Seven African films to catch this season

With the Toronto International Film Festival underway in Canada and British Film Institute festival just round the corner, there are quite a few African films on the bill this season, due to come to a screen near us soon.
Rita Dominic and Ramsey Noah on set of 76.
Rita Dominic and Ramsey Noah on set.
Rita Dominic and Ramsey Noah on set.

With the Toronto International Film Festival underway in Canada and British Film Institute festival just round the corner, there are quite a few African films on the bill this season, due to come to a screen near us soon. Say whatever you may want to say about old school Nollywood, the new Nollywood is also fast matching international cinema in the quality and diversity of its offerings. Here are my top movies which have been on my radar for a while now.

76 Starring Nollywood heavyweights Ramsey Nouah, Rita Dominic and Chidi Mokeme Izu Ojukwu’s political thriller is inspired by the cataclysmic events of 40 years ago, and shot, remarkably, in 35mm.

Set against the backdrop of the attempted 1976 military coup against the government of General Murtala Mohammed, 76 tells the story of respected army officer Captain Joseph Dewa (Nouah) and his wife, Suzy (Dominic) caught amidst family tensions surrounding their union and attempts of the rebellious army factions attempts to recruit Captain Dewa into a coup plot. Despite the Captain’s resistance, a cunning trap not only creates a rift between him and his wife but also lands him in jail.
In this gripping thriller, Ojukwu tackles a still-contested chapter in Nigeria’s history and weaves together themes of political and personal loyalty, telling the story from the dual perspectives of the betrayed soldier and his anguished wife with brilliant performances from Nouah and Dominic.

Queen of Katwe
Directed by Mira Nair, this Disney production brings to the big screen the real life story of Ugandan chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi portrayed by newcomer Madina Nalwanga alongside David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyong’o.

In the Katwe shantytown of Kampala, there are only a few precious escapes from a life of poverty. When a missionary and one-time soccer player named Robert (Oyelowo) begins teaching the local kids to play chess, Phiona is transfixed — and displays an instant affinity for the game.

Recognising her innate talent, Robert takes Phiona under his wing while her mother Harriet, a vegetable vendor, is worried that her daughter’s new-found passion might lead to heartbreak, but soon Phiona is triumphing at local tournaments.

A captivating story of hope and discovery, Queen of Katwe is a definite must-see.

Green White Green
Those patiently waiting for the second serving of the Netflix hit series The Get Down can find solace in Abba Makama’s Green White Green which presents a cityscape reminiscent of a Spike Lee joint, with its vivid colours and vivacious inhabitants. In Lagos creativity is at the heart of identity and the narrative follows the story of a bunch of young, struggling creatives.

Uzoma (Ifeanyi Dike) and his friends are on the cusp of adulthood, feeling directionless in those stagnant months before the beginning of their university studies. They spend their days playing videogames or competing in impromptu yab-offs, improvised insult matches where the quip that gets the most laughs determines the winner.

While Self taught painter Uzoma struggles to sell his work, Baba (Jamal Ibrahim)
Ibrahim) experiments with his first short film in his backyard. This is Lagos after all – where the race is the the swift, the hustle is always to the savviest.
Oko Ashewo

From the psychedelic representation of the Nigeria’s commercial capital to a noir imagining, Oko Ashewo paints Lagos
as an expressionistic film noir metropolis.

When small-town mechanic Adigun (Femi Jacobs) moves to Lagos to inherit his estranged father’s taxi, he has no idea what to expect. What he gets is a beat-up car (optimistically named “Tom Kruiz”), crushing debt, and a job as a chauffeur for the mob. His troubles are further compounded when he gets caught up in the nightly troubles of Delia (Ijeoma Grace Agu), a sex worker who treats his dented cab as her personal limo.

Director Daniel Emeke Oriahi effortlessly turns Lagos into a film noir cityscape with artful shots of the city after dark in this surprisingly funny film champions the optimists of the night.
The Wedding Party
Forget My Big Fat Greek Wedding – literally. Time for My Biggest Nigerian Wedding. When it comes to weddings in Nigeria, you either go big or go home.

A lavish wedding escalates into pure Lagosian chaos, in this wild romcom produced by media mogul Mo Abudu.

Art gallery owner Dunni (Adesua Etomi) is the cherished daughter of Bamidele Coker (Atunyota Akpobome, popularly known as Ali Baba) and his wife, Tunuade (Sola Sobowale). When Dunni and her fiancé Dozie (Banky Wellington) elect to marry, the Cokers decide to throw the wedding of the century. Success in Nigeria’s oil industry has given them new wealth, so why not splash out for their only daughter?

As the groom faces the return of an ex-girlfriend, the bride confronts wild embarrassments, and village guests turn up to topple the parents’ carefully laid plans, this wedding party escalates into pure Lagosian chaos.

Directed by Kemi Adetiba, The Wedding Party is bound to be a fun and flamboyant affair.

93 Days
Gukas’ riveting real-life thriller showcased at the Toronto International Film Festival this month is an odd to the courageous health-care workers in Lagos battling the Ebola outbreak of 2014.

When a foreign civil servant lands in Lagos on a flight from Liberia with a high fever, the first, hopeful response is that it’s only malaria. But Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh (Bimbo Akintola) of the First Consultant Hospital knows the man is afflicted with something far more serious. Despite opposition from colleagues, officials, and the man himself, she denies his release. Once the man is confirmed as Nigeria’s index case of the Ebola virus, Adadevoh, her team, the Nigerian government, and the World Health Organization scramble to deal with a potential doomsday scenario.

Alongside Akintola’s captivating performance as Dr. Adadevoh, the superb cast also boasts American actor Danny Glover bringing to life
Dr. Benjamin Ohiaeri, who is on the verge of retirement when the virus hits, and TIFF Rising Star Somkele Iyamah-Idhalama as Dr. Ada Igonoh, who is hoping to conceive a child despite this time of peril.
the United Kingdom

Another real life story this season comes from Botswana brought to life by the acclaimed Ghanaian director Amma Asante behind the 2013 runaway hit that was Belle.

If Oyelowo was robbed of an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr in 2014’s Selma; right ahead of the awards season, he should be a shoo-in with his understated portrayal of Seretse Khama, the young and charismatic Prince of Bechuanaland (Botswana of today).
Based on Susan Williams’s book Colour Bar, the screenplay by Guy Hibbert follows the love story of Khama and Ruth Williams, a London office worker.

Seretse and Ruth’s union is challenged not only by their families but by the British and South African governments, for an interracial couple ruling over their next door neighbour is intolerable for apartheid era South Africa and risky for Britain dependent on South African uranium (vital for the British nuclear program) and gold (vital to replenish reserves following the war) and unwilling to risk South Africa invading Botswana.

While putting the love story of Seretse and Ruth at the core of the story, Asante never sentimentalises the drama, instead giving a captivating account of a key period in Botswana’s history and move towards independence. David Oyelowo’s and Rosemund Pike’s chemistry is brilliant as their acting skills well-matched to pull of a love story that’s inspirational.

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