All packed and ready to go for your Africanadventure? Why not now settle down then, and watch a few African movies about the countries continent, to enable you to understand your destination a little better before getting there. Here are a pick of 10 of the finest.
This picture was directed by one of the true legends of African cinema – Souleymane Cisse – a multi-award winning director who has made some controversial films in the past that have landed in him prison. “The Wind” – however – is no doubt his most famous work. Filmed in 1983, and based in his native Mali, it is a real modern day Romeo and Juliet story and star crossed lovers. Based in the rocky aftermath of Mali’s post-colonial era, it follows two teenagers who fall hopelessly in love with each other: Batrou is the daughter of a provincial military governor born into a strict military family, however, she is a bit of a pot smoking rebel very different from her father. Her lover is named Bah, who is born into a tribal family, and is descended from a great tribal chieftain. In many ways, Batrou’s family represents the new military order in the country, whilst Bah’s represents the old traditional tribal ways. Batrou and Bah’s relationship is an act of rebellion from a generation who is rejecting the established order and the conservative Mali society they find themselves in in the post-colonial era. It’s a beautifully shot film, with extraordinary imagery and a wonderful soundtrack, and a flavour of those 1960’s hippy movies from America. The ending is unexpectedly powerful.
One of the most famous, successful and popular films in Africa to this day – directed by Djibril Diop Mambety – the story tells of a woman – named Linguere Ramatou – whose lover leaves her. Heartbroken, she decides to go abroad and start a new life: Luckily for her, she ends up becoming rich, and some years later returns to a very different Africa that has become wealthier and more consumerist, seemingly in love with TV soap operas and fridges. But Ramatou goes back to her home village of Colobane, and this is where the heart of the story takes place: She returns a wealthy woman, and spreads much of this wealth amongst the people living there. But she eventually uses this wealth not altruistically, but maliciously, in an attempt to execute a plot to murder her former lover her abandoned her all those years ago. The story ends up being both a light hearted, comedic, tale of revenge which also parallels a critique of the neocolonialism and growing African consumerism at the time.
Now for something much more modern, and much different from the African ‘classics’. District 9 tells the story of a race of aliens who appear over Johannesburg, South Africa in 1982, with their space vessel damaged and unable to continue their journey. Initially, they are welcomed by the South African and wider human population, but twenty eight years later, those feelings have completely faded away and the refugee camp where the aliens – known as a derogatory name “The Prawns” due to their appearance – has deteriorated into a ghetto where daily life is a battle for survival. “The Prawns” are strictly confined to the camp by the military, and are exploited in this squalor and used for manual labour, basically as little more than slaves. Things come to a head in 2010, when a munitions corporation is contracted to forcibly evict the entire alien population with the manager Wilkus van der Merwe in charge. When the operation begins, however, Wilkus is exposed to a strange alien chemical that slowly transforms him physically into one the “Prawns”. Suddenly, he is forced to switch sides and relies on the help of his new “pawn” friends to reverse the process whilst in exchange he helps them to repair a ship so they can escape Earth and fly home. What does all this have to do with Africa, you may ask? Well, that is the great thing about this movie. It is essentially a stabbing critique of the Apartheid era and endemic racism in South Africa and it’s effects on wider society, and how even today it still leaves a legacy there, all under the premise of a fantastically shot and original sci-fi movie that is more about ethics than it is gadgets. If you know anything about Apartheid you will immediately recognise what the story of the film is aiming for.
A film by the infamous Licinio Azevedo based in Mozambique whilst it is in it’s midst of celebrating the end of it’s colonial rule in 1975. It follows a group of women – some of who were forced into being prostitutes prior to the revolution. However, after the revolution these women are celebrating the day of Mozambique’s independence outside a popular hotel, but this is where the story becomes dark and sad: A group of revolutionary soldiers, who now control and rule the country, round up these groups of women and take them out into the countryside. Here, they subject these women to torture and even rape. Eventually two women build up the courage to plot an escape. Dark and at times hard to watch, nonetheless, this is an important part of history in Mozambique’s era of independence.
This is a documentary film about the 2007 discovery of massive oil deposits off the coast of Ghana. Unlike other nations that squandered their oil supplies which only filled to line the pockets of foreign investors and dictators, Ghana managed – for the most part – to better make this oil extraction project a success for all of Ghana. But of course, it still had it’s problems. The two-man film crew here get complete unrestricted access to the whole project headed by the oil production corporation Kosmos and it’s partners, however simultaneously the film crew also film Nigeria’s Niger Delta and how militant gangs try to profit in any way they can from this new oil find, tired of waiting for the the money to trickle down from the corporations down to the ordinary people. The story shows us just what happens when a poor country discover a giant pot of gold, and the fall-out that occurs, and how the government in Ghana deal with it. Happily, they deal with it a lot better than many other countries in their position: The government create a branch called the “Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative” which enforces rules which make the Ministry of Finance have to provide publicly accessible petroleum receipts every 6 months, so everyone can see where the revenue from the oil project is going. It’s a fascinating look into the workings of the global oil industry and global capitalism in general, but especially fantastic at looking at the problems unique to Ghana and how they have overcome them.
Tsotsi translate to “thug”, and is set in a city slum in Johannesburg. As the title suggests, it follows a young street criminal (barely a teenager) who is a petty thief just trying to survive in a world where he has been tossed out with the trash and forgotten by wider society. One day however he discovers a abandoned baby in a car he is stealing. Tsotsi won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and nominated for a Golden Globe. It’s a bit like the Brazilian film “City of God” in it’s gritty feel of kids forgotten, growing up in slums, and doing what they have to do to survive in this violent unforgiven world. But the main character here gives the story an extra spin: He takes the baby he found back to his slum and hopes it holds the key to his salvation and redemption…
African Movies: Waiting for Happiness (Mauritania, 2002)
“Waiting for Happiness” really sets the tone early on in the film: It really feels like everyone in Mauritania at the time is stuck in a kind of limbo: Everywhere you look, people are just waiting around. They are watching, dreaming of going to France or other countries in search of a better life and better opportunities. And this really is how the film pans out: It is really a succession of scenes showing the daily life of the characters, and the viewer has to make a little effort in interpreting what is happening, without much help from a narrator or any obvious plot. On the sea coast and harbours we see people waiting: Looking out to sea and dreaming of European places they have only ever seen in old dusty magazines or television. More hope is offered slowly cluttering through the ocean of sand dunes: a train edges gradually nearer and nearer, stopping only briefly to pick up more passengers that climb onto the top of carriages loaded to the top with iron ore. In the capital, a woman named Nana looks back to the death of her daughter and the journey she has ahead to Europe where she will have to inform her father, and her neighbour, Khatra desperately wants an electric light so he can read at night, while an old man named Maata tries to re-wire the room. This is the real Mauritania, filmed about ordinary people with engrossing stories, and a narrative that is self-explanatory and has no need for the usual story-arks, such is the beautiful imagery.
Although these days, Rwanda has recovered from the horrific genocide in the 90’s and is known more for it’s wonderful opportunities for gorilla trekking and the spectacularly beautiful ‘Volcanoes National Park’, it very much shaped the country’s destiny: And no film gives us such a grim, honest and powerful reminder about those dark events. This film about the genocide, directed by Northern Ireland’s Terry George, follows the story of Paul Rusesabangina, who was a hotel manager who took the courage to house and shelter over a thousand Tutsi refugees when the genocide kicked off and reached it’s climax, with Hutu militias flowing through the countryside and cities, hacking to death men, women and children indiscriminately. Paul manages to the keep the Hutu militias at bay for days, through bribing militia men with alcohol and money and other hotel services. Eventually, the United Nations come and evacuate the foreigners from the hotel, but they are strictly forbidden to evacuate any Hutu or Tutsis. The leader of the UN Peacekeepers – Canadian, Colonel Oliver – eventually becomes so guilt ridden at what he sees, he breaks these orders and attempts to evacuate a group of refugees and Paul’s family, but they are ambushed and come under heavy fire and are forced to retreat. Paul is then all alone in desperately trying to save the last of the refugees by himself…Telling anymore would be spoiling a nail biting ending to a gripping film, that was nominated for numerous Academy Awards and won the Toronto and Berlin Intentional Film Festivals Best Movie awards.
From the same man who bought the legendary African classic “Hyenas”, Ousmane Sembene’s ‘Guelwaar’ is a gripping film based in rural Senegal. The story is focused around a Catholic and a Muslim who die on the same day. The Islamic villagers claim the body of their man, and bury him at once, as is the Islamic custom and tradition with funeral rites. The only problem is, however, is that the Islamic villagers also have the Catholic’s body in their possession, and that he turns out to be a dissident and was thought to have been killed by the authoritarian regime’s government for arguing against accepting foreign aid for Senegal. This true story is wounded into a web by Sembene, a web with multiple characters, an engrossing drama about Africa religion and African pride. The final scene is incredibly powerful, and without giving too much away and spoiling it, will give anyone who has ever given money to any African charities a new perspective on where their money sometimes is misdirected and is sometimes detrimental rather than beneficial to people in Africa.
And finally, something much more heart warming and what is widely considered one of the greatest comedy films to ever come out of Africa, ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ is based a travelling Bushman (a tribe who still live a hunter-gatherer kind of lifestyle) named Xi, who is forced to encounter modern civilisation after a Coco cola bottle falls from the sky! The trouble starts when the bottle is considered a gift from the gods by the priests in his village, when actually it was just dropped by a passing aeroplane. Xi is tasked with effort of tracking down the ‘gifts’ meaning, and the trail of events leads to him thinking he must travel to the edge of the world to destroy it! In the adventure he finds himself on, he cross paths with a clumsy biologist, a school teacher, a news reporter and a band of revolutionaries looking to overthrow the government. Needless to say, it’s pretty hilarious from start to finish, no matter what kind of sense of humour you have. It is essentially a comical allegory of the clash of modern civilization and old-world African traditions.