Emperor. Spirit. Boy.


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Twenty years after the death of his lead actor, River Phoenix, Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer managed to finish his movie Dark Blood, if only with voice overs and script readings during the missing scenes.

Judy Davis, River Phoenix and Jonathan Pryce star in George Sluizer's thriller 'Dark Blood'

Judy Davis, River Phoenix and Jonathan Pryce in still from George Sluizer’s thriller ‘Dark Blood’


Known for his high-strung intensity that saw his fast rise as an actor, Phoenix’s performance is as striking and captivating in STAND BY ME (1986);INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989); and MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO (1991).

Phoenix seems to feel comfortable as the melancholy, depressed widower Boy, who waits for the world to end after losing his wife to cancer caused by exposure to a nuclear-testing site. Meanwhile Harry (Jonathan Pryce) and Buffy (Judy Davis) are on their second honeymoon when their car breaks down in the middle of the American desert. Buffy’s decision to seek help leads them to Boy’s dilapidated house bringing an unexpected dark twist to the planned honeymoon. The usually unruffled Pryce is roughed up as Harry, Buffy’s jealous and selfish husband, who now has to share his wife’s attentions with a younger man.

In their first encounter Boy tells Buffy that he is 1/8 Hopi Indian, hence he has dark blood flowing through his veins. His granddad is also prone to melancholia, a trait Boy believes he has inherited. Later on, he introduces Buffy to his army of dolls and declares her the bride with whom he will claim his empire on earth and in the afterlife. His afterworld is housed in a ramshackle wooden structure – an odd piece of architecture with protrusions in every direction reflecting Boy’s state of mind; the used spare parts ominously dangling from his front door accompanied by what Boy calls “Death’s music.” Alone with the mad, obsessed, rifle-wielding widower, the couple tries to escape but never manages to flee Boy and his dog. The animal, by the way, stays loyal to the end.

Like another icon, James Dean, Phoenix died in the prime of his life and as Boy in DARK BLOOD, his role echoes Dean’s Jet Rink with a similar self-destructive obsession with another man’s woman in the 1956 movie GIANT. Sluizer’s film also reminds us of VACANCY, a 2007 thriller by Nimron Antal starring Kate Beckinsale and Luke Wilson, who are stuck in a hotel managed by a psychopath bent on killing the couple. While one can assume that both films draw inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, the new films, including DARK BLOOD, are not nearly as effective. Thankfully, Sluizer’s film is not as explicit or cruel as THE HUMAN CENTIPEDE (2010), HOUSE OF WAX (2005) or the FINAL DESTINATION series, and probably never intended to be.

Sluizer’s devotion to finishing DARK BLOOD is inspiring, but its effectiveness does not lie in the story, which is not particularly original. It is also debatable whether or not this would have been a better film had it been completed in 1993 under different circumstances. There is a sense that it tells little of Boy’s background and why he is the way he is, apart from the inherited melancholia and the loss of his wife. Scripted further into the film are nuances around such austerity: of love, and, perhaps, of emotion. Apart from the desert location, the anonymity of names like Buffy, Harry, Boy and Dog, are symbolic of the seclusion and deviance that DARK BLOOD epitomises.

Adopting still photography and voice-over narrative to cover parts of the film that could not be completed because of Phoenix’s untimely death also adds an uncomfortable edge to the updated material. Twenty years later, excellent acting and Sluizer’s moody, effective cinematography make the film worth watching. Loneliness, lunacy, love and loss are keenly explored. While there might not be enough thematic focus besides the eccentricity of seeing River Phoenix’s final performance, perhaps there is a warning in DARK BLOOD about seeking help in the prairies when your car breaks down.

*Published during last year’s Durban Talents


Dented Promises, Dented Lives


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Moussa Sene Absa’s Yoole (Sacrifice) is enthralling from the first scene. Senegal’s ex-president Abdoulaye Wade is passionately spewing election promises at a political rally; each word well-timed and received with wild applause. A tableau of disappointed faces follow: male, female, young and old.

The documentary stems from a story about the arrival of a ship with 11 bodies on the Island of Barbados some years back; the boat was discovered to have departed Senegal for Spain. None of its occupants survived: all suspected to have died of starvation or dehydration en route Spain. In Yoole, Absa links this wave of fatal migration to Wade’s unfulfilled promises to the people of Senegal.

The film was in competition for the Etalon de Yennanga at FESPACO 2013 alongside Moussa Toure’s feature film La Pirogue. Both films deal with this issue of tragic transport in uniquely compelling ways. One of Toure’s characters shares a history similar to that of a widow who lost her husband in the real-life tragedy that is featured in Absa’s Yoole.

Also discovered alongside the bodies in Barbados was a letter from one of the boat’s occupants. It was addressed to his mother and records the different emotions the passengers experienced as they anticipated death. It is both beautiful and painful to hear this letter read at intervals throughout Yoole.

While it is indeed easy to fault Wade for not delivering on his election promises, it is harder to see any reason why young Senegalese men and women would risk their lives on dangerous voyages across the ocean for a better life than the one their homeland offers. Yoole however shows the extent to which the masses are tired of Wade’s rhetoric and grand ideas that impact on no one but himself and his kin. Any frustrated soul would easily choose the sea’s stormy embrace.

Accompanying a slideshow of newspaper clippings that underscore this theme of nepotism, the opening strains of the classical tune Ride of the Valkyries herald chronicles of the administration’s corruption. As Ride of the Valkyries reaches its crescendo, the scene changes to one of abject poverty. Absa also makes an interesting comparison when he shows unkempt school children reciting the Senegalese national anthem. There is no sign of the hope they proclaim in this montage and Absa’s cinematography portrays that effectively.

Fed up with Wade’s rhetoric and grandstanding, what do the people decide in the face of such oppression and want, apart from migrating to their deaths at sea? One is left to wonder if all the children in Yoole will not sacrifice their dreams for professional careers on the altar of the seas that lead to the West.


*Written at the FESPACO/Africine Critics’ Workshop 2013

Migrant Emotions


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Well-told stories of true grit are rare in African cinema. Depicting one of life’s harshest conditions in the most beautiful cinematic style, Moussa Toure delivers a masterpiece with La Pirogue.

Set in a Senegalese fishing village, La Pirogue unravels on the trail of thirty intending migrants aboard a boat to Spain’s Canary Islands. In its running time of 87 minutes, the film takes the viewer on a cruise that never drags.
Souleymane Seye Ndiaye plays Baye Laye, the film’s male lead, takes on his role with the strength and presence it deserves. Initially reluctant to board the boat, Baye eventually accepts and his navigation skills are put to test on the hard trip he undertakes with an eclectic group of experienced and non-experienced sea-farers. How many of them will survive the crossing and fulfil their dreams of a better life is up to chance alone. As close as they are to shore, there is a strong foreboding of tragedy. Nonetheless, La Pirogue maintains a lively tone, with the boat’s passengers breaking into song and dance on a whim.

Touré’s La Pirogue (also called “Goor Fitt”) is a story of survival, where in spite of the characters’ bumpy ride; the story is emotional and thrilling. Showing his deft mastery of the camera as a narrative tool, Touré, who also previously directed TGV and Toubab Bi, is at his best in La Pirogue.
He tells the familiar story of South to West migration in a much more unique way. Few African directors have tackled sea storms; however, Toure brings some grace to it with scenes that hold their own against Ang Lee’s well-received Life of Pi, minus the Bengali Tiger, of course.

He introduces us to Baye’s existence prior to the voyage with close-ups into his work, his family life and his passion for wrestling. The film opens with an intensely-portrayed wrestling scene suffused with energy and brawn; a pointer to the will of the inhabitants of the fishing village: people who are not scared to take on unfamiliar seas despite the anticipated dangers.

This much is obvious in the resilience of the film’s talented band of actors, including Ndiaye, who display a range of emotional extremes that reflect their encounters with dementia, disease, and death which all culminate into a visually-stunning, enthralling and memorable tale.

*Written during the FESPACO/Africine Critics’ Workshop in February 2013

Boys Gone Wild


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Riding through the back streets of Cape Town with a camera and his conspicuous rich-boy appearance, Teboho Edkins – a White South African filming Black or Mixed race gangsters – would certainly have stood out in the making of his 55-minute documentary Gangster Project. Apart from differences in race, there are differences in ambition, in earning a living and in standards of living.

In an attempt to balance his story, Edkins discovers and lends some screen time to the ghetto’s rich people. The negatives however outweigh the positives and it’s difficult to view the director himself as nothing more than a voyeur with a condescending air about his project and towards the young men who opened their doors to him. He seems to have only gone into the gangsters’ den in a bid to poke fun at them, feel like one of the boys, or simply to reassure himself that his life is indeed far better than theirs.
But, of course, with gangsters it is not always fun. Despite the film showing the gangsters in a constantly happy mood, an underlying sense of imminent danger runs through the film’s unfolding events, which culminate in an unexpected ending for Edkins’ Gangster Project.

This exposé on Cape Town’s gangsters is made intriguing via Edkins’ portrayal of the gangsters, who all seem to agree that becoming a gangster is inevitable in the ghetto: one of them believes gangsters are community’s guardians, another follows a natural path of “gangsterism” because his father and uncle were gangsters. It is interesting watching these people, whether as gangsters on the job, as devoted friends, family members or as human beings with their own list of problems.
Gangsters, the crux of Edkins’ film, are just as human as the rest of us. But we are not sure that this is Edkins’ motive or just another contribution to the demonization and stereotyping of South Africa’s uneducated non-white community. The film music is hardly surprising; it features a playlist of the usual suspects from gangster rap: cue 50 cent, but with a few surprises.

His display of the city’s landscape underscores the film’s comparative thread, with the cinematography depicting the serenity of Edkins’ upscale estate in contrast to the rugged hustle of Cape Town’s ghetto. To his credit, the director does not employ lighting as a tool to harmfully depict black and white. On the other hand, his entry into the gangsters’ commune can be considered intrusive, boring into the ghetto’s shanties and her residents’ private lives and thoughts.

Edkins’ approach is fitting for his purpose though, especially as a parallel to his own privileged existence, where the matter is not a lack of choice in his life ambition but of too many choices and varied opportunities, unlike the gangsters in his film, who lack most of the good things in life but have a natural inclination towards gangster living.


*Written during the FESPACO/Africine Critics’ Workshop in February 2013

The new issue of the Chimurenga Chronic – out now-now!


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The new issue of the Chimurenga Chronic is finally out! My over-excitement is partly because an article of mine appears in it and equally because of everything else this edition promises. (Full press release and list of  stockists in Nigeria below)

Hurry! Grab your copy now-now!!! 

Cover of the new Chimurenga Chronic

The Chronic is now available at selected stores worldwide.

Published by Chimurenga, the Chronic is a quarterly pan African gazette that gives voice to all aspects of life on the continent and celebrates our capacity to continually produce something bold, beautiful and full of humour.

Produced in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Paris, Lagos, Yaoundé, Accra, Kinshasa, Dakar, Kampala and Delhi, and distributed globally, it seeks to write Africa in the present and into the world at large, as the place in which we live, love and work.The new issue, available from Friday August 23, 2013, features reportage, creative non-fiction, autobiography, satire, analysis, photography and illustration to offer a rich engagement with everyday life.

Writers in the 48 page broadsheet include Jon SoskePaula AkugizibweYves MintoogueAdewale Maja-PearceParsalelo KantaiFred Moten & Stefano HarneyCedric VincentDeji ToyeDerin AjaoTony MochamaNana Darkoa SekyiamahAgri IsmaïlLindokuhle NkosiBongani KonaStacy Hardy, Emmanuel Iduma, Ugochukwu-Smooth NzewiLolade AdewuyiSimon Kuper and many others.

The 72 page Chronic Books supplement is a self help guide on reading and writing, with contributions by Dave MckenzieAkin AdesokanFiston Nasser Mwanza, Yemisi OgbeVivek NarayananPeter EnahoroTolu OgunlesiElnathan JohnRustum KozainOlufemi TerryAryan KaganofHarmony HolidaySean O’Toole,Gwen AnsellBinyavanga Wainaina and more.

Get the print edition of the Chronic from select retailers throughout South Africa (including Exclusive Books, selected Spaza, independent bookshops and on the street in the first week of release), as well as in select shops in Abuja, Lagos, Nairobi, New York, London, Berlin and The Netherlands (visit www.chimurengachronic.co.za for a full list of stockists worldwide).

The Chronic is also available to order as both a print and digital edition in the Chimurenga online shop.Get your copy now.

For more information visit www.chimurengachronic.co.za, or contact Chimurenga on +27(0)21 4224168 orinfo@chimurenga.co.za.
For print copies in Nigeria:


Cassava Republic Press, 62B, Arts and Crafts Village, Opposite Sheraton, Abuja


Africa Artists’ Foundation, 54 Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi, Lagos

Glendora Jazzhole, 168 Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos

Goethe-Institut Lagos, 4th Floor, Lagos City Hall, Catholic Mission Street opposite Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos Island

Terra Kulture, Plot 1376, Tiamiyu Savage, Off Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, Lagos

Celebrating D.O. Fagunwa’s Enduring Legacy


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The Fagunwa Study Group put together a conference in honour of D.O. Fagunwa, acclaimed Yoruba adventure fantasy author and precursor to Amos Tutuola. The 3-day conference at the Jojein Resort and Event Centre was an interesting bouquet of panels, readings, and the screening of Tunde Kelani’s film Maami.

Below is my report on the conference as published in TheNews magazine.


Fifty years after the passing of Yoruba fantasy author, Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa, his home-state Ondo, played host to many eminent academics and personalities at a three-day conference in his honour. The conference was put together by the Fagunwa Study Group, in collaboration with the Centre for Black African Arts and Civilisation, CBAAC. Renowned for his five-book series, which includes Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, Ireke Onibudo and Adiitu Olodumare,

Professor Wole Soyinka delivering his keynote address at the opening ceremony

Professor Wole Soyinka delivering his keynote address at the opening ceremony

Fagunwa gained fame for writing detailed stories where the Yoruba and Christian traditions interlock and his work continues to be relevant both in their original Yoruba and in the different languages to which they have been translated.

Themed, ‘Fifty Years On…’ the conference featured panels and discussions analysing aspects of Fagunwa’s work within literary, philosophical, social, historical, cultural, linguistic and religious contexts. Unfolding over a three-day period, the event commenced on Thursday, 8 August with a keynote address by Nigerian playwright and Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka.

Adopting Fagunwa’s persona, poet and Professor Niyi Osundare introduced the award-winning playwright as ‘Imodoye,’ a character from Fagunwa’s seminal novel. Osundare also described Soyinka as “a teller of tall tales, a language pyrotechnician, and moral evangelist”.

In his presentation titled, ‘Fagunwa’s Forest Tapestry: Heroes and Heroics, Morals and Moralists,’ Soyinka gave a background into his own encounters with Fagunwa’s works and his translations of the author’s oeuvres. Although the Christian influence cannot be shaken off Fagunwa’s art, Soyinka said that, “Fagunwa often strikes me as a writer under the possession of Ogun, the warrior-god.” In Fagunwa’s world, it was easy to see the physical “tied to the moral in a mutually-affecting way,” the literary icon said.

In reference to heroics and heroism, Soyinka also quoted from Alabi Isama’s The Tragedy of Victory on the effects of war and the consequent cannibalism, which Soyinka linked to an encounter with Ojola-Ibinu, one of Fagunwa’s many well-rounded and fiery characters.

Bravery and cowardice can be equally tragic, the playwright said, especially in contemporary times when even heroism couches its own evil and deceit. “The daily beast is within and around us,” he said, recommending moderation in all things, especially as regards extreme heroics. Concluding his address, Soyinka said that anyone who does not recognise Fagunwa’s prescience as a writer, suffers from “amnesia, blindness, compartmentalisation and deafness.”

Also posing the question of which was more real – Fagunwa’s mysterious world or our own humanity – the playwright referenced Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author, and tagged the citizens of Fagunwa’s universe, “a thousand characters in search of the human race.”

Besides the keynote address, there were a number of speeches by dignitaries at the event as well as performances in Fagunwa’s honour. According to the Ondo State governor, Olusegun Mimiko, Fagunwa’s works showed the importance of bonding to improve society. The governor quoted instances from Fagunwa, where even the oddest characters become eventual heroes because of their peculiarities. “In literature lies the very philosophy that can change our society,” Mimiko said.

Fidelity was also essential to leadership, he said, buttressing the earlier remarks by the Conference Chairman, Orangun of Oke-Ila Orangun, Oba Adedokun Abolarin. The traditional monarch described true character, according to Fagunwa, as brave, victorious, honest, reliable, and honest. “Such a man is rare,” he said.

Governor Fayemi of Ekiti State said Fagunwa’s contributions to Nigeria’s lingustic and cultural phenomenon can be surmised in the knowledge that we “should not allow our culture to die.” For Fayemi, “the spirited cultural activism of the likes of Fagunwa and the intellectuals present is the thread that holds together our social fabric, preventing it from giving way under the strains of cultural imperialism.”

Professor Tunde Babawale, Director-General of CBAAC, co-organisers of the conference, also gave a goodwill message as did the Minister of Culture, Tourism and National Orientation, represented by the Executive Secretary and CEO of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation, NICO, Dr. Barclays Ayakoroma.

There were performances from the Ondo State Cultural Troupe, that paid tribute to Fagunwa’s genius and Omowale Odumo, aka Akaraogun, who recited excerpts from Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole. Young Iwalewa Olorunyomi also read from the same work and was widely applauded by the audience for her proficiency in reading Yoruba. Such dexterity in indigenous languages, many said, should be encouraged among Nigerian youth.

Read full story here


Writing about IREP 2013


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It’s always a tough task producing a newsletter during the hustle and bustle of a film festival. No doubt though that it’s always fun. So, during four days of the 3rd IREP International Documentary Film Festival, my team and I, with support from Goethe Institut, Lagos were able to deliver two newsletters. Some of the stories I’ll most likely replicate on this blog, but in the meantime, here’s a link to Issues 1 & 2 on the IREP Website.


Dara Ju, Hustle on a Mile take pole position in Afrinolly Short Film Competition


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The top three winners in the Afrinolly Short Film Competition have finally been selected. After the event was launched on November 1, 2012, over 500 entries were received from African filmmakers around the world by the deadline of January 31, 2013.

The competition was launched on November 1, 2012 and submission of entries closed on January 31. Winners were announced today March 11, 2013.

The competition was launched on November 1, 2012 and submission of entries closed on January 31. Winners were announced today March 11, 2013.

Following an initial screening that found only 214 eligible entries, an international panel of judges in the creative industries pruned it down to the best 10 films in both the short and documentary categories.

The jury, chaired by documentary filmmaker Femi Odugbemi, comprised acclaimed filmmakers Tunde Kelani, Emem Isong, Juliet Yaa Asante and Obi Emelonye; content producer Bongiwe Selane, New York African Film Festival’s Mahen Bonetti, The Black List’s Franklin Leonard, writer Tolu Ogunlesi, Carol Kathurima and Nmachi Jidemma.

The jury shortlisted 20 entries based on concept and execution i.e the story’s originality and imaginative force, clarity of purpose and its ability to captivate as well as how effectively the filmmaker reflected technical knowledge of acting, editing, sound, lighting, camera work et c.

A voting public then had three weeks from February 15 to choose their top three favourites for the $100,000 cash prize. Voting ended on March 8 and the following films took the top three positions in both categories.


First Prize ($25,000)                      Dara Ju – By Anthony Onah

Second Prize ($10,000)                  The Promise – By Akin Okunrinboye

Third Prize ($5,000)                       To serve with all our Strength – By Ishaya                                                               Bako (HomeVida)



First Prize ($25,000)                      Hustle On A Mile – By Bemigho Awala

Second Prize ($10,000)                  A short “DOCUMENTARY” – By Soji Oyinsan                                                         II

Third Prize ($5,000)                       Black and Gold – By Joseph Akwasi

The winners in the 4th to 10th positions in both categories will receive $500 each. The official awards presentation will take place at 6pm on Friday, March 15 at the Oriental Hotel, Lekki, Lagos.

The Afrinolly Short Film Competition is an initiative of FCO Limited, developers of the MTN Afrinolly Mobile phone app. Its aim is to digitally showcase African cinema talent and provide a platform to foster the production of African content and make same available online. The Competition was supported by MTN, Goethe Institut, Blackberry, IREP and Google as the social media partner.