The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is back with its 45th edition, which kicked off on Thursday, 10 September, and ends Sunday, 20 September 2020, and we are more than glad to see movies starring Africans, and movies which were written, produced and directed by Africans.
TIFF panel spoke to the directors, cast, and producers of the African movies which will premiere at the film festival. They were able to share interesting information about their film with fans.
Night of the Kings
Philippe Lacôte in conversation with TIFF in advance of “Night of the Kings” premiere at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival. A young man incarcerated in a prison in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire must spend the whole night recounting a story if he hopes to survive, in Lacôte’s latest.
When a young man is incarcerated in Côte d’Ivoire’s largest prison, La MACA, he finds himself entering a world as dangerous and complex as the one he was navigating on the outside. While ostensibly overseen by a team of rundown guards, the prison is really ruled by Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu, seen at TIFF last year in Les Misérables). On his last legs, and seeing his power waning, Blackbeard makes one final play to keep his power over the prison: on the night of the red moon, he designates MACA’s newcomer “Roman.”
In a griot role that recalls Scheherazade in One Thousand and One Nights, Roman (Koné Bakary) must recount a story until the sun rises if he wants to keep his life and the prison from falling into chaos. Roman spins a story about Zama King, a notorious gang leader whose life spanned from ancient times to the fall of Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo, and was filled with intrigue and magic.
With his sophomore feature — his first, “Run” (2014), debuted at Cannes in Un Certain Regard — writer-director Philippe Lacôte refuses all genre expectations, flowing between a prison drama and visually stunning sequences that depict Roman’s elaborate tale. Further incorporating song and dance (and a cameo by icon Denis Lavant), Night of the Kings is a mesmerizing meditation on the art of storytelling and its role in survival.
Ephraim Asili in conversation with TIFF in advance of “The Inheritance” premiere at the film festival. Asili’s debut weaves together the histories of the MOVE Organization, the Black Arts Movement, and Asili’s time in a Black Marxist collective.
The much-anticipated feature debut by Ephraim Asili inventively weaves together the history of the MOVE liberation group, the Black Arts Movement, and the filmmaker’s own formative experiences in a Black Marxist collective. Following Asili’s celebrated cycle of films about the African diaspora — which collapse time and space in both literal and metaphorical ways — The Inheritance urgently summons the past in today’s continued fight for racial and social justice through a mix of fact and fiction, portraits and performances.
The film’s narrative core, described by Asili as a “speculative re-enactment” of his time in a West Philadelphia organization, centres on a young man who inherits his grandmother’s house and, with the encouragement of his girlfriend, turns it into a Black socialist collective where community forms the basis of the family. Invoking Godard’s La Chinoise in palette, structure, and playful didacticism, Asili introduces an alternative revolutionary canon with the iconography of Black artists and freedom fighters via vintage photos, books, and records. As the group’s dynamics evolve and the actors break character in moving addresses to the camera, the film also dynamically crosscuts archival footage of MOVE before and after the devastating bombing by police in 1985 — a shocking event that continues to resonate loudly today in light of ongoing racialized police brutality in the United States and beyond.
Produced, shot (on vibrant Super 16mm), written, and directed by Asili, “The Inheritance” is a timely and personal work that harnesses the cultural power of transformation. The film pays homage to a lineage of resistance and features inspiring appearances by MOVE members Debbie Africa, Mike Africa Sr., and Mike Africa Jr., as well as the remarkable poet-activists Sonia Sanchez and Ursula Rucker.
Life Like a Girl
Mayye Zayed in conversation with TIFF in advance of “Life Like a Girl” premiere at the film festival. “Life Like a Girl” is an intimate journey into the inner life of an aspiring athlete.
For over 20 years, Captain Ramadan coached world-class weightlifters in Alexandria, Egypt. A larger-than-life character in his own right, Ramadan led his daughter, one of Egypt’s most famous athletes, Nahla Ramadan, to become a world champion, and trained Abeer Abdel Rahman, the first Arab woman to become a two-time Olympic medalist. Mayye Zayed’s observational documentary dives into the training of Ramadan’s new protégé: the determined Zebiba (which means “raisin”), who dreams of lifting on the level of Captain’s past stars.
Shot over four years, starting when Zebiba is 14 years old, “Life Like a Girl” is an intimate journey into the inner life of an aspiring athlete. Filmed largely at Ramadan’s outdoor gym and at weightlifting competitions, it captures feats of astonishing athleticism. But it’s not just about muscle mass à la Pumping Iron, as Zayed explores the complex bond between Zebiba and her Captain — a bond that is frequently unpredictable, sometimes volatile, but always rooted in what can only be described as an unshakable faith.
Zayed’s seamless cinematography takes on the perspective of the other lifters and of the crowd, and she doesn’t shy away from the losses and tears. The result captures Zebiba’s physical and mental struggles, as Ramadan pushes her further and harder — often more than any of his other athletes. But as time marches on, bringing Zebiba more success, it also brings new challenges for the gym, her team, and ultimately for Zebiba herself.
Director Ricky Staub, Idris Elba, Caleb McLaughlin, Jamil “Mil” Prattis in conversation with TIFF in advance of “Concrete Cowboy” premiere. While spending the summer in North Philadelphia, a troubled teen is caught between a life of crime and his estranged father’s vibrant urban-cowboy subculture in “Concrete Cowboy”.
Starring Idris Elba as a rough-hewn Philadelphia cowboy and ‘Stranger Things’ Caleb McLaughlin as his estranged son, “Concrete Cowboy” is a pleasure from start to finish. This story of family reconciliation invites us into one of America’s most unique subcultures, a generations-old world of Black horse trainers on the streets of North Philly.
Cole (McLaughlin) is a troubled 15-year-old. After a fight gets him expelled from yet another Detroit school, his fed-up mother drives him 600 miles east and drops him on his father’s doorstep. Harp (Elba) is a taciturn loner, offering few explanations for why he’s been absent from his son’s life. He keeps his affection for horses, spending his days at the Fletcher Street stables down the block.
With no choice but to stay with his father, Cole agrees to grunt work at the stables, joining other local riders trying to keep the city from shutting the club down. He soon reconnects with his childhood best friend, “Smush” (the charismatic Jharrel Jerome, from “Moonlight” and “When They See Us“). But Smush’s exciting life is fuelled by drug dealing. Cole can slip back into his friendship, or put in the hard, dirty stable work that will bring him closer to his father.
Featuring standout performances and drawing on the rich but oft-forgotten legacy of Black cowboys, director Ricky Staub’s adaptation of Greg Neri’s novel is a satisfying portrait of a young man finding purpose in community, the natural world, and family.
Ricky Staub is an American director. He debuted as director and screenwriter with the short film “The Cage” (17). “Concrete Cowboy” (20), co-written with producer Dan Walser, is his feature directorial debut.
Downstream to Kinshasa
Dieudo Hamadi in conversation with TIFF in advance of “Downstream to Kinshasa” premiere. Hamadi returns to TIFF with his latest portrait of his native Congo, honouring survivors of his country’s Six-Day War in 2000.
Since making his feature documentary debut in 2013, Dieudo Hamadi has produced an unparalleled body of work that captures glimpses of contemporary Congolese life. In examining elections (Atalaku, 2013), schools (National Diploma, which played TIFF in 2014), violence against women and children (Mama Colonel, 2017), and political mobilization (Kinshasa Makambo, 2018), Hamadi has told individual stories that speak to collective experiences and histories. With “Downstream to Kinshasa”, Hamadi perfects this approach as he follows a group of victims of his country’s Six-Day War in 2000, who are seeking reparations from the government.
In June 2000, Kisangani became a battleground. In this northeastern city on the Congo River, Rwandan and Ugandan forces clashed in a conflict that was part of the bloody Second Congo War. Though a devastating conflict — so much so that it’s sometimes called the African World War — 20 years later survivors are still fighting for compensation and recognition of the atrocities they endured in this siege.
Here, Hamadi’s focus isn’t on past geopolitics but rather on the present and very personal: a group of Kisanganians who were maimed by the heavy shelling and gunfire. Through musical theatre, the victims have reclaimed their voices. But having never had official acknowledgement or financial compensation for their pain, they decide to journey down the Congo River to the capital in a bid to finally make their stories heard.
Dieudo Hamadi was born in Kisangani, Democratic Republic of Congo. He studied medicine for three years before moving into filmmaking. He has since directed the documentary short “Ladies in Waiting” (10), the documentary feature “Atalaku” (13), and the Festival selection National Diploma (14). Downstream to Kinshasa (20) is his latest film.