African film up for a Palme d’Or

The world’s poorest continent officially joins the glitz and glam of Cannes on Sunday as a rare African contender for the film festival’s Palme d’Or award enters the fray.

Chad director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s A Screaming Man is the first film from subsaharan Africa in 13 years to compete for the prize.

Also bringing a flavour of Africa to this year’s event is a movie about a hot group of Congolese street musicians in wheelchairs that is causing a buzz.

And yet to come is a South African film in a section showcasing new talent, Un Certain Regard.

“A Screaming Man” will compete with 18 other movies from across the world for the prize for best film, to be announced at the close of the 12-day event on May 23. Haroun, 49, has won festival awards with Daratt and Bye Bye Africa.

In the story, a humiliated hotel pool attendant is forced to hand the job to his son when Chinese owners take over, as civil war rages in the background.

Haroun said that the continent’s incessant violence had also wreaked havoc on its arts and culture.

“There are so many conflicts on this abandoned continent that Africa has failed in the fundamental task of passing on its cultures,” he said.
“The break between the fathers of independence (50 years ago) and the next generation has generated violence and stymied efforts to open up a stable political future.”

Highlighting the instability of Africa’s ravaged Great Lakes region is a documentary about a paraplegic band from Kinshasha — Staff Benda Bilili.

They shot from obscurity to fame thanks to film-makers Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye, whose documentary screens at Directors’ Fortnight, a prestigious festival running parallel to the main event.

“They are remarkable,” BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz wrote of the musicians after seeing Benda Bilili the movie. “Their music, their spirit, their humour, their existence.”

The documentary chronicles the making of the group of middle-aged street musicians who got about in wheelchairs and practised in the zoo, along with a street-child playing a handmade one-string guitar.

Last year they toured Europe to rave reviews.

“One day we will be the most famous disabled men in all of Africa,” says one of the players in the film.

The two film-makers, whose movie won roaring applause at Cannes, happened on the musicians by chance, introduced the street-child to the group, and then helped them find support to record a first album.

It was shot over several years and cut from 600 hours of film.

Coming to Cannes from Africa on Tuesday is Life, After All by South African Oliver Schmitz, set in a dust-ridden village outside Johannesburg.

Schmitz has directed 11 films since 1988, including Mapantsula which also screened in the Un Certain Regardsection in 1988 and Hijack Stories in 2000. — AFP

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