Sunday, November 25, 2007

African Diaspora Film Festival Review Round-up

The 15th edition of the African Diaspora Film Festival screens through Dec. 9. Below are reviews of some of this year's selections.

A Winter Tale (Frances-Anne Solomon)

The festival's opening night film, this is a painfully earnest story of ghetto life, guns, and the endless circle of tragic violence, set among the Caribbean community of Toronto. The central conceit concerns the main character putting together some sort of therapy group for black men after a young boy dies after being caught in the crossfire of a gun battle. However, this film goes nowhere countless others haven’t gone before. The leaden speechifying of the film’s characters becomes quite numbing and tiresome, and mutes the emotional impact it strains so hard to reach. And for a film which is supposedly thoroughly opposed to the violent nature of the drug-fueled warfare occurring on the streets, the denouement, which involves an eye-for-an-eye comeuppance of one of the film’s more villainous characters, comes across as a profound contradiction. (Nov. 25, Dec. 1)

Do U Cry 4 Me Argentina? (Bae Youn Suk)

Bae's film crisscrosses the destines of several members of Buenos Aires’ “1.5 generation” of Korean immigrants, that is, children born in Korea to parents who emigrated to Argentina in the mid-80’s. The film follows various characters: Bo-rum (Kim Bo-rum), a morose teenager whose father runs a garment sweatshop employing illegal aliens; Duk-kyu (Cho Duk-kyu), a young man whose mother is harassed by the landlord of her grocery store; Hyong-sik (Bang Hyong-sik), a blond-haired punk who dabbles in petty crime with his two friends, and finds himself in way over his head when he goes for bigger game; Tina (Cristina Um), a violin player constantly rejected from conservatory who cannot ever seem to finish a song. Bae is spot-on in capturing the existential and physical alienation that results from being part of an isolated, ghettoized minority often looked upon with hostility and suspicion by the larger society. This situation also causes the affected group to prey on its own, cannibalizing itself from within and creating a rank Darwinist environment where the strong prey on the weak, and the weak attempt to fight back, often failing miserably. And in contrast to the tired homilies employed by A Winter Tale, Bae comes up with a much more artful approach to his material, breaking the narrative frequently for music video sequences that articulate the character’s fantasies, fears, and joyful montages. One of the more interesting of these sequences occurs when Bo-rum, in a pot-fueled reverie, imagines coming upon her doppelganger in a vast forest. In a more disturbing sequence later in the film, she imagines being raped by masked men in the sweatshop. Do U Cry 4 Me Argentina? seems an odd selection for an African diaspora festival (it is part of the festival’s Latin American selection), but it is one of the stronger films, and the themes of an isolated minority far from its home are well in keeping with those of many of the festival films. (Nov. 28, Dec. 2)

Empz 4 Life (Allan King)

Veteran Canadian documentarian King has one of the festival’s strongest entries, which also has as its subject black youth in Toronto turning to crime in impoverished and dangerous circumstances. Brian Henry, the film’s central figure, takes upon himself the Herculean (and, as the film’s conclusion powerfully shows, Sisyphean) task of attempting to steer youth away from this and toward education to improve themselves. A former convict himself, Henry becomes increasingly frustrated with both bureaucratic resistance to his efforts and some of his charges’ unwillingness to take advantage of the help they are being offered. King’s penetrating camera effectively renders the complexity of this situation, where the harsh realities of politics, socioeconomics, and racial profiling all conspire to make a mockery of any attempt to transcend this fate. Nevertheless, there are some small victories along the way, especially with a volunteer after-school math teacher who successfully gives his students a glimpse of their heretofore untapped potential. In the end, however, we are left with the image of unbreakable concentric circles of despair, where people outside the prison walls are just as surely trapped as those inside. (Trailer)

Youssou N'Dour: Return to Goree (Pierre-Yves Borgeaud)

The festival centerpiece film, Borgeaud’s film follows the world music superstar as he travels from his home in Senegal to Atlanta, New Orleans, Luxembourg, and back, to assemble musicians for a concert on the island of Goree. This was a major port for the transport of slaves to America, and the film makes connections between this historical circumstance and the music that resulted, and the massive influence on American jazz and blues. The film’s impact, however, is lessened by its very conventional structure, and its lack of clarity on the exact project N’Dour is creating: is it a concert, a recording, or part of a multimedia project? Also, one wishes there were a little more information on the musicians themselves, especially Moncef Genoud, the pianist who accompanies N’Dour. Nevertheless, the documentary shines in its sequences of the musicians putting together this great music, and is quite astute in its demonstration of the remarkably similar rhythms in the music of N’Dour’s global travels. (Nov. 29)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Please note that Moncef Genoud, talented pianist who appeared in the film, "Return to Goree" will be performing with his trio in NYC at Dizzy's Jazz Coca Cola at Lincoln Center from January 8-12, 2008. Please come to hear him.

Gail Boyd
Gail Boyd Artist Management