By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act April 16, 2014 at 6:37PM
Tomorrow morning, the 2014 edition of the Cannes Film Festival (the most prestigious international film festival) will make its official feature film selection announcement, and, as is the case every year, film industry news outlets have all been publishing their predictions lists. It's a thrilling little game we all like to play. Except, for us here at S&A, it's not as much fun, since there's often very little in terms of cinema of the African diaspora, selected to screen at the festival.
Conversations about reasons for that abound here on this blog and elsewhere, with the most obvious being that the kind of work necessary to compete (or even screen out of competition) at the festival just isn't plentiful, unfortunately, and thus there's a rather tiny pool of eligibles to choose from (and reasons for that are also sources of debate). But it won't always be that way, I'm sure.
Earlier today, I published an entry announcing that Stone Cars, a 14-minute short by writer/director Reinaldo Marcus Green (brother of Rashaad Ernesto Green, director of the critically-lauded 2011 drama Gun Hill Road), was selected for the Cinéfondation section, which picks 15 to 20 short and medium-length films each year, presented by film schools from all over the world.
This year's edition of the festival will run from May 14 - 25, and while I won't personally there, as has been the case every year, I'll ensure that we'll get reviews of films of interest to this blog, given its mission.
And ahead of tomorrow's much-anticipated announcement of this year's official feature film selections, I thought I'd take a look at what African Diaspora films just might make the cut. Digging through the S&A database, I came across a few Diaspora films that we've been tracking in recent years, that have yet to debut anywhere for one reason or another (often they are incomplete, due to a lack of financing). Some of these titles very well could be selected to screen at this year's festival.
Of course, I'm not on the selection committee, so this is all just conjecture on my part. And it was a challenge coming up with this short list, because, as I said already, pickings are slim this year. Of course, there are always those films that I know absolutely nothing of, and I'll learn about for the very first time tomorrow when the festival makes its announcement - something which I actually really look forward to. Discovering new projects is always exciting. So let's see what Thursday brings.
Without further ado, here's the list of 10 films that I think are the strongest candidates this year, in no particular order:
1 - Faire L’Amour: Haitian director Djinn Carrénard's sophomore effort, Faire l’amour (or Making Love), will star the director, alongside Emma Nicolai and Laurette Lalande, from a screenplay he wrote. Djinn's first film, Donoma, was reportedly made for a few hundred dollars; we saw it, and we were enthralled by it! It screened at Cannes 2 years ago, but as part of a sidebar program. He impressed critics and audiences with it, around the world, wherever it screened, including here in the USA, and I expect his second feature to do the same, starting with a Cannes 2013 premiere. The film, budgeted at €2.7 million, or about $3.5 million, is a considerable jump (from a few hundred dollars for his first film, to a few million for his second). Let's see how that affects the end product. The film began production in the spring of 2012, with shooting expected to take about nine weeks in Paris, so we can only assume it's complete by now, or close to completion. Carrénard actually wrote Faire L'Amour before he made Donoma, and says that it'll explore similar themes as that first film, which revolved around the dynamics of several, interconnected Paris couples. And also like Donoma, Faire L’Amour's cast comprises of mostly amateur, first-time actors, which Carrénard selected from acting workshops he conducted earlier last year.
2 - Soleils: Co-directed in Burkina Faso by Olivier Delahaye's and Dani Kouyate, from a script by Delahaye, Soleils (which translates as Suns in English) tells the story of an old wise man who is entrusted with curing a young girl struck by amnesia. He takes her on a healing trip to Ouagadougou by way of the Cape, Berlin, Mali and Belgium. In their travels, which are full of surprises, they meet characters described as remarkable and luminous, or ignorant, with set ideas, as well as some fabulous creatures, and a text hidden deep in a continent that reveals a well kept secret: Africa has something to tell us. With a cast that includes Binda Ngazolo and Nina Melo, the project received a €350,000 advance on receipts from the French National Film and Moving Image Centre (CNC) 2 years - or about $430,000, to help with its budget. Principal photography began on June 4, 2012, followed by a lengthy post-production period, thanks, in part, to some digital effects within the film. Some may be familiar with Kouyate's past work - specifically the visually enthralling Sia, The Dream Of The Python, which won the Special Jury Prize at the 2001 FESPACO event, amongst other accolades. This is his 3rd film. His films have done well at French film festivals, in and out of France, but none has screened at the grand-daddy of them all - Cannes. Maybe Soleils will be his first.
3 - Nina: What I'm sure will be one of the most discussed films this year (assuming it's released in the USA this year) is director Cyntia Mort's Nina Simone project, starring Zoe Saldana in the title role. The film will tell the story of the late jazz musician and classical pianist, Nina Simone, including her rise to fame and relationship with her manager Clifton Henderson, played by David Oyelowo. Mike Epps plays Richard Pryor. Despite all the images we've seen of Saldana as Simone, I really have absolutely no idea what to expect of this film. None! I'm not familiar with Cynthia Mort's work, and, although we read an early draft of the script (and reviewed it HERE), a lot may have changed since that draft. And even if nothing has changed, I'll need to see some footage from the film first, to get a better feel for what the director and cast have done with the story they set out to tell. The film was shot in the fall of 2012, and has seemingly been in post-production since then. I thought it would've premiered last year - at Toronto - as well as at Sundance this year, but it didn't screen at either, which left me uncertain about its future. So I won't be surprised if a Cannes debut (whether in or out of competition) happens. I'd be remiss if I didn't add that the French loved/love Nina, and she did die in that country, her adopted homeland, in 2003.
4 - White Elephants, A Congo Trilogy: An intriguing new documentary (and the first I've mentioned in this series) based on the footage I've seen of it thus far, from Belgian/Brit director Kristof Bilsen. It's a Congo (DRC)-set documentary feature which is an expansion of Bilsen's critically-acclaimed short film titled White Elephants, and centers on the Central Post-Office in Kinshasa, and its employees. "This grandiose relic of the colonial past has trapped its employees in a frozen time-warp from which they are planning their escape. From past to present, through the cracks in the walls, and leaks in the ceilings, we glimpse present-day Congo." The feature received plenty of financial support from grant-giving institutions, and began shooting about 2 years ago. In early 2013, a projected spring 2013 release date was said to eyed, but that never happened. A year later, a spring 2014 debut date might be in its future. And where else other than Cannes, in the spring, could the film premiere? We posted an early teaser of the film last year - a beautifully-composed and shot, meditative and seemingly poetic piece of cinema; Certainly not the pulsating vision of post-war DRC (Kinshasa specifically) that we saw in Djo Munga's Viva Riva!.
5 - Côte d'Ivoire native Philippe Lacôte's feature film debut, Run, which was one of 15 projects selected for the Cannes L’Atelier in 2012 - an initiative which runs during the Cannes Film Festival aimed at finding financing for projects by upcoming directors that are in an advanced state of development. The synopsis reads: Run is running away… He has just killed his country’s prime minister. To escape, he has taken on the face and clothes of a madman, wandering throughout the town for months. Run speaks of his “transformation into a madman.” He tells the tale of his chaotic journey, like that of the Ivory Coast, by deliberately placing himself beyond the edge of reason. His life returns to him in flashes: his childhood with Master Tourou, when he dreamt of becoming a rainmaker; his incredible adventures with Greedy Gladys, and his past in the militia as a Young Patriot. Run has not chosen all of these lives. He has stumbled into them, escaping from one life to another. This is why he is called “Run.” The film's starring cast includes Isaach de Bankole (likely the most familiar to American audiences; he recently starred in Andrew Dosunmu's Mother Of George), Abdoul Karim Konate (he stars in Bamba Souleymane's Burn It Up Djassa) and Rasmane Ouedraogo (the veteran featured in films like Ousmane Sembene's Moolaadé). By the way, a short film by director Lacôte is currently traveling with the African Metropolis initiative, which features 7 African directors, each exploring their own "African Metropolis" on film. This should give Stateside audiences a first glimpse at the filmmaker's work, while we wait for his feature debut, Run, to debut. The fact that it was selected for the Cannes L'Atelier film financing summit 2 years ago, bodes very well for the project premiering at Cannes (even if it's not this year). The festival has essentially already given the film its stamp of approval, and the logical next step would be to make it an official selection. the project has already been the recipient of a number of cash awards, grants and such, including a CNC grant and the Pitching Prize in the Amiens Festival 2011.
Click over for the second 5 films...