From Women Boxers to Grannies Playing Soccer to Partying Animals…

Another day is winding down at the 3rd Annual Silicon Valley African Film Festival.

And what a day it has been.  Having missed the first three films of the day, I was raring to go by the time the next block of movies began.

Things kicked off with an inspiring film called “Girl Fight.”  The focus of the story is on 17 year old boxer Nozwelethu Mathontsi as she prepares for an upcoming tournament.  It’s filled with candid interviews of the people in her life and how they feel about the path she’s taken, her training and their hopes for her.  In this area of South Africa, boxing is like a national sport.  Boxing is also a way out of poverty.  Nozwelethu is a determined young lady who works hard and focuses everything on boxing.  In her corner is South Africa’s premier female boxer, Noni Tenge.  The friendship, respect and support between student and mentor is inspiring.  It reminds me that no one gets anywhere alone.  The other thing that comes to mind is the idea “if I see it, I can be it” and how important it is for young people to have true role models.  The movie’s climax is the match itself.  While this is a short, all of the film has been building up to this moment and within two or three minutes it’s over.  The camera work is great during the match. The hand held style feels like the audience is part of the action and heightens the stakes.  The last words are Nozwelethu explaining how she would love to become a professional boxer just to care for her family. She is an incredible person and I hope that her future continues to look bright.

Next up was probably my favorite short of the day.  The title “Strong Bones” makes me think of the body, but I didn’t think it would be like this.  This South African entry shows the struggle of a soccer team of grannies (yes, you read that right, grannies)  after their field has been sold to a car wash company.  Setback or not, these gritty grannies practice  where they can and eventually move the Mayer to join their campaign.  At it’s inception, the league was created because the founder realized these women were going to the clinics monthly for prescriptions when exercise would help some of the ailments they had.  It was beautiful to see these women running after the soccer ball and sometimes kicking wildly at it fully determined to make the next goal.  I was at the edge of my seat with anxiety because I didn’t want anyone to get hurt during the game.  What really stands out in my head is the very end with the women gathered around singing as loud as they can “We are the women who play soccer…” I still smile when I think about it!

“Chumo (or Bride Price)” is a beautiful film about love and the things we would do to fight for it.  The story revolves around poor fisherman, Juma, who is in love with Amina.  Sadly, her uncle doesn’t approve and agrees to marry her to the rich and arrogant, Yustus.  Once he learns that Amina is pregnant with his child, Juma realizes that simply asking the uncle repeatedly for her hand in marriage isn’t going to be enough.  He challenges Yustus to a number of contests including fishing.  Juma with his primitive tools and boat vs. Yustus and his motorized and much larger 3-man boat and dynamite seems an uneven battle, but experience counts for something, doesn’t it?  Thanks to Yustus, Juma befalls an “accident” during the contest. As the men compete for Amina, she suffers a bout of malaria which causes her to lose the baby.  The themes of prenatal care, forgiveness, and love move the film to the  happy ending that one has to expect in a film about the fight for love.  The film may have had a few frames that didn’t quite make sense to me but the editing was sharp.  The pace of the film moved along well and ended too quickly for me.  I would have loved more backstory of Juma’s father.

“The Gaze of the Stars” from Mozambique is a great little flick about the depths men could go to hide their shame.  The elusive Julia in the film left her husband and nephew because she wasn’t allowed to learn and study outside of the home.  She marries another man and becomes the subject of many whispered conversations.  Every night, her husband can be heard beating her.  While people want to do something, they don’t.  No one does anything until Julia’s new husband steals a picture of her from her nephew, who stole it from his uncle.  This angers the uncle so much that finally he confronts the new husband only to find that she has been gone for quite some time and the beating were just a way to keep people from knowing she had left. When people of the town asked the uncle how she was, he too kept the secret.  The ideas of male dominance and control are looked at but not shattered.  While the story is great, I would love to have seen these ideas crushed with Julia coming back to the town and the ideas that would have then created in the women. The cinematography and direction were fantastic.  The cast was outstanding and completely believable.

The Tunisian film “Sabriya” was a head scratcher for sure! Don’t get me wrong.  This was a fantastic movie.  In the program, it says its “about men who prefer to live life as an abstract game and the free spirited woman who changes everything.” If that’s not code, I don’t know what is.  There are homoerotic hints throughout the movie and I thought I was going to see something controversial.  As I watched the film, what I feel I saw was two men that created this little hideaway where a game of strategy can be played without any distractions.  However, one of the two men was in love with the other.  The small looks.  The random shots of them in very close quarters shirtless.  Now introduce a modern day women and a whole new dynamic has been created.  She has a brief relationship with one of the men and the other senses something is different.  In addition to the shirtless frames, there is a scene with the woman filmed from her head down to the top of her cleveage with a snake on her chest moaning/gasping/breathing heavily and I cannot figure out for the life of me way this scene was there.  The only guess I have is that the snake is a symbol for what is forbidden.  But if the man loves her, why is it forbidden.  The imagery in this film is truly beautiful.  The editing is a little bumpy, but overall I really liked this film.  There isn’t much that’s said in the film, so it relied heavily on action to carry the movie.  One of the scenes that I loved but felt it went on a little too long is when the woman went to the hideaway.  After ordering her drink, which she was never given, she goes to sit next to a window where a beam of light is shining through.  With the bartender in the forefront and her table in the background just out of focus, she runs her hands around and through the shaft of light.  It is the only movement in the scene and yet, the focus point is the profile of the bartender who refuses to look at her.  The end of the film is a surprise and it took me a second to realize what happened.  Big thumbs up for this film.

part 2 coming up tomorrow featuring several other films I’ve seen today…

Again there are still many tickets left and tomorrow’s big films that I want to see are “The Ugandan” and “Elegy for a Revolutionary.”  Get your tickets at www.svaff.org.

Silicon Valley African Film Festival is officially…

Image from svaff.org

under way and it opened with a film that is as relevant to America today as it was for Africa in 1957!

I wasn’t sure what I should expect when I got to the Community School of Music and Art (CSMA). , I could hear the percussionists well before I could see them. As I rounded the corner of the building, I saw three musicians set up and just rocking out.  It was kind of early so I spent the time outside just listening to them play.  My experience with African music, limited as it may be, I got used to it maintaining a constant rhythm with only minor variations throughout the song.  The musicians were playing but seemed to be infusing it with the unexpected count of jazz.  It was fantastic and made me want to dance.

I opened the door and found everyone inside the CSMA was in high spirits and laughing.  There were so many beautiful smiling people in wonderful vibrant clothes from traditional garments to flashy evening wear.

Before the festival’s first film, there was a flag procession for the 15 countries that are featured in the festival followed by speeches from Festival Director Chike C. Nwoffiah and Mountain View Mayor Michael Kasperzak. Once all the thank you’s and welcomes had been completed, there was a short musical break from the musicians.

Then the lights were turned down and we were treated to the 1957 film “Freedom.”

In his opening speech, Mr. Nwoffaih said this festival was created in part to get rid of the National Geographic-esque images that many people associate with Africa.  The theme is Africa through African Lens.  One of the first things that I noticed in this film was the beautiful lush landscapes that are presented as the camera pans across the lands.  The movie opens with a montage of images both rural and urban areas of the country mixing the traditional and “new” lifestyles.

The movie is about several men with different backgrounds and ideals “campaigning” to be the person that unifies  the country out from under the oppression of an occupying entity called “the Imperia.”  First, there is the King who is simply ruling in the ways of tradition.  Second, there is the National Loyalist who seeks to use nonviolent methods to bring about the change.  Next, there is the Rebel who will go to the lengths of violence if need be when the voice of the majority isn’t listened to.  Mixed up in all of this is one of the King’s advisors who played people against each other to ensure his own station in life was secure.

The King senses this and sends the advisor to the Geneva Convention.  While at the convention, the advisor sees first hand why the unification is so difficult.  He meets a few like minded people who agree that nothing can be changed if no one is willing to be the first ones to make changes.  Armed with this knowledge, the advisor goes back home and begins the discussion for the unification under a new premise while practicing what he is proposing.

The premise is so simple.  It is listening to that little voice inside you that tells you what is good. Not good for the self but for everyone.  It’s not about who is right but what is right.  The only way to do this is to be absolutely honest, absolutely pure, absolutely unselfish, and absolutely loving.  When you can find all these things, then you have the answers you need.

I love the message of this film.  With our own nation being so harshly divided thanks to the coming election, I think everyone should see this movie.  Both major parties are fighting so hard for power that they are losing sight that the people are suffering and how they can help right now.  Instead, they use that suffering as a weapon against one another.  If they really wanted to make this a better country, they would be able to see the answer if greed, power, and selfishness were honestly, that’s the key word HONESTLY, pushed aside to find truth and goodness.

The script was unexpectedly very funny.  During the Q & A at the end of the night, someone mentioned she loved that the writer showed both sides of how women can get information. The Queen was always coy and clever and sweetly innocent when she was spoke.  The National Loyalist’s wife was very straightforward and unafraid to demand the knowledge.  Both women had some great moments throughout  the film.

While I loved the charm and wit of the script, I did feel that there was a little repetitiveness with it. Each of the “party” members were told essentially the same things; then they apologized to each other for past wrong doings.  I understand the need to set the precedent but for all four men to go through it was a bit much.

The other thing that made me say “hmmm…” was that the men who wanted freedom from the Imperia invite that representative to be part of the discussion.  I would have liked to have seen how that would be resolved a little more specifically instead of the rep just tearing up the latest tax decree.

I think the most beautiful thing about this film aside from the charm, heart and ideas is that the entire cast and crew, which consisted of Africans from all over the country, took the message to heart and helped to create this classic without regard of payment.  A truly selfless act!

All in all, this film was a fantastic way to start the festival.  I already have the movies circled in my program that I can’t wait to see.  Just to name a few: (Saturday) Honayn’s Shoe, Girl Fight, June 16, Mwanasikana, Tiim and (Sunday) The Ugandan (the director is here at the festival), Toindepi aka Where Are We Heading? (Director also attending), Botswana: Diamonds/Democracy, Elegy for a Revolutionary.

There are still tickets left for the festival go the website www.svaff.org for more info and the full movie schedule.

Thanks to LiveSV for the chance to see what I believe will be a wonderful event!  You don’t want to miss this!