“Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story”
10th annual African Diaspora Film Festival
When: Through Thursday
Where: Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton
Tickets: $9; opening night, $15
Info: (773) 281-4114 or facets.org
Updated: July 16, 2012 6:11AM
For its 10th anniversary, the African Diaspora International Film Festival salutes the 100th anniversary of the African National Congress by screening two South African dramas with historic dimensions. “Come Back, Africa” (1959), shown in a restored print and co-sponsored by the South African consulate in Chicago, takes its title from an African National Congress slogan. Also scheduled is a reprise of “Nothing But the Truth” (2008), shown at the 2010 festival.
For this annual event, Facets Cinematheque draws on black independent films from New York distributor ArtMattan Productions. Under the rubric of diaspora, the weeklong series offers an international lineup with African links: a Canadian documentary about Cuban rappers; a profile of the Afro-Brazilian exile Abdia do Nascimento, a 1976 Suriname/Netherlands co-production, and a 2010 documentary about that film’s director, Pim de la Parra.
Some screenings include discussions and receptions. Laurens Grant, director of the PBS documentary “Jesse Owens,” will appear with three daughters of the late Olympian runner. Switzerland’s consulate general in Chicago will host a cocktail reception before “Taxiphone,” a drama about a Swiss couple stuck in the Sahara on the way to Timbuktu.
Only seven of the 14 dramas and documentaries were made available for preview, but that sampling is sufficient to recommend many titles in the lineup:
6:30 p.m., “Welcome to Pine Hill”: The festival’s opening-night film includes a reception and a Facets Film Dialogue with producer, writer and director Keith Miller. He appears in the film’s opening scene: a black man and a white man argue over who owns a puppy. That real-life incident in Brooklyn inspired Miller’s 2010 short film, in which he and Shannon Harper play themselves. They return in this beautifully crafted first feature about an insurance claims adjuster (Harper) with a past life as a drug dealer. A dire forecast leads him to a hiking trail in upstate New York. This fine character study offers a quiet existential crisis. (Also screening at 5 p.m. Sunday at the regular $9 admission.)
4 p.m. “Nothing But the Truth”: South African actor-writer John Kani directs the screen adaptation of his 2002 play about a 63-year-old assistant librarian in South Africa. Kani also stars as Sipho, who feels he earned a promotion after four decades of service. But he puts aside his feelings to deal with the repatriated ashes of his famous anti-apartheid brother who just died in exile. A big family secret emerges. Bonding ensues between Sipho’s brassy niece, a fashion designer from England, and his proper daughter, a translator at the nation’s truth and reconciliation proceedings. This conventional melodrama with political syllabus and obvious stage roots is nonetheless a worthy recap of recent history as personal memory.
4 p.m., “Come Back, Africa”: American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin follows up his “On the Bowery” (1956) with a similar black-and-white drama/documentary hybrid, released in 1959, about a hard life in a big city. Evading authorities, Rogosin shot in downtown Johannesburg, where black buskers perform on the street for mixed crowds and “The Prisoner of Zenda” plays in a movie theater. A first-time actor from Zululand plays a man seeking work under apartheid. Partly set in the black township Sophiatown, this revealing experiment in urban sociology includes talk by local intellectuals and songs by activist Miriam Makeba. (Also, 8:30 p.m. Thursday)
3 p.m.. “Filling the Gap”: Tyrone Young directs an audio-visual unit made for children about Black History Month. Re-enactors and costumed amateurs re-create vignettes set in slavery times and the Civil War. The designing, acting, directing and scoring are pretty bad throughout. That said, I was intrigued by every single inventor, carpenter, potter, engineer, seamstress and spy celebrated here. (Also, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday)
6:30 p.m., “The Big Banana”: “This reality does not appear in marketing brochures” notes this diligent if routine documentary by Franck Bieleu. Back in his native Cameroon, this London-trained filmmaker exposes a litany of corporate crimes in the global banana industry. His main target is the French/American grower and distributor Plantation du Haut Penja. Political corruption and pesticides despoil the local landscape. The only fix is increasing the awareness of shoppers in grocery aisles worldwide. This film, however, only begins the groundwork.
6:30 p.m., “The First Rasta”: Recent documentaries about reggae showing here include “Marley,” “Made in Jamaica” and “The Upsetter: The Life and Music of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.” All touch upon the Rastafarians, an indigenous Afrocentric cult using ganja as a sacrament. Co-directors Christophe Farnarier and Helene Lee, who wrote a 1999 book on founder Leonard Percival Howell, round up elderly followers for their recollections. But the best part of this informative documentary is the masterful use of archival footage to trace Howell’s far-flung travels as a sailor. He met anarchists, bolsheviks and psychoanalysts, along with Langston Hughes and Marcus Garvey, on his visionary path.
8:30 p.m., “Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story”: Director Yousry Nasrallah and writer Wahid Hamid portray a television personality whose pro-women show upsets men in power. “Women, oppression, virginity, marriage — it’s all politics,” she tells her talk-show staff. Her husband slams her show as “disgusting, repulsive and depraved,” and blames her “stubbornness, stupidity and selfishness” for derailing his career at a government-run newspaper. She is modeled after the storytelling heroine of One Thousand and One Nights, as are the three stories she puts on the air. A fourth will be her own. A soap-opera style, however, blurs this timely political take on contemporary Cairo.
Bill Stamets is a locally based free-lance writer and critic.