The New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) kicks off its 30th edition this week at New York City’s Lincoln Center. Mahen Bonetti, the founder of the New York African Film Festival, is a champion of African film and the immense talent found throughout Africa and the Diaspora. Below, she highlights three of the must-see films showcased at this year’s festival.

Hyperlink, directed by Mzonke Maloney, Nolitha Mkulisi, Julie Nxadi and Evan Wigdorowitz, 2022

What’s it about: In four short films, young South African filmmakers reflect on the seductive and, at times, treacherous, illusory reality of the internet. A Christian convert is preparing for his rebirth as a man of God—unaware that his teenage daughter, who hasn't heard from him in three months, has declared him dead on social media. A schoolgirl sees her private life made public when she invites a classmate, who is an online influencer, to her home. A divorced man with financial troubles wants to show his young daughter he can be a good father but he fails to see the precarious position he is maneuvering himself into. And a poet/commentator risks losing herself and those she loves in her desire to use her fame to achieve social change. Using humor, suspense and social criticism, this collective production sketches a society dominated by idealized projections of the dreamt self.

Bonetti says: “Hyperlink is a collection of short films that is a must-see for a great introduction to fresh voices of African cinema and its brilliant study on the essence of the internet in Africa and subjects that were formerly considered taboo such as gender conformity and religious conversion."

Xalé, directed by Moussa Sène Absa, 2022

Xale. Image: courtesy of NAFF/Film at Lincoln Center.
Xalé. Image: courtesy of NAFF/Film at Lincoln Center.

About the film: Awa, a 15-year-old schoolgirl, is happily living her teenage years alongside her twin brother, Adama, who dreams of Europe. When their grandmother dies, their Aunt Fatou and Uncle Atoumane promise to marry in order to preserve the family union. But Fatou does not love Atoumane and the latter, tired of waiting to consummate his marriage, commits an act from which there is no going back. This film is the third in Moussa Sène Absa’s trilogy focused on women.

Bonetti says: "Xalé is a film highlighting not just the impact of misdeeds against women, but the far-reaching and long-lived consequences upon both the victim and the moral fabric of society. The film beautifully weaves African folklore with contemporary drama. Backed by a superb soundtrack, each shot in Xalé revels in the beauty of Africa."

Den Muso, directed by Souleymane Cissé, 1975

Den Muso.Image: courtesy of NAFF/Film at Lincon Center.

What it’s about? A mute girl’s life takes a dramatic turn when she is attacked and, as a result, impregnated. Her family is at once plunged into chaos. The film not only explores the repercussions of her assault but also shines a light on the societal and economic challenges that women dealt with in urban Mali during the 1970s. It is a poignant and thought-provoking portrayal of the difficulties women continue to face in many parts of the world today.

Bonetti says: “Made in the 1970s, Den Muso was one of the first public conversations about the lack of rights for African women and was way ahead of its time with its dedication to the plight of African women. The film reflects not just the helplessness of women but the frustration from the failed promises of colonialism, and how women bore the brunt of internalized male rage resulting from these unfulfilled promises of freedom. Directed by Souleymane Cissé, one of the greats of African cinema, the film is a stunning master class in African social realism.”

NYAFF runs May 10, 2023to May 16, 2023 in New York City. For more information, visit Film at Lincoln Center.