husband Abdoulaye. He is missing. Abdoulaye has just arrived in New York with his cousin through an organisation of clandestine migrants. As the days go by, their destinies begin to echo one another, through the diversity of the cities they are crossing, somehow all united under the same starry sky.

Its cast includes Souleymane Seye N’Diaye (from fellow Senegalese Moussa Toure’s The Pirogue), Babacar M’Baye Fall, Ralph Amoussou, Italian actress Maya SansaMata Gabin, 
Andreï Zayats and Marième Demba Ly.

Des Etoiles’ Gaye co-wrote the script with Cécile Vargaftig.

The film is being produced by Arnaud Dommerc for Andolfi Production, in a co-production effort with Centrale Electrique, Cinekap (Senegal), MG Productions (Belgium), as well as the Groupama Gan Foundation for the Cinema, the Fond Francophone de Production Audiovisuelle du Sud and the Procirep.

It’s feels like it’s been a long journey. I’m excited for this, given what I know of Dyana Gaye’s past work.

No trailer yet.


First revealed last summer (2012), the Jay-Z documentary from the super tag-team (director/producer) Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, will make its World Premiere at the upcoming Toronto International Film Festival, in its “Mavericks” section.

Titled Made in America, the film was shot, in part, during Jay-Z’s Made In America music festival in Philadelphia, last September, which included (in the lineup) DrakeSantigoldPearl Jam, Run-DMC, Skrillex, Rick Ross, Miike Snow, Odd FutureJanelle Monáe, and a few others.

Grazer, who’s producing via his Imagine Entertainment (along with Participant Media and Radical Media) previously shared that the film will be told through Jay-Z’s perspective – as in… how he put the Made In America event together, and more.

How much more? Here’s TIFF’s breakdown:

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Ron Howard joins us onstage for a live conversation, preceded by the world premiere of his star-studded concert documentary (screening at the Festival alongside Howard’s Rush), which recounts Jay Z’s rise to rap supremacy, as well as his preparations for the titular music festival he both curated and headlined […] Drawn from an enormous trove of performance footage and backstage interviews, Made in America captures the inaugural edition of an exciting new festival created by rapper and impresario Jay Z, which rocked Philadelphia over Labour Day weekend last year. In keeping with his excellent and eclectic taste, Jay Z’s extraordinary hand-picked lineup speaks to his broad and inclusive view of American culture […] As seen through Howard’s affectionate gaze, Made in America is a love letter not only to Jay Z and his unique project, but also to the city of Philadelphia. Fascinating interludes include one-on-ones with audience members about what the show means to the Philly community — the responses are both positive and negative. Howard explores the birthplace of American Independence and how it relates to this unprecedented event. He even takes some time to follow a local hip-hop group through its attempt to get added to the prestigious bill.

Last year, Grazer added, “Jay stayed the king for a very long time… I can’t even begin to explain how he is capable of remaining relevant. He is a phenom, like a musical Michael Jordan.

Ahead of the film’s world premiere, a first trailer for it is embedded below:


Screening in the festival’s “Discovery” section is Tommy Oliver’s feature film debut, 1982.

The drama is based on a true story that revolves around a black father whose wife suffers from a crack cocaine addiction, and his efforts to protect his 10-year old daughter from having to experience life as the child of a drug addicted mother, while also trying to help her (the mother/his wife) become clean again.

The story is set in 1982 (hence the title) in Philadelphia, at the very onset of the crack epidemic, and stars Hill HarperSharon LealBokeem WoodbineLala AnthonyQuinton Aaron, with Wayne Brady and Ruby Dee.

Principal photography took place in Philly last summer, with Tommy Oliver directing from his own screenplay, as well as producing, along with Hill Harper and Heather Rae

This will be the film’s World Premiere.

No trailer yet.

nullIn The Battle of Tabatô, first-time feature director João Viana explores “music, magic and post-colonial angst” in Guinea-Bissau

The story centers on Fatu, who teaches at the local university, who is about to get married to a well-known musician in Tabatô, a village where everyone makes music. Her father has returned home to Guinea-Bissau from Portugal to attend her wedding but on the way there, it becomes apparent that his return has unearthed the buried trauma of his experiences as a soldier in the colonial war decades earlier. 

A former Portuguese colony, Guinea-Bissau (not to be confused with its neighboring Guinea) won its independence from the European country in 1973. 

There isn’t much of what I’d call a thriving filmmaking community/industry in Guinea-Bissau, with Flora Gomes (who’s made some 7 films) likely being the country’s most prominent filmmaker. 

Director Viana’s low-budget contribution (also the filmmaker’s feature film debut), The Battle of Tabatô, is said to have been a labor of love – further described as a raw, luminescent gem of a film that helps shift the discourse of filmmaking in Africa.

The film is currently traveling the international film festival circuit, with a playdate set for the Toronto International Film Festival next.

Check out the visually-intriguing trailer below, which, unfortunately, isn’t subtitled in English:


According to TIFF’s write-up, the film is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in the Dominican Republic.

Directed by Leticia Tonos Paniagua, and titled Cristo Rey, the drama follows the relationship between a kind-hearted teenager, ostracized for his mixed Haitian-Dominican descent, and the beautiful sister of a local drug kingpin he’s hired to protect.

Cristo Rey stars James Saintil, Akari Endo, and Yasser Michelén, and will be making its World Premiere at TIFF next month.

If director Paniagua’s name is familiar, it may be because, last summer, we profiled her last film, La Hija Natural (Love Child), when it was set to be the Centerpiece film at the Caribbean Tales Film Showcase in Toronto.

A graduate of the London Film School, Leticia Tonos says she’s more interested in posing questions than making statements, and especially prefers tackling social issues.

Cristo Rey is her second feature directorial effort.

Watch its trailer below:


Screening in the TIFF Docs sidebar (formerly called Reel to Real) is The Square (Al Midan) from director Jehane Noujaim.

A recipient of the Sundance Institute’s Documentary Film Program and Fund (DFP) and a grant from Chicken and Egg Pictures, Jehane Noujaim’s The Square, follows a short line of recent documentaries (that we know of and have covered) that center on the ongoing struggle of the Egyptian Revolution, through the fall of Morsi recently. It follows its young protagonists on their life-changing journeys through the euphoria of victory, into the uncertainties and dangers of the ‘transitional period’ under military rule.

Director Noujaim’s previous work (which she co-directed with Mona Eldaief), a documentary titled Solar Mamas, was a BBC Storyville selection last year – one off 8 ground-breaking international documentaries that screened in November in 180 countries, that explored why, in the 21st century, 1 billion people still live in poverty.

The Square is produced by Karim Amer and executive produced by Geralyn Dreyfous, Sarah Johnson, Mike Lerner, and Jodie Evans.

Watch a preview of The Square below:

nullFrom Portuguese director Inês Oliveira comes a drama titled Bobô – a film produced by Portugal-based production house, David&Golias

The film follows a woman named Sofia, who lives alone in an old family apartment, and who, at the request of her mother, hires Mariama, a young Guinean, to help take care of the house and her son. The Bobô in the title is Mariama’s younger sister, who is facing the threat of a practice rooted in gender inequality, also known as female genital mutilation. With Sofia wanting to leave the cocoon she’s locked herself in, and Mariama’s worries about her younger sister, the two women make a connection that forces them to confront their individual ghosts, and eventually join to fight a common cause.

Scheduled to next screen at the Toronto International Film Festival (making its international premiere), the drama stars Paula Garcia, Aissato Indjai, Luana Quadé, Bia Gomes, Ângelo Torres, Maria João Luís, and Ricardo Aibéo.

Here’s how TIFF summarizes the story:

In Lisbon, two women from different worlds — a privileged architectural illustrator and a cheerful housekeeper from the city’s Guinean community — join together to save a young Guinean girl from ritual genital mutilation, in this sensitive and intimate second feature from immensely talented Portuguese director Inês Oliveira.

As defined by the WHO, Female genital mutilation (FGM) comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. While a traditional practice/rite of passage in numerous countries, FGM is recognized internationally as a violation of the human rights of girls and women. It reflects deep-rooted inequality between the sexes, and constitutes an extreme form of discrimination against women. It is nearly always carried out on children, and is a violation of the rights of children. 

It’s been a much-discussed topic, and has been tackled numerous times on film – primarily documentaries. The late great Ousmane Sembene’s heartfelt Moolaadé is one recent fictional, scripted feature film that dealt directly with FGM. The film argues strongly against the practice, and is essentially a call for action, a call for change, an abandoning of what an age-old, brutal tradition.

Watch a trailer for Inês Oliveira’s Bobô below (unfortunately it’s not subtitled in English):


The Finnish/Swedish drama Heart of a Lion, directed by Dome Karuskoski (Lapland Odyssey), will premiere at TIFF as part of its Contemporary World Cinema program.

Lion, described as a “redemption story about the seemingly irredeemable” in the Festival’s website, centers around Teppo (Peter Franzen) a racist and leader of a skinhead gang, who, after discovering that the woman he falls for has a son (Yusufa Sidibeh) who is of African descent, finds himself challenging his own values and loyalties for the desire of love and a family. 

See more about the film below:

Set against the rise of far-right, ultranationalist groups in Europe, Dome Karukoski’s Heart of a Lion is a redemption story about the seemingly irredeemable: the leader of a ramshackle gang of racist skinheads who finds his prejudices and misplaced loyalties challenged by his desire for love and a family.

While loitering in a café one day, Teppo (Peter Franzén) hits it off with the waitress, Sari (Laura Birn, one of Finland’s most versatile young actors); he goes home with her, only to be abruptly, inexplicably tossed out in the morning. But Teppo refuses to give up, returning the next day, and soon meets Sari’s son Rhamu, who, it turns out, is of partly African heritage. When Sari falls ill, Teppo agrees to look after Rhamu, struggling with his own bigotry while hiding his relationship with the boy from his fellow skinheads. That is until his violence-prone brother Harri shows up, and Teppo is forced to make some life-changing decisions.

Watch the teaser clip below, in which Teppo meets his girlfriend’s son Rhamu, and offers him a banana.

nullMati Diop’s next film, Mille soleils (A Thousand Suns), explores the legacy of the seminal 1972 film, Touki Bouki, made by her uncle, the late Senegalese auteur, Djibril Diop Mambety.

It’s not quite feature length – more like a very long short film running at 45 minutes. But I thought it was worthy of a mention on this list of features.

In the film, Diop journeys in search of her origins through the footprints left by her uncle’s film, and along the way gets to know Touki Bouki‘s two main actors, thirty five years later.

Based on his own story and script, Djibril Diop Mambéty reportedly made Touki Bouki with a $30,000 budget. Often compared to films of the French New Wave, Mambety puts his stamp on a film that incorporates stylistic flourishes that were considered uncharacteristic of most African films at the time. The film both highlights and struggles with the hybridization of Senegal.

Mati’s exploration of Touki Bouki should be an interesting watch. I don’t believe a documentary has ever been made that celebrates the film, and considers its legacy, given its significance in African cinema history.It’s a film (and I could name several others) that really deserves a proper restoration and re-release in HD, preserving but also reintroducing it to new generations, and those who are just not aware of it.

No trailer for Mille Soleils yet, but I’ll be on the look-out for it.

Screening as part of TIFF’s documentary lineup, in the festival’s Doc Sidebar, is Mission Congo directed by David Turner and Lara Zizic

Synopsis reads:

Death, diamonds and greed. A charismatic US businessman pursues an irresistible opportunity during one of the worst humanitarian crises of modern times.

Prior to Mission Congo, the filmmakers spent several months in Eastern Congo, filming the efforts of two teenage boys who created a unique project, called the Children’s Parliamentrun exclusively for children and by children – children who have made it their mission to defend the rights of other Congolese children and young adults. 

Issues such as sexual abuse within schools, accusations of witchcraft and incest are just some of the cases that the Children’s Parliament confronts.

But from what I’m told, there’s more than meets the eye with regards to this film.

No trailer for this one yet either.


And finally… titled A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, according to TIFF, it’s the first feature-film collaboration between celebrated artist-filmmakers Ben Rivers (Two Years at Sea) and Ben Russell (Let Each One Go Where He May), which follows a nameless protagonist (played by musician Robert AA Lowe) as he explores 3 very different existential options: as a member of a commune on a small Estonian island; living alone in the breathtaking wilds of northern Finland; and fronting a neo-pagan black metal band in Norway.

A staple in the art and music community of Chicago, Robert A.A. Lowe joined up with the 90 Day Men in 1997, formed Dreamweapon with members of Town and Country, and started creating solo work under the moniker Lichens, in the 2000s, recording solo and with several collaborators.

A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness will make its North American premiere at TIFF next month.

Watch the trance-inducing trailer below:


And that’s it! 22 feature films of the diaspora, that will screen at the Toronto International Film Festival, which runs from September 5 to 15, 2013.

Wish I was there this year; the lineup overall (not just the diaspora films) looks very strong! Alas, I won’t be there. But I’m looking forward to reading Zeba’s coverage.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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