African Stories at Cannes Film Festival 2023 (Predictions)

(Header photo is from SMALL GODS courtesy of Scala Productions)

The time has come for speculation to begin about what to expect from the line-up of one of the most prestigious (“Big Five”) film festivals in the world, the Cannes Film Festival, which will be celebrating its 76th edition this year, running from May 16-27, 2023.

The festival typically kicks off its lineup announcements in early April, about a month after the submission process officially closes (March 17 this year).

Heading into the final rush, here’s a list of feature titles telling African stories from around the world (and not exclusively directed by African filmmakers) that Akoroko speculates could claim slots in either the festival’s Official Selection or one of the sidebar sections.

Note: the list will be updated as new information surfaces (tips can be sent to


LE RETOUR: Aissatou Sagna, Esther Gohourou, Suzy Bemba lead Catherine Corsini‘s LE RETOUR. Story: Kheìdidja, in her forties, works for a wealthy Parisian family who offers her the opportunity to take care of their children for a summer in Corsica. It’s an opportunity for her to return with her daughters, Jessica and Farah, to the island they left fifteen years earlier in tragic circumstances. Catherine Corsini is certainy no stranger to Cannes. Her previous three features all screened either in competition or one of the parralel sections.

LES INDÉSIRABLES: It’s unlikely to premiere at Cannes this year, given how recently it was announced (December 2022). But we don’t have all the information on its production, and anything is possible, so it’s included. Up next for French-Malian filmmaker Ladj Ly: LES INDÉSIRABLES. Story: charts the journey of a fierce young woman, Habi, and a budding new mayor, Pierre, crossing paths in an underprivileged suburb on the outskirts of Paris. Habi, a native of the suburb who is involved in social causes helping locals, becomes a political figure. Pierre, meanwhile, is a former doctor who takes the city’s reins after the mayor’s death and sets off to follow his agenda. The film is headlined by a promising newcomer, Anta Diaw, and Alexis Manenti, who co-starred in Ly’s debut LES MISÉRABLES, which was France’s submission for Best International Feature Film Oscar consideration for 2019.

SALEM: Jean-Bernard Marlin’s SALEM is described as a “ground-breaking fantasy epic” set in Marseilles, with a running time of 160 minutes. Story: 14-year-old Grasshoppers gang member Djibril leads a dangerous existence in a Marseille slum, along with his pregnant girlfriend Camilla who belongs to a rival gang, the Crickets. When Djibril is manipulated into killing the young Cricket Mahad, war breaks out. Djibril is haunted by the curse Mahad spat out as he lay dying, and begins to communicate with the spirit world. Convinced that global apocalypse is imminent, he embarks on a crazy plan to flee with Camilla and their unborn child – the only one capable of saving them all from Mahad’s malediction. But the law catches up with him. Now, after 12 years in prison and a secure psychiatric unit, Djibril will do whatever it takes to find his daughter and convince her to fulfill his prophecy. The film stars Oumar Moindjie, Dalil Abdourahim, and Mohamed Soumare.


IO CAPITANO: Matteo Garrone’s IO CAPITANO is described as a “Homeric tale.” Story: the adventurous journey of two Senegalese youngsters, Seydou and Moussa, who leave Dakar for Europe. A modern-day Odyssey traversing the perils of the desert, the dangers of the sea, and the ambiguities of human beings. The film was shot in Italy, Morocco, and Senegal, marking the first time, Garrone — a two-time Cannes jury prize-winner — sets a feature film outside of Italy. The main cast includes newcomers Seydou Sarr and Moustapha Fall. Matteo Garrone is a Cannes regular. Should IO CAPITANO’s premiere land at the festival, it’ll be the reknowned Italian filmmaker’s fifth Cannes entry since GOMORRA in 2008.


EL SALTO: Spanish filmmaker Benito Zambrano’s EL SALTO is described as a social thriller that “relates the hell experienced by those who try to jump the fence separating the African continent from the European continent.” Story: the film follows Ibrahim, a migrant from Guinea who now lives in Madrid with his wife Mariama. Their peaceful lives turn upside down when he is arrested for not having a residence permit. Ibrahim is deported to his native country and from that moment on his only objective will be to return to Spain to be with Mariama and the daughter she is expecting. The film stars Moussa Sylla, Edith Martínez, and Nansi Nsue.


SMALL GODS: The UK’s Sovereign and Scala Productions, in association with Prestige Films, are backers and producers of SMALL GODS, a feature narrative film about the landless Batwa people of Uganda, in Africa’s Great Lakes region. Asher Rosen and Ezra Mugisha are directing. Story: A struggling single mother and a charismatic street performer, both sing for international tourists in their fight to rise above the cycle of poverty. When a crisis strikes, it threatens their growing hopes for a better future. The cast includes Bizimana Hussain, Florenz Mariserena, and Tuyi Mariserena. The independent production might be a long shot if only because both Rosen and Mugisha are first-time feature filmmakers without much of a story. But the project has drawn the right kind of prestige international that could earn a Cannes slot.


AUGURE: Belgian-Congolese rapper/filmmaker Baloji makes his feature directorial debut with AUGURE. Story: Considered a zabolo (sorcerer) Koffi was banished by his mother. After 15 years of absence, he returns to Lubumbashi to pay his dowry. Accompanied by his future wife Alice, he will confront the prejudices and suspicion of his family. Marc Zinga and Lucie Debay star. Baloji has two stylish short films on his resume, including ZOMBIES (2019) which can be watched on Nowness, the digital video channel that was launched as a brand of LVMH. AUGURE seemed like a lock for the 2023 Berlinale last month, especially given that it received funding from the World Cinema Fund, which is an initiative of the German Federal Cultural Foundation and the Berlin International Film Festival. But it likely wasn’t ready. Cannes seems like the next logical stop; possibly Venice and Toronto down the road.