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9 Must-See Discoveries at African Diaspora International Film Festival 2020

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By Roger Costa

BURNING NIGHT

Brazilian prolific documentarian Eryk Rocha’s sophomore feature narrative proves his ability to blend reality and fiction resulting in an absorbing, immersive aesthetic. Anchored by a strong lead performance by Fabricio Boliveira, as a melancholic nocturnal taxi driver, the film captures the effervescent, mysterious, dangerous and shockingly violent activities of Rio’s nightlife. Everything is seen through the driver’s perspective and silent sorrow, his encounters with out-of-control passengers, his tempestuous behavior, and the console he finds in his love interest’s arms- played with serenity by Barbara Colen, one of Brazil’s most accomplished emerging performers. While the protagonist longs to be reunited with his son, Rocha composes a provocative yet sensitive, Neo-realist infused existential journey, rooted in Afro-Brazilian culture and traditions. It is also seductively shot with unusual camera positions, using amazing neon-like shots and vividly captures the war zone chaos of the crowded soccer fans riots.

KUESSIPAN

An efficiently moving and accurate look at Millennials’ cultural clash, identity and acceptance seen through the experiences of two inseparable friends in the Quebec Innu community, Writer-Editor-Director Myriam Verreault’s debut feature reminds us of the transformative power of true friendship and also the perils of ethnic tensions. Mikuan and Shaniss grew up together, side by side, loving and caring for each other unconditionally, but leading different paths. Mikuan is determined to find her own voice through her poems and spoken words, while precocious Shaniss is unstable but settled with her kids and drug-dealer partner. Despite the conflicts of ideas and differences, they are there to support, respect and guide each other: Mikuan is accused of negligence of her own origins as she tries to mingle with the “Whites” in Quebec City and develops a relationship with a fellow student; Shaniss will do anything to defend, preserve and maintain the community’s isolated traditions, as well as to justify her behavior and lack of discipline. Director Verreault has a keen eye for these two girls, crafting a crowd-pleasing, refreshing drama, as the story evolves and we become utterly attached to them and their struggle with both parts of society, family, boys, hormones, aspirations and hopes.

A SON

Winner of the Best Actor Award at Venice, Sami Bouajila gives a tremendously intense turn as an anguished father who runs against time to save his son’s life and finds him a liver transplant. Tunisian first-time filmmaker Mehdi Barsaoui is definitely a promising talent as he crafts an enigmatic and timely dramatic-thriller with such preciseness and pacing that Hollywood would love to have. In the opening sequence, the happy family is leaving their vacation when they are severely injured at a terrorist ambush. As the kid needs a transplant to survive, and a specific genetic donor, secrets are revealed shattering their harmony and sense of loyalty. An arresting account on the horrors of trafficking, corruption and family values put at stake, Barsaoui scores a gripping, superbly acted and emotionally intense moral tale.

THE MISSED ROUND

An aging boxer who works as a bait to lose fights, traversing a personal, physical and financial crisis develops an unlikely relationship with a kid, who comes to his door claiming to be his son. As they stumble on each other, learning and advancing on their individual quests for wisdom and fulfillment, Colombian director Rafael Martínez Moreno paints a devastatingly moving canvas of the country’s struggling lower class’ condition. And through the process of observing the determination of Reynaldo “El Piedra” on recuperating his missing goals (including educating himself), walking hand to hand with the kid’s efforts to gain maturity and safety, the director makes a compassionate statement on generational parallels.

PINK OPAQUE

Standing up against all odds to conclude his documentary in order to graduate from film school, a broke and desperate African-American Millennial reunites with his estranged uncle who could provide some financial and motivational support despite their unlikely friendship. When his car gets towed away, carrying all his belongings inside, he seeks some help from his former star-producer uncle, and the encounter grants them an opportunity to analyze their family concepts, and also their ethnical and artistic dilemmas. With a frenetic, vivid performance by rising star Elijah Boothe, giving life to an energetic young man pursuing the American Dream, the perfect embodiment of contemporary artists seeking the spotlight, or just a chance to express their talent and perspectives, the film exceeds as an easy going and intellectual rom-com, beautifully observed and executed by first-time writer-director Derrick Perry. Winner of prestigious Awards at San Diego, Los Angeles and Las Vegas Black Film Festival, there is a great sense of youth and enthusiasm all over it, with the devotion and caring touch of a committed, brave new filmmaker.

THE MALE REVOLT

Hauntingly shot with influences of expressionism, raw and historically accurate, this affecting recount on the Brazilian Muslim Slaves revolt set in 1835 Bahia, centers on the journey of Guilhermina, a courageous slave who becomes part of a movement created to claim their humanitarian rights, get rid of their oppressors and dominate the region under their Afro-Brazilian traditions and culture. As her daughter is taken and sold away, she tries at all cost to buy her back, even if it leads her to drastic, murderous situations, while the movement sets strategies to fight against the unjust arrest of one of their leaders. Director duo Jeferson DE and Belisario Franca fiercely conduct the material with impressive control and execution, in an efficiently theatrical, Gothic-style revolutionary epic that echoes our times.

TAKE OUT GIRL

Guyanese-American Award-winning cinematographer and filmmaker Hisonni Mustafa’s latest project puts him straight under the radar as an evolving, influential and innovative force. With a great, confident sense of place, pacing, style and acting coordination, he conceives an amusing, convincingly performed take on urbanities and the struggles for the American Dream revolving around a tough, marginalized neighborhood. Seen through the eyes of a Chinese/American student who works hard to help her mother at her restaurant doing fast deliveries, Mustafa paints a colorful, vibrant and realistic portrait of being young and hopeless. A tough lady herself, eager and strong, she is seduced by easy money as she develops a dangerous connection to a drug lord, working for him in order to save her financial troubles. Meanwhile she must navigate her activities at the family’s restaurant, care for her ill mother and the comfort she finds with a janitor. Humble yet powerful and highly efficient, as well as unexpectedly twisted, Mustafa deservedly won the Best Director Award at this year’s American Black Film Festival, only to affirm on how much he is committed to his storytelling skills. With incredible accuracy for fast pacing and compelling urban dramatic issues, he’s certainly a master in the genre.

A TASTE OF OUR LAND

In this politically-charged, brilliantly cynical deadpan comedy set in an unnamed African country, an older man is the target of a working class revolution, as he finds a gold nugget at a local mine and runs away with it in order to provide for his pregnant wife. Addressing the Chinese influence over the continent’s industrial labor scenario, director Yuhi Amul conducts the low-budget material with satisfying results as he collaborates with non-professional actors in Rwanda, giving fine demonstrations of the humiliating situations African rural men must endure in order to survive poverty. Unashamed, soft and accessible, it is a stylish revenge take on greed, corruption, racism and abuse.

MYOPIA

A beautifully observed meditation on faith, perseverance and integrity, Moroccan director Sanae Akroud’s sophomore feature is an immersive and heart-breaking unique female saga. Exquisitely shot, the film follows the adventures of a Village pregnant woman, who leaves her mountainous isolated community and travels miles to the big city in order to fix the Imam’s eyeglasses: the only person who can read people’s letters. As she clashes with bureaucracy and civic rules and norms, and also crosses paths with folks engaged to help out, Akroud extracts a profoundly sensitive performance from the leading female actress, while subtly addressing women’s oppression and exclusion affecting the Arabic regions through a distinguished tale of compassion and reason.

(The 28th NYADIFF-New York African Diaspora International Film Festival runs Virtually November 27th thru December 13th. Go to https://nyadiff.org/2020/ for details.)


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