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Chad's Haroun, US's Penn among directors bringing African issues to Cannes

media A still from Lokoza by Zee Ntuli and Isabelle Mayor Quinzaine des Réalisateurs

No African director’s films made it into the Golden Palm competition at the Cannes Film Festival this year. However, African film is still on the Cannes map.

Besides films on or about Africa promoted by companies in the biggest movie market in the world, several films telling African stories rise above the rest and feature in the Cannes Film Festival selection.

These chosen few, unlike the films which are seen exclusively by professionals in the market, première at the festival.


Two documentaries are among them.

One is timely. It premièred on Monday and is the work of Cannes prizewinner Chad Mahamet-Saleh Haroun (Gris-Gris, 2013). The documentary is called Hissein Habré: A Chadian Tragedy.

Haroun gives voice to survivors who suffered persecution during Habré’s dictatorship before he was arrested in 2013. He says he started researching the experiences of victims in 2011 and his arrest sparked the writing of the film.

"It’s a part of the history of Chad, and as I am, not the only one, but the best-known filmmaker from Chad it was my duty to make this film," he declared.

Franco-US writer Jonathan Littell’s debut as a filmmaker was appreciated by movie reviewers for, not least of all, managing to avoid sensationalising Wrong Elements, about the life of former child soldiers.

US director Sean Penn’s film The Last Face will screen on Friday 20 May in competition. It’s a story of passion between two aid workers (Charlize Theron and Javier Bardem), set against the background of war in Liberia.

Quinzaine des Réalisateurs

Yet another region of Africa is in focus in the Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Director’s Fortnight) programme: South Africa. For its fourth year the cross-cultural Factory pairs four South African directors with four directors from other parts of the world.

The four South Africans are Sheetal Magan, Zamo Mkhwanazi, Samantha Nell and Zee Ntuli. Their Latin American partners are Alejandro Fadel and Martin Morgenfeld, Argentina, Michael Wahrman from Brazil and from Europe, Switzerland, Isabelle Mayor.

The four short films were made in a tight time-frame during a workshop in South Africa.

Lokoza by Mayor and Ntuli appears sparse and straightforward, realistic, but is rich with symbols placing a close friendship full of hope between a boy and girl, and also between the boy and his scarred father, in the shadow of a photogenic oil refinery, by the sea.

Paraya by Magan and Morgenfeld follows a young woman with a baby as she tries to find the father of the child who has disappeared. It seems he is an immigrant and may have been deported, or possibly bumped off.

The Beast
by Nell and Wahrman is clever and ostensibly preposterous but very serious. It is well-paced cinema satire set in an ethnic village for tourists with a satisfying twist.

Gallo Rosso
(Red Cockerel) by Mkhwanazi and Fadel applies cinema technique and the absurd to evoke a dream or nightmare using theatrical characters, local décor and lighting. An accomplished short film with a dramatic aesthetic.

They are quite distinct from each other, reflect the encounter of two cultures in a South African context. As Mayor put it "I don’t think in terms of nationality or borders." Ntuli’s father went into exile during apartheid in South Africa, and Ntuli, whose mother is British and white, lived in England until he was six. His capacity to go beyond cultural limits may be a result of this, he said,"I don’t think I can describe myself exactly as rooted!"

These interesting short films will be screened in Paris in June as part of the Director’s Fortnight’s annual programme rerun for a different audience in the capital.

To read more articles on Cannes 2016, click here.

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