Out of Africa

Flicks from folks outside the orbit of Planet Hollywood

Two fascinating films from Africa play in the Bay area this week for one night only: Faat-Kine, the most recent offering from Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, a living legend frequently referred to as the father of African cinema, and ABC Africa, an un-documentary-like documentary filmed in Uganda by acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami.

This double bill constitutes the latest installment of International Cinema at Eckerd College, an ambitious new series of international films presented every Friday night at the school.

Faat-Kine is the story of Kine (played with regal authority by Venus Deye), a self-made, self-possessed woman who successfully manages a downtown Dakar gas station so clean and tidy it might be mistaken for the waiting room of a dentist's office in Shaker Heights. Kine has a bit of a problem with men, having been abandoned by a couple of them, and having raised two teenage children without an ounce of help from the kids' fathers. There's also the little matter of her father, who, in accordance with a charming local custom, once tried to burn his daughter alive.

The film depicts Kine's complicated attitudes toward the men in her life (all of whom, with varying degrees of cruelty and compassion, she controls), and Sembene touches on a wealth of interesting tensions: between male and female, rich and poor, Muslim and Christian, young and old. The story rambles a bit, with some preaching going on here and there, and some of the performances might strike Western viewers as flat or amateurish, but the movie's ultimately fascinating.

ABC Africa gets you deep into the so-called dark continent in a movie teeming with life and shadowed at every stage by death.

In 2000, Kiarostami traveled to Uganda at the invitation of a United Nations agency dealing with the plight of children orphaned by AIDS. ABC Africa is the filmed account of Kiarostami's journey, shot on digital video over the course of 10 days.

The movie often resembles a barely edited home movie. Kiarostami travels from village to village, pointing his camera out of the car window to capture unfiltered, loooong shots of the local scenery, or focusing on flies swarming on rotting meat or giant billboards for a local brand of condoms. And always there are extended sequences of children, children everywhere, smiling, singing, mugging for the camera. One child shows up as a tiny corpse, deposited in a cardboard box and carried away on the back of a bicycle.

As with all of Kiarostami's films, ABC Africa is a deceptively simple work of art, an act of self-reflexivity that's as much about its maker as its subject. The director's love/hate affair with cinema — its power, its practical use, its limitations — is beautifully underscored in segments like the one where the screen simply goes black for several minutes as Kiarostami's crew stumble back to their hotel rooms during a power outage. And then there's a flash of lightning that suddenly illuminates the African landscape in all of its stark majesty and, in an instant, we realize that nothing in this film should be taken for granted.

International Cinema at Eckerd College travels to Iran next week. Those interested in getting a better idea of Kiarostami's methodology should check out his remarkable Close-Up. Fellow Iranian Mohsen Makhmalbaf's still timely Kandahar rounds out a double bill sure to give Donald Rumsfeld the heebie jeebies.

Faat Kine and ABC Africa play Friday, Oct. 3, at Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S., St. Petersburg. Screenings are open to the public and free, but donations are accepted. For details: 727-864-8354 or [email protected]

14th Annual Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival

With a new programming director at the helm and a large, eclectic slate of films in tow, the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival returns this week.

Of the films I've managed to preview, my favorite is Girls Will Be Girls, a hilariously raunchy comedy about a spiteful, washed-up movie star and her wacky and equally disagreeable pals. Drag queens take on all the female roles, but this wonderfully written, performed and produced movie goes way beyond camp and into previously unexplored areas of sublimely bad taste.

My runners-up are an entirely other bag: Tarik el Hob (Path to Love), a young French-Algerian Arab's intimately related coming-out diary, and The Politics of Fur, an icy retelling of Fassbinder's lesbian passion play The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant.

Other films I can recommend, with reservations, are Leaving Metropolis, a clever but somewhat glib and stagy tale of a successful gay artist's affair with a conflicted straight guy, and Hooked, an interesting look at Internet sex junkies that leaves us wanting to know more. I also got a look at the much-hyped Nine Dead Gay Guys and My Wife Maurice, two films I'm not allowed to comment on because of some sort of press embargo.

The Event, a sort of Citizen Kane-like investigation into the death of a unique young man with AIDS, is a sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious and frequently wonderful film for most of its first hour. Heavy-handed speechmaking and shamelessly manipulative sentimentality creep in during the movie's second half and never quite have the decency to leave. The movie is redeemed by astonishing moments scattered throughout, and some very strong performances (Olympia Dukakis' chief among them), but you may leave the theater wishing it had all ended a half-hour earlier.

You probably can't go too wrong with the opening night film, Die, Mommie, Die, another adaptation of a campy play by Charles Busch (Psycho Beach Party). Another strong bet is Prey for Rock and Roll, about an up-and-coming group of lesbian rockers led by Gina Gershon. Other probable highlights include Suddenly (two Argentinean lesbian punks abduct a lingerie saleswoman for a bizarre road trip); Gasoline (more lesbians on the run, this time in Italy); and Yossi and Jagger (two tough Israeli soldiers lusting after each other on the sly). Two of the more interesting programming choices include Lock Up Your Sons and Daughters, a selection of anti-gay "educational films" from the '50s, and Tipping the Velvet, an epic saga of same-sex love and political struggle set in Victorian England. Tipping the Velvet, which was produced for British television and was the highest-rated show in the UK in 2002, will be screened in three one-hour segments.

The 14th Annual Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival runs Oct. 2-12 at Tampa Theatre and Muvico Centro Ybor. For more information: www.tiglff.com

Lance Goldenberg can be reached at [email protected] tampabay.rr.com or 813-248-8888, ext. 157.

Scroll to read more News Feature articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.