Worldwide cinema

Pan African Film Festival screens black films from 15 countries

Among the artists celebrated by the National Black Arts Festival are independent black filmmakers, whose works will be highlighted at screenings taking place during the festival, July 28-Aug. 6. Events include Night of the Black Independents Film and Video Festival Aug. 4-5 at Clark Atlanta University; The Atlanta African Film Society's screening of The Language You Cry In Aug. 2 at the Georgia-Pacific Building; and Blackside Productions' documentary Hopes on the Horizon: The Rise of the New Africa Aug. 1, also at the Georgia-Pacific Building. But the highlight of the festival's film events is the Pan African Film Festival, the nation's largest film festival dedicated to black filmmakers from around the world. Screenings will be held at Rich Auditorium in the Woodruff Arts Center. Below are short reviews of some of the films to be screened.

UnBowed (U.S., 1999)

t a distinguished Southern black college in the 1890s, a group of Lakota Indian prisoners-of-war are deposited at the school for a three-month internment and instruction in the white man's ways. The leader of the Indians, chief Waka Mani, a terminally shirtless hunk of beefcake straight from a Harlequin book cover, is especially resistant to bowing down to the white and black man's rules, and an ugly rift develops between the black students, many of whom harbor deep prejudices against American Indians, and the Indians, who question the subservience and devotion of these black students to a white law that only a generation ago kept them as slaves.

Directed by Nanci Rossov, Unbowed is a highly theatrical, stylized production in which every actorly gesture seems choreographed, and actors speak with the booming, affected cadences more appropriate to the stage. But the stiltedness of this production can't entirely detract from its honest, nicely dramatized message about the racist divide between rich and poor, light-skinned and dark, black and Indian, that fixates the black students.

Cleola is the proper, beautiful student trying to hide her humble origins, who is betrothed to a wealthy fellow student until she becomes attracted to Waka Mani. The couple's forbidden relationship brings the racial tensions at the school to a head, and elucidates for Cleola some of the hypocrisy and racism of her fellow students. July 31 at 7 p.m.Felicia Feaster

The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun (Senegal, 1999)?

oted African director Djibril Diop Mambety calls The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun "a hymn to the courage of street children." In this slight (45 minutes) but gritty homage, Sili (Lissa Balera) is an African Pippi Longstockings who uses her pluck and determination to rise above the cruelty of poverty. Sili, whose crippled legs require crutches to get around, travels to Dakar to earn money to feed her family by begging. But the bright, ambitious girl finds a more promising path to prosperity amidst the ranks of the coarse, wild pack of little boys who sell the city's newspapers in the streets.

Proclaiming "what boys do, girls can do too" Sili begins selling the Soleil and uses her profits to help her blind grandmother. But she is foiled at almost every turn by corrupt, meddling policemen who accuse citizens, without proof, of stealing, and the other newspaper peddlers, who threaten her life for encroaching on their exclusively male territory. Lissa Balera, with her expressive, almond eyes and determination, is a touching affirmation of childish hope who finds an ally and protector in an older boy who sells the rival newspaper, the Sud.

Mambety's film puts his artistic proficiency on clear display with its survey of Africa's peculiarities: huge skyscrapers set against saffron yellow and red-clay earth, an appliance "store" of dishwashers and refrigerators on a dirt road, a man working in the middle of a dusty wasteland while a jet takes off behind him. As in his previous allegorical masterpiece, Hyenas, Mambety shows the many dichotomies of a region that occasionally embraces Westernization but filters it through their own unique culture. July 31 at 1 p.m. — Felicia Feaster

Chicken Biznis: The Whole Story (South Africa, 1998)

fter decades working in a dead-end job at a South African corporation, Sipho Kumalo (Fats Bookholane) quits to become an entrepreneur in this comedy set near the end of the Nelson Mandela presidency. Directed by Ntshavheni Wa Luruli, Chicken Biznis follows Sipho's excitement and travails in buying a van to sell chickens at the bustling marketplace.

Comparable to a South African Redd Foxx, Bookholane is meant to be seen as naughty but ultimately well-intentioned, with Sipho's comic predicaments including having a gambling-prone partner and a rivalry with another poultry-peddler. The film can be read as a light-hearted ground-level view of South Africa during the "Mandela-ization" following apartheid, with citizens adjusting to greater freedoms and new levels of cooperation, competition and responsibility.

When Sipho's eye begins to stray to a single mother, his wise, long-suffering wife (Connie Chiume) remarks, "Since he got those chickens, he's behaving like a rooster!" But most of the slapstick falls flat, as when Sipho gets a face full of feathers, or has to run outdoors in his underwear. The situations grow more screwball, with Sipho being detained for mental observation and, at the end, fending off a jealous husband during his wife's fashion show. Perhaps the cultural comedy loses something in translation, as only part of the film is in English, with the rest subtitled.

Technically rough, Chicken Biznis does convey the vibrancy of the community, and everyone seems palpably excited that they're in the film. Shaluzamax Motambo provides a soundtrack of breezy African pop songs, with the opening credits featuring cheerful dancers in tribal chicken costumes. But here the high spirits aren't ultimately infectious, and rather than being entertained by Sipho's antics, you're more prone to reflect the bad timing of a film about poultry sales screening during the U.S. release of Chicken Run. July 31 at 5 p.m. — Curt Holman

Une Couleur Café (A Man in Trouble) (Ivory Coast, 1998)

i>Une Couleur Café is a sly fox of a film. Through the simplest of tales, it renders the moral absolutes of Western culture ephemeral, like a foundation built of Saharan sands.

Doc, a black African (Gabriel Zahon), returns from Paris to his village in the Ivory Coast to meet and escort his second wife, Kada, back to France, where she will reside in their tiny apartment with his other wife, Awa.

If this isn't provocative enough for a Western, post-feminist consciousness, bride number two, Kada (M'Bembo), receives a going-away lecture from her father telling her that man freed woman from generalized slavery so she could be slave to man.

Instantly Western notions of female exploitation brand Doc a rapscallion. But if this is your response to the events, then, like a large-mouth bass confronted by a juicy red wiggler, you've bitten and you're hooked.

You see, Une Couleur Café is a tale told without shame. Little by little we become aware that, as Doc says, "Inside my apartment, it's Africa."

Awa (Awa Sene Sarr) accepts Kada without the slightest hint of humiliation or outrage. And, the battle of the sexes being a universal conflict, it's not long before Awa and Kada join forces to punish Doc when he transgresses their codes of behavior.

Finally, we find the three of them at odds with a world lacking common moral decency.

Une Couleur Café, directed by Henri Duparc, is enjoyable, somewhat lusty, amusing and universal in its themes. Aug. 1 at 3:15 p.m. -- Richard Joseph''

Sirga (Ivory Coast/Mali/Zimbabwe/ France, 1993)

i>Sirga'' is a beautifully filmed tale about the simple, harmonious life of the Saharan nation of Pahma, which is decimated by "white men" from the north. Persians riding on horseback loot the village and capture the children to sell them into slavery. The only hope for rebuilding Pahma lies with Ule, a kind of messianic figure who mystifies his captors by his charmed ways with all manner of creatures, and his beautiful child bride, Renay.

Before Ule's birth, a seer prophesied that his mother would give birth to twins, but he was born alone. No ordinary boy, however, Ule grows up alongside Sirga, a lion cub that becomes the child's spiritual twin. It is the power of the lion and Ule's honored status among animals that enable Ule to escape with Renay and return to the land that was once Pahma, to rebuild their tribe. Directed by Patrick Grandperret, Sirga is a simple but compelling story. Aug. 2 at 3:05 p.m.

-- Kate Lueker

Comedia Infantil (Child Healer: Nelio's Story) (Mozambique/Sweden/ Portugal, 1997)

lternately mystical and brutal, Comedia Infantil tells the story of 10-year-old Nelio (Sergio Titos) whose village is burned and family dispersed in civil war-torn Mozambique. After watching his village razed, a baby murdered and the village children rounded up to fight in the war, Nelio manages to shoot one of the more sadistic soldiers and flee to the city. He's helped along the way by a succession of ethereal, magical characters — a dwarf who asks Nelio to carry his suitcase, a woman who turns into a lizard.

In the city, Nelio falls in with an Oliver Twist band of other orphaned children, until one day they discover his ability to heal the sick, a talent that quickly establishes him as a local legend, a messiah of the slums. Director Solveig Nordlund invests this Mozambique/ Sweden/Portugal co-production with the gravity of all too real situations: of children left without parents or hope in wartime. Comedia Infantil is a harsh reminder that some of society's greatest crimes take place so often as to become commonplace, in small villages where a newborn baby is brutally murdered by a soldier, or in cities where a vast population of homeless children roam Third World streets. Aug. 1 at 7:15 p.m.

''-- Felicia Feaster


The Pan African Film Festival will screen at Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. Tickets are $7.50, $4.95 for matinees before 3 p.m. For information call 404-733-5000. For information on other film events taking place during the National Black Arts Festival, call 404-730-0177 or visit www.nbaf.org.??