Reparations, Race and Religion at 10th African Diaspora International Film Festival

August 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

This year the African Diaspora International Film Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary in Washington, DC at the Marvin Center on the campus of George Washington University. Over the course of three days, from August 19-21, the festival showed narrative and documentary feature films and short films from just about every corner of the African diaspora. The biographical documentary BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez, (2015) shared the opening night with another movie, Discipline. Noted Black Arts Movement poet Sonia Sanchez herself was in attendance together with one of the film’s directors Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, for a Q&A which was followed by a VIP reception where attendees

Sonia Sanchez (right) takes questions with the director of BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez, Sabrina Schmidt Gordon

Sonia Sanchez (right) takes questions with the director of BadddDDD Sonia Sanchez, Sabrina Schmidt Gordon

got to mingle, take photos with, and get autographs from Ms. Sanchez. The closing night films focused on celebrating the African religions still vibrant in Brazil and Cuba. Oggun, an old classic by Afro-Cuban filmmaker Gloria Rolando and Yemanja: Wisdom from the African Heart of Brazil, (2015) directed by Donna Roberts, who participated in a lively Q&A after the film’s screening. « Read the rest of this entry »

In “Baobab Flowers,” African diaspora women challenge Education Inequality

June 2, 2016 § 1 Comment

BF Still

In the ever changing world of filmmaking, from the technologies used in its creation to the way we view the end product, a few things remain constant. For artists of color the world over, especially those of African descent, one of these is the importance of telling our own stories. Brazilian filmmaker Gabriela Watson obviously takes this very seriously; in her new documentary film Baobab Flowers, she tackles the problem of education inequality from an African Diaspora perspective by following two women high school teachers in Sao Paulo, Brazil and Philadelphia, USA. It is a film that seeks to show the endemic  problem of low quality education in underserved black communities worldwide by focusing on two unrelated women who are nonetheless similar in their approach to teaching and to their relationships with their students, and also in their struggle to overcome such abject inequality. « Read the rest of this entry »

Director of Ethiopian Indie Difret on his Award-Winning Film

April 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Zeresenay Berhane Mehari introduces his film "Difret" at the AFI Silver Theatre

Zeresenay Berhane Mehari introduces his film “Difret” at the AFI Silver Theatre

It’s hard to imagine how one could see Difret, the independent film by Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, and not want to do something about the issue of violence against women and girls. That is how I felt after the award-winning film screened last month at AFI Silver Theatre as part of TransAfrica Forum’s New African Films Festival. And clearly that was part of the director’s intent. Difret recounts a landmark 1996 case in Ethiopia where a lawyer, Meaza Ashenafi, already a fearless advocate for women, takes up the defense of a young teen girl, Hirut Assefa, who has killed the man who abducted her. The practice of abducting young girls into marriage had been a tradition in Ethiopia for centuries, and Hirut’s reaction gets her condemned to death, prompting Ms. Ashenafi to become embroiled in an impassioned battle to save her life. Standing up to entrenched customs and beliefs is a courageous tack if you’re an African « Read the rest of this entry »

Gbenga Akinnagbe talks with Afrofusion TV about producing “Newlyweeds”

March 17, 2014 § 1 Comment

Gbenga Akinnagbe talks with Nzinga Blake of Afrofusion TV

Nzinga Blake interviews Gbenga Akinnagbe in Silver Spring, MD

It was a mild October night when Afrofusion met up with former host of the ABC show Culture Click Nzinga Blake at a Silver Spring, MD bar, where she was hanging out with a mutual friend.  They had just attended the premiere of a new independent film Newlyweeds, and who, perchance, should they be hobnobbing with at the bar? None other than former Wire actor Gbenga Akinnagbe, one of the producers of the film. Turns out he and Nzinga go way back to when Akinnagbe had a part on the TV series Barbershop. Naturally, we wanted to talk to him about the new movie and find out what other projects he was getting into, and Ms. Blake was naturally the one to do it! Gbenga has starred in another recent « Read the rest of this entry »

CEO of NAFCA Talks to Afrofusion TV about the African Oscars

September 13, 2013 § 1 Comment

Dr. Victor Olatoye, the CEO of the Nollywood and African Film Critics Awards (NAFCA) loves movies, but he was tired of watching Nollywood films that he thought were not up to par. So he decided that someone needed to be critiquing these films, so that directors didn’t feel like they could put out just any old tripe and call it a movie. He also wanted to acknowledge those that were putting in a serious effort to tell quality stories and make moving films. The Nollywood Film Critics USA was born out of that, and in 2011, the first NAFCA ceremony was held in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. This year, the awards event is being held at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC, on Saturday September 14. Victor Olatoye took a moment to chat with Afrofusion TV about the upcoming show, the state of « Read the rest of this entry »

African Elections on Film

March 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Why is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf still the only female head of state in the whole of Africa? The answer to that question stumps Sengbe Kona Khasu director of the documentary No More Selections, We Want Elections. His film featured recently at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland, as part of the New African Films Festival, sponsored by TransAfrica Forum and Afrikafe. That’s where Afrofusion caught up with Khasu and his father James E. Roberts, co-Executive Producer of the documentary.  The film chronicles the events leading up the momentous election of Johnson Sirleaf in 2005 but, that historic win notwithstanding, the filmmakers tried to focus the narrative on the process rather than on any one particular candidate. Indeed, most of the people interviewed in the film characterized the runoff election between Sirleaf and former football (soccer) star George Oppong Weah as one between political experience and immaturity. More important for them, and especially the filmmakers, was for Liberia to be able to come together after years of civil strife and hold peaceful, legitimate democratic elections, the first since the military coup of 1980. Still, according to Roberts, Liberia has a legacy of firsts in Africa that sometimes goes unacknowledged. He is proud not only of the film, but of the Liberian people’s resolve in sticking to the democratic process.  « Read the rest of this entry »

The Black British Filmmaker’s Guide to Success: Interview with author Nadia Denton

September 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

Nadia Denton

For any artist who is part of a community, networking and sharing information become somewhat second nature. When former film festival director Nadia Denton decided to write her first book, the idea of what to write about came to her quite quickly.

“It just occurred to me that there was a need for a reference manual for black filmmakers, and this is a particular area that I had a fair amount of expertise in because of my relationship with filmmakers in terms of the work that I’ve done,” she says.

Some of that work involved founding and running the film club for Black Filmmaker Magazine, which she did for 7 years, holding film screenings, working with institutions such as the US Embassy and the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, and then serving as director of the BFM International Film Festival in 2008 and 2009. A lot of what she learned working in the industry is what she’s sharing in the new book, entitled The Black British Filmmaker’s Guide to Success. It features interviews with 42 key black filmmakers and decision makers from around the world, including Ryan Harrington of the Tribeca Institute, US actor and director Tim Reid, and Congolese filmmaker Djo Tunda wa Munga. The book will be available as a free download starting October 1st 2011. You can find out more information on Nadia Denton and her new book here.

I called up Ms. Denton to congratulate her, and decided to do a quick telephone interview. I asked her about her noble effort to share her knowledge and expertise with emerging black filmmakers in the Diaspora. Here’s an extract of what we talked about:

Afrofusion Lounge: What is the status of Black British Filmmaking? A lot of black filmmakers in the United States struggle to find funding and distribution for their films. How would you compare the two, is it the same kind of struggle?

Nadia Denton:  I would say yes, in a sense. I think some of the differences I’ve noted – and I’ve tried to highlight in my book – is that there’s a small niche of filmmakers who basically have an attitude of not really caring about the establishment in the sense that they’re not looking to the establishment for acclaim in terms of the aesthetic of their work and in terms of the politics of their work. And they’re quite happy to raise finance for their projects privately. And these filmmakers seem to be garnering quite a bit of success, one because they’re quite independent minded about how they’re getting their money. Many of them do other types of work, and the filmmaking may be part of an expression of the politics or views they want to put out. Also, they tend to have quite a keen understanding of their audience. So because they are sort of taking alternative methods in terms of making films and getting the finance, they tend to make films that have a higher degree of social currency or relevance, so many of them get good returns in terms of self distribution with their DVDs, and in terms of screenings and so on.

AL: How important do you think it is for Black British Filmmakers and Black American Filmmakers to work together with other Diaspora Filmmakers?

ND: Certainly one of the things that I found – to my dismay – is that I’m not sure that there’s enough sharing of good practice among filmmakers. What I’ve observed is that people sort of tend to get together and enjoy the camaraderie and the socializing, and you know, having fairly peripheral conversations about their craft and their product. And maybe a few of them will sit down and go a bit deeper, but I tended to find in my one-to-one conversations with the filmmakers that it’s very clear what they’re doing and why some are more successful than others. And it sort of baffled me why some of the other filmmakers haven’t been able to observe this, and from what I’ve seen standing on the sidelines I’m not certain that when they’re all together they necessarily ask the right questions or if people are prepared to open up. Whereas I think because I have had these one-to-one relationships with many of these filmmakers, perhaps they were quite prepared to tell me things that maybe they wouldn’t normally talk about in a public forum. So yes, certainly I do feel that there’s a great amount of good practice and expertise and techniques that filmmakers have been picking up at their different environments. In fact I think the information sharing is probably more valuable than the money or the fundraising, which is what people tend to focus on.

Nadia Denton introduces director Tim Reid at the British Film Institute earlier this year

AL: That brings me to my next question, which is that I know you cover almost the whole spectrum, from financing to distribution. Is there one area you think Black filmmakers should be focusing on?

ND: Well, I think it makes an overall collective picture, but if I were to choose particular tools that they should have in their toolbox I think filmmakers need to surround themselves with information sources. So they need to be surrounded by structures, whether it’s organizations or individuals, whether it’s even just books or attending courses that are going to help them gather the information. I’ve noticed that the filmmakers who have a strong infrastructure to rely on – whether it’s, for instance, Owen Alik Shahadah who made 500 Years Later and Motherland, he has the organization Halaquah Media, or whether it be someone like Ishmahil [Blagrove] from RiceNPeas Films who had his journalistic background and his organization RiceNPeas, where they did community development work – these filmmakers who’ve been able to sort of fall back on another structure and sort of get information in a different way seem to have been a bit more successful. I find sometimes filmmakers can focus too much on one particular aspect, so they can focus a lot on perhaps what kind of technology they have or equipment they have, or the ideas – which are great, you definitely need brilliant ideas – but the fact is there are a lot of filmmakers who’ve made quite a bit of money and they didn’t have particularly riveting ideas; their ideas were actually quite straightforward. It’s just that it had a particular relevance to an audience.

AL: What’s next for you after the book?

ND: Well I’m actually planning to write an international version. Obviously I’m very conscious of the fact that all of my references in this book exceptionally are Black British. I have interviewed filmmakers in the past which were from other backgrounds, for instance I’ve interviewed Tim Reid who’s obviously African American. I have a number of African and Caribbean filmmakers who are included as well. But I am looking with the next book to focus specifically on Europe, in terms of Black people in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, obviously the States, and I’m even also interested in Australasia, so activities in places like Australia and Micronesian communities.

AL: You’re offering the book as a free download; is it going to be available in any other format?

ND: At the moment, no; it will only be available as an e-book, CF version, but if I get sponsorship then it’s likely that there might be some limited editions printed up into hard copy. So those would be free, this book is a free book.

AL: Well thank you very much, Nadia, for talking to Afrofusion Lounge!

ND: Thank you, you’re welcome.

Sierra Leonean Filmmaker holds New York Premiere for his Award-winning Feature Film

July 27, 2011 § 5 Comments

The movie is called The Three Way, and it nabbed three awards at the San Diego Black Film Festival this past January. Written and directed by New York-based filmmaker Julian Renner, the film is a comedic drama “where lovers and friends are forced to reveal their secrets and confront their own lies.” On Saturday July 30 Renner’s movie will have its New York premiere at the Manhattan Film Festival, starting at 2:30pm. Renner will be in attendance, as well as a few of the cast members like Medina Senghore, Sofia Rodriguez and Karmia Berry. The 86-minute movie won Best Comedy Feature and the Filmmaker’s Choice Award at the San Diego Black Film Festival, and Julian « Read the rest of this entry »

Interview with Viva Riva! director Djo Munga and actor Hoji Fortuna

July 6, 2011 § 1 Comment

Director Djo Munga takes questions after the AFI screening

It’s a delicate dance that some new African film directors have to do when aiming for worldwide success with their films. By success I speak in terms of both critical acclaim and sales. This issue came to my mind when I attended a special screening of the Congolese movie Viva Riva! at the AFI theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland early last month. The movie opened in New York and LA on June 10th, and in the UK and DC on June 24th. It has already won a number of awards, most recently an MTV Movie Award for Best African Film. It trounced the competition at the African Movie Awards – it took 6 – and won Angolan actor Hoji Fortuna a best supporting actor award for his role as Angolan gangster Cesar in the film. Viva Riva! also won best feature Film at the 2011 Pan-African Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was during the question and answer session at the AFI with the film’s director Djo Munga that a woman in the audience took issue with the film’s scenes of sex and violence, that she felt would serve to reinforce stereotypical images of Africa.  « Read the rest of this entry »

Viva Riva! Congolese MTV Movie Award Winner at AFI Silver June 7!

June 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

Director Djo Munga at the British Film Institute in March

Congolese Director Djo Munga was talking excitedly about his film when I saw him at an event at the British Film Institute in London. He must be bursting with pride now that his first feature film – and reportedly the first from the Congo in decades – Viva Riva! has garnered another award to add to its growing list: Best African Film at the MTV Movie Awards. If you live in the DC area you can get a chance to see it tonight at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland. The show starts at 7:30pm and the director will be in attendance, with a question and answer session afterwards.

The movie is a thrilling African crime drama set in Kinshasa, revolving around a fuel shortage that’s threatening to cripple the Congolese capital. Small time operator Riva comes in to take full advantage of this, getting embroiled in conflicts with an Angolan crime boss, a local gangster and his seductive girlfriend, all set to the rhythm of the vibrant, shadowy, gritty streets of Kinshasa. Viva Riva! won Best Feature Film at the 2011 Pan-African Film Festival, and ran off with 6 2011 African Movie Awards. The film is in French and Lingala with English subtitles. The movie opens in London on June 24, with a pre-launch opening night party at the Ritzy Cinema in Brixton. It opens in New York and LA June 10th. You can check out the trailer below. Bless…

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