Still from "Tear the Roof Off: The Untold Story of Parliament-Funkadelic."
St. Louis is unusually fortunate when it comes to access to contemporary African cinema. In addition to the native African programming at each year’s St. Louis International Film Festival, the annual African Film Festival at Washington University offers a more focused slate of the continent’s offerings, with a particular focus on narrative features and shorts. The documentary side of African cinema, meanwhile, will be the center of attention this weekend when the Missouri History Museum hosts the Ninth Annual Africa World Film Festival (AAWFF), a fitting kick-off for the city’s Black History Month events.
A traveling exhibition of non-fiction features and shorts, the AAWFF is jointly sponsored by the E. Desmond Lee Professorship in African/African-American Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis’ Centre for International Studies and the Center for Black and African Arts and Civilization (CBAAC) in Lagos, Nigeria. This year’s AAWFF is scheduled to appear at venues and events throughout Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the United States, but the History Museum has the honor of serving as the exhibition’s launching point.
The festival’s stated mission is the promotion of knowledge, life and culture of the people of Africa worldwide. To that end, this year’s AAWFF offerings tackle a diverse array of subjects, including identity, race, religion, immigration, violence, music, athletics, and contemporary geopolitics. All told, 15 films from eight nations will screen this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the History Museum’s Lee Auditorium.
Friday’s programming begins with the short The March and Freedom 1963, a profile of the origins of Christian nonviolent resistance in the struggle for African-American civil rights. The day’s notable feature film is Mully, a portrait of Kenyan business mogul turned humanitarian Charles Mulli, who has dedicated himself to his nation’s orphaned, abandoned, and otherwise marginalized children. Other short films screening on Friday include: a selection of work from the New York Times’ “Conversation on Race” Op-Doc film series; China Remix, which looks in on the everyday travails of immigrant African hip-hop artists working in Guanzhong, China; Nascent, a glimpse at two children growing up on opposing sides of the Central African Republic’s sectarian war; and Ror, a profile of former South Sudanese refugee and current Australian poet and hip-hop artist Ror Akot, who will be on hand for a live performance and a Q&A.
Saturday’s marquee screening is inarguably Tear the Roof Off: The Untold Story of Parliament-Funkadelic. Charting the history of the titular funk group from the 1950s to the present, the feature chronicles how a veritable supergroup of artists fronted by George Clinton established an innovative sound that influenced a host of musical genres. Director Bobby J. Brown and P-Funk founding members Jerome “Big Foot” Brailey and Billy “Bass” Nelson will be in attendance for a discussion and Q&A. Saturday’s programming also encompasses a bumper crop of biographical features about African-American women including: The Caged Bird: The Life and Times of Florence B. Price, profiling the pioneering classical composer; The Trials of Constance Baker Motley, a portrait of the famed civil rights attorney, politician, and judge; and Althea, examining the celebrated career and turbulent life of the legendary African-American tennis champion Althea Gibson. Other Saturday notables include: Fatherland, a feature focusing on a remote and dubious military-style training camp for Afrikaans boys; Ferguson Documented: In 36 Hours, comprised of first-hand accounts of the city’s 2014 emergence as an epicenter of activism opposed to the police brutality endured by the African-American community; and an encore screening of Ror.
Sunday’s programming concludes the festival with: Obama Mama, a feature-length portrait of President Barack Obama’s remarkable mother, Stanley Ann Dunham; Am I: Too African to be American or Too American to be African, a short feature profiling seven women on two continents who identify as bi-cultural; and more selected shorts from the “Conversation on Race” Op-Doc film series.
The Annual Africa World Film Festival runs from Friday, February 5 through Sunday, February 7. All films are free to attend and will screen in the Missouri History Museum’s Lee Auditorium. For more information and a complete schedule, visit the AAWFF’s website.