If you want to experience and learn more about Africa, you won’t need a passport or a whole lot of cash. Instead from the comfort of your home and for only $5.00 you can immerse yourself in the history, beauty, challenges and hope of the motherland thanks to the launch of the African Film Library (AFL), the world’s largest collection of African films. The video on demand (VOD) service presently has 110 titles available with another 600 on the way. The three year passion project from Electronic Media Network, the South African-based corporate broadcaster, producer and distributor features some of African cinema’s most acclaimed talent including Ousmane Sembène, the “Father of African Cinema.”
With a mix of genres from sci-fi to musicals to documentaries, the AFL’s film rentals are available for digital download and can be viewed multiple times within a 36–hour period. Recently Mahen Bonetti, founder and executive director of the African Film Festival, Inc. helped EBONY identify some of the library’s best introductory films for novices to African Cinema.
Legendary director, Ousmane Sembène’s 1963 debut short film “Borom Sarret” is widely considered to be the first film by a sub-Saharan African, which immediately makes it must-see viewing. Still if that’s not enough to compel you then consider the film’s powerful themes of colonialism and independence, which are still relevant today. According to Bonetti, “Sembène made this film to remind us to be careful not to repeat or use the trends of the colonial masters,” she said. “What makes it important is we still have this discussion 50 years later.”
Despite remaining in power for only three months iconic Congolese leader, Patrice Emery Lumumba was a powerful force on the African political scene. In the political thriller, “Lumumba” his rise and fall as Congo’s first post-independence leader reveals the challenges faced by newly independent leaders in Africa. “Here we see how the strings were still pulled by the colonial masters. It shows how we can be divvied and not believe in ourselves,” said Bonetti.
Pieces D’ Identites
If you’re in the mood for a film with vibrant music, stunning scenery, humor and a relatable message then Bonetti recommends “Pieces D’ Identites” by director, Mweze Ngangura. On a visit to Belgium in search of his daughter, a Zairian king is soon forced to find his place in modern society. For Bonetti the film resonates due to its universal focus on the human search for identity. “This is in the Diaspora where a lot of first generation people of African descent have come of age and longing for home and are becoming aware of who they are,” she notes. “They are claiming a stake of the continent whether they are still in the Diaspora or on the ground on the continent.”
The journey from criminal to a man of conscience and character is the heart of “Mapantsula” by director, Oliver Schmitz. “It is about self-awareness, becoming a man and aware of the space in which you function. It’s similar to the transition of Malcolm X,” stated Bonetti. The 1988 film is also noteworthy because it captures the oppressive environment created by apartheid in the late 1980’s, while simultaneously proving that there was hope since a White South African and Black South African produced the film. Now that’s triumphing over adversity.
When a village’s famous daughter returns home with a list of outrageous demands and a wealth of money, corruption ensues in “Hyenes” which Bonetti refers to as “…a western in a village.” For Bonetti, the film represents powerful themes about greed and colonialism. “It shows the human condition and how we can sell each other out because of greed. It’s a serious film but it’s funny too.” While visionary director, Djibril Diop Mambety did not make many films, this one ranks as one of his most popular and was nominated for a Golden Palm Award by the 1992 Cannes Film Festival.
To join the African Film Library, check out their official website.