The 17th New York African Film Festival got underway again last week with the premiere of a stunning 8-minute satire on revolution and oil seizure titled “Dr. Cruel,” a joint venture of film maker Teco Benson of Nigeria, and Jakob Boeskov of Denmark.
“Dr. Cruel” unveils a Scandinavian terrorist, also played by Boeskov, and a group of revolutionaries who call themselves the Afro-Icelandic Liberation Front. The Front is holding hostage a white oil executive at a hideout in Nigeria.
On the horizon is the Zealand Oil company and its lush coffers. The sullen revolutionaries hold press conferences and tote guns. I search the streets of Lagos looking for Patty Hearst’s chic black beret.
This is a quickie film, and when the curtain fell I sat dazed. Then the age 30-something white guy sitting next to me who had said he was a Wall Street trader, yelled out “Great!”
The film was shown in collaboration with Creative Time, an artist support group, to a packed crowd at the Lounge at 310 Bowery on the Lower East Side.
But I kept looking straight ahead, hoping for more, toying with the notion of whether a real film with a message can be shown in 8 minutes flat. Boeskov, who wrote the script for the film and was on hand, seemingly read my mind.
He rose and told the crowd that the movie was about those who come to save people but in the end become corrupt themselves.
He said that he turned to Benson to produce the film because he was impressed by the Nigerian film maker’s avant ideas. He noted that in Nigeria films are being turned out cheap and fast, making the industry more democratic than virtually anywhere else. And many of these films are short. That’s that’s probably explains why the country’s booming film industry is known as “Nollywood,” on the heels of Hollywood, of course.
“It is time to steal from black people again,” Boeskev then said to polite chuckles from the affluent young white crowd. “Just like Picasso’s art was inspired by the black experience, so is my film,” he added.
Boeskev was referring to the cubist art movement that Picasso stole from the exquisite masks, sculpture, carved doors and textiles of the Dogon people of Mali, Africa. Just a couple weeks ago one of Picasso’s paintings sold for an astronomical $106.5 million, setting a record. Many pieces of art from the Dogon region fell into the hands of colonials and imperialists who also fetched a pretty penny from the elegant works.Time for restitution to impoverished Mali too.
Now back to that film: In the audience was Mahen Bonetti, the erudite founder and director of the New York African Film Festival, who was obviously pleased by the large turnout.
“We go where anyone will have us!” Bonetti exclaimed.
I instantly knew what she meant. When I came to the city more decades ago than I care to remember, the section of the city known as the Bowery was crowded with the down and out. The ‘hood is now gentrified, the young at heart’s turf; the splitting image of say, Minneapolis or Vancouver. Chic restaurants and bars abound. And such is life.
“Dr. Cruel” will be shown again at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 13, when the African Film Festival moves to the New Museum at 235 Bowery, at Prince Street between Stanton and Rivington Streets, also on the Lower East Side. The full length film, “Bunny Chow,” which hails from South Africa, is also on the agenda that same night.
In addition, a plethora of other African films will be shown at the New Museum on Saturday, May 15, and on Sunday, May 16, including short films from across the continent: Niger, Cameroon, the Congo, Ethiopia, Morocco and Egypt. No films will be shown at the New Museum on Friday, May 14.
The New York African Film Festival moves to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) for its final fabulous leg on Friday, May 28; Saturday, May 29; Sunday, May 30, and May 31, Memorial Day.