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10 avril 2008

Africa unite

Zanzibar's legendary Bi Kidude in As Old as My Tongue

Vues d'Afrique film festival showcases a continent in crisis

Africans have long complained the only images the West sees of Africa are those of drought, famine, poverty, AIDS and civil war. Well, don't expect Montreal's 24th annual Vues d'Afrique film festival to change that view much.

Even the opening film, Délice Paloma, written and directed by acclaimed Algerian filmmaker Nadir Moknèche, isn't your typical feel-good movie. Délice Paloma, which shocked audiences in conservative Algeria last year, is a flick about scams, con artists, sex workers and homosexuality in modern-day Algiers starring national treasure Biyouna as a whore called Madame Aldjeria (Algeria), whose newest recruit, Paloma, is dubbed "Délice" (Sweet).

Another much-anticipated film, the Rwanda-Korea-American co-production Munyurangabo, tells the story of two friends in post-genocide Kigali, one a Hutu, the other a Tutsi, and their falling out over tribal lines when the going gets tough. My problem with this plodding film by first-time feature film director Lee Isaac Chung is that the 35mm film is way too grainy, too slow and 20 minutes too long.

Music lovers will adore the hour-long British documentary As Old as My Tongue about legendary Zanzibari singer Bi Kidude, who continued singing into her 90s against the widespread wishes of Muslim conservatives in her native Zanzibar. The camera follows the dirt-poor Kidude as she tours Western Europe, winding down with her appearance at Peter Gabriel's WOMAD Festival in London. A remarkable film about a remarkable woman.

The NFB also figures prominently at the fest, notably Ottawa-born director Dana Inkster's terrific doc Twenty-Four Days in Brooks, about the split among whites and visible-minority immigrants striking at Alberta's Lakeside Packers, one of the largest slaughterhouses in the world.

My hands-down favourite film at the fest this year is the awesome NFB doc Dieu a-t-il quitte l'Afrique? about five young Senegalese men desperately hoping to find work in Europe, but unable to escape Africa. Directed by Musa Diengi Kala, who used to run Youssou N'Dour's Dakar recording studio, this is a beautifully shot, tightly wound, riveting work with a superb soundtrack that attacks not just the pillaging West, but African leaders for their abdication of duty. This is a film that will stay with you long after the cinema lights go up.

Overall, this year's edition of Vues d'Afrique is a steady-as-she-goes edition, although it'd be great to see more English-language films and the introduction of a bilingual festival program guide. Maybe next year.

Vues d'Afrique
At various theatres in Montreal, April 10 to 20

Richard Burnett

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