PAFF journal #2 

From Jeff H BWMTSC COCHAIR

Sunday, Feb 7

My planned viewing last night (Saturday) was altered by my underestimation of the popularity of the festival this year. (ALERT: Buy your tickets as early as possible!) I barely got into “Half of a Yellow Sun” and I had to substitute the American drama “Chapter and Verse: A Harlem Story” for “Lambadina” because it was sold out.

“Half of a Yellow Sun” is a big budget Nigerian historical epic set in the bloody civil war of the 1960s when Eastern Nigeria tried to secede as the country of Biafra. The film tells the story of a middle class, educated couple (Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton) whose romantic relationship and its missteps are inexorably and then suddenly overwhelmed by the violence of the civil war and anti Ibo persecution (they’re Ibo). Their lives, and the lives of their friends and her sister, devolve abruptly from a comfortable middle class existence to a frantic rush to find shelter from the war in a refugee camp. John Boyega is their loyal house servant. The transition from romantic melodrama to brutal and violent historical tragedy is jarring, and even though the main characters survive the violence, many of their friends and parents do not.

This movie is a perfect example of why we should see the African narrative features. Our view of Africa is so distorted and twisted by centuries of anti African propaganda in Euro American culture that it really takes African stories (and movies) to tell the truth. This film not only presents a crucial historical event occurring shortly after independence from the colonial masters of England, it also paints a portrait of a fully rounded society with modern and traditional lifestyles. The actors do a superb job and the production is excellent. It’s showing again next Sunday Feb 14 at 215 pm. See it if you can, if you want to expand your understanding of African history and culture.

“Chapter and Verse: A Harlem Story” directed by Jamal Joseph is also a gripping and revealing drama. Daniel Beatty, in a tour de force performance, is a recently released convict and former gang member who struggles to survive on probation in Harlem by delivering meals to the needy. He befriends an elderly woman (Loretta Devine) and her grandson, reconnects with an old friend who has also left the gang life behind for a barbershop, and in every case enhances the lives of those he encounters. The depiction of the tightrope that formerly imprisoned Black men walk in trying to survive gives the film a constant feeling of menace and uncertainty. All of the performances are genuine and human in the gritty, threatening, but vibrant world of Harlem depicted so vividly in the movie.  

I give this one a high recommendation also. It is a Black perspective on Black life in the age of mass incarceration, neither sentimentally optimistic nor brutally negative. See it if you can. It’s showing Fri Feb 12 at 845 pm and Mon Feb 15 at 520.

I’m about to leave to see “Stories of Our LIves,” a Kenyan feature with several vignettes about GLBT life in that country. I can’t wait go get a more balanced view of our brothers and sisters in Africa. I’ll report!

Friday, Feb 5

My first viewing at this year’s festival: the LGBTQ shorts program. This was a wonderful experience. There were 5 short films, 2 from Africa and 3 from the US. Afterwards there was Q & A with directors from the 3 American movies, all of them Black women. In fact all of the films are about women. They were all very well made and provocative. One of the African films “Oya” is an extensive exploration of the role of gender ambiguity in Yoruba culture contrasted with the vicious antigay laws being passed in Nigeria. “Transcend” is about a Black transgender man trying to reestablish a relationship with his parents. The others all deal with coming out and its consequences in one form or another. All in all I recommend this series highly. They are shown again on Thur Feb 11 at 345 and on Mon Feb 15 at 805.

Tonight, Saturday, at 7 pm I’m going to see the exciting sounding Nigerian dramatic film “Half of a Yellow Sun” set during the civil war in the 1960s and starring John Bodega (Star Wars!) and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Then I’ll see the Ethiopian drama “Lambadina” at 930. Tomorrow, Sunday at 1255, I’m planning on seeing the Kenyan film “Stories of our Lives” which is a series of vignettes about LGBT life in that country.  

Anybody interested in joining me?

Jeff H