Film lovers around the world will be eyeing the 48th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Invited filmmakers and talent will celebrate the achievement of joining the festival’s extensive programme in Toronto. This year, the festival will be marked by major US celebrity absences due to ongoing writers’ and actors’ guild strikes.
The African presence at TIFF, from 7 to 18 September, spans the gamut from the main selection to the industry programmes. The films to be screened are a diverse mix, ranging from a high-octane journalism thriller starring South African actress Noxolo Dlamini to the world premiere of the adaptation of a bestselling Nigerian novel.
These are seven of the must-see African films playing at TIFF this year.
1. Death of a Whistleblower (South Africa)
Veteran filmmaker Ian Gabriel is a TIFF regular, having attended the festival with two of his previous films, Forgiveness and Four Corners. With Death of a Whistleblower, Gabriel returns to the thematic turf of 2004’s Forgiveness, as he considers the impact of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission post-apartheid.
Borrowing from real-life events, Death of a Whistleblower is an up-to-date thriller that stars Noxolo Dlamini (Silverton Siege) as an investigative journalist who finds herself on a dangerous quest for answers after her colleague is gruesomely murdered.
2. Four Daughters (Tunisia/Saudi Arabia/France/Germany)
Tunisian superstar Hend Sabri leads this intriguing docufiction experiment on family bonds, memory and release. Director Kaouther Ben Hania, whose previous film is the Oscar-nominated The Man Who Sold His Skin, invites professional actors to re-enact passages from the real lives of a Tunisian family broken apart when two daughters leave home to fight for the Islamic State in Syria.
The two missing daughters are played by actors who share scenes with the two daughters who stayed behind. Sabri plays the matriarch Olfa Hamrouni, who also appears on screen. The result is an occasionally muddled but welcome surprise.
3. I Do Not Come to You by Chance (Nigeria)
Anyone who has received emails from advance fee fraudsters, usually credited to some obscure Nigerian prince, will likely remember the title of this film as a key part of the hackers’ pitch.
The inner lives of the young men who resort to this crime were fictionalised in the 2009 Commonwealth Writers Prize-winning novel of the same title by Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani. This Ishayo Bako-directed big screen adaptation playing on the festival’s centre stage is a delightful romp, executive-produced by superstar actress Genevieve Nnaji.
4. Mambar Pierrette (Cameroon/Belgium)
Cameroonian-Belgian documentarian Rosine Mbakam (At Jolie Coiffure, Delphine’s Prayers) makes her feature-length debut with Mambar Pierrette, a modest, slice-of-life drama that quietly observes the attempts of its heroine to exist within the patriarchal system in Douala.
With plenty of grace and empathy, Mambar Pierrette relays the struggles of the titular protagonist (Pierrette Aboheu Njeuthat), a talented seamstress and single mother as she works hard and faces challenges in a bid to provide for her family.
5. The Mother of All Lies (Morocco/Egypt/Saudi Arabia/Qatar)
Moroccan filmmaker Asmae El Moudir won the best director prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival for this documentary that makes surprising use of handmade figurines and models to uncover layers of personal and political history.
While probing into the opaque nature of her family’s past, in The Mother of All Lies El Moudir enlists the assistance of her father who constructs a model of their street in Casablanca.
It is around this playful space that El Moudir invites family members and friends for a revealing session of group therapy.
6. Orah (Canada/Nigeria)
Screening as part of the Industry Selects lineup, a sidebar that parallels the festival’s main selection, Orah directed by Lonzo Nzekwe (Anchor Baby) is a revenge fantasy that details the story of a Toronto immigrant (Oyin Oladejo) whose teenage son is murdered back home in Nigeria.
Overcome by heightened emotions, Orah finds renewed purpose in taking down the international money launderers responsible for her son’s death.
7. The Umbrella Men 2: Escape from Robben Island (South Africa)
This sequel to last year’s The Umbrella Men, which debuted at TIFF, brings back key cast and crew members for another entertaining heist in the beautiful old quarter of Bo-Kaap in Cape Town.
Picking up after the events of the first film, Escape from Robben Island has the women of the group take charge this time as they scheme to break some of their members out of prison, in time to challenge an old and familiar adversary. The Umbrella Men 2 is also in the Industry Selects lineup.
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