Outback Justice and Harlemsploitation in a Sprawling African Series

From the Australian outback to Burkina Faso to Brooklyn, the 11th ADFF's takes on the black experience more often than not dish out examples of disenfranchisement and lingering racism. Clocking in at 17 days, this year's vast sprawl unearths some surprises (a doc on Israeli Black Panthers), recaps some recent funk (the nicely blunt, infuriating Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election), and spotlights the work of affable aboriginal actor David Gulpilil.

Tracing the hunt for a fugitive black accused of killing a white woman, The Tracker jostles its protagonists—a scout (Gulpilil), a hoary conscript, a pure-fascist leader, and a ukulele-strumming recruit—with a miserable horse ride into barren earth pocked with genocidal reminders. Dutch director Rolf de Heer relies on paintings and appliquéd songs to drive his Brechtian points home. Though the film is set in 1922, the soundtrack fades out of period and into the dusty tremolo of aboriginal singer Archie Roach, who functions as an oblique narrator on the slow-rocking blues score. As omnipresent flies buzz around the haplessly caricatured whites, Gulpilil eventually strikes back, unknotting his character's contradictions while also being the subtlest actor of the bunch.

Chain reaction: Gulpilil in The Tracker
photo: African Diaspora Film Festival
Chain reaction: Gulpilil in The Tracker

There is very little of that restraint in Rage and Discipline, a crude, nearly surreal chunk of ultraviolent Harlemsploitation wildly enamored of the grim codes of gangstas and nascent boxers, impersonating and torturing each other for a dozen nonvariations of the urban street-fight-shakedown-revenge pattern. As ever, the fest unspools some old favorites, and most welcome is 2001's mythic Sia, The Dream of the Pythonfrom Burkina Faso. Its strange slapstick is a shotgun wedding between the styles of Jean Cocteau and John Ford, and is well worth a second look.

 
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