Preview: The African Diaspora Film Festival

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  • The African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) opens it 27th year with a powerful historical drama: Sergio Giral’s Maluala (1979, Cuba), which tells the story of a community formed by enslaved people after escaping their Spanish oppressors.

    In the words of film journalist Ashley Clark, “Maluala is a rousing and intelligent watch,” a film that “expands upon the little-known stories of those who were able to resist, escape their bondage, and form communities that became crucial hives of resistance.”

    Widening the audience for “little known stories of those who were able to resist” is certainly one effect of ADIFF, which brings cinema from filmmakers African and of African descent to a huge audience, in one of the world’s most cinematic cities.

    Married couple Reinaldo Barroso-Spech and Diarah N’Daw-Spech started the festival in 1993, believing that “film is the truest medium for creating a fertile ground for education.” To that end,  ADIFF introduces audiences to filmmakers and films from across the world—or, in the Festival’s own words, to “works that cannot be found in other festivals.”

    This year’s 60 selections span multiple continents, eras and genres. There are political thrillers, such as the North American premiere of The Republic of the Corrupt (2018, Burkina Faso), in which a young journalist dares to investigate a ruthless politician. There’s even an animated feature: Kirikou And The Sorceress (1998, France), in which a young boy must free his village from a terrible curse.

    Some films offer glimpses into cultures vibrant and alive. The 22-minute documentary Blackn3ss (2018, Brazil), directed by Diego Paulino, is a colorful, Afro-futurist look at Black, queer youth in São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city. Yoruba Richen’s The New Black (2013, USA) offers a look into Maryland’s own Black and queer community through the lens of the gay marriage movement.

    The festival’s educational roots are represented explicitly in films like Filling the Gap (2010, USA). This docu-drama, directed by Tyrone Young, was “conceived as an effort to alter the way African-American children see themselves and their ancestors.” It tells the stories of Black craftsmen, artists and even Union spies in the antebellum United States. Meanwhile, films like Aboliçao (1988, Brazil) relate the racial struggles that continue to haunt Black communities in the modern world.

    Several films focus on notable personalities, both famous and lesser known. Two musical documentaries— Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019, USA) and Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba (2011, South Africa)—promise to be crowdpleasers. And at least one biopic will make its world premiere here: A Lady Doctor (2019, USA) tells the story of Juanita Jenyons, a Dominican-born Ivy League graduate and medical doctor.

    The festival runs from November 29 through December 15. Passes are available for film buffs seeking multiple viewings. Day passes are also available for two special packages: one of LGBTQ+ screenings, and another offering a “Spotlight on Brazil.”

    If you are looking for a hotel in NYC, check New York Hotels. A hotel in Morningside Heights or Harlem would likely serve you well, as two of this year’s screening venues are located in the area: MIST Harlem on W 116th St and the Teachers College at Columbia University on W 120th St. (The latter shows a good chunk of this year’s selections.) Films will also be screened at Cinema Village on E 12th St, in the West Village, about a 30-40 minute subway ride from Harlem. Check the festival’s official website for a full schedule.

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