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Cinema Africa 2021 – A tribute to the Indian Ocean

20.11.2021

In November 2021, the Bayreuth film festival Cinema Africa took place for the 13th time. This year, all of the four films selected shared one common denominator: all were set against the diverse backdrop of the Indian Ocean. All four directors were present during the screening and answered questions from the audience in attendance afterwards. 

After last year's edition of the Bayreuth film festival Cinema Africa had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, the 2021 festival fortunately had the green light to go full speed ahead. From 14 through 17 November 2021, the film festival “Cinema Africa” of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence took the audience on a cinematic journey to the colourful world of the Indian Ocean. Over the course of four evenings, the movie festival presented stories that were set in La Réunion, Mauritius, South Africa and Tanzania showing examples of the broad spectrum of African filmmaking today.

On Sunday evening – the premiere night of the festival – the audience that came to Bayreuth's Cineplex was greeted with special vibes from the Indian Ocean. While Malagasy musician Tao Ravao was playing on the kabosy the audience had a chance to wander through an exhibtion of works by Mozambican photographer Sérgio Santimano. Prof. Dr. Fendler, the Cluster's vice dean of Internationalisation and Public Engagement, who has been organising the renowned film festival in Bayreuth since 2007, had put together the exhibition as part of a series of events on the Indian Ocean (see also reports on the workshop "Intermedial Indian Ocean" here and the photo exhibition with Sérgio Santimano here).

Emmanuel Parraud: "Sac la mort" and "Maudit!"

When the audience eventually took their seats they were presented with a double feature of movies by French filmmaker Emmanuel Parraud: "Sac la mort" and "Maudit!". In the first movie of the evening – "Sac la mort" – Parraud takes his audience to La Réunion, where protagonist Patrice has to face a series of life-altering challenges: He first loses his brother, then his house. While contemplating revenge and trying hard to find a remedy for his problems, Patrice has to also fight for his sanity. With “Sac la mort” director Emmanuel Parraud has created a social drama that shows intricate narrative levels telling of the realities of modern day La Réunion.

After a short break the cineastic evening continued with Maudit! In this movie, Emmanuel Parraud focuses on the protagonist Alix that seems to be stuck in a nightmareesque state in which he is accompanied by shadows of the past while looking for his friend. The movie invokes the past of an island that has known colonialism, indenture labour and slavery sending his audience on a tightrope walk between mysticism and harsh reality. “Maudit!” is a – sometimes disturbing – allegory on the repression of the island’s history that shows how violence and alcohol sometimes serve as means to cover a historic weight that has been ignored for too long.

Following both presentations Parraud was extremely curious to hear the questions and the reaction to his movies, especially "Maudit!" as it was one of the first times that he had showed it to an audience. He talked about the making process of the movies and then explained that his motivation to make them was to bring the sociological effects of unemployment and colonial era of the region to the surface.

Sara Blecher: “Mayfair”

On the second day of the festival the audience was taken to South Africa. "Mayfair" by filmmaker Sara Blecher is set in Johannesburg and tells the story of an estranged son who desperately wants to break ties with his family's business. However, during a visit back home he gradually gets pulled back into his father's criminal empire and the audience must watch how his moral compass slowly but surely gets more and more compromised. In the Q&A that followed Sara Blecher explained that she wanted to show how money can corrupt and destroy families.

Sharvan Anenden: “The Comeback – A Tale of Irrelevance”

"The Comeback – A Tale of Irrelevance" was the movie that was shown on Tuesday evening. In this comedy, director Sharvan Anenden follows three forgotten Bollywood movie stars who try to make a comeback by kidnapping a current superstar during a shooting in Mauritius. They get help from a young woman who herself is aspiring to become a film director. Following the screening of the film, that among other things beautifully showcases why Mauritius is a coveted vacation spot, the filmmaker Sharvan Anenden talked about his reasons for choosing Bollywood not only as a topic but also explained that the implementation of typical Bollywood elements was an idea of his Indian producer. As with his first movie "Les enfants de Troumaron", the screenplay for this movie was also written by his mother, renowned author Ananda Devi, who made problems of ageism one central theme of the film. 

Seko Shamte: "Binti”

“Binti” (“daughter“, “young woman”) is the most recent film of Tanzanian filmmaker Seko Shamte and was the last movie of this year's Cinema Africa festival. The movie tells the story of four women with very different careers, desires and social backgrounds in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The film slowly and intricately interweaves the respective perspectives of all four protagonists. In making the movie, the all-women team consisting of internationally renowned filmmaker Seko Shamte and the producers Angela and Ailinda Rhinda have created one of the few movies that shows a kaleidoscope of women’s lives in East Africa. In her Q&A Seko Shamte talks about the process of making her movie and why it is important to her to make films with women about women.

"Year after year, we are very proud to be able to show the public movies that are usually not on regular rotation in Germany", the festival's organiser Ute Fendler explains. "In 2021, however, the movies were also selected because they harmonised beautifully with our series of events on the theme of the Indian Ocean. In doing so, we were able to combine our long-year tradition of showcasing African movies with presenting a part of the Cluster's research agenda and making the Cluster's work more visible in the process." Fendler is currently working on a project called "Multiple Artworks – Multiple Indian Ocean". (sg)

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