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African Film Festival

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This traveling festival of contemporary African films and videos screens Saturday through Wednesday, November 20 through 24, at Facets Cinematheque. Tickets are $9, $5 for Facets members; for more information call 773-281-9075.

Cosmic Africa

The gifted young astrophysicist Thebe Medupe lived through South African apartheid as a child, learned self-confidence through fireside tales of his mythic forebears, and now dedicates himself to teaching students about the African origins of astronomy. This DV documentary (2002) by Craig Foster and Damon Foster follows the genial Medupe as he visits Namibia, Mali, and Egypt in search of ancient ruins and present-day shamans, hoping to prove that study of the heavens began in Africa. Breathtaking landscapes and colorful tribal rituals make for a fine travelogue, and although science often takes a backseat to folklore, a trip to the Saharan site of Nabta yields a rare look at megaliths that predate Stonehenge by a thousand years. In English and subtitled Ju/'hoan, Setswana, and Toro So. 72 min. (AG) (Wed 11/24, 7 PM)

Dirt for Dinner

Sam Meffire was born to an East German mother only hours after his Cameroonian father was murdered by whites in the German Democratic Republic. Neglected as a child, Meffire eventually found order and approval among the Dresden police and was hailed as a symbol of diversity in a nationwide ad campaign. But overnight celebrity fed the young man's emotional instability, and after quitting the force he drifted into a life of crime. This 2000 German documentary by Branwen Okpako of Nigeria probes the disconnect between ethnicity and ideology even as it traces the rise and fall of a narcissistic personality. In German with subtitles. 75 min. (AG) (Wed 11/24, 8:45 PM)

Madame Brouette

Senegalese writer-director Moussa Sene Absa (Tableau Ferraille) uses the murder of a police officer and the subsequent investigation to frame this uplifting 2002 feminist melodrama about a spunky divorcee who sells produce on the street (brouette is French for wheelbarrow) and saves other women from spousal abuse. When Absa uses passersby as a Greek chorus to further the tale in song, his film feels like a folk legend, but as the heroine tumbles from one mess into the next, she seems more like a hyperventilating Joan Crawford. In French with subtitles. 104 min. (TS) (Mon 11/22, 7 and 9 PM)

Short films

Three shorts by African women. From Burkina Faso, Apolline Traore's moving fable Kounandi (2003, Djioula with subtitles) explores the transformative power of sacrifice. A tribal chief orders a bickering, childless couple to mend their ways by adopting the title character, a newly orphaned infant. Kounandi (Deborah Coty) turns out to be a dwarf, mocked by her stepfather and some other villagers, and after her stepmother dies, she's abandoned. A handsome neighbor builds her a shelter, and she rewards him with daily cakes, but the return of his sickly wife, an uninspired cook, forces a showdown between the two women. Also on the program are two shorts in French with subtitles: For the Night by French-Ivorian filmmaker Isabelle Boni-Claverie and About Braids (2003) by Jacqueline Kalimunda of Rwanda. 92 min. (AG) (Tue 11/23, 7 and 9 PM)

Soldiers of the Rock

An economics student on holiday (Vuyo Dabula) signs on as a short-term digger for the South African gold mine where his father died in a rock fall. Most of his coworkers treat him with suspicion and mockery, but his financial skill helps him to forge an unlikely friendship with one of them, a former petty criminal who dreams of starting his own mine. Their plan meets resistance from another miner, a charismatic bully who adheres to tribal warrior rites but knuckles under to white imperialism. Aside from the mawkish final reel, this 2003 debut feature by Norman Maake is realistic and remarkably assured, its tight framing and dynamic composition reinforcing the tension and claustrophobia underground. In English and subtitled Tsosti Taal, Zulu, and Xhosa. 94 min. (AG) (Sat-Sun 11/20-11/21, 3 PM)

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