Planet Africa 1998

September 3 – 13, 1998

The 16th edition of Toronto's "Festival of Festival" transition to Toronto International Film Festival featuring over 250 films and the newly launched section Planet Africa.  

The festival ran  September 3 – 13, 1998

"1995 Planet Africa lands on the scene and the scene is changed forever. For the first time African films gain a strong voice at a major international film festival. For the first time the African diaspora speaks together in all its voices. We start small, but we start."

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PLANET AFRICA 1998

The premature, recent loss of the gifted and accomplished Senegalese filmmaker, Djbril Diop Mamberty, reminds us of the need to value the unique and immeasurable contribution that filmmakers like Djbril make to the art of cinema, and thus to our civilization. He will be best remembered for his classic masterpiece Touki Bouki (73) and the epic Hyenas (92). He will be mourned for leaving us before getting the opportunity (so richly deserved) to make Malaika, which was to complete his trilogy of features. Planet Africa joins the multitude of fans all over the world who have had the extreme good fortune to experience and appreciate the films of Djbril Diop Mambery (including Le Franc, shown at Planet Africa in 1995). This is an opportunity to contemplate our sad loss, and look to the hopes for the future. 

This year’s crop of films exhibits a range of styles and themes that reinforce the global nature of African and diaspora experience. The fusion of cultures in the diaspora is much in evidence, not merely in terms of the authorship of the films, but very much the alliances that are made to bring films to the screen, and the mis of cultural experience that infuse the stories.

 

Toronto veteran John Akomfrah’s Speak Like a Child and new talent Mama Keita’s L’onzième commandement, are both structed around very close childhoods and adolescent friendships; these become the source of climactic drama in the later adult life of the characters, with on story set in rural England and the other in Paris. Although the friendships are interracial, neither are about race; but both curiously involve a ménage à trois! Similarly, the feature from Haitian director Raoul Peck, Corps plongés, set in New York, is a study of the likes of three characters and their impact on each other. The three films all offer a very triangular approach to storytelling, and exhibit a flair for challenging narrative structures. 

Tackling questions of exile and political and economic corruption as a subplot, Corps plongés shares a common thread with the central story of the controversial film Silmande Tourbillion, by Burkina Faso director Pierre Yameogo. He dares to tackle the taboo issues of Arab-African relationships and high-ranking corruption in a fictional West African country. Yameogo’s compatriot, Isaaka Konaté, also contributes the magical short film Soukoto this year’s programme. 

Two films are sure to elate audiences; both use poetry in the structure and syntax of their narrative. Mark Levin’s Slam is a masterful screen representation of the emotion and power of rap poetry, and Abderrahamane Sissako’s understated La vie sure terre is a lyrical and poignant montage of the almost palpable emotions of belonging and loss. 

Similarly, the very notion of diaspora continually throws up questions of identity and history which, in Mweze Ngangura’s Pièces d'identités, are treated with humor; in Mixing Niawith pathos, and eventually triumph; and in the two short films, Camille Billops’ Take Your Bags and Charles Burnett’s Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland, with simple, but effective, direct testimony. (Both of the shorts were commissioned by the Atlanta Black Arts Festival as part of the Homage series.)

Gender politics and sisters taking care of business – and themselves – in films written and directed by men often stimulate heated debate, which is the case in the sumptuous Bent Familia and the highly entertaining Babymother, set in Tunis and London, respectively. Sceptics will be intrigued and the initiated will have a great time, so be ready to enjoy the scripted silences and the musical dialogue that characterize these two films. By contrast, the shar-edged short drama, Secrets, is written and directed by a woman. Sheryl Lee Ralph makes her directorial debut, surrounded by fellow actresses, including Alfre Woodard, Robin Givens and others, who get ready to dish the dirt. 

 

Two intensely dramatic shorts, from Senegal and the U.K. respectively, complete the programme this year: Jo Gay Ramaka’s Ainsi soit il and Nigerian first-time director Newton Aduaka’s On the Edge. Both demonstrate promising talents.

Planet Africa this year offers Toronto audiences this selection of films with which to maintain the high expectations nurtured in the past three years by my predecessor Cameron Bailey. I take this opportunity to thank him and assistant Julie Crooks for their vision, commitment and plain hard work on Planet Africa.

June Givanni

Planet Africa, program introduction

23rd Annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)

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TIFF: PA PROGRAMMING TEAM

June Givanni, Planet Africa Programmer

Julie Crooks, Planet Africa Program Assistant

FILMS & FILMMAKERS

  • Ainsi Soit Il (So Be It) by Joseph Gaï Ramaka

  • Babymother by Julian Henriques

  • Bent Familia by Nouri Bouzid

  • Corps Plongés (It's Not About Love) by Raoul Peck (US/Haiti)

  • Dr. Endesha Ida Mae Holland by Charles Burnett

  • La Vie Sur Terre (Life on Earth) by Abderrahmane Sissako

  • L'Onzième Commandement by Mama Keïta

  • Mixing Nia by Alison Swan

  • On The Edge by Newton I. Aduaka - short

  • Pièces D'identités (Pieces of Identity) by Mwezé Ngangura 

  • Secrets by Sheryl Lee Ralph

  • Silmande Tourbillon by S. Pierre Yameogo

  • Slam by Marc Levin

  • Souko Camera Box by Issiaka Konaté

  • Speak Like A Child by John Akomfrah

  • Take Your Bags by Camille Billops - short

CONTRIBUTORS

Black Film & Video Network (BFVN), Grecia Mayers

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