Tuesday, 2 September 2014


With so many incidents of abuse of power taking place in the world, the African Diaspora International Film Festival is more than ever seeking to be a means of bringing people together and promoting dialogue, according to the organizers.

Diarah N'Daw-Spech and Reinalso Barro-Spech, organizers.
“This is an international festival that’s Afro-centric, but the aim is not to divide people but to promote and reshape the discourse,” says Diarah N’Daw-Spech, who co-founded the festival with her husband Reinaldo Barro-Spech.

Presented annually in New York, Washington, Chicago and Paris, the event’s fourth European edition takes place from Sept. 5 to 7 this year in the French capital, with the films aimed at generating discussion about the causes and effects of racism both in the United States and Europe.

The movies should also encourage people of African descent to discuss what being part of the Diaspora means, said N’Daw-Spech, the daughter of a Malian father and French mother, and whose husband was born in Cuba of mixed Haitian-Jamaican heritage.

“When you talk about the African Diaspora, everybody has their own understanding of what this means, although most people think of people coming from Africa,” N'Daw-Spech told SWAN. “But you can have roots in Africa without having been born there, and we want to look at the whole black experience.

An image from Freedom Summer
“It’s like opening a window on another world for people who either want to learn about themselves or who want to be exposed to others’ cultures,” she added “We see the festival as a way to create bridges across cultures, even across cultures of people of African descent.”

That is one of the reasons for the broad scope of the event. The opening film, Freedom Summer, puts the spotlight on the history of the American South, for instance, with a gripping documentary about the violence that met activists trying to encourage voter registration in Mississippi in 1964.

Director Stanley Nelson uses footage and testimony from the volunteers of the then Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to portray the injustices that occurred in the state, which “remained virulently committed to segregation” in the Sixties.

Working to advance human rights in Freedom Summer.
Many of the Committee’s members were young white students who, according to the film, were “transformed” by their work in Mississippi. Their story and the experiences of the African-Americans they supported remind viewers of the sacrifices made just 50 years ago to ensure civil rights for all.

Nelson will be available for a public discussion after the screening, as such debates are an integral part of the festival, N'Daw-Spech said.

Other films are set in countries ranging from Jamaica to Cameroon and cover a diverse range of subjects that affect the African Diaspora. From the Caribbean come two films - a dramatic feature and a documentary - about the impact of legislation in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom that allows foreign-born individuals convicted of crimes to be deported to their countries of origin.

A scene from Home Again
The deportations create enormous problems for both the home nations and the individuals, many of whom grew up abroad. In Home Again, a feature directed by Sudz Sutherland, three individuals from varying backgrounds come into conflict with this legislation. After their forced return to Jamaica, their ostensible “home” country, these characters experience a series of challenges and violent situations that test their survival skills. They end up learning much about themselves as well as their environment.

The second film dealing with this subject is Deported (Expulsés), which “gives a voice” to offenders from the United States and Canada who have been deported to Haiti after serving their prison sentence in North America. Their offences ranged from violent crime to drunk-driving and petty theft, and the film focuses on their attempts at re-integration in the country of their birth.

Directors Rachèle Magloire and Chantal Regnault construct Deported around trips in Haiti (where they followed their characters for three years) and events in North America where some families have no idea of the lives of those who have been sent back.

The deported face new challenges in  Home Again.
Discussions will also accompany the screening of Deported, and N’Daw-Spech says she hopes the festival will highlight this under-reported issue.

Another topical film is Otomo, a feature that shares a glimpse into the day-to-day world of refugees. This film reconstructs the true story of a West African asylum seeker in Stuttgart, Germany, who physically assaulted a ticket inspector on the subway, fled the scene, and became the target of a huge manhunt.

The film shows how institutionalized racism drives a disempowered individual to violence and inhumanity, according to its director Frieder Schlaich, and this subject is particularly pertinent as Europe debates how to deal with undocumented migrants and its Roma population.

Moving to the arts, the festival includes a film about music with Tango Negro. This documentary, by Angolan director Dom Pedro, “explores the expression of African-ness inherent in the dance of the ‘tango’ and the contribution of African cultures to the dance’s creation”.

Tango Negro explores the African origins of tango.
Pedro provides insight into the dance’s origins and cultural significance, depicting the social life of African slaves, and he brings together musical performances and interviews from tango enthusiasts, historians and various participants.

Other films being screened include Names Live Nowhere, a docu-drama that  gives a candid portrayal of the lives of African immigrants in Belgium; and W.A.K.A., a feature set in Douala, Cameroon, about a young waitress who becomes pregnant, has no one to turn to, and who faces the decision of whether to terminate her pregnancy or have her child.

“What we hear from viewers is that the films that we bring are works that people don’t have access to at all,” says N’Daw-Spech. “So that gives us inspiration to keep going. We’re not interested in films that don’t have a serious topic or are one-dimensional. All the films have a message.”

For more on the Paris schedule, in English, go to: http://fifda.org/paris-adiff-2014-english/ The annual New York presentation of the festival  will take place in November.