15th EDITION OF
THE Cambridge African Film Festival
21st - 27th OCTOBER 2016
Thursday 20th OCTOBER 6:30PM
(behind the Catholic Church)
Cambridge, CB2 1EN
We will be launching the 15th Festival in style at this party event, which is open to all, featuring music from Afro-Tema, food, drinks and dancing along with presentations introduced by our special guest and British-Ghanaian actress, Michelle Asante. The event is hosted by Menelik Education CSN Foundation.
Afro-Tema's unique blend of African dance music is composed by Makhou N'Diaye - a distinguished musician in Senegal and the UK. The music is a dedication of West African rhythms sliced into a World Music melting pot of afro-latin sounds, hi-life, reggae beats, popular mbalax and a twist of jazz. The melodic arrangements boast strong vocals and solid percussion, and some simply great sinewy guitar lines. Afro-Tema play from the heart of Senegal, a beat loud and clear on the World Music circuit.
Michelle is an extremely talented actress who was recently seen in LUCKY MAN on Sky 1 as well as FATHER BROWN Series 4 on BBC 1. She can now be seen in the BBC's OUR GIRL. Michelle was nominated for a Broadway World Award for SUNSET BABY as Best Featured Actress in a Play and also for a Black Entertainment Film Fashion & Television Award (BEFFTA) for Best Actress in a Television Show in MONROE.
(Plenty for Vegetarian and Non Vegetarian!)
Marinated Chicken Breast
Red Beans and Tomato Sauce
Selection of Ethiopian food
Couscous & Chicken Tagine
Exotic Ice Cream
CAFF OPENING PARTY
Food served time: 7.30pm
Bar opening time: 6:30pm
Band on at: 8.00pm
Friday 21st OCTOBER 6:30PM
Q+A with Director, Perivi Katjavivi, and
CAFF Founder, Lindiwe Dovey.
With its radiant black-and-white images and open, conversational structure, The Unseen shifts between documentary precision and fictional movements. It empathetically follows the stories of three people as they navigate the emotional and physical realities of post-colonial Namibia: Marcus, an African American actor tasked with portraying one of Namibia’s historical leaders; Anu, a talented local musician who is having trouble negotiating between his influences and identity; and Sara, a depressed young woman uncertain of whether or not her environment provides anything worth living for. In the wake of the recent movements around the world calling for renewed decolonization and the recognition that “Black Lives Matter”, The Unseen is an exhilarating poetic and personal exploration of urgent global themes that affect us all.
38-39 St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR
Director: Perivi Katjavivi
Running time: 70 mins
Language: English/Afrikaans with English subtitles
review by eva Namusoke
When asked by OKayafrica to describe his 2016 debut feature film, director Perivi John Katjavivi described The Unseen as ‘a collection of philosophical musings on what it means to be alive in independent Namibia.’ The black and white film follows three young people as they inhibit metaphorical and physical ‘unseen’ spaces – the dark bedroom, the street corner, the artist’s mind. With three storylines that show different lives and challenges, Katjavivi uses the characters to engage with philosophical issues against the backdrop of a modern Namibia. Interspersed with images of sparse landscapes and colonial photographs, the film covers topics ranging from globalisation to nihilism, art to identity.
Antonio David plays Marcus, an African American actor who has travelled to Namibia to play the lead role in a historical epic. In one of the most captivating moments in the film, Marcus engages in a debate with a white Namibian about cultural appropriation, with the two men sparring over the ownership of stories. Marcus’ position as a black American, contrasted with that of the white African offers an interesting twist on debates that are occurring in artistic spaces today.
Senga Brockerhoff plays Sara, a depressed young woman in acute crisis, sequestered in her room and living off tinned pineapple. Sara spends her time alone in the dark, visited by a revolving door of people trying to help her but failing to understand her mental state. Hers is the quietest of the three stories, told as much using light and mood as through speech.
Matthew Ishitile’s Anu is arguably the most captivating of the three characters. Anu is an aspiring rapper, engaged in that most universal of young peoples’ activities – the hustle. The conversations Anu participates in are at once the most informal and philosophical in the film. When Anu is sitting on the street with some contemporaries and fielding their questions about his ties to the neighbourhood – questions about his identity essentially – the film feels most like a documentary in its style. Anu appears the most rootless of the three, trying to build a career for himself in a Namibia that is outward-facing yet still grappling with its brutal colonial past.
Beyond the poignant images and restless desert winds, The Unseen is at its heart a film about conversations many of us have had. Conversations between lovers in the small hours. Conversations with old friends and new. Conversations about secret fears and sacred hopes. In this sense, it is a very human story, driven by characters who live in unseen spaces but nevertheless carve out paths for themselves.
THINGS OF THE AIMLESS WANDERER
SATURDAY 22ND OCTOBER 6:30PM
Q+A with Director, Kivu Ruhorahoza, Piotr Cieplak (expert on Rwandan film and photography) and
Andrea Grant (Centre of Governance & Human Rights).
38-39 St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR
Director: Kivu Ruhorahoza
Running time: 78 mins
Mzungu: the aimless wanderer. This Bantu term, now commonly used to refer to white people, originated from a word referring to the propensity of early European explorers and missionaries to get lost, both literally and metaphorically, in African lands. THINGS OF AIMLESS WANDERER weaves together a series of encounters between an African woman and a variety of male figures – from a 19th-century explorer to a contemporary Western journalist to a Rwandan working for a shadowy surveillance agency. As each encounter leads to a disappearance, Ruhorahoza offers a scathing, if at times cryptic, indictment of continuing objectification and misapprehensions between “locals” and “Westerners”. A metaphor for Rwanda itself, the African female body becomes a tableau on which histories of obsession and oppression old and new are enacted. With a hypnotic score and arresting visual style, this film exposes the dangerous grounds of authenticity, tradition, authoritarianism and colonial legacies in contemporary Africa.
review by jonathan mitchell
Films that manage to combine an aesthetic simplicity with a density of possible meaning and interpretation are rare beasts. But in Things of the Aimless Wanderer, Rwandan director and writer Kivu Ruhorahaza has meshed meditations on Africa’s colonial past and how these linger today, together with a modern tale of political intrigue and shifting gender roles that centres on a girl’s possible disappearance, all to wonderful effect.
The film begins in dense forest, in the distant past. A white man (Justin Mullikin) wanders with seemingly little purpose. He is pursued by a black man (Ramadhan Bizimana) who stands over him with an axe as he sleeps. They encounter a woman (Grace Nikuze) and the three engage in silent staring.
We then cut to the present day. The same characters are in a bar; the white man appears to be propositioning the woman whilst the other man looks on. A title reads: “A girl has disappeared. Working Hypothesis #1. Based on a true story.” Bizimana removes her (dead?) body from a car. The camera roves an urban non-place, homing in on telling details: disused cars, derelict buildings, urban decay. The atmosphere created is eerie and unsettling. He performs in a “dance party” for a mostly tourist or ex-pat audience, before we fade to white. 24 minutes into the film we have our first dialogue. He discusses surveilling the white man with an unseen other. Meanwhile he takes her to his apartment where she dances for him. He is startled to find a middle age woman living in his shower.
Fade to “Hypothesis #2”. The white man dumps something (a body?) out in a field. In a lengthy voiceover we see him wandering the bush, observing animals (the great white hunter disarmed?), pondering the events we have seen in the previous scene. His tone is both self-pitying and patronising. He wonders if she was the daughter of a dignatory who had fallen from grace or if she was “aware of her ethereal beauty?” The tone shifts to one of paranoia as we move to the city at night. There are people following him. We learn he is a freelance American journalist who may have displeased the local security police. He is writing a book on the current political situation. A tolling bell on the soundtrack accentuates the ominous tone.
She leaves her house and walks down an urban street. In another jolting jump cut she is walking a rural road towards a lake. She holds her belly. As night draws in, she fills her rucksack with rocks, tapes her legs together and jumps in. A voiceover (the white man?) discusses local attitudes to teenage pregnancy and how these may have softened of late. We see her in church, a shot of an empty crib, before she is preparing her rucksack. This time she is walking out in the forest, where the film began. We see that this is “Working Hypothesis #3”. She tapes her feet, her mouth and herself to the tree.
Fade to black. We see black people in a bar, wearing ape masks. In voiceover the white man discusses the recent rise of local elites and the nature of suicide as a taboo subject because of its perceived association with western immorality. As a camera illuminates the dark of his apartment, his last spoken words are “Disorientation…disorientation”.
Things of the Aimless Wanderer’s love of fractured narrative, temporal dilslocation and possible futures/pasts certainly seems to align it with the work of Michaelangelo Antonioni. Indeed, the character of the American journalist is surely a knowing reference to Jack Nicholson’s character in The Passenger. The languid cinematography and oblique narrative strategies are also reminiscent, to my mind, of the more recent works of ‘Slow Cinema’ from the likes of Apichatpong Weereasethakul, Lisandro Alonso and Pedro Costa. But the film’s subtle meditation on the all-pervading influences of colonial and post-colonial history, together with the changing (or not) nature of society makes this a uniquely African work. The tone is one of disquiet, of ambiguity and of – yes – disorientation. This atmosphere is enhanced beautifully by Daniel Biro’s soundtrack, which mostly consists of industrial hums and drones. If this unnamed country can be seen as Rwanda then the shackles of history – both recent and long gone – are never to be underestimated.
THE ENDLESS RIVER
SUNDAY 23RD OCTOBER 6:30PM
The third film by visionary South African filmmaker Oliver Hermanus, The Endless River is a gripping and beautifully made thriller that also works as a sophisticated and meditative study of how cycles of violence continue through people’s presumptions and projections. The lives of a French man and a South African woman become dangerously intertwined in the small South African town of Riviersonderend (Endless River) after the French man’s wife and children are murdered. Moving beyond his previous cinematic focus only on South African characters through his French protagonist, Hermanus raises vital, confrontational questions about race, gender and power - questions that remind us of our mutual entanglements, wherever we come from and wherever we are going to.
38-39 St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR
Director: Oliver Hermanus
Running time: 108 mins
review by jonathan mitchell
The verdant landscapes, reminiscent of the American prairies, give little clue as to the shifting tone of the drama that is about to unfold. In Chapter 1, Percy (Clayton Evertson) is released from four years in prison for a gang related crime. He returns to his wife Tiny (Crystal Donna-Roberts) and the tense atmosphere at the home they share with her mother. His life quickly descends into an endless cycle of drinking and gambling at local bars. A stranger comes to town in the form of Gilles (Nicolas Duvauchelle) who meets Tiny at the restaurant where she works. Tragedy rips his life apart after his family are brutally killed in a home invasion and his life descends into the blankness of grief. Tiny and Gilles – spurned wife and grieving widower – find some solace together.
Chapter 2: The local police chief implicates Percy in the murder of Gilles’ family. Coincidentally Percy and his cronies plan a robbery at the scene of the murder, presuming no police will be guarding it at night. When the plan goes wrong, Percy is found murdered. The police confront Gilles who denies any knowledge of the murder.
Chapter 3: After arrests are made relating to his family’s murder, Gilles and Tiny grow together through their mutual grief. They embark on a road trip which seems to say more about his need to flee than it does about his need to be with Tiny. Their relationship becomes sexual but a rift develops between them when she discovers the mugshot of her husband in Gilles’ wallet. Flashbacks cast some doubt on the veracity of his claim to have no involvement in Percy’s death. An ambiguous ending leaves some doubt as to where they are going next – either physically or emotionally.
In less capable hands, this material could have made for a prurient and sensationalised narrative. However, Hermanus deftly weaves the various narrative threads together and never resorts to melodramatic overemphasis. The bleakness of much of the first part of the film is underpinned by the steely greys and blues of that are drawn out in each shot. This austerity is matched by the sparse dialogue and underplayed performances, particularly that of Duvauchelle as he veers from sullen incomprehension to outbursts of rage. Ultimately we are left with a familiar question of narrative veracity: just where does the truth lie?
LIFE IS WAITING: REFERENDUM & RESISTANCE IN WESTERN SAHARA
Monday 24TH OCTOBER 7:30PM
Q+A with Saharawi cultural activist and filmmaker Brahim Buhaia, human rights activist from Western Sahara Sidi Ahmed, and social anthropologist Alice Wilson.
Movement is the last thing we usually associate with a refugee camp. But it is that precise combination – of stasis and motion – that makes Life is Waiting such an inspiring documentary. Set in the Saharawi refugee camps near Tindouf, South West Algeria (which have existed since 1975, when Morocco began occupying Western Sahara), the film focuses on ordinary people’s everyday, non-violent resistance to their oppression through art and creativity. Music, painting, and calligraphy dance across the screen as the history of the Saharawi people’s plight is brought to life.
The screening will be followed by a discussion with Saharawi cultural activist and filmmaker Brahim Buhaia, human rights activist from Western Sahara Sidi Ahmed, and social anthropologist Alice Wilson.
St John's Old Divinity School
All Saints Passage
Cambridge CB2 1TP
Director: Iara Lee
Running time: 59 mins
Language: Arabic Hassaniya, Spanish, English, and French with English subtitles
review by jonathan mitchell
Brazilian film-maker Iara Lee’s impassioned and beautifully film begins with dispossessed voices raised in a street demonstration by Sahrawi exiles in Madrid. The successive waves of colonisation are laid bare: Spain’s colonial ambitions replaced in 1975 by a Moroccan land-grab, followed by a war of resistance by the POLISARIO Front that ended with a promised referendum on the future of Western Sahara in 1991 that has never materialised. Under the pretence of self-protection, the occupiers have since constructed a vast 2700 km long wall, the second longest such structure in the world. Thousands of Sahrawi now live in camps in western Algeria, a country whose on-going conflict with Morocco is curiously absent from the film’s narrative.
Refusing the easy option of a voice-of-God commentary, the film opts instead to intersperse textual information with a series of interviews with those directly involved. It is these voices of the disenfranchised that add a ferocious edge: this is our experience – what is the rest of the world doing about this? The answer, sadly, appears to be very little. The UN Peacekeepers are shown to be merely maintaining a status quo that favours Moroccan territorial interests at the expense of the wishes of the Sahrawi people.
We hear from the calligrapher still reproducing traditional Sahrawi themes, highly apt in a film that fuses text and the spoken word. It also comes as no surprise that sound and music form the foundation of Brazilian film-maker Iara Lee’s documentary as she has previously published works on the history of electronica. Flitoox, a rap/graffiti artist, speaks of the peaceful resistance of tagging and the violence this act is met with by the authorities. Marien Hassan sings resistance songs from exile. It comes as no surprise that sound and music weave together the fabric of the documentary as she has previously published works on the history of electronica. A poet in exile writes of the tragedy and pain of their people: words of protest are made visible/audible and gain potency. In a cruel echo of recent South American history, we see The Mothers of the Disappeared and the ways their attempts to keep memories alive and in the public domain are repressed. The direct action of singer Amminatou Haidar’s hunger strike shows how resistance becomes corporeal.
The brutal break up of demonstration at Gdein Izek in November 2010 was brought to the world by citizen journalists and bloggers, at considerable risk to themselves and relatives in the occupied territory. Meanwhile, the banning of traditional Sahrawi tents or Khamas is subverted by their reappearance in public.
In addition to these everyday acts of resistance, creativity and image-making seem to provide some hope for the future. The Artifiriti festival promotes “Resistance Through Art” and the UNHCR-supported FiSahara film festival is held annually in the Dakha refugee camp, receiving considerable support from the European film community, including director Pedro Almodovar.
At its close, perhaps the most arresting image in the film is when a group of protesters brave a minefield to “punish the wall with flowers” – the flowers are placed on the implacable wall, to the audience of “peacekeepers”. The impression is clear: day-to-day resistance is ongoing but when will the world take heed?
ZURA TAEKWONDO FIGHTER +
ZANZIBAR SOCCER DREAMS
TUESDAY 25TH OCTOBER 6:30PM
38-39 St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR
Following the living dreams of Zura Mushambokazi, this short documentary introduces us to a young female taekwondo fighter who sees the martial art as a means to an alternative future. Already hailed as the finest talent in the region, Zura must skilfully contend with society’s taboos and her parents’ fear for her life whilst coming to terms with what a professional sporting career entails. A revealing short film offering a positive insight into Rwandan society.
A sequel to the successful documentary Zanzibar Soccer Queens (2007), this film fast forwards to the lives of some of the women who embraced football both as an expression of self, but equally as a vision for society. We see likeable, funny and intelligent women describe how they were once labelled "hooligans" but are now ambassadors representing their country on state and international visits. In this energetic film, we see how sport is helping to challenge the taboos of gender, religion and culture.
Zanzibar Soccer Dreams
Directors: Florence Ayisi & Catalin Brylla
Running time: 63 mins
Language: English/Swahili with English subtitles
Zura Taekwondo Fighter
Director: Jean Baptiste Nyabyenda
Running time: 11 mins
Language: Swahili with English subtitles
Q+A with Director, Florence Ayisi, Soccer Coach featured in the film, Nassra Mohammed and, Jenny Thornton (CAFF Manager).
review by eva namusoke
Zanzibar Soccer Dreams (2016) and Zura Taekwondo Fighter (2016) are two documentary films that show East African women breaking boundaries in the field of sport. Zura Taekwondo Fighter, a short film directed by Jean Baptiste Nyabyenda focuses on Zura Mushambokazi, a young Rwandan woman pursing her dreams of being a successful Taekwondo fighter. Zura’s participation in the sport was initially challenged by her parents and wider Rwandan society where gender norms meant girls should avoid such ‘manly’ activities. As Zura and her mother are interviewed, the two women discuss the challenges Zura has faced and overcome and what her hopes are for the future. Acting as a voiceover for scenes depicting Zura’s impressive Taekwondo skills, her mother reflects on the importance of parents allowing children to follow their dreams, noting: ‘Listen and support her or his passions and talents.’
Zanzibar Soccer Dreams, directed by Florence Ayisi, is the follow-up to the 2007 documentary Zanzibar Soccer Queens that told the story of the first women’s football team in Zanzibar, the Women Fighters. Using interviews with the players themselves, parents, teachers, religious leaders and other members of their communities, Zanzibar Soccer Dreams tackles issues of gender, religion, identity and development. The film begins with a look back at the impact of the 2007 documentary, a film that had a lasting effect on not just the players on the Women Fighters football team, but on their wider communities and Zanzibar itself. It is clear from these first moments that a central concern for all of those involved remains the same as it was in 2007 – should women and girls play football?
After the events of Zanzibar Soccer Queens – and indeed because of the international reception of the film – women’s football had something of a moment in Zanzibar. As Zanzibar Soccer Dreams shows, the Women Fighters were invited to Germany, women’s teams popped up in Zanzibar, the government instituted football for girls in schools, and a new generation of Zanzibari girls navigated their religious and cultural obligations with their desire to play sports. In the predominantly Muslim Zanzibar, the roles and obligations of men and women are clearly defined. However, just as in other countries, what is expected of women in particular has changed over time. In the case of Zanzibar Soccer Dreams, the eight-year period since Zanzibar Soccer Queens has seen a perceptible shift in attitudes towards girls and sport. While it was initially seen as a sport for ‘hooligans’ and unacceptable for girls to play, since the success of Women Fighters FC, there appears to be more acceptance of this activity.
The women football players in the film talk candidly about their experiences playing football in the past, with the older women in particular recounting the difficulties they faced in previous years. As the women discuss their lives since the 2007 film, their hopes and ambitions, it is clear this is a group of women who are fantastically good company. This personal perspective, the humour and warmth with which the women and girls of Zanzibar Soccer Dreams tell their stories, is what makes a documentary that could so easily have been a well-worn parable about the culture clash between western culture and African Islam so fresh and enriching. Whether it’s the school girls talking about how much they enjoy playing football in school, or the formidable Mama Nassra detailing her decades-long work as a champion for football, the feeling of intimacy and comradery remains throughout. Essentially, Zanzibar Soccer Dreams is a story about women and girls wanting to excel in sport. The story may be a Zanzibari one, but at a time when even the most well-known female athletes in the world face sexist challenges, we can certainly all benefit from an inspiring story about young women challenging conceptions and breaking the mould.
5 SHORT FILMS: DARE TO DREAM
WEDNESDAY 26TH OCTOBER 6:30PM
Q+A with Eimi Imanishi (Director of Battalion to my Beat), Jill Samuels (Founder of Films Without Borders), Estrella Sendra and Theodore Menelik (both CAFF Advisory Board).
Exhibiting the sheer diversity of films being made across the continent, these five short films from Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Ethiopia and the Western Sahara represent a range of countries and genres, unified by the common theme of identity and seeking fulfillment and destiny. Together, the films tell of the challenges, difficulties and passions experienced by the youngest generations of Africa. United by the theme of destiny, these shorts contemplate surroundings, history, and experiences and expectations.
For the first time, CAFF will be allocating one of these five films with the new 'BEST SHORT FILM AWARD' which will be announced after the films are screened.
38-39 St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR
Director: Oluyomi Ososanya
Running time: 5 mins
The Shoe Maker Pages
Director: Girum Ermyas
Running time: 9 mins
Language: Amharic, with English subtitles
Tales from the Slums
Director: Kelvin Kimanthi
Running time: 20 mins
Battalion to my Beat
Director: Eimi Imanishi
Running time: 15 mins
Language: Arabic, with English subtitles
Director: Mohamad Hisham
Running time: 30 mins
Language: Nubian with English subtitles
review by eva namusoke
A collection of short films covering five countries give a sense of the vast diversity and innovation of contemporary African filmmaking. In all the films there are questions about what individuals will do to try improve their lives and those of the people around them. The voice of young people in particular is a common thread throughout the films, with teenagers from across the continent working against the odds to pursue ambitious dreams.
Honey (2016), written and directed by Nigeria’s Olu Yomi Ososanya is a glimpse into the lives of a woman and her daughter. In a brief 5 minutes, an entire, wordless story is told about the uncomfortable choices women make.
Tales from the Slums (2015) follows a group of teenagers as they document life in the Nairobi slums of Mathare and Kibera, with the teenagers taking centre stage both in front of and behind the camera. In addition to the teenagers, the documentary features Octopizzo, a successful hip hop artist who grew up in Kibera and is a hero for the young people who live there. One key theme that runs throughout the teenagers’ stories is that of the daily hustle – the many ways these young people try and survive in their incredibly difficult circumstances. Tales from the Slums challenges one-dimensional images of these spaces, with the interviewees emphasising the close-knit communities and relationships that define their lives and set them apart from the affluent leafy suburbs only a stone’s throw away.
Jareedy (2015), directed by Egypt’s Mohamed Hisham and written by Gamal Salah, is the first movie in the Nubian language. Jareedy tells the story of a boy – Konnaf – with a singular vision. Konnaf spends his time daydreaming and is isolated from other children while he saves all his money. The audience follows Konnaf as he hears the myths and history of the Nubian people on the Nile – stories he has certainly heard countless times before. Along with the quiet charm of the young lead actor Mohammed Saleh, the other star of Jareedy is the scenery. Picturesque landscapes, whitewashed houses and the glistening waters of the Nile add a dreamlike quality to this lovingly made short film.
The Shoe Maker Pages (2016), written and directed by Girum Ermyas is a beautiful, heart-breaking look into the life of a cobbler in Ethiopia. As the shoemaker reflects on the stories he has heard from his customers, the viewer peaks into the lives of these different people in his community. Tsegaye Abegaz’s expressive face conveys a lifetime worth of experiences that adds real depth to this poignant film.
Battalion To My Beat (2016), written and directed by Eimi Imanishi, is set in Western Saharan refugee camps in Tindouf, Algeria. The lead, Marium, is a headstrong girl who eschews the gendered expectations placed on her. Cast out by the girls her own age who she shares little in common with, and shunned by boys who believe she shouldn’t be involved in men’s activities, Marium sets out to join the army. Battalion To My Beat offers a slice of life in a refugee camp where despite the sparse resources, a girl child fiercely follows her dream.
Taken together these shorts form a collage of experiences spanning from Nigeria to Kenya. In each of them we see lives lived in communities where resourcefulness and creativity flourish in sometimes difficult circumstances. We see young people and old searching for something better, whether it’s financial security, peace of mind, or freedom. If one were looking for a lesson to learn from these shorts, it would be a simple one – never give up.
AS I OPEN MY EYES
THURSDAY 27TH OCTOBER 6:00PM
Q+A with Baya Medhaffer (main star of the film), Devon Curtis (CAFF Advisory Board Member, Lecturer in African Politics and Emmanuel College Fellow) and Roxane Farmanfarmaian (Centre for the Study of the International Relations of the Middle East and North Africa).
On the brink of Tunisia’s revolution in 2010, we experience life in Tunis through the eyes of Farah, a young woman on the cusp of adulthood. Farah’s family desires for her to become a doctor, but Farah is irresistibly drawn to music, her outlet for expressing herself. She has a zest for life, sings in a band and is discovering love and her city by night, all to the worry of her mother. As I Open My Eyes is an uplifting, endearing story of the Arab spring as experienced by a gentle teenage girl making sense of the pressures that surround her.
review by jonathan mitchell
St Andrews Street
Cambridge CB2 3AP
Director: Leyla Bouzid
Running time: 102 mins
Language: Arabic/French with English subtitles
It is generally reckoned that after any major event there is a necessary period of reflection before art catches up. The Arab Spring – which began in Tunisia in late 2010 – appears to be no exception. Leyla Bouzid’s As I Open My Eyes smoulders and tantalises, deftly weaving the personal and the political into a potent narrative mix.
18 year old student Farah (Baya Medhaffar) sings in a band – Joujma - with her boyfriend Borhène (Montassar Ayari). Their late night liaisons cause friction with her mother who is warned by her ex-husband that Farah is hanging with a bad crowd, where drink, politics and being monitored by the police may all be involved. Venting her frustrations, she picks Farah up from band practice and drives insanely along the motorway until Farah is forced to say she will mend her ways. Returning home, Farah expresses her frustration by locking her mother in her bedroom before fleeing to perform a gig.
Joujma’s songs become increasingly political and critical of the Tunisian regime. Lyrics such as “my country…land of dust…your gates are closed and bring misfortune…the starving are eating insults whilst your dogs’ teeth are made of gold” leave little room for ambiguity. This shift in the band’s direction causes internal friction, with a conflict between music and the political message. This tension also affects Farah and Borhène’s relationship as they argue at a party, before she sees him with another woman. She takes her revenge at a later gig, reading out the love poem he wrote for her, as the lights literally go out on the concert. Band member Ali is accused by Borhène of being an undercover police officer. Farah walks the streets of Tunis in a state of abject paranoia. Her mother tries to persuade Farah to leave Tunis but she vanishes at the bus station.
Reporting her disappearance to the police, she is forced to bribe officials to gain information. We see Farah being physically and mentally abused under interrogation, threatened with rape and incarceration if she doesn’t stop singing. Terrified by her ordeal, Farah retreats to the family home but also within herself, unable to process what has happened. Slowly her mother coaxes Farah out of her shell, and the film closes with their singing lyrics back to each other that speak of hope for the future. Farah’s acts of personal resistance are to be repeated many times over as the Arab Spring catches fire over the coming months.
As I Open My Eyes has a lightness of touch in dealing with the multiple ways in which the personal becomes political. Performances are all top-rate but Baya Medhaffar lights up every scene with a fiery intensity. The film’s score by Iraqi-British oud master Khayam Allami underpins the narrative in subtle but significant ways. The hand-held camerawork gives immediacy and a freewheeling documentary feel to the events portrayed on screen. The sense of young people caught up in major events is reminiscent of Olivier Assayas’ recent Something in the Air. But the fusion of intensity and warmth, for me, brings to mind Bouzid’s fellow Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche – Couscous, Blue is the Warmest Colour – which can only be high praise indeed.
Thursday 27th OCTOBER 8:30PM
What better way to close our festival than to continue on from the final screening of AS I OPEN MY EYES across the road at The Castle Bar with North African Gnawa musicians, food and drinks and dancing a'plenty.
Renowned musician Simo Lagnawi and Gnawa London band will be performing. In the last year, Simo was nominated for 2 SONGLINES awards for 2014 BEST NEWCOMER, and BEST ARTIST. Since his arrival in the U.K in 2008 he has performed at the Royal Albert Hall, Glastonbury Festival, V&A, BBC 6Music (Cerys Matthews Show), BBC World Service, British Museum, Leighton House, Larmer tree, Secret garden party, Roundhouse, Ritzy, Rich Mix, Hootananny, Hackney Attik, Passing Clouds, Cecil Sharp House, Shambala, Komedia, Hackney Empire, Wilderness festival, Boom Town Festival, The Third line Dubai, 5.0 Refuse Kuwait, Film Middle East Now Italy, Tabernacle, Troxy, Forge, Green Note, Momo London and Dubai among many others. Playing traditional Gnawa (sacred trance music from Morocco) and Gnawa Fusion with, Electric Jalaba, Gnawa Griot, and Gnawa Blues Allstars. He performs for 'Live Music Now' a Charity which bring exceptional music into the lives of under-priviledged people with 'Gnawa Yinga'. Simo continuously pushes new boundaries fusing Gnawa with music from countries such as Gambia, Burkina faso, Senegal, Guinea, Mali, India, Japan, Venezuela, and the Caribbean. He collaborates with the visual artist Hassan Hajjaj who took the cover photo, and who has designed his first album cover and photographed him for the new album.
This will also be the October social for ASCU (African Society of Cambridge University).
Everyone is welcome to attend this event.
The Castle Bar
37 St Andrew's Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR