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The Best African Films of 2012-Video

As always, end of year lists are met with anticipation; either by those eager to see the year in review, or by critics ready to decry what has been left off. No list is definitive, so please do add your suggestions and comments below. For me, it has been an explosive year of African cinema; from the astronomic rise of interest in African sci-fi (forgive the pun), to big-budget films getting the well-deserved attention of the European distribution market, incredibly powerful and moving activist film making that has documented the shifting politics of the continent, to the wild and wonderful experimenters. Here, I’ve tried to honor a range of film making styles and genres, all of which blew my socks off.

Nairobi Half Life (Kenya)

This, the first feature film by Kenyan director David ‘Tosh’ Gitonga, is a warm, sharp, witty film that captures its subject — Nairobi — with a witty knowingness, but also, with a rare reverence. The sprawling, dark, dangerous city of Nairobi is infamous, we’re all familiar with its not-so-clever nickname, ‘Nairobbery’. But, as with every city, it has another side — a vital, energetic, creative and exciting side that attracts young people from all over Kenya. Gitonga’s film is as much about the well-traversed journey from rural to urban in contemporary Africa, as about the difficulties of growing up and becoming a ‘man’, whatever that might mean. Beautifully shot with an excellent soundtrack, Nairobi Half Life is an exciting first feature, and subsequently is getting a lot of hype across Kenya, and in Europe too.

Dear Mandela (South Africa)

As newspapers scramble to find their Mandela obituaries in the light of another stint of ill-health from the former President, this film by Dara Kell and Christopher Nizza is perhaps all the more timely, and painful. For it asks, what has come of the promises the ANC made to the young generation in 1994?

In the case of Abahlali base Mjondolo, a group of activists fighting for their right to stay in temporary settlements without the fear of eviction and violence, the promises have been continually broken. The film is a moving testament to the power of grass-roots political organizations, who source the tools and knowledge they need to take their cause to the highest level: “They think we don’t know the law. They don’t think we know the constitution. You can’t evict people like us. We know.”

But this isn’t just a straight-up documentary. There are beautiful, kaleidoscopic moments in the film that use more experimental means to capture what it means to be a part of a community; visually, the filmmakers tentatively point to the bonds that the shack-dwellers share through an inventiveness of visual style.

The Curse (Morocco)

Oh, the tyranny of children. This incredible short film by Fyzal Boulifa is a haunting tale of young female sexuality wounded and bullied by the oppressive society around her. In rural Morocco, a young woman and her lover meet in a rubble-filled ditch. Spotted by an eagle-eyed bunch of children, she is harassed by her young tormentors all the way home. Haunting and harsh, the narrative reflects the inhospitable sharpness of the landscape that surrounds the young girl. This is short film making at its best.

Boulifa won the Premier Prix Illy for Short Film making at this year’s Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, and has gone on to win a slew of other awards since. We can expect great things from him in the future…

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