by Sherif Awad
From the 21st till the 26th of April, the tenth edition of AfryKamera Film Festival was organized in Warsaw while screening being expanded across other major Polish cities like Krakow, Poznan and Wroclaw. The celebration of the 10th anniversary of AfryKamera was highlighted by a special focus on Ethiopia with a multimedia presentation of Ethiopian architectural heritage and the screening of two recent Ethiopian films at the official long narrative competition. The first is Beti and Amare by writer-director Andy Siege who has chosen a fantastic approach to tell the story of an Ethiopian young woman called Beti (Hiwot Asres) who escapes Mussolini's troops in the mid 1930s only to be harassed by local men. One night, her dreams seem to come true in the shape of Amare (Pascal Dawson), a handsome young man who falls from the sky in her field. Acting like a newborn, Amare becomes Beti’s pet, protector and lover. The second film is Difret (An Amharic word that means “being raped”) by writer-director Zeresenay Berhane Mehariis which is a powerful dramatization of real-life events that occurred in remote Ethiopian village in 1996 when a bright 14 years-old called Hirut (Tizita Hagere) was kidnapped by a group of men then raped by one of them. Later, while trying to escape, her rapist tries to grab her again but Hirut succeeds to take his rifle and shoots him. The rapist could have been her would-be husband since, according to some Ethiopia’s oldest traditions, hunting down a minor girl and abducting her into marriage was common malpractice. The story then follows the lawyer Meaza (Meron Getnet) who travels the capital Addis Ababa to represent Hirut and argue that she acted in self-defense. However, they both face the discrimination of local men who used to view women as minors. The film attracted the attention of humanitarian and film star Angelina Jolie who is top-billed as its executive producer. The case of Hirut helped in changing Ethiopian laws that now criminalize the child molestation for marriage purposes. The film maker Zeresenay Berhane Mehariis is an Ethiopian-born who studied at the University of Southern California then established his film company in Alexandria, US. Difret is his feature debut that marks a promising career.
Just before the opening day, the 10th AfryKamera edition was kick started early in the night of April 20 with a concert by Angolan music legend Bonga Kuenda who was born in the province of Bengo, and left Angola when he was 23 years old to become the Portuguese record holder for the 400 meters (Angola was at the time one of Portugal's five African colonies). Bonga abandoned athletics in 1972, concentrating solely on his music, and immediately became famous in his native Angola, as well as in Portugal. For four decades, Bonga sang with passion against colonialism, ethnic conflicts and partisan. Other important films included the opening night film and Oscar-nominated documentary feature Virunga (Westchester Guardian, January 15, 2015) and the Kenyan 60- minute long Stories Of Our Lives by Jim Chuchu, an anthology of five stories that was banned in its own country two days after its premiere in Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) last September. The decision was made by the Kenyan Censorship Board for the film’s depiction of the homosexuality of five different Kenyan characters that the director based on real stories. Till current days, homosexuality in Kenya is still punishable by law but rarely prosecuted. A case against the filmmakers of shooting-without-location permits was dropped last March but the film is still banned in Kenya while being screened in many international festivals…
AfryKamera started as the brainchild of Przemek Stepien who was born 1979 in the Zambian city of Kalulushi then moved back to his homeland Poland as a teenager only to be remained actively interested in African politics and cultural heritage and continued to promoting Africa during his studies. After finishing a Master's Degree in International Relations at Warsaw School of Economics with thesis on aid model in Botswana, Stepien became more involved in cultural activities and so he initiated AfryKamera in 2006 with the help of Former ambassador of South Africa to Poland Mrs. Febe Potgieter-Gqubule who is currently an advisor to Mrs. Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, the South African politician at the African Union. “Thanks to AfryKamera, I manage to combine my two greatest passions: Africa and film”, says Stepien”. Without the key guidance and aid of Mrs. Febe Potgieter-Gqubule, AfryKamera wouldn’t have been possible”. In the beginning, the festival was organized as a one-off event, aimed at presenting an overview of African cinema since its start. But due to the popularity of the first edition in 2006, the event became a recurring stable component of the cultural landscape in Poland. “As Poland has a minute African minority, AfryKamera was mainly directed towards building interest in the continent and its culture by highlighting its political, social and economic trends”, he puts it. Our next stop will be the new edition of FESTICAB film festival in Bujumbura, Burundi.