Friday, August 12, 2011

Sixth African Diaspora Summer Film Series Opens

Karim (Hassan El Raddad) wants Hebba (Mona Zakki) to stop agitating in “Scheherazade, Tell Me A Story.” Photo courtesy of ArtMattan Productions.

DAYTIME talk show host Hebba (Mona Zakki) does what any good Egyptian wife would do when her husband asks her to stop proselytizing on behalf of women: she obeys him.

Karim (Hassan El Raddad) wants the subversive activities to cease so that he can lock down a coveted promotion as an editor at a government-controlled newspaper. When Hebba resorts to what are supposed to be fluff pieces about women’s lives, the genie is let out of the bottle. Now real subversion is flourishing.

Yousry Nasrallah’s “Scheherazade, Tell Me A Story” opens the 6th Annual African Diaspora Summer Film Series tonight (through 21 Aug.) at The Riverside Theatre in Harlem. The film, which unfolds in a story-within-a-story format, was a darling on the film festival circuit in 2009. At the Venice Film Festival, it won the Lina Mangiacapre Award. “Scheherazade, Tell Me A Story” resurfaces at a very interesting time in Egyptian history and politics.

The revolution of a few months ago gave rise to long-suppressed rage at government corruption and gross neglect. Ailing former president Hosni Mubarak is out of power and on trial for many and sundry crimes. In his production notes, YN writes in part, “More than 70% of Egyptian households depend on women’s work. Rather than accept this reality, and accordingly accept women as equals, society is constantly pressuring women into showing more submission."

In the new Egypt that is being formed right before the world’s eyes, will men continue to treat women like chattel and serfs? Alas, at the moment it looks to be the case, but ultimately more time will tell. Until then, festival-goers should pay close attention to any cues in “Scheherazade, Tell Me A Story,” that may reveal what the future holds for women in Egyptian society.

Susana Baca: Memoria Viva” is the tribute to legendary Peruvian singer Susana Esther Baca de la Colina. Photo from Susana Baca Facebook page.

Also dealing with a theme of oppression in an obliquely political way is “Fire in Brooklyn," another of the eight features and documentaries in the summer film series, one of several mini-fests under the umbrella of the African Diaspora International Film Festival and co-presented by The Riverside Theatre.

Former members of the world renown West Indies cricket team recount to "Fire in Brooklyn" director Stevan Riley their glory days as part of what is considered the best squad in the sport. But the film is really about an underdog excelling beyond what was thought imaginable in a sport rooted in elitist, colonial values. Initially dismissed as wild (read: savage) the cricketers, through remarkable displays of power, grace, finesse and speed would win grudging respect and admiration from their most vociferous detractors. Match commentary and reggae performances provide a backbeat to the story.

Music and musicians also figure in two other documentaries in the African Diaspora Summer Film Series. They will be shown as a double feature. The “Sons of Benkos” of the title are the descendants of Benkos Bioho, a prominent black freedom fighter who died in the fight to emancipate enslaved Africans in early 17th-century Columbia. With “Sons of Benkos,” director Silva Lucas acts as musical guide, revealing to the viewer the African culture of Columbia.

African culture in Peru informs “Susana Baca: Memoria Viva” from director Mark Dixon. His film is a tribute to Susana Esther Baca de la Colina, the legendary singer with the poetic, soulful voice. Her legacy will always include her efforts (through performance and education) to preserve the Afro-Peruvian heritage.

Carla/Roxanne (Isaura Barbe-Brown) doesn't know David's (Lonyo Engele) fate in "David Is Dying." Photo courtesy of SAR Productions.

Rounding out the main category of films in the African Diaspora Summer Film Series are: “The loves of a Zombie, Presidential Candidate,” Arnold Antonin’s wry look at Haitian politicians and the country's people. Stephen Lloyd Jackson takes a more serious tack in “David is Dying” whose title character and London hedgefund manager has a difficult choice to make when he learns that he is HIV-positive. In Nabil Elderkin’s “Bouncing Cats,” the choice of weapons to overcome poverty in Uganda is hip-hop and breakdancing.

Finally, craft is the topic of discussion in “Directors on Directing.” Among those who take questions from director Jamel Wade are Robert Townsend and Bill Duke. BD’s highly anticipated “Dark Girls” documentary will have its world premiere in October at the International Black Film Festival in Nashville, TN.

Also on the schedule of the African Diaspora Summer Film Series are talkbacks, panel discussions and dance performances.

Visit to learn more about the 6th Annual African Diaspora Summer Film Series; to learn more about the African Diaspora International Film Festival, and to learn more about The Riverside Theatre.

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