The second annual African Film Festival, by Columbia College’s Department of Film and Video, concludes this weekend, Friday through Sunday, April 26 through 28. All screening’s are free at the Ferguson Theater, 600 S. Michigan, the Collins Theater, 624 S. Michigan, and the Hokin Hall Theater, 623 S. Wabash. For more information call 663-1600, ext. 5287, or 663-1124.


To Sleep With Anger

It seems scandalous that Charles Burnett, the most gifted black American director offering purely realistic depictions of black urban life, had to wait for more than a decade to get any of his films distributed in this country, and that this one only got made because Danny Glover agreed to play a leading role in it. (He also served as an executive producer.) Unlike Burnett’s previous and undistributed Killer of Sheep and My Brother’s Wedding, this feature is steeped in folklore, but that doesn’t prevent the film from giving us a depiction of contemporary black family life richer than we can find anywhere else. The plot concerns the arrival of one Harry Mention (Glover), an old friend from the rural south, on the doorstep of a family living in Los Angeles, and the subtle and not-so-subtle havoc that he wreaks on their lives. The family is headed by a retired farmer (Paul Butler) and his midwife spouse (Mary Alice), whose two married sons (Carl Lumbly and Richard Brooks) are in constant conflict. Babe Brother (Brooks) is married to an upwardly mobile realtor (Sheryl Lee Ralph), and his relative distance from the family’s traditional ways is exacerbated by the outsider’s influence on him. When the father mysteriously becomes ill, Harry Mention’s baleful and somewhat supernatural effect on the household finally. causes a crisis. Burnett’s acute and sensitive direction is absolutely free of hackneyed movie conventions; even something as simple as a “Hello” is said differently from the way you’ve heard it in any other movie. All of Burnett’s features have the density of novels, rich with characters and their interplay, and this one is no exception (1990). Burnett will be present for a discussion. (Ferguson Theater, 1:00)

My Brother’s Wedding

The least known of Charles Burnett’s first three features (the other two are Killer of Sheep and To Sleep With Anger) and in some respects my favorite focuses on the family pressure exerted on a young man in Watts (Everett Silas) who works at his parents’ dry cleaners–pressure to abandon his disreputable ghetto friends and adjust to a more middle-class existence. This struggle is pushed to the limit when he has to choose between attending his older brother’s wedding to a woman from an affluent family and attending the funeral of his best friend, a former juvenile delinquent. Burnett’s acute handling of actors (most of whom are nonprofessionals) never falters, and his gifts as a storyteller make this a movie that steadily grows in impact and resonance as one watches. If a better film has been made about black ghetto life, I haven’t seen it (1983). Burnett will be present for a discussion. (Hokin Hall Theater, 1:00)

One False Move

Three coke dealers–one black, one white, and one mulatto–flee a deal that entails the slaughter of many innocents in South Central Los Angeles for Star City, Arkansas, the mulatto’s hometown; the local sheriff, working with two LA cops, hopes to catch them (1992). There’s plenty to be impressed by while watching this noirish thriller-written by Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton, and directed by Carl Franklin–but not much aftertaste. Starring Thornton, Michael Beach, Cynda Williams, Bill Paxton, Jim Metzler, and Earl Billings. (Ferguson Theater, 3: 10)

Killer of Sheep

The rarely screened first feature (1978) of the highly talented black filmmaker Charles Burnett, who has set most of his films (including My Brother’s Wedding and To Sleep With Anger) in Watts; this one deals episodically with the life of a slaughterhouse worker. Shot on weekends over a year on a minuscule budget (less than $20,000), this remarkable work was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry as one of the key works of the American cinema–an ironic and belated form of recognition for a film that still has had virtually no distribution. It shouldn’t be missed. With Henry Sanders. Burnett will be present for a discussion. (Hokin Hall Theater, 3:20)


A young widow dares to reject the West African practice of “wife inheritance” when her brother-in-law claims her as his third I wife in Cheick Oumar Sissoko’s 1990 feature from Mali, a picture that’s highly recommended by my colleagues. (Hokin Hall Theater, 5:15)

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

“A film Hollywood dared not to do” is how writer-director Leslie Harris accurately describes her lively 1992 movie–a brave independent quickie with only a 17-day shooting schedule, about an ambitious, angry black teenage girl (Ariyan Johnson) living in one of the Brooklyn projects who goes into denial when her boyfriend (Kevin Thigpen) gets her pregnant, with catastrophic results. What’s both refreshing and offputting about Harris’s approach to her subject is that her sense of urgency Isn’t accompanied by any clear or consistent analysis; her heroine’s denial eventually overwhelms the movie, but it isn’t “explained” on any level. Yet Harris’s refusal to treat her heroine strictly as either role model or bad example makes her portrait a lot livelier and less predictable–as well as more confusing–than the standard genre exercises with stock figures most reviewers seem to prefer. (Some have faulted Harris’s crude stereotyping of a couple of white characters, one of them ostensibly Jewish, but this occupies only a few seconds of screen time and is hardly worse than the rarely criticized black stereotyping found in many hundreds of other movies.) What’s exciting about this movie is a lot of loose details: frank girl talk about AIDS and birth control, glancing observations about welfare lines and the advantages of a boy with a car over one with subway tokens. With Ebony Jerido, Chequita Jackson, and William Badget. (Ferguson Theater, 5:30)

Le franc

A penniless musician wins a lottery in a 45-minute film from 1994 by the highly talented Djibril Diop Mambety (Touki Bouki, Hyenas). (Collins Theater, 5:30)


Since his extraordinary first feature Touki Bouki (1973)–the first experimental feature in African cinema–Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Marnbety has survived mainly as a stage and film actor, and expectations about his second feature in 1992 naturally ran high. My first response to Hyenas was that it’s a safer film than its predecessor, but on further reflection I find it in many ways a more considered and mature work, with ironies that may turn out to be even deadlier. This is an African adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s famous Swiss play The Visit (also filmed, rather unsatisfactorily, by Bernhard Wicki with Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn in the mid-60s): A wealthy, aging woman returns to the impoverished village she left many years before and offers fortune to the people there if they will murder a local shopkeeper who seduced, impregnated, and abandoned her when she was 16. At first the villagers disdainfully reject her offer, but then they decide they’re at least entitled to purchase the shopkeeper’s goods on credit, and then their taste for luxuries starts to grow–clearly a comic allegory about contemporary colonialism, consumerism, and what they have to do with each other. Diop Mambety shows an able hand in managing his talented cast and cuts quite a commanding figure himself when he appears in a pivotal small role. (Collins Theater, 6:40)

The Blue Eyes of Yonta

A tragicomic feature by Flora Gomes (1991), set and filmed in Guinea-Bissau, about the secret love of a young girl in the city of Bissau who’s secretly loved by someone else. (Hokin Hall Theater, 7:30)

I Like It Like That

This stunning debut by writer-director Darnell Martin is the first movie by a woman from a ghetto background to be produced by a major studio. A raucous comedy-drama about a volatile Latino couple trying to raise their three kids in a Bronx ghetto, it manages a truce between Hollywood pizzazz and authenticity while jumping with energy (though it runs out of steam a little before the end). The charismatic heroine, played by Lauren Velez-a mulatto, like Martin-goes after a job with a recording executive after her husband tries to steal a stereo during a blackout and winds up in jail; among the other characters are her brother Jesse Borrego), a transvestite botanica owner, and her downstairs neighbor and worst enemy (Lisa Vidal), an unwed mother who’s after Velez’s husband, and her disapproving mother-in-law (a delightful turn by Rita Moreno). While keeping up a frenetic pace, the movie manages to speak thoughtfully about parenting, marital sex problems, jealousy, gossip, lotteries, record promotion, inner-city crime, and homophobla. It’s not common to find so much bombast and wisdom coexisting, but from the evidence offered here Darnell Martin is an uncommon talent-offering an eyeful as well as an earful. With Griffin Dunne, Jon Seda, Jesse Borrego, and Lisa Vidal. (Ferguson Theater, 7:35)

Touki Bouki

This first feature by Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambety is one of the greatest of all African films and almost certainly the most experimental (1973). Beautifully shot and strikingly conceived, it follows the comic misadventures of a young motorcyclist and former herdsman (Magaye Niang) who gets involved in petty crimes in Dakar during an attempt to escape to Paris with the woman he loves (Mareme Niang). The title translates as “hyena’s voyage,” and among the things that make this film so interesting stylistically are the fantasy sequences involving the couple’s projected images of themselves in Paris and elsewhere. (Collins Theater, 8:50)

Gito, the Ungrateful

An African comedy from Burundi by Leonce Ngabo (1992). The title hero is an ambitious politician who returns home from school in Paris with hopes of becoming a big shot in the government, but soon encounters difficulties–which increase after his Paris girlfriend turns up; with Joseph Kumbela, Marie Bunuel, and Aoua Sangare. (Hokin Hall Theater, 9:25)


Ganga Zumba

The Brazilian slave revolt of 1641, the first in the Americas, as seen through the eyes of a young black man. This 1963 production, made at the start of Brazil’s Cinema Novo movement, was the first feature of Carlos Diegues (Xica, Bye Bye Brazil). (DK) (Ferguson Theater, 9:00 am)

Maria Antonia

Adapted from Eugenio Hernandez’s play, this 1990 Cuban feature by Sergio Giral, set in Havana in the 50s, concerns a beautiful, rebellious young woman who’s taken to a high priest by her godmother; with Alina Rodriguez and Alexis Valdez. (Hokin Hall Theater, 9:00 am)

Ca twiste a poponguine

A 1993 coming-of-age film from Senegal by Moussa Sene Absa, set in an African village during the 60s. (Collins Theater, 9:00 am)


Amadou Saalum Seck’s 1988 Senegalese film about a mythical place that’s a “metaphor for the dreams and disillusionment of Senegal and Africa in the decades since independence.” (Collins Theater, 11:00 am)


This is almost a by-the-numbers Brazilian film–the bright colors, bouncy music, teasing eroticism, and political lessons seem like the familiar elements of a formula–but there’s some genuine charm and dynamism in it too (1985). It’s the story of Palmares, the most famous of the mountain villages (quilombos) formed by runaway slaves in 17th-century Brazil; presided over by the legendary chief Ganga Zumba, it survived for two generations before failing to the Portuguese colonial troops. Director Carlos Diegues (Bye Bye Brazil) does best with the spectacular musical numbers, which seem the work of a Busby Berkeley hopped up on Frantz Fanon; the dialogue passages merely shuffle the usual slogans. With Zeze Motta, from Diegues’s Xica. (DK) (Ferguson Theater, 11:05 am)

One Way or Another

A 1971 film by Cuban director Sara Gomez. An educated woman sent to teach in a slum neighborhood falls in love with one of her pupils, and their romance becomes an image of the difficulties faced in building a classless society. Gomez died before shooting was complete, and the film was finished by Tomas Gutierrez Alea, director of Memories of Underdevelopment. (DK) On the same program, Zeinabu Irene Davis’s 1986 short film, The Crocodile Conspiracy. (Hokin Hall Theater, 11:16 am)


Ababacar Samb’s 1982 film relates the folk history of the Senegalese people through the figure of a “griot”–a storyteller who tells tales of ancient heroism to give courage to a group of striking workers. (DK) (Hokin Hall Theater, 3:30)

Harlem Diary: 9 Voices of Resilience

A feature-length documentary directed by Jonathan Stack and written by Terry Williams, adapting her book The Uptown Kids: Struggle and Hope in the Projects. Williams will be present to discuss her film. (Hokin Hall Theater, 3:30)


The exciting thing about Haile Gerima’s lush, wide-screen folkloric feature about black slavery-independently made and distributed-is its poetic conviction, backed up by a great deal of filmmaking savvy. Born in Ethiopia but based in the U.S., Gerima attended UCLA’s film school around the same time as Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, Julie Dash, and Billy Woodbury. I haven’t seen his previous films-which include Harvest 3000 Years, Bush Mama, and Ashes and Embers–but Sankofa (1993) shows that he has a camera style and political vision all his own. A glamorous black model (Oyafunmike Ogunlano) posing for pictures outside an ancient castle in Ghana where slaves were once bought and sold provokes the ire of a self-appointed tribal guardian of this tourist spot; he hurls a curse that magically transports her into the role of a slave on a Jamaican plantation, where most of the remainder of the film is set. Beautifully shot and powerfully acted, the depiction of slavery from the vantage point of the slaves as they move toward revolt is rendered mainly in English dialogue, with an interesting score by David J. White that manages to encompass American jazz and blues as well as African elements. It stands to reason that if anything could bridge the radically disparate experiences of being an American black and an African slave it’s poetry, and Gerima puts it to stirring use. With Alexandra Duah, Nick Medley, Jamaican dub poet Mutabaruka, and Ghanaian drummer Ghanaba. (Collins Theater, 3:30)

Fary, the Donkey

A 1989 Senegalese feature directed by Mansour Sora Wade. (Hokin Hall Theater, 5:30)

Brightness (Yeelen)

Souleymane Cisse’s extraordinarily beautiful and mesmerizing fantasy is set in the ancient Bambara culture of Mali (formerly French Sudan) long before it was invaded by Morocco in the 16th century. A young man (Issiaka Kane) sets out to discover the mysteries of nature (or komo, the science of the gods) with the help of his mother and uncle, but his jealous and spiteful father contrives to prevent him from deciphering the elements of the Bambara sacred rites and tries to kill him. In the course of a heroic and magical journey, the hero masters the Bambara initiation rites, takes over the throne, and ultimately confronts the magic of his father. Apart from creating a dense and exciting universe that should make George Lucas green with envy, Cisse has shot breathtaking images in Fujicolor and has accompanied his story with a spare, hypnotic, percussive score. Conceivably the greatest African film ever made, sublimely mixing the matter-of-fact with the uncanny, this wondrous work provides an ideal introduction to a filmmaker who, next to Ousmane Sembene, is probably Africa’s greatest director. Winner of the jury prize at the 1987 Cannes festival. Not to be missed. (Collins Theater, 5:55)


Made in Angola in 1972, Sara Maldoror’s feature tells of a young wife’s cross-country search for her husband, a resistance leader spirited away by government forces. (DK) (Ferguson Theater, 6:00)

The Coming of the Saturnites and Money’ll Eat You Up

Two shorts by S. Torriano Berry: the 30-minute The Coming of the Saturnites (1986) and the third episode in Berry’s SF anthology “The Black Beyond,” Money’ll Eat You Up (1993). Berry will be present to discuss his work. (Hokin Hall Theater, 6:30)


A preview of director S. Torriano Berry’s new horror feature about a deranged mortician. (Hokin Hall Theater, 7:50)


The most commercially successful film (1992) in the history of Zimbabwe, this has been described as a fable of female empowerment; it follows the struggles of the title heroine as she protects her family. after the death of her husband. Godwin Mawuru directed. (Collins Theater, 8: 10)

The Third Root: Homage to the Black Culture in Puerto Rico

A 45-minute documentary by Carlos H. Malave (1995). (Ferguson Theater, 8:30)


Short Films

Three American independent short films: Ailie Sharon Larkin’s Your Children Come Back to You (1979) and two dance films, DeJunius Hughes’s Invocation (1993) and Julie Dash’s Four Women (1978). (Hokin Hall Theater, 11:00 am)

Midnight Ramble

An hour-long 1995 film by Pearl Bowser and screenwriter Clyde Taylor about black film pioneer Oscar Micheaux and the early development of African- American cinema; Taylor will be present for a discussion. (Hokin Hall Theater, 12:15)

To Sleep With Anger

See listing under Friday, April 26. After the screening, director Charles Burnett and Midnight Ramble screenwriter Clyde Taylor will discuss the “LA Rebellion” filmmakers. (Hokin Theater, 4: 10)