Man, Africa In Motion was ace again this year. Think next year I’m gonna take the fortnight off work like I do for the GFF, because there were so many other films I planned on seeing that I just couldn’t fit in.
Set in Paris in the 1990s, Honey Cigar follows Selma, an Algerian-French college student, on her sexual awakening. A coming of age film about family, identity, misogyny, and a sense of home both within yourself and without.
Selma walks between worlds, her parents’ Algerian home where even to kiss a boy is scandalous, and the highly-sexed French college culture where to be a virgin is bizarre and humilating. Selma has to negotiate her own desires through this tug of war, while global patriarchy pervades all, ensuring you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
As she tries to find a path authentic to her needs, around her everything is falling apart. Her parents’ marriage is crumbling, Algeria is crumbling. Civil War has come, and divorce might follow. As Selma tries to build her identity, the fixed points around her start shifting like sand.
At some point in this film, the ambition for more becomes the ambition to just hold on to what is there. The impetus for advancement swells like a wave, and then rolls back, as the good times seem to recede. Selma’s parents go from enforcing a strict and structured environment to being even more lost than her.
Honey Cigar is a movie about when to hold on and when to let go, and learning to tell the difference.
In Digging For Life, Tommy Germain narrates his life story, of leaving home to start life in South Africa and being kidnapped and sold into slavery in the diamond mines of Angola.
Tommy grew up in Limbe, Cameroon. His family was large, he was one of 9 kids, so as soon as he was grown, he set off to try to earn money for the family. He had just turned 25, and Mandela had been released. South Africa was the new hope of the continent, a place where Black people would finally be given equal treatment.
Having very little money, he had no choice but to walk there. For those of you thinking, shit, isn’t that a long way? Yes, it’s over 4000km. So it’s very little wonder when he was offered a lift across the border, given that he also had no travel visa, that he took it.
It was a grave mistake. He took a chance on a corrupt policeman, hoping to be smuggled out the country for a price. But the guy drove him to Angola in the boot of his car and sold him into slavery. There he would lose 4 years of his life to diamond mining.
Every day they worked from sunup to sundown, and regularly they were not fed. They were beaten mercilessly, and there was no escape.
Finally some diamonds went missing, and his captors took him and his fellow miners out to a cemetery and ordered them to dig their own graves. Tommy was alone in Angola, no one knew where he was, no one would ever be able to tell his parents how he died. And then the boss of the overseers showed up and said, “These aren’t the ones I told you to kill!” and by a hair’s breadth, his life was saved.
It’s a hard story to tell. It’s hard to convey, to get anyone to understand what it was like for him. And even at the happy ending – returning to his family – he is returning penniless and without anything to compensate his family for his years of absence. It is a hard thing.
But he is here. And he now has a family. They live in the US. He survived. And he has the courage to share his story.
A portrait of a man of incredible bravery, endurance and strength.
If Heaven Reaches Down To Earth is a visual poem, The White Death of the Black Wizard is a visual eulogy. The text displayed on screen are exerts from the suicide note of Timoteo, an Afro-Brazilian slave who died in Salvador in 1861.
The film mixes contemporary and archival footage, some of which is damaged and grainy. We look back through time to the faces of enslaved people. In toil, in degradation, in poverty, their existence is recorded and photographed. Framed as part of the machinery of industry, their exploitation natural and inconsequential.
Timoteo writes that this is his third attempt at suicide, and recommends others do not swallow poison or glass, as those methods take too long to kill. The desperation with which he tries to escape life is heartbreaking and horrifying. And enraging.
The tone of this film is of grief, white hot and burnt dry. It conveys an unspeakable injustice. A crime. Which was full enough of horror in the case of just Timoteo, but must be multiplied million-fold when conceiving of slavery.
The music is also more like a horror film than a historical piece. It is mournful, ominous, discordant, with a piercing wail that rises as the film goes on, both screaming in pain and warning of consequence. That kind of pain, that kind of trauma, it can never go nowhere, it must will out.
The contemporary footage manages to match many of the shots in the archival footage, showing these same places, so close in time as to be identical in shot, and far enough apart to have fallen into ruin from neglect. A history no one wants to remember any more.
But 1861 was not that long ago. My great-grandfather, whom I knew, had his father’s birth certificate and it was from the 1880s. 20 years distance separates him from Timoteo. Slavery is not ancient history. It is the very recent past.
The White Death of the Black Wizard is a funeral cry, and it asks us to cry with it.
The main character goes out to meet a Grindr date at a gay club called Cosmopolitan. The entire short film is basically composed of this one scene of him trying to get into the club. He’s the only Black guy in the queue and this proves a problem for admittance. An indictment of racism within the queer community.
A few days before Issa is about to be released from prison, a new fish appears, Gaetan. This short film encapsulates a world of drama. You can see a history stretching behind and a future ahead, and these scenes as the turning point between it all.
To begin, prison is the place where Issa has nothing and can’t wait to leave. Being gay, he is ostracised. Violence and intimidation, even sexual, is the only interaction you see him have with other prisoners. He keeps his head down and learns the skills needed to make a living on the outside.
That changes when Gaetan arrives. He is kind and curious, and senses a kindred spirit in Issa. They cautiously circle each other, each waiting for the other to open up.
As Issa’s deadline approaches, he begins to really take stock of what he has out there versus what he has in here. Great wee film.
Using animation and archival footage, Half A Life is a short film in which a gay Egyptian guy discusses what instigated him to get into activism and what he thinks about his country.
After witnessing a homophobic attack, with the collusion of the police, the main character takes the shame and helplessness he feels and becomes involved in queer activism. This involved spreading slogans on bank notes, and trying to raise people’s awareness of human rights issues.
When the revolution comes, he is out on the streets, and he gets a wider education in politics. But as things sink back into a new normal, is there a place for him in Egypt? Will he have to decide between his home and his sexuality? The sense of danger is always there, and the possibility of seeking asylum abroad is a long-thought over option.
But for now, he is ready to try to heal the rift, and use his voice to make Egypt a better place, one where he and all Egyptian people can feel safe and hopeful.
Beautifully animated, vulnerable and honest.
Tang Jer is a short film about a vampire’s roadside cafe. The film mixes the surreal and the everyday, so the busy businesswoman reads cowries and uses her divinations to guide her investments. A chicken walks in and demands to be fed but is unemployed and cannot pay. A strange little girl does her homework while the canteen’s disembodied serving arms try to distract her.
Waited til Halloween to watch Juju Stories. An anthology film of 3 stories of the supernatural.
In the first, a woman casts a love spell on her crush, but is he the man she wants? In the second, a pair of scoundrels are cursed to receive punishment for their misdeeds. And in the last, a frenemy may be a witch.
Nice to see Nigeria repping on the horror stage.