The 5 must-see African films at the Toronto International Film Festival

By Wilfred Okiche
Posted on Thursday, 8 September 2022 17:00

TIFF poster 2022 (twitter)

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has always been a welcoming space for African films, and this year is no different. One of the largest publicly attended festivals in the world — and a crucial stop for movies looking to make their mark during award season — TIFF is a key highlight of the year.

In the past, the festival has been responsible for breaking out films such as Nigeria’s Lionheart and Ivoirian director Philippe Lacôte’s Night of the Kings in North America.  These movies would eventually go on to be named the selections for their respective countries in the Best International Feature Film category at the Oscars.

This year the festival is hosting the world premiere of the Nigerian drama The King’s Horseman as well as Free Money, Kenyan director Sam Soko’s follow up to his acclaimed 2020 documentary, Softie. We present the top five African films this year’s TIFF. From Morocco to Nigeria, Kenya to Tunisia, African films are as competitive as they have ever been.

The Blue Caftan – Morocco/France/Belgium/Denmark

Three years after her debut feature length, Adam, Moroccan filmmaker Maryam Touzani returns to mine the depths of tradition and the hypocrisies of conservative societies in this warm-blooded and accomplished piece of cinema.

The quiet routine of an older couple played by the duo of Saleh Bakri and Lubna Azabal is jolted when a new apprentice arrives at the small shop where the husband makes hand-crafted caftan dresses. With The Blue Caftan (Le Bleu du Caftan), Touzani once again flirts with a taboo topic, querying the limits of love, honor and hidden obsessions while weighing them against the primal need for freedom and sexual liberation. The Blue Caftan is a moving story of longing, responsibility and commitment.

Free Money – Kenya/USA

This documentary co-directed by Kenyan filmmaker Sam Soko and American Lauren DeFilippo takes a deep dive look into the concept of universal basic income, tying it to larger conversations about the impact of the so-called foreign aid industrial complex on the continent.

In the Kenyan rural community of Kogutu, the American NGO GiveDirectly, backed with $30m in funding, introduces a programme that will hand every adult member of the village a universal basic income (UBI) of about $22 per month . The test phase is primed to last 12 years.

Free Money follows what happens in Kogutu over three years to study the impact and consequences of the project.

The King’s Horseman – Nigeria

The festival will be dedicating the presentation of The King’s Horseman (Ẹlẹ́ṣin Ọba) to the memory of the film’s director, Biyi Bandele, who passed away suddenly in August, shortly after completing work on the film. He was 54.

This Netflix/EbonyLife Films co-production is an adaptation of the 1975 seminal parable Death and the King’s Horseman by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Based loosely on real events, The King’s Horseman is Soyinka’s provocative commentary on colonial tensions and the tragedies that beckon when humans interfere in traditions outlined by the gods. Superstars Odunlade Adekola and Shaffy Bello turn in strong performances in this musical/theatrical reimagination that takes the play back to its cultural roots.

The Umbrella Men – South Africa

In John Barker’s delightfully quirky and culturally specific comedy The Umbrella Men, protagonist Jerome (Jaques De Silva) learns that he has been bequeathed the Goema Club, home to a minstrel troupe that his late father led for many years. In order to save the club from bankruptcy, Jerome marshals a ragtag team to attempt an unlikely bank heist. Can this band of unlikely allies pull off the unthinkable?

Drawing inspiration from crime capers helmed by the Coen brothers (The Lady Killers, Burn After Reading), The Umbrella Men is a riotous and colourful celebration of the Cape Town minstrel culture, celebrated since the early 19th century. The film speaks glowingly of a community that has not always been represented properly on film.

Under the Fig TreesTunisia/Switzerland/France/Germany/Qatar

In this radiant feature-length debut by French-Tunisian filmmaker Erige Sehiri, the world is condensed in a summer day for a group of fig harvesters doing gig work in a orchard whose corrupt management seeks to exploit them. Sehiri’s camera is ever-present and roving, trailing the mostly non-professional cast of intergenerational actors, documentary style as they go about their work, worry about their lives, gossip, fight, settle differences and try to game the system.

Under the Fig Trees (Taht el Shajara) makes for a controlled immersive experience that seduces with its soulful, unhurried approach. This lets the scenes breathe and gives more power to the communal experience of observing labour in some of its purest forms.

The Toronto International Film Festival 2022 runs from 8 September to 18 September.

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