19th New York African Film Festival: Shorts!

Short films sometimes get a bad rap — they’re considered a “learning exercise” for film school students, or worse, they’re made synonymous with boring, pretentious art house… stuff. This year’s matinee trio at NYAFF had some fun with these stereotypes. Osvalde Lewat’s ‘Sderot, Last Exit’ is an experimental documentary that follows student filmmakers as they put together films on the fault lines of the Gaza War. There is some meta film commentary on the camera as a dream, which might be beautiful or tedious. But if you focus on its seamlessly shifting perspectives, it’s hard to deny the film’s elegant edge. Even when it gains a coherent narrative structure through realist montage, each new character seems to direct his or her own part of the story. ‘Sderot’ stands as an energizing invitation to consider how truth is made through mediated images. Kudos too, to the festival’s selection committee for highlighting the work of the Cameroonian director in Palestine. Smart curation gives breadth as well as depth to what we recognize as African filmmaking.

Salam Ghourba’s ‘Farewell Exile’ pushes in on the time restrictions of the short film in order to create an urgent and thrilling portrait of a family that risks everything to cross the European Union’s new ‘iron curtain’. I wish I knew more about film processing, so that I could say more about how the film’s harsh lighting amplifies the film’s texture in small, cramped spaces. In any event, the tight feeling of space pursued in Ghourba’s film is particularly provocative.

‘Up Your Black Arse!’ (‘A ton vieux cul de nègre!’, starring the late Dieudonné Kabongo) seems like the cynic among these exit films. Aurélien Bodinaux presents his audience with a bare bones, staged encounter between an old Belgian man and his Congolese friend (now living in a Brussels retirement home). The two old friends are united by their continued interest in shapely women, as well as some more unspeakable investments in the rubber mines. Guilt and anger traps, along with a creeping sense of mutual dependency, make this up yours movie every bit as challenging as its counterpoints.

If you missed the matinee last week, you’re lucky there is going to be an evening encore. See these films today at 6 pm at Lincoln Center.

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