Africa Shafted: Under One Roof

written by Kaitlin Higgins

Goucher College hosted this year’s Baltimore African Film Festival from Feb. 22 to 24. The festival’s lineup included an afternoon’s worth of films from South Africa, including Africa Shafted: Under One Roof (Ingrid Martens, 2011).

A documentary about Johannesburg’s Ponte City–Africa’s tallest residential building–Africa Shafted explores the deeply-rooted xenophobia of some of the building’s residents. Martens filmed mostly from within the building’s eight elevator shafts, initiating candid interviews with the passengers who represent many African countries, including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Burundi, among others. In the elevator, Martens meets some residents only once or twice, while others develop a relationship with the camera.

“It’s some sort of a refugee camp for us,” says one interviewee of the diversity amongst the nearly 4000 residents at Ponte. Most have come to South Africa for safety and livelihood, which their homes could not provide, and to Ponte in particular because it is known for housing “all of Africa” throughout its 44 floors. However, there can be much animosity and tension between those seeking their refuge from different countries. Many interviewed in the elevator accuse Nigerians of criminal acts, while South Africans blame foreigners in general for stealing their jobs and their wives.

Martens’ portrayal of South Africa through the residents of Ponte City is often painful, harsh, and sometimes awkward, but thoroughly honest and eye-opening. She shows, in the tiny and usually crowded elevator shafts, what it means to be a foreigner, perhaps even in one’s own country.

Other films featured throughout the weekend included Farewell Exile (Morocco, 2011), Microphone (Egypt, 2010), How to Steal 2 Million (South Africa, 2011), Black Africa White Marble (Republic of Congo/USA/Italy, 2011), Monica Wangu Wamwere: The Unbroken Spirit (Kenya, 2010), and Our Beloved Sudan (Sudan/UK, 2011). 

The Baltimore African Film Festival is part of the New York African Film Festival‘s traveling series, which will host further events this year at the Georgia Institute of Technology from April 2 to 16 and at the BAMcinématek at BAM Rose Cinemas in New York from May 24 to 27.

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