AfryKamera Poland/Difret

AfryKamera Poland/Difret
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.

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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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