Every year, African Film Festival, Inc. (AFF) celebrates the work of African and Diaspora filmmakers and visual artists through the annual New York African Film Festival (NYAFF). In essence, we see the festival as a yearly opportunity for audiences to rediscover Africa through the richness of her culture. It is fitting, then, that as the United Nations prompts us to celebrate the International Year for People of African Descent in 2011, this year’s NYAFF pays special homage to the vast contributions made by people of African descent worldwide — contributions to the political, economic, social and, of course, cultural development of the global community.
I founded AFF in 1990, during a period when Africa was front and center in Western media: those of us over the age of thirty probably remember well, the images of famine in Ethiopia that had become so pervasive in the news media. Africa, in the US at least, seemed to be known only for famine, war, AIDS — an unreasonably skewed reputation, which sadly, we still struggle to counteract. Yet even back in 1990, the cultural influences of Africa and the Diaspora still were visible to those who read beyond the headlines: Spike Lee had made his first big splash on the film scene; rap and hip-hop were taking off like never before; the first residents of Little Senegal were establishing roots in Harlem; Fela, Salif Keita, King Sunny Ade, and other popular African bands were performing frequently in New York City venues.
Twenty years later, the NYAFF is proud to be part of a much larger movement that presents a more complex, honest, and self-representative portrait of Africa and the African Diaspora to the world. Through the power of cinema, the filmmakers whose works will be presented in this year’s 18th New York African Film Festival allow us, the viewers, to explore the multifaceted realities of both discord and triumph that coexist in the ever-changing cultural landscape of the African Diaspora.
As such, the themes covered by our filmmakers are as varied as the fields in which peoples of African descent have made their mark. Among the highlights of this year’s lineup is an exploration of great heroes of Africa and the Diaspora: those individuals, both historical and mythical, whose stories prod our collective memory and spark our imaginations. Films such as Besouro; Kongo–Grand Illusions; Driving with Fanon; and Africans Out of Africa examine the lives and contributions of legendary individuals, who have inspired followings from Kinshasa to Bahia.
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