On my first trip to the Sundance Film Festival, I had an overwhelming reaction to one of my first screenings at the New African Cinema program.
The three films presented at the New African Cinema screening differed in almost everything except their beauty and freshness. In Tunnel South African filmmaker Jenna Bass brings us into the brutality of the Zimbabwean civil war through the eyes and mind of a remarkable young girl called Rabbit. Rabbit witnesses her father and the other men of her village digging their own graves, supervised by smartly uniformed government soldiers. Rabbit deals with this and other atrocities with an elaborate series of fanciful rationalizations that gradually turn into an acceptance of the harshness of her situation that is both courageous and deeply intelligent. This film is at times hard to watch, but is always absorbing and its authentic depiction of the growing ability of a young girl to deal honestly with an horrific situation affirms the human spirit without letting the rest of us off the hook for allowing such atrocities-- this is a film that needs to be seen.
The first thing that struck me about Pumzi, a film by Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu, was the stunning, austere visual beauty of the movie. The heroine, defies the authorities of her repressive, self-sufficient and hopeless post-apocalyptic society when she ventures from the self-contained metropolis to search for soil which is moist and pure enough to support the renewal of life on earth. Her story is literally the stuff of a myth in the making, a poetic and authentic creation story for the future.
The final film, St. Louis, Blues, takes seven pilgrims in a taxi from Dakar to St. Louis, Senegal. The inevitable delays and hurdles in the journey give rise to exuberant dancing and singing, in which each of the cast members join. Several of the songs are performed in crowded markets or streets surrounded by bemused spectators. My favorite number was performed by the dynamic owner of a hair salon who sings both movingly and joyfully of the hard choices her life has presented her. Although it starts as an a capella lament, the song magically turns into a rousing, fully-orchestrated version of St. Louis Blues. This is an enjoyable and cheering movie. My wife says it’s charming and she’s rarely wrong.