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South Africa in the Spotlight as Its Closely-Watched April Elections Loom;

Festival Launches April 8 at The Film Society of Lincoln Center


NEW YORK —Through the lenses of emerging directors and veteran filmmakers, the 16th Annual New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) will take an introspective journey across the African continent, with films that create a vision of Africa's future through a deconstruction of its past. Under the banner “Africa in Transition,” the festival will present a lineup of 35 films from 16 countries throughout Africa and the African Diaspora. Exemplary of this metamorphosis is South Africa. This year’s festival marks the 15th anniversary of South Africa’s independence and comes just days before voters there head to the polls to select a leader for the fourth time since the end of apartheid; April’s elections will be closely watched as they may be a political sea change for the country, with broad international implications. Presented by African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF) and The Film Society of Lincoln Center (FSLC), the 16th annual NYAFF runs at The Film Society of Lincoln Center April 8 through 14, continues with a panel discussion at the Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies on April 15 and wraps up at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek from May 22 through 25.

Opening night brings the U.S. premiere of Jihan El-Tahri’s Behind the Rainbow on Wednesday, April 8. In the film, El-Tahri, best known for her Emmy nominated documentary, The House of Saud, and for Cuba: An African Odyssey, probes the history of the governing African National Congress (ANC) party, from Mandela’s release from prison to the election of Jacob Zuma as the party’s new leader. The director, veteran African actor Isaac de Bankolé, Sahr Ngaujah (star of Fela!), and others will be in attendance at a special, invitation-only festival Opening Night Reception preceding the film.

Jerusalema, a tale of a self-made Sowetan entrepreneur climbing the Hillbrow criminal underworld ladder one rung at a time, will have its New York premiere on Friday, April 10. The film, which will be introduced by its director Ralph Ziman, takes an unwavering and blisteringly stylized look into the crime, corruption and transgressions of the new South Africa. The film will be followed by the AFF Annual Gala Celebration, a fundraiser for its programs.

“As the winds of change shift internationally and the world confronts new realities, Africa is taking center stage,” said festival founder Mahen Bonetti. “And African filmmakers are poised to reclaim and rewrite our own history, take ownership for our own identity and set the course for our collective future.”

One country that most captures that evolution is South Africa, which held its first all-race, post-Apartheid democratic elections 15 years ago. As the world waits with bated breath, the country is poised to elect a new government on April 22. With Nelson Mandela long retired, a new generation of leaders governs the country. In some senses they have become ordinary politicians, who are grappling to maintain the grand ideals that drove the struggle against apartheid. It is both the best of times and the most challenging of times.

Many films in this year’s New York African Film Festival speak to South Africa’s changing tides. In addition to El-Tahri’s Behind the Rainbow and Ziman’s Jerusalema, Triomf, by veteran-director Michael Raeburn, also shines a light on the challenges facing the country post-apartheid; Raeburn’s film depicts the plight of South Africa’s white poor on the eve of the first democratic elections in April 1994. Young filmmaker Kurt Orderson, who would have been classified as Coloured (or mixed-race), presents his own story in Prodigal Son, and reflects on the hodgepodge that is South African identity. Rounding out the focus on South Africa is the artists collective, Filmmakers Against Racism, which produced a series of short films in response to the xenophobic incidents that rocked South Africa in 2008.

The festival also highlights a new generation of emerging filmmakers who offer a perspective of Africa that shifts the realities and possibilities of the continent and reconfigures its future. Three up-and-coming female Kenyan filmmakers have films in the Festival that speak to these issues. Lupita Nyong’o in her film In My Genes boldly challenges the stigma surrounding albinism in Africa; Judy Kibinge in Coming of Age tells the story of a young Kenyan girl’s disquieting realization of national politics in the 1970s; and Wanuri Kahiu’s From a Whisper commemorates the tenth anniversary of the August 1998 terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in which more than 250 people died and more than 5,000 were injured. Meanwhile, the 21st century reality of young African asylum seekers within Europe and Africa is explored in Omelihu Nwanguma’s Area Boys, Jose Laplaine’s Le Clandestin and Josephine Ndagnou’s Paris or Nothing / Paris A Tout Prix.

It is not, however, only the new generation of filmmakers that is being boldly introspective. Veteran filmmakers Jean-Marie Téno, Africa's preeminent documentary filmmaker, and Mahamat Saleh Haroun, whose 2006's Daratt won the Grand Special Jury Prize at the 63rd Venice International Film Festival, are back with films that question the purpose and direction of African filmmaking. With Sacred Places, Téno designates the drum as the big brother of cinema and asks African filmmakers who their audience is—and who it should be. Haroun surprises us with a comedy in Sex, Okra and Salted Butter. It is a film made in the Diaspora, about Africans in the Diaspora, suggesting that the African village can be recreated anywhere. These films challenge African filmmakers to ask themselves what their roles and responsibilities are to the continent, and whether an African audience should be the focus.

Sometimes relics of the past are needed for the journey onward into the future. Coming-of-age tales Wrestling Grounds / L'Appel Des Arenes, From a Whisper, African Booty Scratcher, Kinshasa Palace, Bronx Princess and Nora all follow young people, who reclaim cultural legacies and histories to create opportunities for themselves. Historically rich in content, Yandé Codou, The Griot of Senghor and Siki, Ring Wrestler expand on this idea, all exploring the lives of well-known individuals who have walked the path of rediscovery and found value in the journey that would later influence many generations to come. Singer Yandé Codou Sène is one of the last of purveyors of polyphonic Sérère poetry, and Yandé Codou, The Griot of Senghor is an intimate look at this diva, who has gone through the history of Senegal at the side of one of its greatest mythical figures, President/poet Léopold Sédar Senghor. The film is a bittersweet story about greatness, glory and the passage of time.

Wrestling Grounds / L'Appel Des Arenes and The Fighting Spirit join Siki, Ring Wrestler as films that capture the transformative power of sports.

The intersection of past and present is a theme that will be further explored in 2010's festival, as the New York African Film Festival reflects upon 50 watershed moments in African history, which still intimately affect the world today.

 The first segment of the festival will be held at FSLC’s Walter Reade Theater,

165 W. 65th Street
, Plaza Level, from April 8 through April 14. During this time the visually stunning works of fine artist Michelle Hill, whose colorful works marry technology and tradition, will be exhibited in the Frieda and Roy Furman Gallery. “My intent is to breathe new life into the retelling of ancient legend and folk myth. I want to present stories in a contemporary high-tech idiom to awaken an international audience, that already embraces the digital culture, as well as to exploit this technology to give new life and expression to ancient myths,” said Hill.

It then moves on to Columbia University, where AFF will collaborate with Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies for a day of free films and panel discussions. A feature-length film will be shown from 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m., followed by two shorts from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The day will conclude with “Beyond the Rainbow: 15 Years into South Africa's Democracy,” a panel discussion hosted by Professor Mamadou Diouf, Institute director. The event, which will run from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. and be followed by a free reception, will examine the idea of nationhood in post-Apartheid South Africa. With the upcoming elections of National Assembly it is fitting to review the shifts in identification that have taken place over the last 15 years and consider the various ways in which South Africans currently envision themselves and their relationship to both the rest of the continent and the rest of the international community.

NYAFF concludes at Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek in tandem with DanceAfrica from May 22 through May 25. There, contemporary African cinema will be the focus. BAMcinématek is located at

30 Lafayette Avenue
in Brooklyn.

The 16th New York African Film Festival is organized by Richard Peña of The Film Society of Lincoln Center and the African Film Festival, Inc. (Mahen Bonetti, Toccarra Thomas, Aba Taylor, Muriel Placet-Kouassi, Alonzo Speight and Hellura Lyle). Special thanks is given to the AFF Board of Directors, Joan Baffour, Luca Bonetti, Francoise Bouffault, Sean Jacobs, Mamadou Diouf, Sarah Diouf, Gabriel Donati, Jacki Fischer, Belynda Hardin, Morgan Seag, Alexander Markov, Andrew Milne, Philippa Naughten, Prerana Reddy, Keith Shiri, Cheryl Duncan & Company Inc. P.R., Kojo Associates and AFF’s volunteer team.

The programs of AFF are made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, JPMorgan Chase, New York State Council on the Arts, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, International Organization of La Francophonie, Divine Chocolate, Domenico Paulon Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, New York Times Community Affairs Department, South African Consulate-General, Time Warner Cable, French Cultural Services, Bloomberg, Tides Foundation, Columbia University’s Institute of African Studies, GoCard, WNYC, Continental Airlines, 57 Main St. Wine Company, Putumayo World Music, Royal Air Maroc and Omnipak Import Enterprises, Inc.                                                                                                                  

For more information on African Film Festival, Inc. and The Film Society of Lincoln Center go to and

Ticket Information:

Tickets for The Film Society of Lincoln Center screenings are $11; $7 for Film Society members, students and children (6-12, accompanied by an adult); and $8 for seniors (62+). Tickets are available online at and at the box office of The Film Society’s Walter Reade Theater. A series pass admitting one person to a total of five titles in the series can be purchased at the box office (cash only) for $40; $30 for Film Society members. Tickets go on sale Thursday, March 19. For more information, visit or call 212-875-5601.

Tickets for the Opening Night Reception on April 8 cost $50 and tickets for the AFF Annual Gala Celebration are $150; to purchase tickets call AFF at 212-352-1720.

BAMcinématek @ BAM Rose Cinemas is located at

30 Lafayette Avenue
in Brooklyn. Tickets: $11 per screening for adults; $8 for seniors 65 and over, children under twelve, and students 25 and under with valid I.D. Monday–Thursday, except holidays; $7 for BAM Cinema Club members. Buy online, by phone at 718-777-FILM (theater ID #545) or at the BAM Rose box office. Visit or call 718-636-4100 for information. Tickets are also available through or 718-777-FILM. To get to BAMcinématek @ BAM Rose Cinemas take the C train to Lafayette; the N, R, D or M train to Pacific; the 2, 3, 4 or 5 train to Nevins; or the G train to Fulton. *Discounts available at BAM Rose box office only. Students: 25 & under w/ valid ID, Mon–Thu, except holidays. Children: 12 & under. Policies: Children under six will not be admitted to BAM Rose Cinemas for any movies that are not rated; rated R or PG-13; or any movies not made specifically for children. All programs are subject to change.


Online Press Office:

Complete materials and hi-res images for the festival may be downloaded from Click on the press office; password is press.

Press Contacts:

The Film Society of Lincoln Center


Cheryl Duncan & Company Inc.

Gabriele Caroti            212-875-5625


Cheryl Duncan            201-332-8338



(for the African Film Festival, Inc.)

For press screenings/RSVPs



Oleg Dubson               212-875-5578




African directors and guest speakers will be present during the festival (indicated by an asterisk* before the show time). ALL FILMS IN NON-ENGLISH LANGUAGES WILL BE SUBTITLED IN ENGLISH.


Behind the Rainbow (U.S. Premiere)

Jihan El-Tahri, South Africa/Egypt, 2009, 132m.

Co-presented with Alwan for the Arts

Behind the Rainbow explores the transition of the ANC from a liberation organization into South Africa's ruling party through the evolution of the relationship between two of its most prominent cadres, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. Exiled under apartheid, they were brothers in arms. Under Mandela they loyally labored to build a non-racial state. Now they are bitter rivals. Their duel threatens to tear apart the ANC and the country, as the poor desperately seek hope in change and the elite fight for the spoils of victory. Behind the Rainbow features key interviews with ANC current and former leaders, including Jacob Zuma, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe, Pallo Jordan, and Terror Lekota.

Wed Apr 8: *8pm; Mon Apr 13: *2:50pm


The Fighting Spirit (U.S. Premiere)

George Amponsah, UK/USA/Ghana, 2007; 80m. In Ga and English.

One town in Africa takes on the world as three boxers—two men and a woman—from a poor slum in Ghana fight their way to the glittering rings of New York and London for the biggest prizes in the business. Thanks to tenacious coaches who turn rough street fighters into money-churning professional boxers, the village has produced several champions and is looking for its next big winner. Twenty-two-year-old George is excited to box overseas for the first time. Known as “The First Lady of Boxing,” Yarkor is struggling to win her first big fight. Having already achieved international success, Joshua is campaigning for the world welterweight title. A story of modern Africans’ dreams and ambitions, fighting for respect, for reward, and for their home.


Siki, Ring Wrestler (U.S. Premiere)

Mamadou Niang, USA/Senegal, 1993; 12m.

Senegalese boxing legend Battling Siki, a World War I hero and the first African to win a world championship, fascinated and intrigued many in his short life; he was 28 years old when he was murdered in New York City in 1925. This short film is a story of his most famous fight and the saga of the excavation of his remains, buried for 67 years in a Queens cemetery. “No man ever came out of Africa who had a more dramatic life or had a more tragic ending,” said Rev. Adam Clayton Powell at Siki’s funeral.

Fri Apr 10: 1pm; Sun Apr 12: *5:15pm



Congo My Foot 

Okepne Ojang, South Africa/ Cameroon, 2008, 24m. In French and English.

Tino La Musica, a Congolese band whose members are all refugees based in Cape Town, play at their regular weekly gig at Club La Reference on Long Street. They live and rehearse in a rundown block of flats in the inner city suburb Gardens. Their mood is

hopeful, until they are evicted a week before the countrywide xenophobic violence that would scatter and displace approximately 30,000 refugees around the country. The double impact of these events causes the band to fall apart, and the film follows their struggle to get together again as they search for new instruments and the will to sing and dance.


Martine and Thandeka

Xoliswa Sithole, South Africa, 2008, 24m. In French, Shona and English.

Already a refugee in South Africa after the war broke out in her home country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Martine and her two children were living with family when the xenophobic violence took place. She fled with her family to a police station, where her 15-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted. Zimbabwean Thandeka is married to a South African man, with whom she has two children. She, too, was caught up in the furor and ended up at a police station. Both women are sent to the Rifle Range refugee camp with no knowledge about their futures, where they share their stories of vulnerability during very trying times.


The Burning Man - Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave

Adze Ugah, South Africa/Nigeria, 2008, 24m. In Portuguese and English.

This gentle exploration by Nigerian filmmaker Adze Ugah tries to recapture the individuality of Ernesto Alfabeto Nhamuave and understand the events that led to his being burnt to death in South Africa in 2008. Ugah travels to Nhamuave’s village in Mozambique to meet his family and the people whom he loved, exploring the underlying curse of poverty and the fragile chords of humanity and dignity that defined the person now known the world over as The Burning Man. His story evokes the pain and suffering of millions of real people who are both victims and perpetrators of crimes like this.



Omelga Mthiyane and Riaan Hendricks, South Africa, 2008; 24m.

Two days after South Africa experienced violent attacks against its black foreign nationals, thousands of people were displaced into temporary shelters across the country. After the attacks, the Western Cape community of Masiphumelele went to the nearby Soetwater refugee camp to publicly apologize, inviting their foreign nationals back home. This film follows the return of foreign storeowners to the overcrowded community. As they rebuild their destroyed shops, the area struggles to resolve the root causes of the conflict.

Fri Apr 10: *10pm; Sun Apr 12: *12:30pm


From A Whisper (U.S. Premiere)

Wanuri Kahiu, Kenya, 2008, 90m. In Kiswahili and English.

From a Whisper commemorates the tenth anniversary of the August 1998 terrorist bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in which more than 250 people died and more than 5,000 were injured. This film is not about the bombing but rather its aftermath on the lives of the indirect victims of the blast who were forced to learn how to live past a tragedy that shattered their lives. From a Whisper also follows an artiste and an intelligence officer, direct victims of the terrorist attack, who find unique ways to survive the tragedy. Wanuri Kahiu presents the Kenyan perspective in this close look at the real struggle and worn-out consciences that come when despair turns into obsession and sorrow turns into denial.

Sat Apr 11: *3:00pm; Tue Apr 14: 7:00pm

The Importance of Being Elegant

George Amponsah, UK/USA/Ghana, 2004; 69m. In Lingala and French.

This is the story of one of the most unusual clubs in the world, the Société des Ambianceurs et Persons Élégants—La SAPE—whose members, the Sapeurs, come from the Democratic Republic of Congo and have elevated fashion to the status of a religion. Translated into English, the name refers to a society of people who spend huge amounts of money on designer clothes with the motive of making themselves as conspicuously elegant as possible. One of these ultimate fashion victims is well-known Congolese singer Papa Wemba. The film is a splendid evocation of Papa Wemba's music and an unusual insight into what it means to be an immigrant in contemporary Europe.

Thu Apr 9: 2:15; Sat Apr 11: 10pm


In My Genes (N.Y. Premiere)

Lupita Nyong’o, Kenya, 2009, 78m. In Swahili and English. 

Co-presented with Margaret Meade Film & Video Festival

What is it like to be white in a black society? In My Genes presents an intimate introduction to albinism as Agnes overcomes the odds of being born with no pigment in a community that discriminates against the condition. In this documentary about disability, minority discrimination, identity, issues of representation, confidence, and the perception of the other, she discovers she has skin cancer and finds out the real reason why she lost both of her eyes. Yet Agnes keeps going, trusting in the work of her hands and the strength of her god. In interviews cut into her narrative, seven other individuals share their experiences of living with albinism. They ponder the effect of their condition on their childhoods, adolescence, sexuality, race, and dreams.

Sun Apr 12: *9:15; Tues Apr 14: 5pm


Jerusalema (N.Y. Premiere)

Ralph Ziman, South Africa, 2008, 118m.

All Lucky Kunene ever wanted was a BMW seven series and a house with a sea view. But since he was born into a poor family in Soweto in the dying years of apartheid, the odds are stacked against him and his generation, for whom battling the police is a badge of honor and doing time an everyday reality. When he falls under the spell of Nazareth Mbolelo, a Russian-trained, ex-ANC soldier with a vendetta against the old regime, Kunene and his best friend Zakes are plucked from the nursery of petty crime and roped into armed robbery. This stylized, energized crime story ponders the nature of justice and the virtues of vigilantism. "If you're going to steal...Steal big, and hope like hell you get away with it!" Jerusalema is the tale of a self-made Sowetan entrepreneur, climbing the Hillbrow criminal underworld ladder one rung at a time.

Fri Apr 10: *7:15pm; Tues Apr 14: *9:00pm


Killer Necklace (U.S. Premiere)

Judy Kibinge, Kenya, 2009, 40m. In Kiswahili and English.

Boo is a handsome young banker with a bright future, and Wai is a sultry young girl from a privileged background. Boo would do anything for Wai, so deep is his desire for her. Wai, far more the material girl, has her eye on a different prize: the most beautiful golden necklace in the world. In this twisted tale of desire and deceit, is anybody what they appear to be and does anyone truly mean what they say?


Area Boys (U.S. Premiere)

Omelihu Nwanguma, Nigeria, 2008, 25m. In Krio and English.

Having grown up in a world where corruption and greed rule, lifelong friends Bode and Obi encounter a near death experience following a botched scam and decide to repent from their way of life. They cut their ties with their megalomaniacal boss Dele and his domineering girlfriend (who has a soft spot for Bode), but life as good citizens proves difficult. They plan one more job behind Dele’s back, to raise the funds that would ease them into a lifestyle of godliness, but they are soon faced with a life-or-death situation and must search for an escape route from the clutches of Dele’s henchmen.

Thu Apr 9:* 9pm; Mon Apr 13: *10:00pm


Kinshasa Palace (N.Y. Premiere)

Jose Laplaine, Democratic Republic of Congo/France, 2006; 75m. In French, Tshiluba, Portuguese, English, and Cambodian.

Kinshasa Palace is an engrossing study of family displacement and the socially corrosive ramifications of the recent African Diaspora. The Laplaine family is scattered around Europe and Africa, refugees from the wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kaze and younger brother Max live in Paris, though recently Max has gone missing and the family is beginning to worry. Somewhere between documentary and fiction—the film is based on, and uses, the filmmaker's own family—Kinshasa Palace speaks volumes about the legacy of an unstable Africa on the micro level.

Wed Apr 8: 1:45pm; Mon Apr 13: 5:30pm


Paris or Nothing / Paris A Tout Prix

Josephine Ndagnou, Cameron, 2008; 133m. In French.

Determined 24-year-old Suzy will do anything to leave her native Cameroon to go to Paris. But the journey is fraught with risks, and after all kinds of ordeals, she reaches Paris to find out that it is not the paradise about which she dreamt. This film finds a very effective way of tackling with contemporary issues linked to immigration, and is a very powerful portrait of a young woman whose dreams and false hopes are shared by too many young people today.

Wed Apr 8: 3:30pm; Mon Apr 13: 7:30pm


The Prodigal Son (U.S. Premiere)

Kurt Orderson, South Africa, 2008; 64m. In Caribbean Patois and English.

Kurt Orderson a Rastafarian and filmmaker from Cape Town, South Africa, retraces his great-grandfather Joseph Orderson’s epic journey to South Africa from Barbados in the 1890s. Orderson was part of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, founded by the great Marcus Garvey, father of contemporary Black Nationalism and Pan Africanism.


Bronx Princess

Yoni Brook and Musa Syeed, Ghana/USA, 2008; 29m. In Twi, Ga and English.

Bronx Princess follows headstrong 17-year-old Rocky's journey as she leaves behind her mother in New York City to reunite with her father, a chief in Ghana. Filmed during her tumultuous summer between high school and college, Rocky’s coming-of-age story confronts her immigrant parents' ideas of adulthood, as she reconciles her African heritage with her dream of independence.


African Booty Scratcher


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