By Trevor Steele Taylor
I always knew there was another Africa. I always knew that film aesthetics were profoundly housed in the archetypes of a culture. I always knew that African film aesthetics were as vast and profound as the continent that housed them.
For the European explorer, clad in a pith helmet and climbing boots, the search for the aesthetic pile, beyond the Mountains of the Moon, where the great Ayesha reigns is a quest as fascinating as being locked into the vaults of Eurocine and having the hours of the night to piece together the mysteries of Alternative Versions.
This late-night, three programme season – aptly called AiM After Hours – is not exhaustive. It is a small delicate bite on a far bigger morsel. The films are primarily by South Africans with one Nigerian exception. The quality is great and to those who know neither Kaganof nor Stanley, this should be an eye opener.
I saw my first Nigerian film in a little cinema in Brussels called CineNova. I was sitting next to Richard Stanley (also a guest at this festival). The film was End of the Wicked by Nigerian auteurs Teco Benson and Helen Okpabio. I had never seen anything like it before. I turned to Richard. He turned to me and said “My faith in cinema is restored!” There you are – even when you think you know the dog, it still has the ability to bite you.
The extraordinary symbiotic relationship of fundamentalist Christian evangelism and exploitation cinema with images which verge, and sometimes transcend the pornographic is no more impressively realised than in the films of Benson and Ukpabio.
Their American counterparts, the Ormonds, who moved with barely a bat of the eyelid from the nudie film Mesa of Lost Women to the explicit scare picture The Burning Hell, would have been impressed, as I was by the Ukpabio/Benson masterpiece End of the Wicked. No holds barred there – oh no – old Satan has his way in a surrealistic blood and sex bath which includes a witch suddenly sprouting an enormous phallus. In the last 20 minutes though, evangelist Ukpabio turns up, casts out demons, sends old Satan packing and the excesses that went before are exonerated.
This is the tried and true format and it is on the cards again in Highway to the Grave (screened as part of the AiM After Hours series). Unfortunately the team ran foul of the Nigerian censors with their reportedly divisive The Rapture and new censorship laws were enforced, turning the transgressive nature of the prolific Nigerian film industry into an equally prolific, but perhaps rather less daring Nollywood.
Did you know that a certain William Akouffo in Ghana made a block buster on no money called Diabolo about a man who turns himself into a snake which enters by way of the genitalia of sleeping women causing them to vomit money? Have you heard of Othello the Black Commando and its prolific director Max H. Boulois? Have you ever encountered The Slit – shot in Zimbabwe and almost ending in tragedy for its German cast and crew? Have you heard of Elvira Hoffman, prolific pornographer and director of Dust Raider and South African Girls? None of these at this year’s AiM but who knows what the future holds?
What will be screened is the long awaited, mobile phone shot feature, SMS Sugar Man, by the prolific South African director Aryan Kaganof, in which a pimp cruises the streets of Johannesburg, delivering white hookers to wealthy black punters on Christmas Eve. Kaganof is also the scriptwriter of Akin Omotoso’s short film Jesus and the Giant (screened with SMS Sugar Man) in which a black woman Jesus takes on a serial rapist, the Giant. Through a montage of digital still pictures, the editing creates a rhythm of motion.
Then there is Richard Stanley, a luminary figure amongst film directors with his unforgettable Dust Devil, about a shape shifter on the roads of a newly independent Namibia. Also in the programme is his Voodoo documentary The White Darkness during the filming of which he, like Maya Deren before him, was also initiated into the priesthood of Haitian magical mysteries. I will be introducing the screenings as well as having an extended chat with Richard Stanley on stage. I am going to enjoy it. I hope you will too!