New African Films Festival opens with Ejiofor’s latest, “Half of a Yellow Sun,” on Thursday -- Gazette.Net


This story was corrected at 5 p.m. on March 13, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

Anyone who appreciated the Oscar-nominated performance of British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave” will soon also be able to see him in “Half of a Yellow Sun.”

New African Films Festival

When: March 13-20

Where: AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring

Tickets: $7-$12

For information: 301-495-6720; 301-495-6700 (recording);

Filmed in Nigeria in 2013, it is based on a 2006 book of the same name by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The movie is one of 18 entries in this year’s New African Films Festival.

Shot in countries all over the continent, the movies will be screened Thursday through March 20 at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center in Silver Spring.

Call for updated information about screenings.

“It’s definitely a window into the world of sub-Sahara Africa and the people living there today,” said AFI festival director Todd Hitchcock.

“That’s what international film festivals make possible for us,” he said.

Now in its 10th year, the festival is presented by the American Film Institute in Silver Spring and two Washington, D.C.-based organizations.

One is TransAfrica, which educates the public about issues and cultures of Africans and the African diaspora, and the other is afrikafé, a regional networking group for Africans and friends of Africa.

Hitchcock said this year’s festival is the biggest, and probably the best, in its history.

“There are some terrific films and some high-profile titles. .... We’ve got the strongest line-up ever,” he said.

“Half of a Yellow Sun,” which opens the festival on March 13, is about two sisters living through the 1967-1970 Nigerian-Biafran war. One is Kainene (Anika Noni Rose) and the other is Olanna (Thandie Newton), who becomes involved with a professor named Odenigbo (Ejiofor).

Adichie, whose most recent book is “Americanah,” will be present between the movie’s two screenings on Sunday, March 16, for a Q&A and booksigning. The two screenings were sold out as of Wednesday, March 12.

Also featured in the festival is the Ethiopian movie “Difret,” which tells the story of a true ground-breaking court case in the mid-1990s in which a 14-year-old girl shot and killed an abductor practicing the centuries-old tradition of telefa.

Still seen in parts of rural Ethiopia, telefa allows a would-be husband to abduct, hide and rape a young woman until she becomes pregnant. As the future father, he can then negotiate with her family about marrying her.

The movie, which won audience awards at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals, was written and directed by filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, who grew up in Ethiopia and now lives in Alexandria, Va., with his wife, Mehret Mandefro, who co-produced the movie.

Mehari said a chance meeting with the brother of the lawyer who defended the young woman led to the making of the movie.

“I’m always going back to Ethiopia looking for stories,” he said. “One foot is still there ... I’m a product of that culture.”

Actress Angelina Jolie also recently signed on as one of the executive producers of the film.

Mehari and Mandefro will be present for a Q&A at the Saturday screening of “Difret,” which is sold out.

“It’s such great luck,” Hitchcock said. “It’s an interesting film festival with multiple local connections.”

Also from Ethiopia, and recommended for children 8 years and older, is “Horizon Beautiful.”

Swiss soccer mogul Franz comes to Ethiopia hoping to boost his image as a humanitarian and runs into Admassu, a 12-year-old boy who wants to catch his attention so he can become a professional soccer player.

The boy cooks up a fake kidnapping and rescue of Franz so he can make himself look like a hero to the visiting soccer king, but things go awry, and the two end up in the Ethiopian countryside trying to get back to the capital, Addis Ababa.

“It’s family friendly, which is not always the case [with some of the movies],” Hitchcock said

For the first time, the festival is also showing an animated film. From the Ivory Coast, “Aya of Yop City” is based on a series of graphic novels by husband-and-wife team Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie.

It’s the story of a 19-year-old girl who wants to study medicine but runs into opposition from family and friends who think she should get married.

“There’s some adult material. ... It’s very, very funny,” Hitchcock said.

Film partnerships

In recent years African film makers have partnered with Europeans to produce movies made in Africa, Hitchcock said.

“Something Necessary,” directed by Judy Kibinge, is a joint Kenyan/German movie co-produced by German director Tom Tykwer, who directed the 1998 thriller, “Run Lola Run.”

The story is about a victim and her perpetrator who meet in the aftermath of a post-election conflict in Kenya in 2007.

Anne (Kenyan actress Wanjiru) is a widow struggling to rebuild her farm. One of the construction men working on her house is Joseph (Walter Lagat), a gang member who took part in raping her and killing her husband.

This year AFI is partnering with the French embassy in Washington to cross-promote the New African film festival and the annual Franchophonie Cultural Festival running to April 15, which celebrates French culture in France and the regions it colonized.

French-influenced movies in the AFI festival include “Burn it up Djassa” and “Aya of Yop City” from the Ivory Coast; “Le President” and “Ninah’s Diary” from Cameroon; “Under the Starry Sky” from Senegal and “GriGris” from Chad.

“GriGris” is about a young man with a paralyzed leg who dreams of becoming a professional dancer but who instead turns to smuggling oil to pay his stepfather’s hospital bills. Along the way he meets a prostitute named Mimi, and they try to make a life together.

Also in the festival are films from southern Africa, including “The Forgotten Kingdom” about a man who travels from Johannesburg to the mountains of Lesotho to bury his father.

Another is the psychological thriller “Fynbos” about a real estate developer facing bankruptcy who travels with his wife to a lavish glass house in the fynbos, a remote area of shrub land in the Western Cape region of South Africa.

“It was a very good year as far as choices available to us,” said Hitchcock about the 2014 entries. “It’s wonderful to see it grow year to year.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly listed the phone numbers for AFI Silver Theatre. The correct numbers are 301-495-6720 and 301-495-6700.