Berlin’s annual and consistently engrossing celebration of current African cinema is back at Kino Arsenal from Nov 15-21. After 2020’s ‘Politics & Revolution’ programme, the festival’s 14th edition focuses on urban cinema under the title ‘Urban Africa, Urban Movies – Youth & Youth Culture’, putting the spotlight on the rapid and youthful urbanisation of the continent. Their selection of films features 20 features and documentaries that deal with current youth and pop culture phenomena in the metropolises of Africa.
Within the very strong line-up of films, which includes Atef Ben Bouzid’s excellent music doc Cairo Jazzman and Hamza Ouni’s El Medestanzi (The Disqualified), are two unmissable gems.
The first is La Nuit Des Rois (Night of the Kings), Philippe Lacôte’s mesmerisingly layered second feature which was selected by Côte d’Ivoire as their entry for the 2021 Oscars. Set in La MACA, the Abidjan prison known for being one of the most violent and crowded in West Africa, the film follows a new inmate who is selected to perform a ritual instigated by the prison’s ageing kingpin, who is seeking to maintain his stranglehold on his kingdom.
The young scamp is forced to become the new “Roman”: he has to tell a long story to the prisoners throughout the night. What he doesn’t know is that the stakes are life or death. It’s a masterful exploration of myth-making and storytelling through a heady mix of docu-fiction genre-splicing and a solid dose of magical realism. All in all, this celebration of oral traditions and rituals is a stunning, uniquely transportive cinematic experience that you shouldn’t sleep on.
The second is Aicha Macky’s documentary Zinder, which premiered earlier this year at the Visions du Réel festival and CPH:DOX. It takes its name from the second largest city in Niger and focuses on the quarter of Kara-Kara, which historically sheltered lepers and pariahs; nowadays, the “Palais” gangs have taken over.
Following her stunning film L’Arbre Sans Fruit (2016), in which Macky addressed the taboo subject of infertility in Niger, the director continues to break taboos by examining gang life. Having been granted unprecedented access by former and active gang members, she tells their stories and explores how gangs radicalise young people in the Sahel region. From body-building training sessions to candid testimonies during which the camera lingers on emotional and physical scars, Macky delves into themes of education, injustice, unemployment and stigma with great empathy, and gives a voice to a neglected youth who must learn to survive before they can live.
One bonus this year is the fact the festival is stepping outside of its usual Arsenal venue, treating audiences to screenings at the Humboldt Forum. There, they’ll present a “Ciné Slam”, which highlights the last 50 years of Burkina Faso cinema, as well as live music events and a VR lounge to give insight into the cinematographic diversity of the continent’s virtual reality productions.
Afrikamera / Nov 15-21, Arsenal Kino & Humboldt Forum.