The 11th New York African Film Festival offers the continent’s first big-budget stunt-packed action picture, an impressive roster of films directed by women, and a closet-busting section of movies concerned with the experiences of sexual minorities. The action hero, brawny Michael Power, is best known as the star of Guinness’s pan-African ad campaigns—in fact, Jason Xenopoulos’s predictable, repetitive Critical Assignment (2003) is “based on an idea created by Saatchi and Saatchi” and was shot in six countries. Power plays a crusading reporter, exposing corrupt politicians, dodging bullets, and restoring a clean water supply to a grateful (unnamed) nation.
There’s not a dull moment in Peter Davis and Daniel Riesenfield’s In Darkest Hollywood (1992), a lucid examination of cinema and apartheid, in which archival footage is intercut with eloquent testimony from South African directors and actors. New York’s own Lionel Rogosin is also on hand, with notes on his clandestinely filmed 1959 docudrama Come Back, Africa, an early exposé of the evils of the system.
The ingratiating Woubi Chéri, shot in Ivory Coast in 1998 by Philip Brooks (an Australian filmmaker who died of an HIV-related illness last year) and his partner, Laurent Bocahut, was apparently the first film to give gay Africans a chance to describe their world in their own words. Abidjan yossis (macho bisexuals) and woubis (passive gays who fawn on yossis) flirt and dish the dirt, party up a storm, and seem a bunch of truly happy campers. That’s hardly the case for the black South Africans interviewed in Catherine Muller’s Four Rent Boys & a Sangoma (2003) who have sex with men for money in the bleak townships of Johannesburg. No sense of community here—Muller’s camera focuses on their loneliness and regrets as they do what it takes to survive. A more upbeat South African story is told by Jack Lewis’s A Normal Daughter (1998), a touching and nostalgic account of the surprisingly liberated life in pre-Stonewall days in District Six, a once racially and sexually diverse Cape Town quarter where gays (in these parts called “moffies”) used to meet at Kewpie’s hairdressing salon. The apartheid government destroyed the area in the 1970s.