Film festival brings authentic African stories to Washington University March 22-24

Eighth annual African Film Festival features award-winning films, youth matinee

​The eighth annual African Film Festival at Washington University in St. Louis will feature award-winning African films and filmmakers March 22-24.

The festival will present 10 films over three days. All showings, which are free and open to the public, take place in Brown Hall, Room 100, on the university’s Danforth Campus.

Short films, followed by feature films, will be shown nightly at 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday, March 22-24. A youth matinee — featuring four short films — takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 23.

The directors of two of the films will participate in question-and-answer sessions after the screenings of their respective films.

“There is no other film event like this one in St. Louis, and year
after year, this festival offers us the privilege of experiencing the
cinematic artistry of filmmakers from across Africa,” said Gaylyn
Studlar, PhD, the David May Distinguished Professor in the Humanities
and director of the Program in Film and Media Studies in Arts &

This film festival is unique because it presents authentic African stories and helps dispel stereotypes about Africa, said Arts & Sciences senior Lamley A. Lawson, president of WUSTL’s African Students Association.

“The African Film Festival provides an invaluable opportunity for the St. Louis community to be exposed to African stories as told by Africans,” Lawson said. “These films are means by which African filmmakers reassert ownership of their own narratives, providing a foil to the often one-dimensional viewpoints popularized by Western society.

“Washington University is incredibly lucky to get this opportunity every year — and at no charge to the audience!”


Wilmetta Toliver-Diallo, PhD, the event’s founding coordinator, said the festival has struck a chord with St. Louis audiences from the beginning.

“The first year we started the festival, people thought it was a great idea, but they told me not to expect more than 40 people — they thought that was a target,” said Toliver-Diallo, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and senior lecturer in African & African-American studies in Arts & Sciences.

“So I was very surprised that first year when we averaged 200 people each evening and had standing room only on Saturday. Since then, our audience continues to grow every year. It shows that people want to see independent films, and they want to see films from other cultures.”

Evolving while growing

Toliver-Diallo says the festival is constantly evolving while it grows.

“The basic format has stayed four shorts and four features. However, in the fifth year, we started a matinee and in the sixth year we made the matinee a youth program with animated films,” she said.

The Saint Louis Art Museum has become a partner, providing more than 200 crafts each year for the youth matinee participants. The crafts are related to themes of the matinee films.

“Because of grants from the Missouri Arts Council and Women’s Society of Washington University, we have been able to bring filmmakers who have grown the festival as well.

“I also think about the changing nature of filmmaking since we started,” she said. “I remember in our second year, we had a filmmaker carrying the only copy of his [35 mm] film that he owned. Now, there are digital films, which have opened the market for younger filmmakers.

Films in this festival — past and present — have won international awards, including prizes in the Cannes Film Festival and the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, which is the largest and oldest film festival on the African continent, Toliver-Diallo said.

One of this year’s films, Nairobi Half Life, was Kenya’s official submission to the best foreign language category for the 2013 Oscars, she said.

Toliver-Diallo is particularly excited about the youth matinee, which will feature the latest in African animated shorts from Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.

The Lioness of Lisabi, a short narrative film about Nigerian women’s rights activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, who is the mother of musician Fela Kuti, will follow the animated shorts.

Stephanie Shonekan, the director of Lioness of Lisabi, will participate in a question-and-answer session with the audience after the screening of her film.

Film festival campus sponsors include African and African-American Studies and Film and Media Studies, both in Arts & Sciences; the African Students Association; and the African Students of Social Work Association.

Additional support is provided by the Women’s Society of Washington University, the Missouri Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Saint Louis Art Museum.

Friday’s films are co-presented with the Senegalese Association of Saint Louis and Saturday’s films are co-presented with the St. Louis Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

For more information, call (314) 935-7879, email or visit

Brown Hall is located near the intersection of Forsyth Boulevard and Chaplin Drive.

African Film Festival lineup

7 p.m. Friday, March 22
Farewell Exile (Salam Ghourba)
In a neighborhood of Casablanca, Morocco, Fatima waits impatiently for news from her husband in exile. Will she finally receive the immigration papers that will potentially secure a brighter future for her and her son, Mohammed? (Best Short, Women’s Independent Film Festival, 2012; Best Arab Movie Award, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, 2012)

La Pirogue (Goor Fitt)
A group of 30 men sail to Europe in a pirogue, facing the sea and the possibility of never reaching their ­destination, in exchange for the myth of a better life in Europe. (Cannes, Un Certain Regard, 2012; Audience Award, Carthage Film Festival, 2012)

The African Students of Social Work Association will lead a panel discussion following the screening.

1 p.m. Saturday, March 23
Best in African Animation
Award-winning animated shorts from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, including an adaptation of a Masai folktale and a celebration of a time when kids were kids.

Lioness of Lisabi
This short film is a coming-of-age story about an African girl whose struggles with identity and patriarchy lead her to the pivotal moment when she must publicly choose the path to her future. Set in 1940s Nigeria, this story is inspired by the life of women’s activist Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the mother of musician Fela Kuti. (Winner, Best Live Action Short, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, 2009; Jury Award, Women of African Descent Film Festival in New York, 2009)

There is a question-and-answer session with the director, Stephanie Shonekan, after the screening.

7 p.m. Saturday, March 23
Maffe Tiga
This romantic dramedy is about a young African woman who finds that love is the connection between her heritage and her future. After struggling to make ends meet and relationship troubles, a letter from her grandmother reveals that generations of women in her family have faced similar challenges.

Man on Ground
A bold portrayal of rising xenophobia in South Africa, the film is the story of a young Nigerian man ­living in the African refugee tenements of Johannesburg who disappears as the animosity against immigrants flares into rioting. In the span of a single night, his brother, on a short visit from London, tries to shed light on the mystery. (Best Director, African Audio Visual Awards (TAVAs), 2012; Best Supporting Actor, Africa Movie Academy Awards, 2012)

Mohamed Dione, the director of Maffe Tiga, will participate in a question-and-answer session following the screening. A reception will follow the Q&A.

7 p.m. Sunday, March 24
100 Bucks
The film is an immersion into the Namibian capital of Windhoek through the progress of a piece of ­currency. What would you risk for the love of money? Parental advisory because of strong language.

Nairobi Half Life
A young, aspiring actor from upcountry Kenya dreams of becoming a success in the big city. In pursuit of this, and to the chagrin of his brother and parents, he makes his way to Nairobi: the city of opportunity. (Best Actor Award, Durban International Film Festival, 2012; Best Feature Film, Kalasha Awards, 2012) Parental advisory because of strong language and some adult situations.