2021 Pan African Film Festival Review

2021 has been the year of film festivals for me (and I love it!). I had the honor of being accredited for the 2021 Pan African Film Festival this year. Although I wasn’t a huge fan of the press process of picking the films you wanted to screen (I feel like I may have missed out on a bunch of good ones), I did get a chance to see some really great short films (I focused on this shorts for this festival). Honestly, I think I may be getting a little festival fatigue — I’m currently in the middle of another and I have a couple of days break before the next one starts (super stoked to be covering the Atlanta Film Festival this year).

But here’s a quick rundown of the films I did get a chance to watch (and in the case of some, rewatch):

#WeAreDyingHere – Dir: Shane Vermooten (25 mins)

A chronicle of the journey of three soldiers forced to survive in a war that they did not choose. As the war against women rages around them, they attempt to find solace to process their pain under the constant threat of their enemy lurking in the shadows. They call out the violent culture of harassment, abuse, rape and femicide, it is a necessary pause, an exhale and insight into the experience of living as a woman.

This was hands downs one of the most powerful shorts I’ve seen all year…and I’ve seen a lot. This was visually captivating and had a powerful message that came across loud and clear. This short is so universal and it really spoke to me. #WeAreDyingHere is about sexual assault and domestic violence which is a global issue. But the film itself is haunting and really sticks with you. The visual symbolism is masterful. It is a war zone for females, especially in certain regions of the world — South Africa in particular where this film is set. This short is an adaptation of the critically acclaimed stage play created by writer and performer Siphokazi Jonas (who is also in the film). The short is uses spoken word and song against the war-torn background. So much of what was said was so spot-on…”her body is a bait…a trigger…a sin…” In it’s short runtime, the three dynamic women and the crew talk about the generational curse of silence and sweeping it under the rug, broken men and how #hashtags are not enough. And on top of that, the music composition was phenomenal. All said, if you get a chance to watch this short, please do so!

4Melvin – Dir: McCristol Harris III, Du’ana Speights (22 mins)

After a tragedy occurs, three estranged siblings are forced to make difficult family decisions, while being isolated during a pandemic. As each sibling struggles to cope, secrets are revealed, threatening to tear them further apart.

I actually caught “4Melvin” late last year…don’t really remember where, but this was one of the first quarantine/pandemic films that I saw. The thought was there but the execution fell just a little short for me…some of the acting and dialogue was a little iffy — but I can only imagine how much harder it is to really convey everything you want while seated in front of a screen. For me, films shot entirely on screens have really been hit or miss — the dialogue and plot have to really overcompensate sometimes. But again, “pandemic filmmaking” is still kinda new, this was a solid effort.

A Storybook Ending – Dir: Lanre Olabisi (18 mins)

A neo-noir dark comedy about a Black man who accidentally kills an undercover White policeman in self-defense. The subsequent cover-up sets off a chain reaction of deceit, blackmail, and murder.

This was another short that I saw earlier last year (don’t remember where), but it really stuck with me. You think you know how this is going to play out but then it takes a turn — I like to be kept on my toes. And the pacing and production value was pretty good and the overall premise of the film was very timely given the social climate of the last couple of years. And lucky for you, if you want to check this one out, it’s streaming on HBO — I highly suggest giving this one a watch.

Antivirus – Dir: Anastasia Sima (15 mins)

Athens, Greece 2020. Quarantine days. Daphne, a young singer, decides to break down the wall that separates her from her annoying neighbor.

“Antivirus” was another short that focused on and was shot during the quarantine. Technically a one-woman show (if you don’t count the dog lol), this Greek short was all about breaking down walls/barriers especially during a time of isolation and uncertainty. Although it starts weirdly and I had no idea where this was going, it turned out to be quite enjoyable — two nights share a thin wall and the noise from the other drives them crazy while trying to stay sane. For those of us who live in close quarters or apartments, we can definitely relate. In the end, it leaves us with the message that one act of kindness can change everything and especially during these trying times, we need to have a little compassion for our fellow human beings. And kudos to the actress Ksenia Dania for a solid performance.

Dọlápọ Is Fine – Dir: Ethosheia Hylton (15 mins)

Soon to leave her very British boarding school, Dọlápọ is pressured to conceal her natural hair, and to change her name. Dọlápọ begins to question how the world might see her. She braces for change. Dọlápọ buys a wig, but the hair leaves her questioning its uncertain origins. After a dose of unwanted attention and a strange episode in the woods, Dọlápọ is forced to reconsider her own assumptions about her identity.

As a Black female, I definitely saw myself in this film — I have a name that many find hard to pronounce (I don’t think its all that hard…) and working in corporate and legal fields, I’ve definitely had my moments where I used to go back and forth about how “professional” my natural hair is — but I’ve since come to terms with it and embrace it and you should too! We’ve had to code switch and try our best to blend into white spaces and this short so eloquently portrays that struggle with identity in its short 15 mins. In the end it’s about embracing our identity and I think that this is a film that every one should watch, especially Black girls and women.

Gramercy – Dir: Jamil McGinnis, Pat Heywood (23 mins)

Shaq, a young man grappling with depression, returns to his New Jersey hometown, where his exploration of grief and brotherhood transforms into the imagining of an inner life.

“Gramercy” was another short that I caught previously, but decided to watch again. I really liked this one because it dealt with depression and mental health amongst young black men which is seldom talked about, let alone depicted so sincerely and earnestly on film. I thought the filmmakers’ use of color and the black and white footage really added to the film — when Shaq was in a good, peaceful headspace, the world was in color. The house party scene felt like a music video within the film (oh, the joys and release of dancing…). This was the kind of film that I really enjoy the most — simple, slice of life stories. The cinematography and visuals were great and the film had a melodic jazz score that really underscored the film — there was a water scene that was absolutely gorgeous. This film so adequately depicted most people’s dealings with mental health issue — friends not knowing how to act and interact with someone who dealing with some things or not knowing how to handle grief. Ultimately, this beautiful and striking film urges us to think about how we have these conversations about how we’re really feeling. Definitely worth a watch!

Lizard – Dir: Akinola Davies Jr. (18 mins)

An 8-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a Mega Church in Lagos.

This was another interesting little slice of life film that gives you a glimpse into the life of a young African girl. And the lead actress, Pamilerin Ayodeji, was a natural!

My Father the Mover – Dir: Julia Jansch (13 mins)

Alatha’s father calls himself a Mover. Using African dance moves, he helps kids in Khayelitsha township transcend hardship and “find their superpowers.” The Mover is also a single father and, while he has helped many kids, he still has difficulty getting his daughter to find her own powers. But in a tender moment together this is all about to change.

This was a short documentary that I saw at a previous film festival as well. It depicts the relationship between a young girl and her single father and how they bond and ultimately connect through dance. Heartwarming film.

This is Not a Burial, Its a Resurrection – Dir: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese (117 mins)

In the mountains of Lesotho, Mantoa, an 80-year-old widow eagerly awaits her son’s return from working in the South African mines, only to learn of his demise instead. Yearning for her own death after the loss of her last remaining family member, she puts her affairs in order and makes arrangements to be buried in the local cemetery. Her careful plans are abruptly upset by the news that provincial officials intend to resettle the village, flood the entire area, and build a dam for a reservoir. Mantoa finds a new will to live and resolves herself to defend the spiritual heritage of the community.

This was the only feature film of the festival that I saw…and it’s one that I’ve seen previously (and reviewed here), but I think that this film deserves as much shine as it can get — its breathtaking in its visuals and moving with its storyline. Everything about this film was stylized in such a way that it stays with you long after the final credits role — you definitely see why it was Lesotho’s Oscar submission this year!

Till Death Do Us Part – Dir: Dolores Vunda (24 mins)

A Ugandan woman fights against her husband’s desire to marry a second woman. Her journey gets harder when she figures that she is the only one in the family standing against the law that the culture still holds.

This was my final film of the festival. It actually reminded me a lot of the background story in “Cuties” in terms of it being tradition and custom in some African communities to take on a second wife and how it impacts the first wife. This film gave forth a solid effort but there were some iffy parts…but overall, solid effort.

Did you catch any of the Pan African Film Festival? If so, what were your standouts???