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Forever subject to industrial poverty and political bedlam like virtually nowhere else on earth, the sub-Saharan African film industries have developed slowly, but the new crop of continental product shows invigorating signs of emerging craft, international savvy, and experimental chutzpah. Mark Dornford-May’s new South African version of the Bizet opus, U- Carmen eKhayelitsha (2005), trumps even the 2001 Senegalese filmization Karmen Gei by ramping up the pop-opera energy and local ur- ban color. Zola Maseko’s Drum (2004) likewise launches glossily into the continent tip’s tumultuous history-culture weave, exploring 1950s Johannesburg and the fate of dapper anti- apartheid
journalist Henry Nxumalo (Taye Diggs).
But with so much history hitting the fan right now, the documentaries predominate: Khalo Matabane’s Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon (2005) uses a fictional, whimsical protagonist to interview Jo-burg emigres from virtually every corner of the globe. Jaheed Ashley’s Fela! Fresh From Africa (2006) chronicles the triumphant return to New York of famed activist Fela Kuti after being released from a Nigerian prison, while, more immediately, Taghreed Elsanhouri’s All About Darfur yowls to the world everything it should but doesn’t know about recent life and death in Sudan. The “world” aesthetic cannot help but embrace as well Festival in the Desert: The Tent Sessions (2004), a TV-shot featurette documenting the world-famous musical conclave outside Timbuktu, featuring live shit from Robert Plant, Ali Farka Toure, Justin Adams, and more.
Politics notwithstanding, perhaps the most original, and sensational, feature on view is Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s
Les Saignantes (2005), a profane Cameroonian sci-fi undergrounder (the title translates to “the bloodettes”), in which a pair of acrobatic prostitutes, in an unnamed nation of the near future, find themselves driving through a prototypical third-world urban mega-hell trying to dispose of a bureaucrat’s body. Cheap, crazy, and full of bounce, it’s a world away from any other continental film we’ve seen.