Culturing through eye opening films

Vanessa Marcano

From exotic lands deep in the heart of the continent that gave birth to humanity, the SDSU Film Society brings three unique viewpoints about the horrors of war, the power of reconciliation and the impact of modern technology, through its upcoming African Cinema Mini-Fest.

The three-week movie gala, running from March 3 to March 24, will center on shedding light upon some of the current issues and successes experienced in Africa today, via the eyes of emerging African filmmakers. All screenings are on Tuesdays at 7 p.m., free of charge at the South Dakota Art Museum.

According to a publicity poster from the SDSU Film Society, the kick off of the festival is Ezra, an emotional account about the ongoing abduction and slaughter of child soldiers, directed by Nigeria’s Newton I. Aduaka.

Forgiveness, by South African director Ian Gabriel, promises to engage the senses and stimulate perceptions through its original use of imagery to capture the essence of time, truth and reconciliation.

The Mini-Fest will close its cycle with a non-fiction feature, the Congolese documentary [email protected] Directed by Balufu Balupa-Kanyinda, this work highlights the technological advances happening in the African continent, as well as their effect on education, communication and fashion.

Opening minds through film

Jeff Heinle, associate professor of journalism and mass communication and Film Society faculty adviser, said one of the main goals of this semester’s African Mini-Fest is exposing students to diverse ways of story-telling through different audiovisual aesthetics.

“This will be an opportunity for many to see films from Africa, to catch a glimpse of some of the many countries and cultures in that continent,” Heinle said.

Heinle believes that one of the challenges is trying to get people to attend these films, especially because there is not much interest in international movies.

“This limits people’s exposure to alternative stories and points of view,” he said, adding that events like the Mini-Fest are particularly important since they offer an indirect channel to interact, learn about and become more engaged with other cultures in the world.

“At first, some may not like it or won’t think it’s as technically polished as Hollywood because other countries do not spend much on special effects,” Heinle said, “but one must keep in mind that at times, it is just about a different way of visualizing the world and not simple lack of economic resources.”

Heinle said that the mission of the SDSU Film Society is to bring global films that would otherwise be unavailable in Brookings. Last semester, SDSU had the chance to see the highly acclaimed French-Iranian film, Persepolis. In an effort to expand variety, the Society has decided to bring more features from Africa for Spring 2009.

After the films are purchased and publicly screened, the Film Society donates them to the Brookings Public Library, where they are available for anyone to see.

The African film series will continue through the fall semester, with two more features: This is Nollywood, a documentary about the booming film industry in Nigeria, and Africa Dreaming, a continent-wide collaboration of short films seeking to consolidate Africa’s plethora of voices and thoughts on different themes.

Art and academia

Kyle Beck, a senior media production major and president of the SDSU Film Society, said that when selecting films for the series, they try to pick those that could complement learning in the classroom.

“Sometimes, professors will tell students to attend our screenings for a chance to obtain extra credit in their classes,” he said. “That was the case for some of the features we showed this month during the Year of Science events.”

Both Beck and Heinle said this academic support is also a goal for the upcoming festival.

Regarding the individual films for the African Mini-Fest, Beck said he was very excited to see the festival’s sole documentary feature, [email protected]

“It seems very interesting because it is about people in Africa taking cameras to document their lives and experiences with technology,” he said.

Both Beck and Heinle invite students to get more involved with the SDSU Film Society, whether through direct participation at meetings and events, or simply by giving suggestions as to what types of films they would enjoy seeing.

“The Film Society is not just for media majors; student suggestions drive what movies are selected, and we would be able to put up a fuller program each semester,” Heinle said.

The SDSU Film Society meets on Mondays at 4 p.m. in Room 208 of Yeager Hall. To get involved, contact Beck at [email protected] or Heinle at [email protected]

Ezra

According to UNICEF, more than 300,000 children are exploited in armed conflicts around the globe, especially in Africa and Asia. Irregular militia, government forces or rebel groups kidnap these youngsters, forcing them to become soldiers through brutal training, drug use and brainwashing.

Hundreds of these children – some as young as 7 – are killed or wounded in combat; many are forced into terrorizing their own families and villages in perpetual civil wars.

Ezra is the first film to give an African perspective regarding this ongoing scourge, following the abduction and training of a young child soldier. The film also addresses the issue of corruption, poverty and the controversial role of the diamond trade in the prevalence of this phenomenon.

The work of Nigerian filmmaker Aduaka, Ezra was the winner of the Grand Prize at the 2007 Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, the largest film festival in the region.