Immediate Experience: About The Panelists of The African Film Festival

The broad issues of production, marketing, international distribution, and the urgency and objectives of Black representation in the media find definition in the professional and personal experiences of the panelists. Special guests Miriam Makeba, Angelique Kidjo, and Pras highlight the challenges faced by the film directors and performance artists of the Diaspora. In addition, Malian griot Fifi-Dalla Kouyate will perform an excerpt from her show based on the Sundiata epic. That performance will be presented on Sunday, May 21, in conjunction with the discussion on “Mapping the Trajectories of Women’s Storytelling.” On Tuesday, May 23, repeat screenings of this year’s Festival titles will anchor dialogue with director Safi Faye, a woman distinguished for having overcome many obstacles to produce films that reflect the changing role of women in African society.

Representing Africans in the New Millennium: New Identities, New Styles, New Strategies

Saturday, May 20, 2:30 – 5:30pm

Andrew Dosunmu is an up-and-coming multimedia artist. Dosunmu, who calls Nigeria home, too, is London-born with a passion for black-and-white film. In addition to his outrageous documentary on the art and industry of African American hair-styling, Hot Irons (1991) — a festival selection — his photography and styling have appeared in magazines such as Paper and i-D, and he has directed music videos for Aaron Neville, Isaac Hayes, Maxwell, Angie Stone, and Guru, among many others.

Alain Gomis is of Senegalese origin and studied cinematography at the Sorbonne. At the age of twenty-six, he has already made two short films, Tourbillions (1999) — selected for the 6th NY African Film Festival — and Tout le monde peut se tromper, as well as the documentary Caramels et Chocolats.

Joseph Kumbela is a filmmaker with an unusual background. He was born in 1958 in Zaire. At the age of thirteen, his family moved to Paris. As an adult he worked in the design field for ten years. When his company folded, he moved on to New York to study dance and acting, then to Los Angeles where he studied at the Playhouse of the Sunset School of Acting. Beside many supporting roles in French made-for-TV movies, he was cast in Leonce Ngabo’s Gito L’ingrat in 1991, which he also took part in directing. After receiving the award for best male lead role at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (FESPACO) in 1993, Kumbela moved to Switzerland to begin writing films. In addition to Colis Postal (1996) — selected for the 6th NY African Film Festival — he has written screenplays for two feature films: Genisse, Princesse au pays des mille collines and Bagamoyo: Ici meurt mon coeur. He has also made several short films dealing with the complexities of Diaspora experience.

Pras is a member of the hip-hop group, the Fugees. He has now begun an acting career in the film Ghetto Superstar for Madonna’s company, Madguys Productions. As a major force in the shaping of global black youth culture and multimedia talent, Pras is uniquely positioned to offer a contemporary perspective on American audiences and casting.

Mustafa Shakir is a young New Yorker with roots in Nigeria and the US. As one of the hottest spoken-word performers on the slam poetry circuit, he has appeared at such venues as the Nyurican Poet’s Cafe, the Hottest Poets, and the Brooklyn Tea Party. He has acting credits include television, “New York Undercover” and “Law and Order,” as well as film, Friends Forever, Jails, Hospitals, and Hip Hop, and I was Made to Love Her, which stars Chris Rock and is currently in production here in New York. He is also active on the stage and working on a new project entitled, Second Look. Given his experience, Shakir brings an element of immediacy to strategies on developing the US market for African film.

June Givanni is an international film curator who has worked with the British Film Institute and the South African Film & TV Market. She is currently the film programmer for “Planet Africa” at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Mapping the Trajectories of Women’s Storytelling

Sunday, May 21, 2:30 – 5:30pm

Safi Faye was born in Dakar in 1943 and is the first African woman to make a feature film. She was a school teacher for six years before beginning her career in film as an actress in Jean Rouch’s Petit à Petit in 1971. Subsequently, Faye studied both ethnology, receiving her Ph.D. in 1979, and film in Paris. There, she made her first short La Passante (1972) and used her profits to finance Kaddu Beykat (Letter from My Village) (1975). Her many films include Fadjal (Come and Work) (1979), Goob Na Nu (The Harvest Is In) (1979), Man Say Yay (I, Your Mother) (1980), Les ames au soleil (Souls Under the Sun) (1981), and the highly acclaimed Mossane (1996). Obviously, Faye has been witness to the development of filmmaking in Africa since its inception. Her numerous shorts and documentaries and pioneering effort place Faye on the horizon of new voices in African cinema.

Angelique Kidjo first performed at the age of six as an actor and dancer in her mother’s theater troupe. From that point on, music became her sole passion. This vocalist from Benin has a single-minded mission, to create a bridge uniting the rhythms and spirits of Africa with the grooves and vibes of the New World’s African Diaspora. When the political environment in her homeland undermined her project, Kidjo to relocate to Paris. Then she moved to New York where she is now producing her fifth and latest album, Oremi. Her project explores the African heritage structuring American music. Kidjo claims, “Oremi could be the first part of a trilogy I would like to make — the second stop being Brazil, the third [being] Haiti and Cuba.

Fifi-Dalla Kouyate is an actress and international performer of Jali (Griot) origin from Mali. She has created a one-woman show in which she interprets Djibril Tasmir Niane’s version of the Sundiata epic. Her work has been staged at the Kennedy Center, the UN, and the Festival d’Avignon and translated into French and English to bring Mande history and culture to the attention of the world.

Palesa Letlaka-Nkosi is a documentary filmmaker and television commercial director working in South Africa. She is the recipient of an artist’s development grant from the Benneton World School of Arts in Venice. Her short film Mamlambo (1997) was part of the Africa Dreaming Series which premiered at the 4th NY African Film Festival in 1998.

Miriam Makeba is legendary — an award-winning South African singer, actress, and anti-apartheid activist. She was exiled for over thirty years for her outspoken criticism of the apartheid regime, became an ambassador to the UN FAO, and in her tenure received the Dag Hammarskjold Prize. Her film credits are Come Back, Africa (1960) and Mama (1997) — selected for the 6th NY African Film Festival — Voices of Serafina (1988) and Serafina (1992). She is the first African artist to be awarded a Grammy (An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba) and the first to have an international Top Ten Hit with her original version of “Pata Pata,” being re-released this year in her album, Homeland. She has published an autobiography entitled Makeba: My Story (1988) which has inspired and enriched a younger generation’s efforts to brave the path of humanitarianism which she and her compatriots pioneered. Her long experience with the political nature of artistic expression provides a deeply welcomed historical perspective on Africa’s struggle against oppression.

Salem Mekuria, originally from Ethiopia, is an Assistant Professor of Art at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and an independent film producer, writer, and director. She has worked for PBS’s NOVA series and with numerous international production houses focusing on issues of African women and development. In 1995 she received the Rockefeller Foundation’s Intercultural Media Fellowship. Her latest film Deluge (1996), a personal account of the Ethiopian student revolts and their brutal aftermath, was selected for the 2nd Johannesburg Bianniale in 1997.

Misani is the owner of Misani & Associates, an entertainment services company which provides casting and management services. Her most recent casting credits include the film, The Meter Maid, for Wesley Snipes’ Guerrilla Productions, the award-winning theatrical production, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and Christopher Columbus, directed by Tony-winner Lloyd Richards. Her company also manages some of the hottest new performing artist, including actors Lance Williams and Shinehead.

Ayoke Chenzira studied dance and art at NYU and photography, video, and film at Columbia University. She is a prolific film and video artist whose work embraces features, animation, documentary, and performance art. As a screenwriter, producer and director, she has received special film commissions in Europe, South America, and Africa. Her works include Hair Piece, A Film for Nappy-Headed People, Zajota and the Boogie Spirit, Alma’s Rainbow, and In the River of Mercy, Angst. She owns the production and distribution company Red Carnelian which specializes in African American film and currently chairs the Department of Media and Communications at the City College of New York. Ms Chenzira’s long career making independent films offers thoughtful alternatives to mass media and advertising images of black culture.

Institute of African American Affairs at NYU

New York University’s Institute of African-American Affairs — a cultural and community center — and the Africana Studies Program are distinguished by their interrelated emphasis on scholarly and creative work. Both have merged as major intellectual forums dedicated to the study of blacks in modernity. Unlike that of any other organization, the ongoing dialogue established by the Institute and the Africana Studies Program engages the most influential voices of our time.

The Black Genius Lecture Series, Spring 1997, featured speakers Farai Chideya, Stanley Crouch, George Curry, Angela Davis, Joycelyn Elders, Bell Hooks, Spike Lee, Haki Madhubuti, Julianne Malveaux, Walter Mosley, Randall Robinson, Anna Deavere Smith, and Melvin Van Peebles.

New Voices in Black Studies, a symposia of Fall 1998, featured Derrick Bell, Peggy Cooper Davis, Manthia Diawara, Steven Gregory, Robin D.G. Kelley, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Robert Stam, and Clyde Taylor.

Black Thought in Progress, 1995-1999, featured speakers Patricia Hill-Collins, Angela Davis, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Paul Gilroy, Farah Griffin, Stuart Hall, and George Lipsitz

France in Africa/Africa in France Series, 1998-1999 featured Tahar Ben Jelloun, Elikia M’Bokolo, Henri Lopes, Maryse Conde, and Tierno Monemembo.

Praying at Different Altars: Putting the Spirit in Daily Life, Spring 1999, featured Thulani Davis, Michael Eric Dyson, Dorothy Desir-Davis, Marcia L. Dyson, Amir Al-Islam

The Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence of 1999 was Wole Soyinka.

The Artist-in-Residence, through Spring 2000, is Jane Cortez.

About the Director

Patricia Blanchet

Patricia Blanchet was born in Haiti during the 1960s, and became known as an artist due to her involvement in dance, film, photography, and painting. She was married to Ed Bradley, a well-known 60 minutes journalist who passed away in 2006.