WestConn celebrates a dozen years of African cinema at annual festival

DANBURY, CONN. — Award-winning films by contemporary directors will be featured from Wednesday, Feb. 6, through Friday, Feb. 29, during the 12th Annual African Film Festival at Western Connecticut State University. The four films featured this year — “Forgiveness,”  “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire,” “Witches in Exile” and “Umgig” — have earned an impressive array of honors, including human rights, audience and best film awards at notable international film festivals.

Presented as part of Black History Month activities at WestConn, the festival of African films will present a different title each week. Day and evening screenings will be in the Student Center Theater on the university’s Midtown campus, 181 White St. in Danbury, and will be free and open to the public. Professor of Anthropology Dr. Robert Whittemore, who coordinates the annual festival, will lead an open discussion following each screening.

Films scheduled during this year’s festival include:

  • Wednesday, Feb. 6, at noon and Friday, Feb. 8, at 7 p.m.: “Forgiveness” by director Ian Gabriel (a 2005 South African release in English and Afrikaans with English subtitles). South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission set out, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it, to “shut the door on the past — not to forget it — but to allow it not to imprison us.”  But will a former policeman, having confessed to the  torture and murder of an anti-apartheid activist and having been granted the TRC’s amnesty, find his guilt assuaged by the family who lost a precious son?  A moving and complex film about the struggle for reconciliation when truth-telling, for some, may seem but a bromide.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 13, at noon and Thursday, Feb. 14, at 7 p.m.: “Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Romeo Dallaire” by director Peter Raymont (a 2004 Canadian/Rwandan film in English). The commander of the U.N. Peacekeeping Force stationed in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide returns 10 years later, haunted by memories and moved to become a crusader for multilateral peace keeping.  Dallaire reminds us of the moral failure of the international community, ostensibly determined to never again witness such brutal human tragedy.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 20, at noon and Friday, Feb. 22, at 7 p.m.: “Witches in Exile” by director Allison Berg (a 2005 United States/Ghana film in Dagbani and English with English subtitles). No longer bearing children or performing heavy fieldwork, four elder “witches” take refuge in a village of northern Ghana, a shelter for the accused.  An explanatory framework for misfortune within families and villages, witchcraft remains a stigma that takes its toll on lives of those least able to recover from the “slings and arrows” over which they have no control.
  • Wednesday, Feb. 27, at noon and Friday, Feb. 29, at 7 p.m.: “Umgig” (Shadow Dancing) by directors Gillian Schutte and Sipho Singiswa (a 2004 South African film in English and Xhosa with English subtitles). Sipho’s wife, a white “outsider,” films his struggle as a former political prisoner of the infamous Robben Island, trying to help his younger brother Vuyo’s own despair consolidating his gay orientation with his self-doubts as an adopted son.  Sipho invokes cultural roots through ritual process, believing in their efficacy, even as Vuyo turns desperately to escape them. 

The African Film Festival is sponsored by the WestConn department of social sciences and supported by the WCSU Class of 1961 John Tufts Memorial Fund, the WCSU International Center, Office of Student Affairs, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Affirmative Action Programs.

For more information, call the WestConn Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.

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