Saturday February 16 2013

Festival for films and art from Africa

By Billie Odidi

A cowboy in Namibia is beaten and left for dead in the vast desert. He was protecting an innocent frontier woman from a trans-national gang of brutal land grabbers. However, things change when he is rescued by a mysterious gunman who has reasons of his own to sort out the gang.

This 13-minute movie, African Cowboy shot entirely in Namibia. It is among a host of African films being showcased at the 21st Pan-African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF), America’s largest and most prestigious Black film event that opened on February 14 in Los Angeles, California. There is a wide range of productions being screened from Kenya, Egypt, South Africa, Senegal and Uganda.

It is written, directed and produced by English filmmaker, Rodney Charles andNamibian, Joel Haikali, who also plays the lead role along with South African actress and singer, Charlie Charles.

A South African film is nominated for Best Feature Film. Otelo Burning is set in 1989 during the anti-apartheid struggle and three black South African boys escape their lives in the township of Lamontville, Durban, through the joy of surfing.

Teenage rivalry, love and politics combine to make for this powerful narrative, which took seven years to complete and is shot in Zulu with English subtitles. Director Sara Bletcher says the themes in the film are a metaphor for a nation grappling with its own freedom.

A film about Uganda’s tumultuous political past is also being screened. State Research Bureau, a full-length film, directed by Matt Bish, is loosely based on the tumultuous events in Uganda during and after the reign of the dictator, Idi Amin.

In the film, set in 1985, a couple that escapes the brutal massacre of civilians by soldiers in the Ugandan town of Arua reaches Kampala but are intercepted on their way out of the country by the dreaded Captain Yusuf who runs a unit as ruthless as the Amin’s infamous secret police. Every minute that passes draws the couple closer to their death and they must escape one of the so-called safe houses before it is too late.

The all Ugandan cast includes Roger Masaba as the blood thirsty Capt. Yusuf, Joel Okuyo Atiku Prince who won the Best Actor Award at the Zanzibar International Festival for his role in the film, Cleopatra Koheirwe and Matthew Nabwiso.

The 37-year-old director, graduated with a degree in Architecture at Makerere University, Kampala, before studying digital film in the Netherlands in 1998. Bish started his career producing television commercials and music videos before making his first full-length film Battle of the Souls in 2006.

The PAFF screening offers another international showcase for State Research Bureau after the film’s success at festivals like Amakula in Kampala and ZIFF in Zanzibar.

Nairobi Half Life, one of the most successful films produced in Kenya, albeit with German assistance, is another highlight at PAFF this year.

The story of an aspiring actor who travels to the big city in search of his big break only to turn to a life of crime even as he tries to pursue his dream of becoming an actor has already been successful at Rotterdam, Berlin, Durban, Toronto and other major international film festivals.

The screening of David Tosh Gitonga’s directorial debut at PAFF comes just ahead of the film’s release in 100 movie theatres across the United States in March.