African filmmakers are enjoying a strong representation at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, an event that has garnered a reputation that until recently had been reserved for the Cannes Film Festival. Two of the films that have gained strong attention thus far include the South African spaghetti western Five Fingers for Marseille and the basketball documentary Giants of Africa; nonetheless, film audiences at TIFF have a lot more African flavor to enjoy until September 17.
Some of the African films being screened at TIFF have previously made the festival circuit; such is the case with Makala, a Cannes award-winning documentary about the life of a charcoal merchant in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Female filmmakers are also represented; Zambian director Rungano Nyoni’s surreal tale I Am Not a Witch has been praised for its cinematography and Garcia Marquez-like storytelling. Another African queen bringing surrealism to TIFF is Jenna Bass and her feature film High Fantasy, which spins a story about fantastical gender transformation. Even more female talent can be found in Still Water Runs Deep and Silas, respectively directed by European and Canadian directors who focus on the African experience.
Three African films have particularly caught the attention of TIFF audiences and critics:
The Royal Hibiscus Hotel
The Lagos film industry has come to be known as “Nollywood” due to the prolific output of production crews, who are often armed with nothing more than an iPhone and editing apps. Such is not the case with this film, which is a masterful romantic comedy about a restaurant entrepreneur who returns to her native Nigeria from London in search of business opportunities in this bustling and chaotic megacity in the making. What this food impresario finds instead is romance and hijinks.
This Congolese tearjerker is perfect for fans of films that really tug at the heartstrings. This story about a lounge singer whose life is turned upside down by terrible tragedy is a reminder that the human spirit can still be trusted to act with kindness just when everyone has lost all hope. Félicité is directed by a young Frenchman with Senegalese roots.
This feature from South African director Khalo Matabane offers a glimpse of the deep violence experienced in the one of the harshest prison systems in the world. The Number is effective in portraying the reality of a nation that is developing at a very fast pace on the outside while failing to pay attention to what happens on the fringes of a violent society where hope is nullified by the sheer need for survival.