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African Film Festival 

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Columbia College's Department of Film and Video presents its first annual African Film Festival, "Visions of Africa Through African Eyes," on Friday and Saturday, April 21 and 22. Screenings will be at the college's Hokin Center, 623 S. Wabash, and Ferguson Theater, 600 S. Michigan; admission is free. For further information call 663-1600, ext. 287, or 663-1124.

FRIDAY, APRIL 21

Mandabi

A 1969 feature by the great Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene about a poor man whose life is profoundly altered when he receives a money order in the mail. (Hokin Center, 1:00)

Ta Dona

Adama Drabo's 1991 feature from Mali, which has been described as one of the first environmental features from Africa, follows the mystical spiritual journey of a young forestry commissioner from the city to his ancestral Bambara culture when he's sent to a small village to investigate bush fires. This sounds like an interesting companion piece to Souleymane Cisse's Brightness (see separate listing). (Hokin Center, 2:35)

Jom

Ababacar Samb's 1982 film relates the folk history of the Senegalese people through the figure of a "griot"--a storyteller who relates tales of ancient heroism to give courage to a group of striking workers. (DK) (Hokin Center, 4:20)

Brightness

Souleymane Cisse's extraordinarily beautiful and mesmerizing fantasy (also known as Yeelen) is set in the ancient Bambara culture of Mali (formerly French Sudan) long before it was invaded by Morocco in the 16th century. A young man (Issiaka Kane) sets out to discover the mysteries of nature (or komo, the science of the gods) with the help of his mother and uncle, but his jealous and spiteful father contrives to prevent him from deciphering the elements of the Bambara sacred rites and tries to kill him. In the course of a heroic and magical journey, the hero masters the Bambara initiation rites, takes over the throne, and ultimately confronts the magic of his father. Apart from creating a dense and exciting universe that should make George Lucas green with envy, Cisse has shot breathtaking images in Fujicolor and has accompanied his story with a spare, hypnotic, percussive score. Conceivably the greatest African film ever made, sublimely mixing the matter-of-fact with the uncanny, this wondrous work provides an ideal introduction to a filmmaker who, next to Ousmane Sembene, is probably Africa's greatest director. Winner of the jury prize at the 1987 Cannes festival. Not to be missed. (Ferguson Theater, 7:40)

SATURDAY, APRIL 22

Ceddo

Ousmane Sembene's 1977 Senegalese film was attacked for daring to depict life in precolonial Africa as something less than paradisiacal. A princess kidnapped by a hunter becomes the central figure in a vision of a world dominated by exploitation and repression, forces that Sembene portrays as proceeding unbroken through the present day. (DK) (Hokin Center, 10:00 am)

Black Girl

The first film of Senegalese director Ousmane Sembene (1965). A girl from a lower-class district in Dakar goes to work as a maid for a French couple and accompanies them on a vacation to France, where her newfound sense of freedom gradually turns into feelings of isolation and invisibility. Sembene keeps his metaphors under control, and the result is a message movie with an unusual depth of characterization. (DK) (Ferguson Theater, 10:00 am)

Xala

Ousmane Sembene's 1974 Senegalese satire finds a metaphor for the failures of capitalism in an African businessman who can't consummate his marriage. (Ferguson Theater, 11:05 am)

Wend Kuuni

A 1982 fable from Burkina Faso about a mute orphan boy who suddenly learns to speak, set among the Mossi people of west Africa and directed by Gaston J.M. Kabore. (DK) (Hokin Center, 12:10)

Brightness

See listing under Friday, April 21

(Ferguson Theater, 1:15)

Yaaba

Idrissa Ouedraogo's second feature (1989), from Burkina Faso, focuses on a young boy (Noufou Ouedraogo) and his female cousin (Roukietou Barry). They befriend an old woman in their village (Fatimata Sanga) who's treated as an outcast and accused of being a witch. The locations are attractive, the performances are natural, and the details about local folkways are interesting, but the plot is a bit dull in spots, if only because the moral divisions are fairly simplistic. This is certainly not a bad film, but don't expect anything comparable to the African cinema of Cisse or Sembene. (Hokin Center, 1:30)

Sambizanga

Made in Angola in 1972, Sara Maldoror's feature tells of a young wife's cross-country search for her husband, a resistance leader spirited away by government forces. (DK) (Ferguson Theater, 3:05)

Mapantsula

Shot in Johannesburg and Soweto by Oliver Schmitz, a white South African, and cowritten by its costar Thomas Mogotlane, this radical 1988 feature offers a grittier view of the antiapartheid movement than either Cry Freedom or A World Apart. The plot follows the gradual coming to political awareness of a petty thief (Mogotlane) who winds up in jail and meets other blacks involved in protesting racism; the dialogue is a heady mixture of subtitled Afrikaans and English. Once banned in South Africa, this film conveys a volatile sense of both time and place, and, according to the South African censor, "has the power to incite probable viewers to act violently." (Hokin Center, 3:45)

Samba Traore

This 1992 feature from Burkina Faso by Idrissa Ouedraogo, the director of Yaaba, concerns the fate of Samba, one of two robbers who hold up a service station, when he flees to his village with the stolen money, hoping for a new life. (Ferguson Theater, 5:05)

Angano . . . Angano . . . Tales From Madagascar

An unorthodox 1989 documentary from Madagascar by Cesar Paes that concentrates on storytellers recounting local myths. (Hokin Center, 5:45)

Guelwaar

Alternately wise and very funny in its treatment of tribalism and in its grasp of neocolonial corruption, Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene's seventh feature (1992), a beautiful piece of story telling, has so much to say about contemporary Africa that you emerge from it with a sense of understanding an entire society from top to bottom--and from right to left, for that matter. A political activist and Catholic figurehead known as Guelwaar (which means "the noble one") dies from a beating after delivering an impassioned speech against foreign aid and its attendant corruptions, and when friends and family gather for his funeral they're shocked to discover that his body is missing. It emerges that he was accidentally buried in a Muslim cemetery, and the tribal, political, and cultural disputes that arise from this state of affairs comprise the remainder of the story. Along the way, Sembene--conceivably the greatest of all African filmmakers and a leading African novelist to boot--has as much to say about the virtue of Guelwaar's daughter, who works as a prostitute in Dakar to help support the family, as he does about the vice of the Mercedes-owning mayor, not to mention the divided loyalties of Guelwaar's European-educated son and a local cop he argues with. (A lot of significance is attached to when the characters speak French and when they speak Wolof, the principal language of Senegal.) The movie is no less attentive in observing the various moral ambiguities and hypocrisies of the local Catholic and Muslim communities. (Sembene was raised in a Muslim family, but his treatment of both groups is refreshingly nonsectarian.) As filmmaking, this may lack the terseness of Sembene's Black Girl, but the flavor of everyday African life it imparts is priceless. (Ferguson Theater, 6:30)

La vie est belle

Not to be confused with the recent African feature of the same title by Jean-Pierre Bekolo, this is a rags-to-riches pop musical about a poor rural musician from Zaire (1986), directed by Ngangura Mweze and Benoit Lamy. (Hokin Center, 7:00)

Hyenas

Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety's first feature, Touki Bouki (1973)--the first experimental feature in African cinema--was so extraordinary that expectations for Hyenas (1992), his second feature, naturally ran high. (In between films Mambety survived mainly as a stage and film actor; last year he made a highly praised 44-minute film, The Franc, that surfaced this year at the Berlin film festival.) My first response to Hyenas was that it was a safer film than its predecessor, but on further reflection I find it in many ways a more considered and mature work, with even deadlier ironies. This is an African adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt's famous German play The Visit of the Old Lady (also filmed, rather unsatisfactorily, by Bernhard Wicki, with Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn, in the mid-60s): A wealthy, aging woman returns to the impoverished village she left many years before and offers a fortune to the people there if they will murder a local shopkeeper who seduced, impregnated, and abandoned her when she was 16. At first the villagers disdainfully reject her offer, but then they decide they're at least entitled to purchase the shopkeeper's goods on credit, and then their taste for luxuries starts to grow--clearly a comic allegory about contemporary colonialism, consumerism, and what they have to do with each other. Mambety shows an able hand in managing his talented cast and cuts quite a commanding figure when he appears in a pivotal small role. (Hokin Center, 8:30)

Ceddo

See listing under Saturday, April 22. (Ferguson Theater, 8:35)

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