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15 African Diaspora-Interest Films That May Premiere At The Cannes Film Festival - Part 3

Features
by Tambay A. Obenson
March 22, 2013 5:37 PM
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Still From 'Tula, The Revolt'

Continuing on with the rest of the list... if you missed the start of the series on Wednesday, read part 1 HERE for the first 5 films on my list - including Twelve Years A SlaveGrisgrisHalf Of A Yellow Sun, a tie between Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and The Butler, and finally Belle; and read part 2 HERE for the second five - including Nina, All Is By My SideFaire L’AmourWhite Elephants, A Congo Trilogy, and Soleils

It was announced 9 days ago that Baz Luhrmann's fantastical take on The Great Gatsby, will open the 2013 edition of the Cannes Film Festival, which takes place in May.

While we still have about 3 weeks before the festival unveils its full lineup (they usually do so in pieces, spread out over a short period of time), I thought I'd start to take a look at what African Diaspora films just might be selected to debut in competition, at the world's most prestigious film festival this year - films that we've been following on this site for the last year or 2, that have the strongest chances of being included in the festival's full lineup, once it's announced.

The 12-day festival runs from May 15 to 26, and S&A should be there this year. We were there in 2011 (Wendy covered it), we skipped last year, but I expect that we'll be there this year. Plans are already been discussed. So I certainly hope that this year's line-up, unlike recent previous years, includes a substantial representation of Diaspora films (relative to previous years), especially since there are a good number of titles that I think could be candidates.

Of course, I'm not on the selection committee, so this is all just conjecture on my part.

And after the last 10 titles I've already mentioned in the first 2 posts in this series, the pool of available films with strong Cannes prospects, starts to gets murkier. Not that there aren't worthy titles left - there most certainly are - but the festival's selection committee choices aren't based entirely on how strong any given film is. Celebrity is also a factor; as well as the filmmaker's history with the festival (hopefully he or she has one). And there are still other factors. 

Digging through the S&A database, I see a lot of Diaspora films we've been following over the last 2 years that have yet to debut anywhere for one reason or another (often because, last we took a look at them, they weren't complete; although some were close to completion), and that very well could be selected to screen at the festival - each having as good a chance as the next.

I can't list every single one of those films; it's a long list. 

But those with some notoriety - whether because of the talent attached, or their marketing campaigns - include:

Danny Glover in the upcoming slave uprising film, Tula, The Revolt, from Dutch director Jeroen Leinders, which is based on a true story about a slave uprising on the island of Curacao, a Dutch colony in 1795, and the man called Tula, who stood up against his oppressors, and led the revolt that would last about a month. Glover leads a pack of international actors (which might be appealing to Cannes) that also includes Obi AbiliJeroen Krabbé,Derek de LintHenriette Tol and Barry Hay. Obi Abili (a UK actor of Nigerian decent) stars in the film as the titular Tula, while Glover plays Shinishi, the elder of the group. The film is currently in post-production, as the filmmakers have long hoped to release it in 2013, a year that marks the 150th anniversary since slavery was finally abolished on the island of Curacao (1863). They're calling it an action-drama.

Rodney Evans doesn't have a history with Cannes, and his films have mostly premiered at Stateside festivals (Sundance, for example). Might his next film be the first? He's the acclaimed writer/producer/director of Brother To Brother, his 2004 debut feature - a drama that looks back on the creative energy of cultural revolution during the Harlem Renaissance from the perspective of an elderly black writer who meets a gay teenager in a New York homeless shelter. The moody film, which starred Anthony Mackie before he became ANTHONY MACKIE, won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance in 2004, and was nominated for Independent Spirit Awards in four categories in 2005. Rodney has been buried in post-production on his 2nd feature film titled The Happy Sad, which follows two couples, one black and one white, whose lives collide as they navigate open relationships and sexual identity. Principal photography actually wrapped in July of 2011, and I expected it to make its world debut at last year's Sundance Film Festival. However, as Rodney announced on Facebook the night before Sundance unveiled its lineup, he didn't even submit his film to the festival, and instead chose to take his time in post production, rather than rush to get it into the festival! But it didn't premiere at Sundance this year either, as I also thought it would. And it skipped the other majors like Rotterdam, Berlin, SXSW, and Tribeca, so I'm left to wonder if Rodney might be eyeing a Cannes debut - not necessarily in competition, but in one of the sidebars. We'll see...

- And across the pond there's Gone Too Far, a feature film project written by Bola Agbaje, and directed by Destiny Ekaragha (both Nigerian Brits). It's a project we first alerted you to over a year ago, when it was selected as one of 12 shortlisted for Film London’s 4-day boot camp. Skip ahead a year later, to news that the British Film Institute and Poisson Rouge Pictures had teamed to finance Gone Too Fara coming of age comedy based in Peckham, which is based on Agbaje’s Olivier award-winning play, about two brothers in a run-down part of South London. The film will be Destiny Ekaragha's feature-length directorial debut. On our last entry on the project, in early October, production was scheduled to begin with four weeks of shooting. The film is currently in post-production.

- To the north, I'm wondering if we'll finally see something from Canadian filmmaker, Clement Virgo. Since 2010 we've announced at least 3 new different projects of his. But there's no clear indication of where all of them stand - except for his adaptation of The Book Of Negroes, which we now know will be a mini-series instead of a feature film, which won't be shot anytime soon. But there was also his announced remake of The Harder They Come - the 1972 Jamaican crime drama classic, which starred reggae legend Jimmy Cliff as an aspiring musician lured into a life of crime. As well as a more recent project (announced early last year), titled A Royal Day, described as a drama/thriller, and which "charts the meteoric rise of Montreal Royals player Jackie Robinson and the desperate machinations of an assassin hired to exterminate the rising superstar." Needless to say, we were intrigued when we heard about this story. Whether either of these 2 projects, or some other one that we don't know about, will materialize this spring is anyone's guess.

Other names attached to projects that we've profiled in the last couple of years include Djo Tunda Wa Munga (his last film, Viva Riva!, made an international splash in 2011, and he's been developing a crime drama titled Inspector Lou with South African producer Steven Markovitz). 

Markovitz also partnered up with Kenyan filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu for a feature film project titled Jambula Tree - a South African-Kenya co-production. Plot details on Jambula Tree are being kept under wraps for now, although we can tell you that, broadly, it centers on 2 Kenyan girls, on 2 different paths, and the difficult decisions each has to make about the life each leads, and the ramifications of those choices. The project was shopped at the Cannes Market last year, and won some funding awards later - one from Arte France specifically. 

Another Kenyan filmmaker is Hawa Essuman, whose supernatural screenplay, Djin, had been steadily collecting chunks of financing at various international film markets, but I don't believe she's even begun shooting it yet.

And then there's French/Senegalese director Dyana Gaye, whose short film, the vibrant, unorthodox musical Saint Louis Blues, was one of 5 projects selected, financed and produced under the Focus Features Africa First program (she was part of the very first class, announced in 2008). Her feature film debut, one that we've been following for some time, as it traveled the international film marketplace, attracting acclaim, and funding, is titled Des Etoiles (or, in English, Stars). The project has been awarded numerous cash accolades over the last couple of years. It was one of 15 projects selected for the Cannes L’Atelier last year - 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. So with some Cannes history, her feature film, whenever it's done, might be on the selection committee's short list.

And there are still others...

- Finally there are those countless co-production projects that we've profiled over the last 2 years, but that I can't be certain of where exactly in the production process each one stands, because of a lack of available information, and just not being able to reach anyone involved in the film.

There are several projects in the works from North Africa especially - Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia, notably - thanks in large part to a number of initiatives like Euromed Audiovisual III which supports cinema in the South Mediterranean region through financing and other partner deals. There's a lot of film activity in that area that we simply don't cover enough of (a problem that will be fixed soon enough, as I bring in new writers who are experts in cinema of the region).

And there are other regions where we might see some surprises. For example, there hasn't been very much participation by filmmakers from the Caribbean (with films about people of the Caribbean), in Cannes' history - specifically feature films selected to screen in competition, or in any of the major feature film categories. And unfortunately, I can't think of one feature film title that could premiere at the festival this year. Like I said, there are regions where we might see a surprise or two, when the official lineup is finally unveiled.

And there are still other Sub-Saharan African countries with co-production deals (many with the French) that we've covered in the last 2 years, but don't have enough information on where they stand, to make any calls. South Africa, for example, has several co-production treaties with other nations, and is currently enjoying quite an explosion of cinema - especially with black South African talents both in front of and behind the camera. I haven't mentioned any South African titles yet, but you might recall that, at last year's Cannes Film Festival, the South African National Film & Video Foundation (NFVF) led a South African delegation to the 65th Cannes Film Festival, with a handful of films. The goal was to demonstrate that South African cinema can compete on the international stage, and that stories by South African filmmakers can resonate in the international market place. I'm sure the NFVF will return again this year with another package of films. But there might be one South African film that is directly selected by the Cannes committee. 

Overall, Diaspora participation at Cannes is usually quite low, so, even though I've listed several titles (over the last 3 days) that have the potential to be selected by the selection committee, I'm never expecting to find more than 3 or 4 Diaspora-interest feature films in the festival's full lineup - in competition, out of competition, etc. 

And this year probably won't surprise me. So it goes...

Of course, there's the Marché du Film (the Cannes film market), as well as the Court Métrage (the Short Film Corner), where the Diaspora is usually better represented, and we will cover those, as we've done in past years.

And finally, as I've already said, there very well could be a selection or two that we've never heard of. The S&A database is deep, but we do miss a few things here and there, and I'm looking forward to finding out what those *unknown* titles might be - assuming there will be any. 

It's always fun discovering new projects!

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