Growing up in rural Alaska, Chukwuma is caught between American friends and traditional Nigerian parents. But when a family tragedy sends life spiraling out of control, Chukwuma discovers that the best hope for salvation may be his estranged sister, Chidinma.
So begins “Alaskaland,” the debut feature from Chinonye Chukwu, a Nigerian-born director who was herself raised in Fairbanks. Later this month, “Alaskaland” will be one of eight films screened as part of Washington University in St. Louis’ annual African Film Festival.
Screenings begin at 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 28, 29 and 30. A special youth matinee will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday. On Sunday night, Chukwu will introduce “Alaskaland” and host a Q&A immediately afterward.
All events are free and open to the public and take place in Brown Hall, Room 100, on the university’s Danforth Campus.
Coming of age
Now in its ninth year, the African Film Festival is organized by Toliver-Diallo, PhD, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences and senior lecturer in African & African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences.
“Our festival’s development has advanced so much from its initial concept because it has been so well-received by our campus and St. Louis regional communities,” Toliver-Diallo said. “We continue to enjoy bringing diverse voices together to witness magic on screen and discuss it afterwards. This helps us to grow our audience.”
The 2014 festival is based on the theme “coming of age” — a term that applies both to the films’ subject matter and many of the creators.
“This year’s collection features filmmakers less established than those featured in previous years, but who have more formal training than the first generation of African filmmakers,” Toliver-Diallo said. “For this reason — and with advances in the digitization of the industry — audiences will see the continued evolution of the film industry in the vast continent and can make comparisons regionally.
“I am most excited about ‘Aya of Yop City’ (Ivory Coast) and ‘Tey’ (Senegal),” added Toliver-Diallo. “They are both very different films. ‘Tey’ swept the awards [at the Pan African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou, or FESPACO] for direction, best picture, and best actor. It is great to see Saul Williams, of slam poetry fame, back on screen and very compelling as a Senegalese man who returns home to spend his last day on earth.
“’Aya’ is an animated film — though not for very young audiences — that really captures Ivorian pop culture in the 1970s, but makes a statement to young women on the importance of independence when making life choices, especially as your peers might be doing otherwise.”
The festival is sponsored by WUSTL’s African and African-American Studies program and its Film and Media Studies program, both in Arts & Sciences; the African Students Association; and the Brown School African Students Association, which will lead a post-show discussion each evening.
Additional funding is provided by a grant from the Women’s Society of Washington University and by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.
“The film festival allows for a different type of reflection and perspective on the African continent,” said Caleb Edwards, president of the African Students Association. “The films are crafted with firsthand experiences in order to give a glimpse on how Africans interpret and respond to the stories/events of the continent that we only get to know about secondhand.”
Other supporters include the Saint Louis Art Museum, which will provide thematically related crafts to attendees at the youth matinee. The Saint Louis Metropolitan Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and Saint Louis Missouri-Senegal Sister Cities will sponsor a reception Saturday evening, following the screening of “Tey.”
Schedule of events
7 p.m. Friday, March 28
Sunny King, Nigeria/U.K., 2013, 10 minutes
Two days before Lola’s dream wedding, her maid of honour stumbles on a secret that could change all of their lives forever. Unspoken is a story of commitment to love and friendship in the face of societal taboos we dare not confront.
- Official Selection, Pan African Film Festival, 2014
“Aya of Yop City“
Marguerite Abouet, Ivory Coast/France, 2013, 85 minutes
(French with English subtitles)
Against the colorful and spirited backdrop of the Ivory Coast in the 1970s, “Aya” is a vibrant, beautifully animated film. From teen romance to parental tribulations, a rare glimpse into African daily lives, set to the funky sounds of a groovy soundtrack.
1 p.m. Saturday, March 29
“Money Tree” and “Imprint“
Hawanatu Bangura, Sierra Leone/Australia, 2011, 7 minutes, and 2013, 4 minutes, respectively (In English)
“Money Tree” is a short animated film about a young boy who wants to become rich by planting a stolen coin. “Imprint” examines the significance of passing down a dance tradition from one generation to the next.
Roberta Durrant, South Africa, 2013, 97 minutes
Thirteen-year-old Felix Xaba dreams of becoming a saxophonist like his late father, but his mother thinks jazz is the devil’s music. When Felix takes a scholarship at an elitist private school, he defies his mother and turns to two aging members of his father’s old band to help him prepare for the school jazz concert.
- Best Director, African International Film Festival, 2013
- Audience Award, Durban International Film Festival, 2013
7 p.m. Saturday, March 29
Frances Bodomo, Ghana/U.S., 2013, 13 minutes
An African family, lost in America, travels to a Louisiana church to find a cure for their troubled child.
- Nomination, Best Short, Sundance, 2013
- Nomination, Best Short, Edinburgh International Film Festival, 2013
Alain Gomis, Senegal/France, 2012, 86 minutes
(In Wolof with English subtitles)
What would you do if you knew today was your last day on earth? A joyous, impressionistic celebration of life and death, “Tey” follows Satché from the moment he wakes, with full knowledge of his imminent passing. Satché reminisces about his friends and family, reflecting on the choices he has made and their consequences.
- Special Jury Prize, Narrative Feature, River Run International Film Festival, 2013
- Golden Stallion, Best Film, FESPACO, 2013
- Best Actor, FESPACO, 2013
7 p.m. Sunday, March 30
“Faisal Goes West“
Bentley Brown, Sudan/U.S., 2013, 34 minutes
(In English and Arabic with English subtitles)
Faisal and his family come to America in search of a better life. Unfortunately, they have to battle an economic crisis along with cultural and linguistic barriers. Faisal realizes he is not prepared for his dream of attending an American university, and he begins looking for work. His friend promises to find Faisal a job. After a journey by bus and train, the two arrive at a chicken farm. Only through trials and hardship can Faisal learn the tough lessons necessary to gain ground in his new homeland.
- Best Original Narrative Short, Worldfest Houston International Film Festival, 2013
- Official Selection, London Short Film Festival, 2013
Chinonye Chukwu, Nigeria/U.S., 2012, 75 minutes
“Alaskaland” tells the story of Chukwuma, an Alaska-raised Nigerian struggling to balance his cultural heritage with the pressures of the world around him. After a family tragedy forces a two-year estrangement from his younger sister, Chidinma, the siblings reconnect in their hometown. Although their time apart has created new frictions, they find their reconciliation bringing them closer to each other and to their roots in this gorgeous debut film.
- Official Selection, Chicago International Film Festival, 2012
- Q&A with filmmaker Chinonye Chukwu following the film