Zanzibar’s thought police were their eager Beaver selves yet again issuing their edict about blacking out the steamy scenes in the dark drama The Thorn of the Rose. This cinematic wonder, a Portugal-Guinea Bissau collaboration is mostly a cautionary tale against those that leave unresolved issues with the dead. Its leading man prosecuting attorney David Lunga’s success is overshadowed by the terrifying secrets of Rosa, a beautiful but mysterious woman he falls in love with. Abortion, a paedophiliac cop and David’s desire to face his demons take us on a 97-minute journey into near-voodoo, discomforting sex and bloodied scenes in this aesthetically-shot and well-paced feature. Director Filipe Henriques is awesome while interspersing Catholic symbols of Mother Mary and voodoo. Clever screenwriting filled with subtext finishes off the movie. An able portrayal by leading lady Ady Batista who was at the screening made this Lusophone thriller worth a second viewing that by-passed the zealous Zanzibari censors albeit in a closed hotel conference room.
You have to hand it to South Africa for the hearty animation Khumba. The production values in this morality tale are way up there in the league of Rio and Ice Age. But it’s the story that towers over the other two, the fact that even for a zebra, life is not black and white. Khumba is this zebra with definite stripe issues. His were half done, not just leaving him as the butt of the animal kingdom’s jokes. As the odd one, it is easy for his herd to blame him for bringing drought to the land. His dead mother’s folkloric tales see him team up with a sassy wildebeest and a flamboyant ostrich to find the legendary waterhole where the first zebras got their stripes. It will not be an easy journey. He has to come face to face with a tyrannical leopard in the epic battle to earn the other half of his stripes. Anyone that has been on the receiving end of being picked on for being different will love this animated feature. The rib-crackers come by the bucketful although using Hollywood actor voices was sucking up way too much. If you have little ones, get them the DVD! They’ll cherish the life lessons even if they fail to get the Springbok jokes.
Film festival organisers were on a collision course with the Zanzibari “thought police” after the island’s censorship board put restrictions on the screening of the Nollywood movie Mother of George. The edict was to either “black out” the film’s sex scenes or have the screening halted. Festival organisers cowered leaving a sour taste in the mouths of festivalgoers. Yet this is one of the better offerings from Nollywood if, like me, you have been put off by the low production values of much of the cinematic offerings from Nigeria; you know the Chineke-oh, melodramatic juju-plot-driven ones with derivative titles like Beyonce vs Rihana. Not so with the delightful Mother of George in which Adenike and Ayodele, a Nigerian couple living in Brooklyn, are having trouble conceiving a child. The problem defies cultural expectations and leads Adenike to make a shocking decision that could either save or destroy her family. Spoiler alert; she has sex with her brother-in-law if anything to keep the DNA in the family. It may be a no-no in modern times what with all the IVF alternatives around but it is the sort of subject that gets under people’s skins.
If it were up to me, I’d have had Half of a Yellow Sun as the opening film at the 17th edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival instead of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. East Africa’s premier cinema showpiece opened on Saturday June 14th on the idyllic Indian Ocean Island at its principal historic venue, the imposing Old Fort. The hype around the screen adaptation of Chimamanda Adichie’s novel, especially its apparent banning in Nigeria and its resonance with the fact that many African countries are still grappling with early post-colonial unfinished business, would have made me choose it over the Mandela biopic. Well, there’s also the sentimentality about director Biyi Bandele was one of my screenwriter mentors at the Maisha Film Lab class of 2009, the garden where the seeds of my interest in film were planted. Festival goers have to wait until Wednesday June 18th for Half of a Yellow Sun’s screening at the open air amphitheater screening venue.
Something about Zanzibar keeps bringing me back even after ridiculous policies like an immigration demand for yellow fever cards from East Africa citizens. That and a mandatory $50 departure tax have had me swear not to return in the past. (I see vaccination cards as nothing but veiled xenophobia and that obnoxious airport tax would still not make sense even if the Zanzibar airport were touched up to make it look less like a dignified bus park). And the allure that makes me return has little to do with the swimming-pool-green ocean water, the seafood (everyone here sings about its aphrodisiac qualities) or my elusive quest for a mermaid (mbu they only pop out of the ocean on full moon nights). It has more to do with the cultural trappings on offer on this Indian ocean island Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse sang so passionately about in that immortal hit Zanzibar, oh Zanzibar.