The Pride of Africa (Africa-Canada Film Festival)

Vues d’Afrique’s programming director sees the festival as a forum to discover or reconnect with the continent.

“I wanted all four corners, plus the centre, of Africa to be represented,” Gisèle Kayembe says. Photograph by: Marie-France Coallier , The Gazette

“I wanted all four corners, plus the centre, of Africa to be represented,” Gisèle Kayembe says.
Photograph by: Marie-France Coallier , The Gazette

By T’Cha Dunlevy, GAZETTE FILM CRITIC, The Gazette

MONTREAL – Gisèle Kayembe is being courted.

“Montreal is trying to seduce me. We’ll see if I fall amoureuse,” said the lively Congo native and — as of 2011 — U.S. resident who visited our city for the first time last spring to cover the Vues d’Afrique film festival.

“Radio Okapi, a UN radio station, asked me to open the event in Montreal,” she said. “There was a film by Thierry Michel, L’Affaire Chebeya, a documentary that had been banned in the Congo. Politicians were implicated in the death of a human rights activist. It was a delicate situation. Chebeya’s widow was present at the screening. I came as a journalist.”

Something must have clicked. By the end of the year, Kayembe was Vues d’Afrique’s programming director. The 29th edition of the festival runs Friday to May 5, boasting more than 100 films from 30 countries touching on various facets of the African experience.

“I really worked on the diversity (of the lineup),” Kayembe said. “It’s true that in previous years, other programmers did the same; but I really wanted people to see Africa’s diversity through the films — so that they don’t feel like it’s a festival for Maghreb, or Creole countries or Central African countries only. I wanted all four corners, plus the centre, of Africa to be represented.”

Mission accomplished. This year’s Vues d’Afrique takes a wide-angle look at life in Africa and the diaspora: from opening film Kinshasa Kids (in Lingala with French subtitles), Belgian director Marc-Henri Wajnberg’s tale of a bunch of Congolese street children who form a rap group; to Kedach Ethabni (Combien tu m’aimes, in Arabic with French subtitles), Algerian-French director Fatma Zohra Zamoum’s story of a boy who is sent to stay at his grandparents’s house after his parents fight; Flora Gomes’s La République des enfants (English with French subtitles), a Portuguese-French-Guinea-Bissau co-production about a fantasy country populated only by children, co-starring Danny Glover as a benevolent elder; Deported (Expulsés, in English, French and Creole with French subtitles), Rachèle Magloire and Chantal Regnault’s documentary on delinquent youth sent back to Haiti from Canada and the U.S.; Robert Mugabe … What Happened? (English with French subtitles), British filmmaker Simon Bright’s doc on the Zimbabwe leader’s reign; and Post-9-11: Peur, colère et politique (English with French subtitles), Quebecer Nadia Zouaoui’s look at how the U.S. Muslim community has been affected by the fallout from the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks.

Kayembe grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where she worked for seven years for Radio Okapi as a production assistant, programmer and producer, among other titles. In 2010, she was hired by the communications department of Coopérative Technique Belge, a Belgian development agency — her last job before moving to Atlanta. She’s also an actor who has worked for and participated in various theatre and music festivals. Vues d’Afrique is her first film fest. So far so good.

“It’s a new challenge,” she said. “Every day is exciting. There are many things to learn.”

The first thing she has learned — a little too well — is not to pick favourites. As we talked about the festival lineup, Kayembe wouldn’t choose highlights or even insinuate a preference for one film over another.

“I recommend all the films,” she said diplomatically. “And while it’s true that I have my coups de coeur, they’re all worth seeing — from documentaries to short films and fiction features.”

She did comment on a few films, with a little prodding and the disclaimer that “this is my point of view, not as programming director.”

Of Kinshasa Kids, which features rising Congolese actor Rachelle Mwanza (star of Quebec director Kim Nguyen’s Oscar-nominated Rebelle) in her first acting role, she said: “The message is very strong. It’s fiction-documentary. These kids are really from the street, so there’s not a lot of scripted scenes. He’s following their everyday life, and their will to do something with their lives.”

The reality of African children is one of the inadvertent themes of this year’s festival, with several films touching on the topic from different angles; others include Didier Mauro’s Écoles en Haïti (in French and Creole, with French subtitles); and Montrealer Catherine Mullins’s Rayons d’espoir (Rays of Hope, in English with French subtitles), the sequel to her 2005 film Orphans of AIDS.

Other themes include: political leaders (Christophe Cupelin’s Capitaine Thomas Sankara, in French; Thierry Michel’s Moïse Katumbi: foot, business et politique, in French; and Marie-Claude Dupont’s Demokarasi, in French and Kirundi with French subtitles); and the Arab Spring (Ibrahim El Batout’s Winter of Discontent, in Arabic with French subtitles; and Nadia El Fani and Alina Isabel Pérez’s Même pas mal, in French and Arabic with French subtitles).

Though Kayembe isn’t yet ready to call herself a Montrealer, she has committed to stick around for the festival’s 30th edition next year. She sees Vues d’Afrique as a vital link between her current home and her homeland.

“It’s important that Montrealers, and people who attend the festival, be aware of what’s happening, that they discover Africa and participate in the exchange, to understand how people live there.

“For African immigrants, it’s a way to reconnect; there’s a pride in it. Vues d’Afrique is the biggest, oldest festival of its kind in North America.”

Vues d’Afrique runs Friday to May 5 at Excentris, 3536 St. Laurent Blvd. (except Friday’s opening film, Kinshasa Kids, at the Imperial Theatre, 1432 Bleury St.). Tickets available at Excentris, from 12:30 to 9:30 p.m. Call 514-847-2206.

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Source: Montreal Gazette

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