The 13th edition of the Chicago African Diaspora Film Festival—"an eclectic mix of foreign, independent, classic and urban films representing the global black experience"—runs all week at Facets Cinematheque. Following are reviews of selected films; for a full schedule see facets.org.
Ken Bugul: Nobody Wants Her Senegalese author Ken Bugul proves to be an engaging presence in this 2013 French documentary, discussing her upbringing in a village where polygamy was the norm and her experiences bouncing around Europe before she returned to the village poor and virtually homeless. Her acclaimed debut novel, The Abandoned Baobab (1982), was written around that time, and excerpts from that book and some of her others are read in portentous voice-over as director Silvia Voser presents neorealist footage of destitute villagers and ultrawide panoramas of Dakar and Thièls. These sequences stress the already obvious point that Bogul's prose is rooted in her homeland, and they eat up a good portion of the hour-long running time, precluding much sense of her supposed global influence. In French with subtitles. —Drew Hunt 62 min. Wed 6/17, 6:30 PM.
Njinga, Queen of Angola An eye-opening history lesson, this 2013 Portuguese feature dramatizes major episodes in the life of the title princess and military leader, who checked the encroachment of European imperialists in southwest Africa for several decades in the 17th century. Njinga was not only a fierce warrior but also a shrewd diplomat, negotiating treaties with the Portuguese colonial government to maintain independence for her people and recruiting spies to report on impending changes to imperial policy. The facts of her biography are so extraordinary that I didn't mind the pedestrian filmmaking, which reminded me of educational TV specials. Sérgio Graciano directed a script by Joana Jorge. In Portuguese with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 114 min. Sun 6/14, 2 PM, and Tue 6/16, 6:30 PM.
Noir Shot in Montreal, this ensemble drama is surprisingly languid for a movie about ghetto life. Director Yves Christian Fournier moves fluidly between multiple subplots and frequently interrupts the action with short slow-motion sequences set to chamber music and avant-garde jazz, yet the dreamy stylization never distracts from the stinging community portrait. The film often recalls the first season of HBO's The Wire in its sociological view of gang activity, charting the hierarchies within criminal organizations and the tensions that form between gang members and neighboring civilians. Fournier and writer Jean-Hervé Désiré are also sensitive to the interactions between Montreal's Haitian and Algerian immigrant communities, and their emphasis on interracial relations helps to distinguish the movie from similar gangland dramas. In French with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 110 min. Screening on Friday as part of the opening-night program, with a reception at 7:30 PM; tickets are $15. Actor Kemy St-Eloi attends both screenings. Fri 6/12, 8:30 PM, and Sat 6/13, 3:30 PM.
La Pirogue In this 2013 drama, 30 men and a lone female stowaway, ditching their destitute lives in West Africa, embark on a perilous ocean journey from Senegal to Spain. Director Moussa Touré depicts the travelers broadly yet vividly, the sense of danger and adventure seemingly derived from Alfred Hitchcock's Lifeboat (1944). But the sociocultural aspects hew closer to the work of the influential Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène, whose embattled worldview is evident in the protagonist's conflicted desire to set sail for greener pastures and his almost perverse sense of obligation to a town and a life that have nothing to offer him. Dry humor alleviates the feeling of helplessness, whereas the actors, most of them amateurs, authenticate the story's real-world implications. In French, Wolof, and Spanish with subtitles. —Drew Hunt 86 min. Sat 6/13, 1:30 PM.
Reshipment Untold thousands of Haitians traveled to Cuba in the early 20th century to find work; this hour-long documentary chronicles their mass immigration and its subsequent impact on Cuban culture. Director Gloria Rolando cuts between interviews with historians and the children and grandchildren of immigrants, striking a nice balance between the personal and the societal and giving the history lesson a strong melancholy undercurrent. Whereas many immigrants were deemed unfit to work and repatriated, Rolando states that many others were unable to return home for political reasons. Those who stayed passed on feelings of homesickness to their offspring, feelings that remain central to Cuba's Haitian community today. In French and Spanish with subtitles. —Ben Sachs 60 min. A reception precedes the screening, at 7:30 PM. Sat 6/13, 8:30 PM. v