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Best recent African films to be shown during U. of I.-sponsored festival

Melissa Mitchell, Arts Editor
217-333-5491; melissa@illinois.edu

filmstrip
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2/4/2008

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Champaign-Urbana audiences will have a rare opportunity to screen a half dozen of the best films originating from the African continent in the past few years.

Organized by the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois with support from several campus units, the weeklong African Film Festival will take place Feb. 22-28 at the Beverly 18 Carmike Cinemas, 910 Meijer Drive, Champaign. Films will be screened on a rotating basis throughout the festival. Three will be shown, beginning at 7 p.m., on the opening day. After that, several films will run continuously each day, beginning at noon. Admission is $5, with tickets available at the theater box office prior to each showing.

“There are a lot of foreign film festivals that take place in town, but except for an occasional screening of an African film at a conference or at Ebertfest, nothing like this has happened in this community since I have been teaching here,” said festival coordinator and U. of I. anthropology professor Mahir Saul. “When I arrived in 1982, not many people knew about African cinema,” said the professor, who teaches a course on African film and organized a conference on African cinema last fall.

“In Africa, there are 54 countries – all very diverse. There is a lot of filmmaking in Africa – from avant-garde art films to widely distributed, cheap, popular videos.” Nigeria, he noted, is home to the third largest film industry in the world.

Saul said the films on the festival program “are not that obscure. They are ambitious movies that have won a lot of prizes.”

Despite receiving top honors at some of most prestigious international film festivals, however, “these movies don’t usually come to our town.”

And some, Saul said, such as the 2005 sci-fi thriller “Les Saignantes” by Cameroon’s maverick experimental filmmaker Jean-Pierre Bekelo, “haven’t been seen that much in the United States.” Saul procured the festival copy from the director.

In addition to “Les Saignantes,” the festival will feature the 2007 Lumiere Award-winning drama “Bamako”; “Ezra,” grand prizewinner at the 2007 Festival Panafricain du Cinéma de Ouagadougou (FESPACO) and an International Critics Week selection at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Also, from Angola, “O’Heroi” (The Hero), the 2005 grand prizewinner in the world drama competition at the Sundance Film Festival; “Tasuma,” a 2003 comedy from Burkina Faso that received the Bronze Stallion of Yenenga Award at FESPACO 2005; and the animated children’s film “Kirikou & the Sorceress,” a hit when it was released in 1998, and grand prizewinner at the International Festival of Animated Film.

Film rotations and screening times:

Feb. 22: “Tasuma,” 7 p.m.; “Bamako,” 9 p.m.; “Les Saignantes,” 11:15 p.m.

Feb. 23: “Bamako,” noon; “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” 2:30 p.m.; “Ezra,” 4:45 p.m.; “Les Saignantes,” 7 p.m.; “O’Heroi,” 9 p.m.; “Tasuma,” 11:15 p.m.

Feb. 24: “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” noon; “Bamako,” 2:30 p.m.; “Les Saignantes,” 4:45 p.m.; “O’Heroi,” 7 p.m.; “Ezra, ” 9 p.m.

Feb. 25: “Tasuma,” noon; “Ezra,” 2:30 p.m., “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” 4:45 p.m.; “Les Saignantes,” 7 p.m.; “Bamako,” 9 p.m.

Feb. 26: “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” noon; “Bamako,” 2:30 p.m.; “Ezra,” 4:45 p.m.; “O’Heroi,” 7 p.m.; “Tasuma,” 9 p.m.

Feb. 27: “Bamako,” noon; “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” 2:30 p.m.; “Tasuma,” 4:45 p.m.; “Les Saignantes,” 7 p.m.; “O’Heroi,” 9 p.m.

Feb. 28: “Kirikou and the Sorceress,” noon; “Ezra,” 2:30 p.m.; “O’Heroi,” 4:45 p.m.; “Tasuma,” 7 p.m.; “Bamako,” 9 p.m.

More information about the festival is available online at www.afrst.uiuc.edu.