African Stories at the 2024 International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)

The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), celebrated for spotlighting independent filmmaking and artistic discovery, once again brings a compelling selection of African stories to its 2024 edition. This year’s lineup showcases a diverse array of films that probe the continent’s rich narratives, exploring themes of revolution, identity, and cultural resilience.

Leading the charge is “Mário” by Billy Woodberry, a pivotal figure in the L.A. Rebellion movement. Making its world premiere, this documentary pays tribute to Mário de Andrade, a luminary in African revolutionary and anti-colonial efforts, particularly in the struggle for Angolan independence. The film weaves the stories of influential figures like Agostinho Neto and Amílcar Cabral, while also spotlighting politically engaged filmmakers including Sarah Maldoror and Chris Marker, illuminating the symbiotic relationship between art and activism.

The European premiere of Egypt’s Oscar submission, “Voy! Voy! Voy!” by Omar Hilal, introduces audiences to Hassan, a security guard whose aspirations lead him to the unique world of blind soccer, setting the stage for an unconventional journey to the World Cup tournament in Europe.

CineMart, IFFR’s renowned co-production market, highlights several projects poised to make significant impacts, including “Hold Time for Me” by Angolan filmmaker Fradique and “The Sunflowers of the Moon” by Tunisian filmmaker Ismaël. These projects, alongside “La Nuit” by Béatrice Gibson, which portrays a protagonist’s nocturnal contemplations on racism and identity in France and Mali, underscore the festival’s commitment to fostering innovative cinematic voices.

Noteworthy among the work-in-progress screenings is “La Vie Devant Nous” by Olivier Meys, telling the poignant story of Jahia, a young Eritrean girl navigating life in a Belgian asylum center.

This narrative, alongside others like “I Do Not Come To You By Chance” by Nigerian filmmaker Ishaya Bako and the short film “Stero” by Kenyan co-directors Tevin Kimathi and Millan Tarus, enriches the festival’s landscape with stories of aspiration, resistance, and the enduring spirit of youth.

Elsewhere, “Madame Luna” is a drama that charts the turbulent journey of Almaz, an Eritrean refugee entangled in Italy’s criminal underbelly. Directed by Daniel Espinosa, the film is anchored by Meninet Abraha Teferi’s compelling performance, portraying Almaz’s struggle to overcome her dark past as the notorious Madame Luna.

“Godsterminal” by Georg Tiller and “The Ballad of Suzanne Césaire” by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich further expand the festival’s exploration of both African and broader diasporic, anti-colonial narratives, blending documentary and fictional storytelling to illuminate the lives of remarkable individuals of African descent who navigated complex cultural and political landscapes, albeit in different contexts.

The same can be said about “Praia Formosa” by Julia De Simone, a nuanced blend of documentary and fiction that narrates the journey of Muanza from the late 19th-century Kingdom of Kongo to contemporary Rio de Janeiro, offering a unique perspective on themes of empowerment, decolonization, and cultural continuity.

“After the Long Rains,” directed by Swiss-Kenyan Damien Hauser, presents a vibrant coming-of-age story set in coastal Kenya, following Aisha’s dreams of becoming an actress against the backdrop of community expectations and personal discovery.

The lineup also includes two remarkable films that Akoroko previously covered: “Banel & Adama” from Senegal and “Four Daughters” from Tunisia.

“Banel & Adama,” Senegal’s submission for the International Feature Film Academy Award category, marks the debut feature of Ramata-Toulaye Sy. Set against the backdrop of a remote Senegalese village, the film weaves the mythic love story of Banel and Adama.

“Four Daughters,” by Tunisian filmmaker Kaouther Ben Hania, has received an Oscar nomination in the Documentary Feature Film category. This unique hybrid film blends fiction, theatre, and documentary to delve into the complex narrative of a mother and her daughters grappling with the consequences of radicalization.

This lineup of films collectively, each in its own right, contributes to a broader conversation on global African identities and histories.

The 2024 IFFR not only showcases a diverse array of African stories but also features a critical conversation around the unique challenges and opportunities within African film criticism.

The Pro Dialogues program, a highlight of the festival’s industry panels, offers a dive into the evolving landscape of film criticism across Africa, where the voices of African critics are scarce and the platforms spotlighting African filmmakers even more so.

The panel features speakers including Chloé Ortolé, Founder of Tangerine Productions & Co-founder of Kimpavita Festival; Maori Karmael Holmes, Chief Executive & Artistic Officer, BlackStar Projects; and Tambay Obenson, Founder and Chief Editor, Akoroko LLC. Moderated by festival programmer and creative producer Lesedi Oluko Moche, it aims to bridge the gap between African films, their creators, and the critics who play a crucial role in shaping their reception and place in the global film landscape.

The International Film Festival Rotterdam continues to play a pivotal role in bringing these essential narratives to a global audience, fostering a deeper appreciation for the continent’s cinematic diversity and the universal themes that connect us all.

IFFR 2024 takes place from January 25 to February 4, 2024, in Rotterdam, Netherlands.