New African Film Festival delivers continent’s best at AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews New African Film Fest at AFI Silver Theatre (Part 1)

We can’t claim to be true film buffs until we’ve explored what every continent has to offer.

Fortunately, we live in the nation’s capital with events to expand our horizons like the New African Film Festival, which hits the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“The Washington, D.C., area is an international city … but in the early 2000s there was no African film festival in the area at all, so Mwiza [Munthali] and I had this grand idea,” co-founder Kishere Mbuya told WTOP. “Essentially, we wanted to bring new African films that captured the complexities, contours and challenges of the continent.”

This year’s festival will screen 28 films from 17 countries from March 18 to 31.

“Another goal was to provide a space for filmmakers, because there’s some great films that have come out of the continent historically, but they have not been distributed as widely,” Munthali said. “It was also the beginnings of what is termed as Nollywood, which has sparked this revolution in African filmmaking the last 20-some years.”

Opening night brings Saul Williams and Anisia Uzeyman’s “Neptune Frost.”

“It’s a nice Afrofuturistic vision,” Munthali said. “It’s a film from Rwanda set in the Burundi. … It’s a relationship between a miner and an intersex runaway. … Also looking at the exploitation of coltan, mined heavily in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Congo has the biggest reserves of coltan in the world, like 80%, which we use in computers, cellphones.”

You can also see Chad’s official Oscar submission “Lingui, the Sacred Bonds.”

“That’s about a young teenager who’s pregnant struggling trying to get an abortion in a country and a society where that’s prohibited,” Mbuya said. Munthali added, “Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is a fantastic filmmaker. We’ve had two of his films in the festival before.”

Nana Mensah screens her Tribeca award-winning comedy “Queen of Glory.”

“A doctoral student [had] plans to run off with her married boyfriend, but then her mom died and she inherited this bookstore and she now has to contend with all of that,” Mubya said. Munthali added, “It’s set here in the U.S. in New York City, but it’s a diaspora story, a Ghanaian diaspora story. … It did very well at Tribeca. It won an award at Tribeca.”

Congolese director Jean Luc Herbulot’s presents the genre-shifting “Saloum.”

“It’s a Quentin Tarantino western type of film,” Munthali said. “It’s like a western action thriller but in the African setting. It’s dealing with this drug lord from Guinea-Bissau.”

Tunisian filmmaker Leyla Bouzid screens the Cannes film “A Tale of Love and Desire.”

“Two young kids falling in love, juxtaposing their desires with their conservative upbringing,” Mbuya said. Munthali added, “It’s set in Paris and the male was born in France, his parents are from Algeria, and the female has come to France [from] Tunisia. … They have a class together … dealing with 12th century Arabic exotic literature.”

There’s also the Ethiopian documentaries “Among Us Women” and “Stand Up My Beauty.”

“‘Stand Up My Beauty’ was a film that showcased a singer who wanted to tell stories through her artistry and she ends up telling the story of this homeless poet with her children,” Mbuya said. Munthali added, “‘Among Us Women’ is a very powerful film … looking at health care … how traditional midwives deal with child birth in this society.”

Senegal-born French actress-turned-director Aïssa Maïga brings her acclaimed water crisis documentary “Above Water” screening on March 22 for World Water Day.

“It’s a fantastic film,” Munthali said. “It’s really highlighting the lack of water in a village in Niger … and the issue of climate change as well, how this water crisis is because there’s been a long drought in the area, so she’s using this film to speak on those issues.”

See the full lineup of films here.

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews New African Film Fest at AFI Silver Theatre (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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