How African film makers brought Dallas to standstill
By Benjamin Njoku
THE second edition of The African Film Festival, TAFF, which held recently in Dallas, Texas, the United States, may have come and gone, but the glamour, the hurdles and the triumphs that preceded the week-long festival would not be forgotten in a hurry. The festival which kicked off at the Dallas City Performance Hall, with the screening of Rogers Ofime’s action thriller, ‘Oloibiri’ as the opening film witnessed a lot of networking, workshop, seminars and training sessions that signalled a new dawn for African cinema culture.
From day one to the last day of the festival, it was a beehive of activities. Days two and three witnessed a marathon of film screenings at the African American Museum of Dallas with three screening rooms accommodating about 40 films from various African countries and the USA. The festival brought unprecedented traffic to the museum on an otherwise calm weekend as film makers drew various crowds to the screenings, film makers appreciated the one-stop-shop provided for the screenings as it prevented a run around in getting to various screening locations.
Q&A session followed each screening as film makers related with the audience in an open forum where they indulged them in the film making process. The African American Museum’s architecture was the perfect backdrop for the event, bringing together the people of Dallas, especially the African American community to witness this historic event. Elated African-Americans expressed their appreciation of the organizers’ efforts in an attempt to bridge a cultural gap often missing in the community and connect them, even if in a small way, to their roots. Some of the natives thronged the venue in support of a Dallas-based film maker, Debbi Lang, who made a documentary about a man who leaves his American dream to undertake a project that would change the lives of orphaned children to the AIDS epidemic in Uganda. They also supported another Dallas film maker whose narrative film ‘Singleton Boulevard’ has generated a lot of buzz all over the beautiful city of Dallas.
There was also a symposium on African cinema, where the film makers discussed the challenges, the triumphs, the hurdles and the sail-throughs in the continent’s cinema sector. Panel discussion was led by Wendy Kaplan, producer of the Ethiopian documentary “Fragile Beauty,’ a visual journey.” As a long time media personality and a film festival organizer herself, Kaplan brought gems of her experiences to the table. Other panel headliners were Debi Lang, producer of the Ugandan documentary “Cornerstone,” Kang Quintus-actor and director of “Reverse,” a cross country collaboration between Cameroon, Ghana and Nigeria, Tumusiime Henry, Jim Gash and Dale Brown-producer of the Ugandan film “Remand,” Remi Momodu, producer of XYZA and Richard Mofe Damijo who hosted the event and starred in the critically acclaimed opening film “Oloibiri.”
RMD honoured as African Film Legend
However, the highpoint of the fewtival was the awards night. Held at the Dallas City Performance Hall. The show started with Angela Bassett’s narrated documentary “Remand,” a Ugandan film about a broken criminal justice system where too many Ugandan citizens are on remand awaiting trial for unconvicted crimes. Its star, Tumusiime Henry, was in remand for two murder trials. The story unfolds as a hopeless situation turns to a story of redemption for the young man when a Pepperdine Law professor Jim Gash comes to the rescue. As the night pressed on, a total of 17 film and one honorary awards were given out.
Veteran actor, RMD hosted the glamorous event as he kept the audience entertained, ushering in presenters and performers. Notable performers were Ben Amushie, who recited some African poetry and indulged the audience in his mastery of the flute. Gary Boren and Latoya Cooper performed from the Dallas film Singleton Boulevard’s original soundtrack. For the first time in the history of film festivals, a short film was produced and equally screened during the festival. The short film titled “4” was enjoyed by the audience and received a standing ovation.
Notable film makers that received awards on the night were Zekarias Mesfin, an Ethiopian film maker (Best Emerging Filmmaker) for his film “Ewir Amora Kelabi,” Debi Lang received an award on behalf of Jan Köhler as “Best Cinematographer” for “Cornerstone,” Paula Obaseki received the “Best Supporting Actress” award for her performance in “Reverse,” Jim Gash, Dale Brown and Tumusiime Henry received the coveted “Best Documentary Feature” award and Richard Mofe Damijo received an award on behalf of his team for “Oloibiri” for “Best Indigenous Film.” RMD was also honoured as an “African Film Legend” at the event.
Interestingly, the well-attended festival rounded off with after-party that doubled up as a birthday bash and send-off for RMD.