Africa at the Oscars
Awards and prizes aren’t everything. But it’s still nice to have them. Films are here to delight us.These Oscar nominated and winning foreign films were made to touch audiences beyond their respective borders. Many of the awards for best foreign language film went to Europe ( a whopping 52!), Asia (5), Africa (3), South America (3) and as you probably know the most awarded country is Italy. As one of my favorite categories at the Academy Awards, I had to figure out what African countries were given attention. In honor of the upcoming show, here are the 8 films from Africa that made it and why you should run and see it. Enjoy the list!
Prior to the emergence of African films made solely by Africans, the vast majority of these pictures were made by Europeans. Colonial era films from Algeria and other countries were heavily influenced by french propaganda. It wasn’t until the 1960’s/1970’s with the gain of their independence that Algeria began churning out great films such as The Winds of Aures (Mohammed Lakhdar-Hamina, 1966) and Chronicle of the Years of Fire (1975). North African countries were the first to display productions with a sense of national identity and pride. Though films produced in the country has steadily declined, contemporary Algerian cinema is being reintroduced with a number of francophone films mainly due to the increase of immigration to France in the 1990’s.
Poussiere de Vie or Dust of Life Algeria (Rachid Bouchareb, 1995) was nominated during the 1996 Academy awards. Set in South Vietnam during the fall of the communist forces, caused many Amerasians to be detained in “reeducation camps”. A heartrending true life film filled with memorable music and ambitious performances by the young actors.
Reasons to watch
- I love films that effortlessly educates the viewer about subjects most have never heard of. The main character Son, is half African American and half Vietnamese, hence why he’s forced on the camp to achieve “racial purity”. Some team up and organize for a prison like break.
- The teens are in hellish situations that is mind boggling yet they never resort child like behavior. If you’ve read or seen Lord of Flies, some similarities might pop up. Death/torture awaits those who dare attempt escape.
- Youceff Sahraou’s cinematography is captivating with its use of of wide lens to showcase the lovely dense jungles of Vietnam and in the candidness it creates with the young men.
Z (Costas-Gravas,1969) is another film based on true events of the turmoil that results when a leftist leader (Grigoris Lambrakis) of an opposition force in Greece is assassinated in ’63.What took place was labeled an accident but rest assured all questionable deeds will be revealed as they are: a crime- well at least in this case it will. Fast paced action sequences, violence used as a form of communication and manipulation by extremists to further commit atrocities to remain in control. Look at most dictators throughout history: the more power they possess, the harder wrestle against relinquishing control.It’s an exciting political thriller that makes a statement on the corruption of the justice system. Clever subtle clues are placed in enfolding the mystery of the “accident”. Prepare to be entertained, shocked, angry, and dumbfounded by the conclusion of this film.
Reasons to watch
- If you enjoyed Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers, they share similar ways in character alignments and the claustrophobia of a military state. I find it it to be a bit documentary style in terms of visuals.This makes it even grittier and unsettling at the same time. A great deal has been banned whether it’s long hair on males, smashing glasses after drink toasts (really?) to Sartre and Dostoyevski. Though it’s not set in an African country, the film is made by an Algerian which really speaks to a universal audience.Basically any notion of the Greek people expressing human rights/liberties is squashed immediately.
- The beginning of the film is a little slow paced but rewards will come to those who are patient.Once it gains momentum, you probably won’t leave your seat for anything(well maybe if you really gotta go).Yves Montand (Le Salaire de La Peur aka The Wages of Fear, Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1953 plus Jean de Florette, 1986, Jacques Deray) gives a groundbreaking performance.
- The above theatrical poster alone conjures all kinds of thoughts of what horrible event happened. The film’s aesthetics and how the figure looks to be in a great deal of pain is one of the reasons I watched it long ago. Not only was it among the few films ever nominated for best foreign language and best picture, it also amassed a hefty profit.
- Banned books, notably banned films are fun to seek out and this is one of them.The letter Z which means “He is alive”, the director, Costa- Gravas and others involved in the film are banned from Greece which is at the moment ruled by the right wing. No surprise there.
The treatment of black soldiers in Glory, (Edward Zwick, 1989) during the civil war and other wars America took part in parallels the discrimination Algerian soldiers face in Indigene or Days Of Glory (Rachid Bouchareb, 2006). Many colonized Algerians and Moroccans joined French troops during World war II in which they face segregation, demeaning positions and humiliation. The hypocrisy is real: being led to fight for the freedom of others while the herder is confining you as well. Are the indignities worth it? That question floats around. Nominated for Best foreign language film at the academy awards but lost to an equally stellar film, The Lives of Others ( Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, 2006).
Reasons to watch
- It’s a conventional war film yet it’s a strong portrayal of the injustices suffered by Algerian soldiers serving for their colonial ruler in hopes of bridging the cruel gap they share.
- Movies can change the world! Quite a bitter move by France in freezing the pensions of infantrymen whose respective countries were about become independent. Days of Glory (2006) was quite influential in prompting the french government to raise the pensions of thousands of former Algerian and Moroccan soldiers.
- Dirt, dirt, dirt.The battle sequences are sharp and strong on impact.The visuals that stick out are explosions that trigger soil to surround everything.It’s as if the camera itself is being buried which is shown in a scene where the screen goes black.The use of long shots, swift camera movements and ground level actions of the soldiers, makes the film stick out.
Film director Rachid Bouchareb knows how to get the ball rolling. He uses film for its potential as a medium to share and educate why historical events of the past are still relevant in modern times.