“Africa, take me back”; so sang London skunk-rock band Regular Fries in 2000. Skip forward 14 years and this is a feeling that very much resonates as the credits roll and the lights brighten for the final time. Here ended Minicine’s African Cinema season 2014.
From the beatific delights of a one-string lute, to the gut-wrenching subversion of female circumcision, it has been a rollercoaster of emotion, compassion, despair and joy.
As community/social/pop-up/secret/outdoor/bedroom* cinema (*delete as applicable) becomes more prevalent, the need to look beyond appearances has rarely been so important. The members of Staff Benda Bilili, the first feature, believed this so much they named their musical group after its literal translation. Africa is after all, a melting pot of culture, history, war, religion, pride, anger and too frequently, survival. With this season, Minicine audiences have had the chance to witness sights and sounds that they may not have experienced before. An opportunity to see Africa from a new perspective; to look beyond appearances.
As with all of the monthly screenings, this final episode began with an array of short films. E-lectricity was a fun and light-hearted look at the attempts of a young man to power up his lightbulb. A simple tale but one masking the more sincere point; that electricity to some areas of Africa still remains an unachievable goal. With the Tour de Yorkshire looming, this was an apt reminder that pedal power can be of more use than just maintaining the lycra industry.
Between, a poem on the road, fell conveniently in-between, followed by the Philip Bloom documentary Ponte Tower. Whilst this may have built excitement with the (ex)-residents of Pontefract in the audience, expecting an ode to the Haribo factory, it was instead a visually arresting snap-shot of life in Johannesburg’s Ponte City. Bloom skilfully utilised the building’s architecture and history to counter the many divisions and attitudes that exist within the worlds largest non-water situated city.
So to District 9. A monumental mash-up of one-liners, sci-fi, aliens (all played by Jason Cope via motion-capture technology), family, cute kids, brain-dead henchmen and subtle, under-lying critique on the state of Africa’s cultural and racial instability. Men in Black, this was not!
Blomkamp’s use of recently evacuated RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) government housing and a screenplay based on real interviews with local residents, provides an authentic backdrop that elevates this film over so many of its peers. The sci-fi element is an engaging smokescreen to what is a critical and hard-hitting vision of the real-life struggles that exist across many parts of Africa. The humour within the film is an expertly well-judged sweetener to enable the film to achieve everything its set out to.
And so as the curtain fell on another season and the last pieces of Woody’s authentic Melktert were hoovered up, we leave with a short excerpt from 2012’s Ernest et Célestine. As grins break-out across the audiences faces and thoughts turn to the adventures of a small mouse and a bear in beige trousers, it’s clear that a new season dawns on the horizon. Animates is now upon us; new films, new friends, new appearances. Africa… we are back!!
– Barry Yates, Minicine member
E-lectricity dir. Miklas Manneke – 3.67
Between dir. Colleen Alborough and João Orrechia – 2.17
Ponte Tower dir. Philip Bloom – 4.17
District 9 (2009) dir. Neill Blomkamp – 4.85
At first glance District 9 appears to be the last film we would choose to screen. Chock-full of CGI aliens and deafening explosions, it’s often considered my many as “Film 4 fodder”. However, due to its strong racial and geopolitical themes, we felt it deserved to be seen in a different context, alongside fellow socially minded African works Benda Bilili! and Moolaadé, and the gamble appears to have paid off as D9 became our second highest scoring screening of all time – narrowly missing out on toppling Benda from the number one spot.
The fact that we’ve ended this season with two of the three feature films screened now occupying the top two positions of our audience score rankings highlights that there is an obvious appetite for African Cinema within our audience and we look forward to serving up another helping in the future.