Returning to in-person gatherings, the New York African Film Festival will run through May 12 to May 17. Now in its 29th edition, this year’s festival is taking place at the FLC theaters with select virtual screenings, exploring a host of themes under the banner Vision of Freedoms. With Africa in mind, it will present diverse and interconnected notions of freedom to the continent, the diaspora, and the world at large. All these while recalling activism of the past and ushering in new anthems of the future to embrace a united front for liberation and expression.
Opening Night marks the New York premiere of Gessica Généus’ feature directorial debut Freda, a movie about the ever-present violence and dangers surrounding a family’s life in Haiti. While Tanzanian filmmaker Amil Shivji’s Centerpiece selection, Tug of War, is about a rebellious revolutionary who falls for an Indian-Zanzibari girl escaping an arranged marriage.
Other highlights include the New York premiere of Juwaa, Nganji Mutiri’s drama about a mother and son reflecting on the events of a traumatic night many years before. And Aïssa Maïga’s documentary, Above Water (Marcher sur l’ eau), follows the process of convincing an NGO to build a well in a Nigerien village, saving many residents from having to travel several kilometers daily.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list of the films screening, here’s a lineup of interesting African titles showing at this year’s NYAFF.
Juju Stories | Directed by Surreal 16 (2021)
From Surreal 16, a Nigerian indie filmmaking collective, Juju Stories is a three-part anthology that plumbs the depths of Nigerian folklore and urban legends. In CJ Obasi’s Suffer the Witch, a young university undergraduate suspects her friend is a witch which leads to a cascade of discoveries. Abba Makama’s Yam is a cautionary tale of leaving neglected things or objects in public streets. And in Michael Omonua’s Love Potion, an unmarried woman agrees to use juju to find herself an ideal mate.
For Maria Ebun Pataki | Directed by Damilola Orimogunje (2021)
For Maria Ebun Patak is an indepth looks at postpartum depression. After a laborious pregnancy, Derin (Meg Otanwa) becomes withdrawn. She can’t celebrate her newborn. Her mother-in-law thinks she’s not a good parent, while her husband, Afolabi (Gabriel Afolayan), watches from the sidelines.
Freda | Directed by Gessica Généus (2021)
Freda is the story of a young woman who lives with her family in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The conditions are precarious, with violence rising. But Freda (Néhémie Bastien) believes in the future of her country.
Ayaanle | Directed by Ahmed Farah (2021)
Ayaanle (Barkhad Abdirahman) is a young man from Nairobi with big dreams. He wants to go to Hollywood and become a famous actor, like his hero Daniel Washington. However, due to a number of unlikely events, he instead becomes the most wanted man in Kenya.
The Gravedigger’s Wife | Directed by Khadar Ayderus Ahmed (2021)
Guled (Omar Abdi) and Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) are a couple living in the outskirts of Djibouti with their son, when they are rocked by terrible news. Nasra has chronic kidney disease and she needs an expensive surgery. Guled, who is a gravedigger — hence the title — now has to find a way to come up with the money.
Above Water | Directed by Aïssa Maïga (2021)
There is a water shortage around the world that effects millions of people. In the documentary Above Water, from Aïssa Maïga, Houlaye — a12-years-old living in Tatis, Niger — must walk several kilometers every day to get water.
However, there is a water source that exists that is 200 meters below the ground. Houlaye’s aunt, Suri, convinces an NGO to build a well in the village, bringing a new hope.
Juwaa | Directed by Nganji Mutiri (2022)
Juwaa, which was shot shot in Belgium and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a drama about a son and a mother who have a very complex relationship.
Jom, The Story of A People | Directed by Ababacar Sam-Makharam (1982)
Originally released in 1982, Director Ababacar Samb-Makharam tells a story about a griot (oral historian) who inspires striking workers by telling the tales of two heroes: the martyr prince Dieri Dior Ndella and Koura Thiaw, an entertainer who supported oppressed domestics in the 1940s.
Tug of War | Directed by Amil Shivji (2021)
Set in the final years of British colonial Zanzibar, Denge (Gudrun Columbus Mwanyika), freedom fighter, falls in love with Yasmin (Siti Amina), right before she is to marry another man.
Shaka – iNkosi Yamakhosi | Directed by Nick Cloete and Manzini Zungu (2020
In this animated short film, a young boy named Manzini, is attacked by three bullies. It’s an incident that almost costs him his life. Manzini wants to quit school. In response, his Gogo (grandmother) tells the story of the great warrior and king, Shaka Zulu.