New York African Film Festival Logo.

Film at Lincoln Center (FLC) and African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF) are celebrating the 30th New York African Film Festival (NYAFF) at FLC from May 10 to 16. Launched in 1993, the NYAFF is one of the first film festivals in the United States to reflect on the myriad ways African and diaspora filmmakers have used the moving image to tell complex nuanced stories of cultural and aesthetic significance. Under the banner title, Freeforms, the festival will present over 50 films from more than 25 countries that explore and embrace the visionary, probing and fearless spirit of African film and diaspora storytelling.

“The New York African Film Festival was founded to counteract the voice over, where Africans were being spoken for over grim images and to provide a place where the seventh art could become a weapon for us to reclaim our voices, to reappropriate our images and to add layers to the narrative,” said NYAFF founder and AFF Executive Director Mahen Bonetti. “In each frame presented by the festival over three decades we have found our connection with each other and our footing in other people’s spaces, while presenting myriad stories about all corners of the African diaspora and the human experience itself.”

Opening Night marks the New York premiere of Moussa Sène Absa’s Xalé, the third film in his trilogy focused on women. When twin brother and sister Awa and Adama’s grandmother passes away, their Aunt Fatou and Uncle Atoumane pledge to marry to preserve the family union. Tired of waiting to consummate their marriage, Atoumane commits an act from which there is no return.

The Centerpiece selection is the U.S. premiere of Hyperlink, comprised of four short films and directed by South African filmmakers Mzonke Maloney, Nolitha Mkulisi, Julie Nxadi, and Evan Wigdorowitz, who reflect on the seductive, and at times treacherous, illusory reality of the internet. Using humor, suspense and social criticism, this collective production sketches a society dominated by idealized projections of the dreamt self.

Four festival features are U.S. premieres: Fatou Cissé’s A Daughter’s Tribute to Her Father: Souleymane Cissé, an intimate portrayal of the life and career of Souleymane Cissé, one of Africa’s most celebrated filmmakers; Ottis Ba Mamadou’s Dent Pour Dent, a comedic drama placing the unemployed Idrissa in the position of being entirely dependent on his wife after budgetary restrictions imposed by the IMF and seeking revenge; Katy Léna N’diaye’s Money, Freedom, a Story of CFA Franc, a revealing account of why a currency holdover resulting from French colonialism is still in use to this day; and Ery Claver’s Our Lady of the Chinese Shop, a delicate urban tale that reveals a family and city full of resentment, greed and torment in Luanda, Angola, in part due to a peculiar, holy plastic figure of Our Lady.

The festival is also proud to host the world premiere of Chadrack Banikina and Cecilia Zoppelletto’s Ota Benga, an animated film that captures a moment in the true-life story of Ota Benga (1883–1916), the pygmy who was exhibited at the Bronx Zoo. It will also feature the U.S. premiere of Babetida Sadjo’s Hématome, about a woman who after twenty-five years, breaks her silence for a rape she suffered as a child and seeks justice.

Other highlights from the slate include the New York premiere of Know Your Place, Zia Mohajerjasbi’s slice of life drama set in present-day Seattle in which an errand undertaken by Robel, a 15-year old Eritrean-American, transforms into an odyssey across the rapidly gentrifying city; and Souleymane Cissé’s Den Muso, an exploration of repercussions of a mute girl’s assault, that shines a light on the societal and economic challenges facing women in urban Mali during the 1970s. The film was restored by Cissé – who was among the first wave of sub-Saharan African filmmakers – and La Cinémathèque française in 2020, in collaboration with the Cinémathèque Afrique and the French Institute, thanks to the support of Pathé.

Acclaimed Senegalese filmmaker Moussa Sène Absa will present a free masterclass on Saturday, May 13, at 11:30 am, which will probe the impact of migration on familial and community bonds with particular attention to the perspectives of the mothers of migrants. The event takes place in the Amphitheater at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center with tickets available through

Two free talks are Safi Faye Memorial Talk: Women of African Cinema, a conversation which will bring together contemporary African directors and curators to reflect on Faye’s legacy in the wake of the pioneering filmmaker’s death in February, and what her work means for feminist African cinema today; and In Conversation with Souleymane Cissé, a special keynote talk with the acclaimed Malian director about his career and legacy, in conjunction with retrospective screenings of Den Muso and YeelenYeleen was screened during the first NYAFF. Both events will be held in the Amphitheater in the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center.

NYAFF will present a Town Hall at The Africa Center on Thursday, May 4, at 6:00pm, featuring African and diaspora artists displaying and discussing work that explores the festival’s theme, Freeforms. Participants include Assane Sy, Senegalese photographer and film curator of Jollof Films; Ladan Osman, Somali-American poet, and filmmaker; Afro-Mexican Bocafloja, rapper, poet and spoken word artist; and Khane Kutzwell, a Trinidadian-American hair stylist and barber for film and TV. Moderator Maboula Soumahoro is a French-Ivorian scholar and writer, whose book, Black is the Journey: Africana the Name (2021), will contextualize the program. A free post-festival outdoor screening will also be presented at The Africa Center on Saturday, June 3.

Evoking poet Lucille Clifton’s call to “sing for red dust and black clay” in her book of poetry Good News About the Earth, Nigerian-American artist Zainab Aliyu invites thirty filmmakers working within African diasporic cinema to explore pottery as a metaphor that points towards the potential of free forms in her video piece, From red dust to Black clay. This free digital art exhibition will run from May 10 – 16 in the Amphitheater.

Ticket are currently on-sale and prices are $17 for the general public; $14 for students, seniors, and persons with disabilities; and $12 for FLC Members. See more and save with the $79 All-Access Pass or the $39 Student All-Access Pass.

The festival continues at Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem from May 19 to 21 and culminates at the Brooklyn Academy of Music under the name Film Africa from May 26 to June 1 during Dance Africa.

The programs of AFF are made possible by the generous support of the National Endowment for the Arts, New York State Council on the Arts, New York Community Trust, NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, Bradley Family Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Domenico Paulon Foundation, NYC & Company, French Cultural Services, Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Manhattan Portage, Black Hawk Imports, Essentia Water, South African Consulate General, National Film and Video Foundation and Motion Picture Enterprises.

This post was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor in chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire, celebrating a decade of excellence. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter @BurtonWireNews

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