11 classic African movies worth watching
Africa Month may have ended but Showmax has just released a collection of 11 classic African movies that are worth celebrating year-round, having been praised everywhere from Cannes to Ouagadougou, Sundance to Toronto.
Djibril Diop Mambéty's Touki Bouki is the story of two lovers - a cowherd and a university student - who dream of escaping to Paris from Dakar.
For a film originally released in 1973, Touki Bouki has been in the headlines a lot this year. In March, Beyonce took to Instagram to announce her ‘On The Run II’ stadium tour with Jay-Z with a striking poster image of the couple on a bull-skull-trimmed motorbike, inspired by the classic Senegalese road trip movie. Her Instagram post racked up over 3m views in under 24 hours.
Then in April, Touki Bouki topped the Tarifa-Tangiers African Film Festival’s list of the 10 best African films of all time, as chosen by 10 well-respected critics and authorities on film. Of course, Touki Bouki is no stranger to lists like this, having been included in Sight & Sound’s 100 Greatest Films Of All Time and Empire’s 100 Best Films Of World Cinema.
When Kaleche (Nyokabi Gethaiga), a young amnesiac, wakes up in the middle of the wilderness, she has no idea how she got there. She makes her way to Kati Kati, a nearby lodge, where she meets a motley crew of residents under the leadership of Thoma (Elsaphan Njora).
At Toronto International Film Festival, the Kenyan film won the FIPRESCI Critics Prize, with the FIPRESCI jury hailing director Mbithi Masya as “an exciting and unique new voice in cinema.” Kati Kati was also named Best East African Film at the 2017 Africa Movie Viewers Choice Awards and won the New Voices/New Visions Award Special Mention at the Palm Springs International Festival, among other accolades.
When Burkina Faso filmmaker Idrissa Ouedraogo passed away in February, Variety hailed him as “a towering figure of African cinema” and The New York Times described him as “legendary.” Ouedraogo came to international attention in 1989 with Yaaba (Grandmother), the story of two children who make friends with an old woman who has been outcast as a witch by her village. Yaaba won the FIPRESCI Critics’ Prize and a Special Mention from the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, among other accolades.
Nairobi Half Life
In David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga’s debut feature film, an aspiring actor moves to Nairobi with big dreams of becoming a star, but quickly discovers why the city of opportunity is nicknamed Nairobbery. The Hollywood Reporter called it a “dynamic crime drama… shot through with fresh social and stylistic energy.” Nairobi Half Life won the Breakthrough Audience Award at AFI in 2012 and four Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards in 2014. Lead actor Joseph Wairimu also picked up Best Actor at Durban International Film Festival and Most Promising Actor at the Africa Movie Academy Awards.
Of Good Report
Infamously banned just before it was due to open the Durban International FIlm Festival in 2013, Jahmil XT Qubeka’s Of Good Report is the story of an obsessive affair between an introverted high school teacher (Mothusi Magano) and a 16-year-old pupil (Petronella Tshuma).
The Guardian called it an “edge-of-your-seat thriller… a sensational noir thriller in black and white. Watching this brazenly shocking and gripping film, I remembered the feeling I had on seeing Christopher Nolan's low-budget black-and-white debut, Following. Here is a director who is going places.” Of Good Report won five awards, including Best Film, at both the South African Film and Television Awards and the African Movie Academy Awards in 2014.
God Grew Tired Of Us
Winner of both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance in 2006, this documentary follows three of the Lost Boys of Sudan after their arrival in America after years of wandering Sub-Saharan African in search of safety. Directed by Americans Christopher Quinn and Tommy Walker, God Grew Tired Of Us has a 91% critics score and a 94% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Fourteen-year-old Abila (Samson Odhiambo) awakes to find his father feeling so ill that he’s unable to open their grocery shop. When his father says his soul has been stolen, Abi confronts the Nyawawa (Krysteen Savane), a spirit rumoured to steal men’s souls. Admiring the boy’s bravery, the Nyawawa gives him seven challenges to complete in 24 hours to restore his father’s health.
Co-directed by Hawa Essuman and Tom Tyker (Run Lola Run, Perfume), Soul Boy won the Dioraphte Audience Award at Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2010, as well as Best Film at Africa International Film Festival and the Signis Award at Zanzibar International Film Festival, among others.
Gangster’s Paradise: Jerusalema
Rapulana Seiphemo won Best Actor Awards at both Durban and FESPACO for his role as Lucky Kunene, infamous for hijacking buildings in Hillbrow. Ralph Ziman’s crime thriller was South Africa's official entry for the Oscars and won the Audience Award at Durban, among other accolades.
Ghanaian writer/director Leila Djansi won Best Screenplay three years in a row at the Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA) - for I Sing Of A Well in 2010, Sinking Sands in 2011, and Ties That Bind in 2012. At the AMAAs, Sinking Sands also won Best Make-Up and Best Actress, for Ama K Ababrese.
She plays Pabi, who is in a seemingly loving marriage until a domestic accident disfigures her husband Jimah (Jimmy Jean-Louis, aka The Haitian in Heroes).
CNN included Sinking Sands as one of 10 “Must-See African Movies Of The 21st Century,” with AMAA founder Peace Anyiam-Osigwe writing, “You cannot watch Sinking Sands and not be affected.” Sinking Sands also took home four Ghana Movie Awards, including Best Picture.
1975. As Mozambicans host their flag for the first time, hundreds of ‘prostitutes’ are arrested and sent to reeducation camps in the countryside, where they are to be transformed into ‘new women’ to serve the revolution. But some of those arrested, like the teenage Margarida, are not prostitutes. Directed by Licinio Azevedo, Virgin Margarida won eight international awards, including Best Supporting Actress (Iva Mugalela) at the Carthage Film Festival and the audience award at the Amiens Film Festival in 2012.
How To Steal 2 Million
Released from prison, Jack (Menzi Ngubane) can’t find work. His former buddy Twala (Rapulana Seiphemo) offers him a job he can’t refuse, but can he trust his new partners in crime? How To Steal 2 Million won four Africa Movie Academy Awards, including Best Film, Best Director (Charlie Vundla) and Best Supporting Actress (Terry Pheto).