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Voices from beyond resound in African Diaspora Film Festival

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When: Friday to June 20

Where: Facets Cinematheque, 1517 W. Fullerton

Admission: $9; $15 for opening night


Updated: July 15, 2013 2:40PM

The 11th annual African Diaspora International Film Festival showcases works by Africans and focuses on their experiences on other continents. Co-presented by Facets Cinematheque and the New York distributor ArtMattan, this weeklong series offers 14 far-flung dramas and documentaries with a distinctly global perspective.

Sponsored by the Center for Black Diaspora at DePaul University, the festival opens Friday with a 6:30 p.m. reception and a 7:30 p.m. screening of “African Independence,” followed by a discussion of that pan-African documentary with director Tukufu Zuberi. This Philadelphia prof of African studies and race relations got his sociology Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, but gets PBS props as a host on “History Detectives.” Special admission for the evening is $15.

Migrant sagas include “Borders” (2002) by Mostefa Djadjam. Music crosses seas in two documentaries: Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour traces the roots of jazz and slavery in “Return to Goree” (2007) by Pierre-Yves Borgeaud, and Frantz Voltaire’s “Maestro Issa Saieh” profiles that artist as the importer of jazz and Cuban music to Haiti.

Born in Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn, Patrice Johnson Chevannes is the writer, director and star of “Hill and Gully” (2011), which is set in the summer of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign as a single mom confronts issues of anger, alogia and agoraphobia.

Capsules of films available for preview follow. English subtitles accompany films not in English.


4:30 p.m., “Here We Drown Algerians”: This 2011 documentary from France is a detailed recounting of the infamous Oct. 17, 1961, Paris march for Algerian independence, organized by the National Liberation Front. The title comes from an anti-Algerian graffiti on a bridge 11 days later. Director Yasmina Adi tries to tally the scores of corpses pulled from the Seine. She interviews no former police officers under the notorious chief Maurice Papon, although recordings of police radio calls add their voices, or re-creations based on transcripts. This painstaking investigation complements “Outside the Law,” Rachid Bouchareb’s drama about the same events (which screened at the Music Box in 2011).


2 p.m., “Seasons of a Life”: A 16-year-old housemaid in Malawi is impregnated by her married employer who later adopts their son with his infertile and unaware wife. The teen goes to law school and gets custody six years later, then makes a surprising, Solomon-inspired decision. Director C. Shemu Joyah’s 2008 drama suffers from weak acting and editing. Nonetheless, the finale of this feminist melodrama is quite touching.

4 p.m., “Legends of Madagascar”: Haminiaina Ratovoarivony writes, directs and edits a spirited road trip story full of nationalist uplift. A thief on the run, a sociology student, an underground reggae DJ and an Indo-Pakistani runaway pack into a Mini-Cooper with an image of Che Guevera painted on the hood. From the capital they drive along a raging orange-colored river to the wild coast, encountering corrupt soldiers and a Japanese geologist preaching the gospel. This entertaining 2012 indie boasts curious scenery and social commentary. Also, 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.

6:30 p.m., “The Pirogue”: Screened last year in Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival, this powerful Senegal/France/Germany co-production shows the diaspora in action along the Atlantic Ocean. In director Moussa Toure’s an adaptation of a 2008 novella by Abasse Ndione, job seekers board a fishing pirogue bound for Spain. Sharing the bill is “Objection 6,” a first-person perspective short by Rolando Colla about a Nigerian asylum-seeker who died during deportation from Switzerland in 2010. The Consulate General of Switzerland sponsors a pre-screening reception at 5:30 p.m. Also, 6 p.m. Wednesday.


8:30 p.m., “Tango MacBeth”: Nadine M. Patterson directs this flawed project in which she appears on camera directing “Macbeth” in a Philadelphia theater. “It’s a play, inside a documentary, inside a film!” touts the film’s confused tagline. Rehearsals are shot in black and white and in color for no reason of interest. Behind the scenes drama includes firing a disobedient Macbeth. This does not work as a verite or a revisionist exercise, but it informs us that the word “tango” comes from the Congo.


6:30 p.m., “Mestizo”: Uruguayan director Mario Handler’s 1989 version of a 1942 novel by Venezuelan writer Guillermo Meneses is an outdated, overheated identity tale. A black woman and a white landowner fight over their sensitive, insecure son. He wants to be a poet or maybe a fisherman, but ultimately heads to the big city to study law. Worth overlooking, I’d say.

Bill Stamets is a Chicago-based free-lance writer and reviewer.

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