African Stories at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival – Akoroko


The 2023 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) is set to be an exciting event for African stories, both in front of and behind the cameras, showcasing an eclectic range of films that delve into the continent’s rich tapestry of experiences, cultures, and social issues, locally, and abroad.

From world premieres to insightful panel discussions and representation in talent development programs, this year’s festival is a showcase for the burgeoning influence and diversity of filmmaking across the African continent and diaspora.

Overall, themes are diverse. The films cover a wide range of social, political, and cultural issues, from social justice and community to justice and family pressures. Many films tackle pressing social issues, such as whistleblowing, internet scams, and societal norms, making them relevant to contemporary audiences universally.

The films come from various African and non-African countries, including Tunisia, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, France, and Canada, among others. This geographic diversity is a positive sign for the representation of different African experiences in cinema.

Nataleah Hunter-Young, International Programmer for Africa & Arab West Asia at TIFF, emphasizes the diversity and impact of African stories at TIFF 2023, stating, “It’s been an extraordinary year for African cinemas on the international festival circuit,” and adding that the films this year are “a feast for the eyes and ears.” She highlights the range of themes and the inclusion of strong female leads, as well as boundary-pushing films in the lineup.

African cinemas have been gaining more international attention in recent years. Overall, the films featured at TIFF 2023 reflect both the current richness and promising futures, aligning well with global trends that indicate growing recognition and diversification of African stories worldwide.

As we gear up for this TIFF 2023, here’s a guide to what Akoroko will be paying close attention to.

Feature Films

  • LES INDÉSIRABLES: Directed by Ladj Ly, this drama set in a Parisian suburb follows Pierre, a young doctor who becomes the mayor after his predecessor’s death. The film delves into themes of social justice, community, and gentrification, featuring an ensemble cast that includes Alexis Manenti and Jeanne Balibar. (WORLD PREMIERE)
  • FOUR DAUGHTERS (LES FILLES D’OLFA): Directed by Kaouther Ben Hania, this Tunisian docudrama blends documentary and fiction to narrate the story of Olfa, a mother whose daughters join the Islamic State in Libya. The film won the Golden Eye prize for best documentary at Cannes. (NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE)
  • THE MOTHER OF ALL LIES: Directed by Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El Moudir, this film uses handmade figurines to recreate a Casablanca neighborhood, uncovering layers of personal and political history. (NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE)
  • SISTERHOOD: Directed by Nora El Hourch, this film explores the lives of three inseparable teenage girls who decide to confront a predator in their community, challenging societal norms. (WORLD PREMIERE)
  • I DO NOT COME TO YOU BY CHANCE: Directed by Ishaya Bako, this Nigerian film is an adaptation of Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s award-winning novel. It focuses on internet scams and family pressures in modern Nigeria. (WORLD PREMIERE)
  • DEATH OF A WHISTLEBLOWER: Directed by Ian Gabriel, this South African film centers on the crisis of whistleblower assassinations, featuring stage-turned-screen actor Noxolo Dlamini. (WORLD PREMIERE)
  • SIRA: Directed by Apolline Traoré, this film tells the story of Sira, a young nomad who takes a stand against Islamist terror after surviving a brutal attack. (NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE)
  • BANEL & ADAMA: Directed by Ramata-Toulaye Sy, this romantic drama explores the complexities of love against the backdrop of social conventions. (NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE)
  • MAMBAR PIERRETTE: Directed by Rosine Mbakam, this film follows a Douala seamstress dreaming of a better life for her children. (NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE)
  • ORAH: Directed by Lonzo Nzekwe, this Canada/Nigeria co-production focuses on a Toronto cabbie seeking justice for her son’s murder in Nigeria. (WORLD PREMIERE)
  • UMBRELLA MEN II: ESCAPE FROM ROBBEN ISLAND: Directed by John Barker, this is a sequel to his 2022 crime comedy, focusing on an escape from Robben Island Prison. (WORLD PREMIERE)
  • AFTER THE FIRE: Directed by Mehdi Fikri, this film follows a young woman who seeks justice for her brother’s death while balancing strained family ties and a potential cover-up.
  • HAJJAN: Directed by Abu Bakr Shawky, this film is a cross-cultural exploration set in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. It delves into the lives and experiences of people in these countries.
  • UNICORNS: Directed by Sally El Hosaini and James Krishna Floyd, this film is a unique take on the concept of unicorns, blending fantasy and reality in a compelling narrative.

Short Films

  • Mboa Matanda: Directed by Jules Kalla Eyango, this Cameroonian short film fuses anime with African themes, traditions, and histories.

  • Dammi: This French-Algerian short film by Yann Mounir Demange explores a man’s search for his cultural identity in Paris.

Key Panels and Discussions

  • PERSPECTIVES On African Cinemas and its Industries: A Conversation with Apolline Traoré, Chioma Onyenwe, Mehret Mandefro, Tshepiso Chikapa-Phiri, Moderated by Nataleah Hunter-Young. This panel will discuss various aspects of African cinema, such as storytelling, representation, production, and distribution. The panelists will also talk about their own projects and challenges.
  • MICROSESSION Lights, Camera, Collaboration: ORAH and the possibilities of Nigeria-Canada partnership: The panelists — Joan Jenkinson, Floyd Kane, Tshepiso Chikapa-Phiri, and the filmmaker Lonzo Nzekwe — will use the 2023 Canadian crime thriller “Orah,” which was filmed in both Canada and Nigeria, as a case study to explore the opportunities and challenges of international collaboration in filmmaking.

Talent Development Programs

  • Nyasha Kadandara (Zimbabwe): Kadandara is developing her first fiction feature, COME SUNRISE, WE SHALL RULE and is also in production with the independent documentary MATABELELAND. She is one of the participants of the TIFF Filmmaker Lab, a talent development program that provides mentorship and networking opportunities for emerging filmmakers.
  • Adeyemi Michael (Nigeria/UK): Michael is currently directing drama for Disney & Nat Geo’s WWII series HIDDEN HEROES. He is also one of the participants of the TIFF Filmmaker.
  • Aziz Zoromba (Egypt/Canada): Zoromba is developing his first feature film and a short animated documentary. He is also one of the participants of the TIFF Filmmaker Lab.

Classics and Tributes

  • TOUKI BOUKI, A 50th Anniversary Tribute: This year marks the 50th anniversary of Touki Bouki, a landmark film by Senegalese director Djibril Diop Mambéty. “Touki Bouki Anniversary Screening with Talk” will be preceded by Mati Diop’s short film A THOUSAND SUNS and will include a panel discussion moderated by Tambay A. Obenson, the Founder and CEO of Akoroko, along with special guest Aboubakar Sanogo, Associate Professor in Film Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
  • XALA, Ousmane Sembène’s 1975 landmark satire of patriarchy and class in post-independence Senegal. The film has been restored courtesy of Janus Films and will be part of the TIFF Classics section.
  • Both TOUKI BOUKI and XALA are part of the official selection for the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival and offer a deep dive into African cinema, its history, and its impact on global filmmaking.

The Toronto International Film Festival takes place September 7–17, 2023.

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