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The annual New York African Film Festival—which moves uptown this year to the Magic Johnson Theaters, the only commercial moviehouse in Harlem—performs an invaluable service in presenting work by a younger generation of sub-Saharan directors, many of them scheduled to be in attendance. (Among the programmers’ greatest coups this year is getting Ousmane Sembène to introduce a screening of Faat-Kine.)
Chadian filmmaker Issa Serge Coelo’s Dar-es-Salam begins in an African village of undetermined nationality, with a family of millet farmers making financial plans for the coming year. It doesn’t take long, however, for the setting to shift from the prosaic concerns of pastoral life to the Manichean territory of civil war after the taxman arrives. The young men of the village join the revolutionary army, but Coelo doesn’t allow us to indulge in idealistic fantasies about the possible outcome, and provides a wrenching paradigm for the logic of rebel movements.
Dôlé takes its name from the lottery game that, according to its ad campaign, makes millionaires of all of the people all of the time; a gang of young Gabonese rapper-bandits takes the publicity at its word and attempts to redistribute the wealth among themselves by robbing a local Dôlé stand run by the chic Madame La Chance. Although director Imunga Ivanga, in his first feature, resorts to a certain amount of trumped-up Hollywood-ish drama, the film is redeemed by counterintuitively lush images of the tin-roofed shacks of the Libreville ghettos.
The subject of Bàttu, the latest film from Malian director Cheick Oumar Sissoko, should be familiar territory for New Yorkers. A political hack plots to kick the beggars out of the city in order to increase tourism and his political stature. Based on the novel The Beggars’ Strike by Senegalese writer Aminata Sow Fall, the film reaps plenty of amusement from the farcical consequences of the beggars’ expulsion; deprived of their favorite indigents, the rich have no one left to whom they can demonstrate their piety.