African cinema: the five best political films
Magnus Taylor picks his favourites from the upcoming Film Africa festival in London – from a pro-democracy struggle to a city battling religious extremists
In the dunes not far from Timbuktu, recently captured by militant jihadists, Kidane lives peacefully with his wife Satima, his daughter Toya, and shepherd, Issan. Residents in the culturally rich city are suffering: music, laughter, cigarettes and football have been banned and women are being chastised for not wearing the veil.
Back in the dunes, an incident brings Kidane into the heart of the historic city and its new brutal regime. Through its interrelated characters Timbuktu condemns intolerance and challenges the oppression from fundamentalist extremism. With stunning cinematography throughout, the film confirms Abderrahmane Sissako’s status as a true humanist of contemporary cinema.
Joanna Lipper’s documentary traces the evolution of Nigeria’s pro-democracy movement and the effort to increase the number of women in leadership roles. It combines daring reporting with behind the scenes access and dramatic archive footage through some of the country’s most unstable periods. A fascinating history lesson of a nation still struggling to emerge from military rule.
The film follows Hafsat Abiola, a human rights activist whose past is inextricably linked to her homeland: her father Moshood Abiola was the presumed winner of the 1993 presidential elections, which were annulled by the military, and her mother Kudirat Abiola was assassinated in Lagos in 1993. Abiola is committed to the fight to transform a corrupt culture of governance into a democracy capable of serving Nigeria’s most marginalised population: women.
Virgin Margarida (Virgem Margarida)
Set in Mozambique in 1975 in the immediate aftermath of the war of independence, Licinio Azeved’s Virgin Margarida is a thought-provoking story.
A group of female sex workers are captured by revolutionary soldiers and sent deep into the countryside to be “re-educated”. Maria João is the officer in charge, she has idealistic notions, and is perfectly willing to subject her prisoners to torture. In spite of their suffering, members of the imprisoned group take it upon themselves to look out for Margarida, a 16-year-old girl who stands falsely accused of prostitution.
Rwanda’s 1994 genocide: neighbours killed neighbours and friends betrayed friends, but some crossed lines of hatred in order to protect each other. Alrick Brown’s film pulls together six interlocking tales into one grand narrative: a young Tutsi woman and a young Hutu man fall in love, a soldier struggles to foster a greater good while absent from his family and a priest grapples with his faith in the face of unspeakable horror.
Kinyarwanda presents a complex and complete depiction of the human resilience and the struggle for humanity during genocide – paying homage to many with the voices of few.
Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa
Abby Ginzberg finally brings the inspiring story of Albie Sachs – lawyer, writer, art lover and freedom fighter – to the big screen. An emotive film that recognises the power and endurance of the human spirit at its best.
Set against the dramatic events that led to the overthrow of South Africa’s apartheid regime, the comprehensive documentary highlights the brave sacrifices made by Sachs and other key members in the struggle for freedom. A testament to the integrity of the fight for a new South Africa and world peace.
The Film Africa festival takes place in London from 31 October to 9 November