While the annual Pan African film program showcases movies from across the African diaspora, from the U.S. to Zimbabwe, this year’s strong South African showing is not a coincidence.
“South Africa is decisive in the development of black people in this world,” film festival executive director Ayuko Babu says. “If you’re a conscious educated black person, you pay attention to South Africa, sort of the way Jews pay attention to Israel.”
Preparing itself for its close-up as host of the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament, the country is especially image conscious right now, Babu adds, and showing a high level of support for its film industry.
Also included among the festival’s shorts, documentaries, family films and features is “Zimbabwe” (3:10 p.m. Wednesday), a South African drama. It’s about the struggle for survival of three orphans treated like slaves in a Zimbabwean border town. The title character finds her way into South Africa seeking work, but finds more abuse.
From South Africa as well is “Skin” (4:15 p.m. Sunday), a drama that won audience and jury awards at the Los Angeles edition of the Pan African festival in February. It follows 30 years of acceptance, betrayal and reconciliation in the life a black child born in the 1950s to white Afrikanners unaware of their black ancestry.
Not all of the festival’s films are quite so intense, of course.
“13 Months of Sunshine” (5:35 p.m. Wednesday), an Ethiopian/U.S. production, courts as many clichés as any early Meg Ryan romantic comedy. Yet it works despite that and even though you can see the happy-ever-after ending coming from the moment protagonists Solomon (Sammy Amare) and Hanna (Tsion Fikreselassie) meet.
The set up is that barista Solomon, whose dream of opening his own coffee shop is going nowhere fast, gets $20,000 for marrying Hanna so she can score a green card. What’s swell is the realistic glimpse of the Ethiopian immigrant community in Los Angeles, especially the young adults with hearts in their homeland and heads struggling with what it takes to make it in the land of plenty. Their divided lives are emphasized in the way they switch from English to Amharic in the course of one sentence.
For a selection that won’t remind you of “Scarface” or “When Harry Met Sally”, there’s “Nora” (1 p.m. Thursday), 35-minute short on the life of Zimbabwe choreographer/performance artist Nora Chipaumire. With few spoken words or subtitles, this is a vivid portrait of an artist, a biography told by stomping feet, twisting torsos and haunting expressions.
Pan African Film Festival
Wednesday through Sunday, Woodruff Arts Center’s Rich Auditorium, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E. $8 per film (all-film pass, $150). 404-733-5000, www.nbaf.org.
Special event: A conversation with director Robert Townsend at 8 p.m. Thursday, followed by a screening of his 1991 Motown-styled biography “The Five Heartbeats”.
The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.