By Karama Ogova
Published January 22, 2011
Conventional wisdom states that short films should be experimental and carry playful, non-serious messages. But that may be so till one sees the second compilation of AFRIQUE TOUS COURTS/Short(s) of Africa that focuses on Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Compiled by Africalia of Belgium in 2009 with the assistance of African and Belgian film festivals, these 13 films by mainly budding contemporary filmmakers not only bring to the fore the beauty of the African cinema but also contain hard-hitting messages. KARAMA OGOVA writes.
The themes of the 13 shorts range from the frustration, torture and murder visited on the trusting and innocent populace by politicians to the importance of preserving African cultures and traditions and to the deep regret encountered by Africans who migrate to the Western world in the hope of finding better prospects in life only to end up with shattered dreams. To their horror, they discover that life in Africa is often better than being out there.
BON VOYAGE , a film by Tanzanian Kapwani Kiwanga, revolves around a woman who reminisces on the better situation back home as she works in a toilet in Paris, France. This particular short can be used to support the idea that one does not have to go abroad to find a good job as they can lead a better life back in their mother continent, Africa.
Rwandan filmmaker Eric Kabera interestingly offers a solution to the situation highlighted by Kiwanga. In the documentary IGARE RYA RUFONSI (Alphonse’s Bicycle) he highlights the creative minds that exist among the youth in Africa. The film makes me wonder how far resourceful people like Alphonse would go if they were to received some decent education, exposure and resources. Most likely, Africa would be strides ahead in terms of technological advancement.
From Kenya, Judy Kibinge addresses the hard-hitting issue of politics. Indirectly, Kibinge questions how Kenya’s first three post-independence Presidents —Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi, Mwai Kibaki—deal with dissent or opposition. Narrated creatively by the director, COMING OF AGE is critical of the three regimes of the Kenyan government. The use of a child telling the story further brings about the sense of innocence that the public has and the faith they bestow upon their leaders who unfortunately do not live to the billing. The film has a rather simple storyline that can be followed with ease even by a child; this enhances its ability to drive the message home.
Further on ACQUITTED by Kenya-based Ethiopian Makda Tesfaladet is set in the future—2025. It is about humanity’s attempt to find a humane and less cruel way of dealing with prisoners on death row. The film offers a new meaning to the word ‘acquitted’ as this is a term used by the warden to relate to the punishment to be imposed on criminals. The subject actually is acquitted but into a different world thus eliminating them and ultimately creating more room for other prisoners.
Though the creativity in this Mohamed Amin Foundation Television and Film Training School-produced ACQUITTED is notable, there are a few setbacks in the film. For one, seeing as its setting is 2025, one would expect technological advancements in medicine and not the same old tools found in medical clinics being used in a futuristic film. Secondly, it feels as though one were watching a stage performance as the actors do not act as naturally as they should on screen. The scenes seem disjointed at some points interrupting the fluid flow of the film.
RAS STAR, an M-Net production directed by Kenya’s filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu is about a teenage rapper, who hails from a staunch Muslim family. The film follows her efforts to make money to get into the talent show finals, which include teaming up, with rather interesting sources. The main theme presented is that of encouragement. The youth, who are perceived to be the main audience are motivated to pursue their dreams no matter how hard or far away they may seem at the moment. The film has a few flaws in its script, though. For one, why does Amani need to pay for a talent show’s entrance if she is among one of the performing artistes? Further on, it is a talent show and wouldn’t it have required being free in order to incorporate all people with talents? The scenes are also a bit exaggerated especially the one where Mlandimu uses a breakdown to pull down the door where Amani and her brother have been locked in by their uncle (the door falls down even before the truck has pulled it). Despite this, the message is delivered the clearly.
Two other films, THE DANCING WIZARD by Ugandan Caroline Kamya and SMS by Kenyan Alex Kamau are used to show the effect of the western culture on Africans. The main highlights are on dancing and moral values affected.
THE DANCING WIZARD’s star, Christopher Kato, is an 80-year-old man who, despite of his advanced age, dances in ways Africans would only dream of. But his moves aren’t African but Western.
SMS shows the effect the mobile phone has on today’s generation and how it has contributed to the degenerating state of African moral values. A jury member at Uganda’s Amakula Kampala International Film Festival was once heard commenting that this short would be the ultimate winner if it were to compete at a pornographic film festival!
THE TRIP, by Tanzania’s James Gayo, is an exciting and hilarious short in which director Gayo uses this film to capture the attention of many by basing his story around Pembe and Kaniki who are on their way to a job interview. Along the way, Kaniki cannot resist the allure of a beautiful woman and ends up barging into the bathroom of a woman pledged for marriage. African culture dictates that he is the one to marry her and since he has no dowry he must find a way to escape from the enraged father and get to the bus before it leaves the duo behind. It also helps the audience to understand the importance of preserving African culture and their origin in the process of its humour. Gayo is the creator of a popular Kiswahili cartoon strip, Kingo, that causes awareness on the dangers of HIV/AIDS.
Though the 13 eastern Africa films—whose individual production dates differ—generally appeal to any audience, it appears adults are the targeted audience. Though this compilation may have been produced over the past two years old, it is definitely not outdated; it will not be surprising if you mentioned it to someone from East Africa only to find out that they have no idea that such films even exist.
For those who might not have the opportunity to watch some of these short films from the region, the Lola Kenya Screen audiovisual media festival, skill-development mentorship programme and market for children and youth in eastern Africa that holds a monthly film forum—Lola Kenya Screen Film Forum—every last Monday of the month, shall on January 31, 2011 showcase some of these shorts alongside the main show; ZEBU AND THE PHOTO FISH (2010) and MAAMA EMERRE (2008) by Kenyan Zipporah Nyaruri. ZEBU AND THE PHOTO FISH is winner of three awards–Best Director, Best Script, Best Supporting Actor–at Auteur Experimental Short Film Festival in Cape Town, South Africa.
MAAMA EMERRE was screened at the Slow Food Film Festival in Italy and thereafter commissioned for re-screening in schools and nonprofit‐making institutions in Italy in 2008/9.
Working variously as director, writer and editor, Nyaruri is an independent filmmaker who is currently editing ‘The making of’ of a feature film, BLACK BUTTERFLIES shot in South Africa. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Studies from Uganda Islamic University and a diploma from the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication.
The 43rd LKSFF shall be held at the auditorium of Goethe-Institut in Nairobi, Kenya.