Pan African Film Festival: More reviews and PAFF awards
Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas

LOS ANGELES—Borders (Frontières) is about four women who come together to sell their Nigerian fabrics in Lagos, Nigeria. The trials and tribulations these women face are beyond comprehension. But like the major portion of the films screened this year at the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), there is light humor interspersed throughout—if for nothing more, than to provide the audience with some relief from the sometime depressing incidents that happen.

The movie begins with these women on one of the many buses they will board, to get from Senegal to their destination. In the opening day one scene, they must go through a lot of hassle in getting a border patrolman to let them on the bus. He is insolent and rude in not wanting to let two of the women board. The tensions are high and things take on an air of suspense, as most of these ladies seem like they may be hiding something. After much smooth maneuvering and game playing, they are finally allowed to board.

Adarjia is busy trying to get back some jewelry that she accused one of the male passengers of stealing. After much haranguing and getting witness testimonies, he finally relinquishes the jewelry that he had hidden in a sandwich. From there, Murphy’s Law takes over. Many things are happening by now. There is a man, dressed nicely in a suit, who makes it very difficult for people around him by making strange and not so nice-smelling noises. It is all too real, the way everyone responds to him. The ladies take an instant dislike to this gentleman, and do all they can to avoid any communication with him. As the bus is traveling down the road, it comes to an abrupt halt. The women then must get off the bus, and make themselves comfortable in sleeping out under the stars.

If things could possibly go wrong, they did. As the ladies disembarked from their first bus (after it breaks down), a young man and two or three of his “partners” rob the women. It is scary as they go to each passenger and demand that they give them their watches, cell phones, money, jewelry, etc. After the robbers are finished, their leader wants to take things further and they continue harassing them. Vishaa, who is from Nigeria and is trying to get back for her wedding, pushes the young man down into a shrub, but he retaliates and shoots her in the chest.

As the film continues, the women confront rape, theft, border patrolmen who try to swindle them out of money and more in order to let them cross over to the next city. How one can go on through these horrible experiences is explained by the women themselves. They say it is necessary because they have families, they are proving themselves to be great entrepreneurs, they have the right to be able to take care of themselves, and in the past, they had traveled these lands without the cruel hassles of being able to cross over into another state. The insurmountable strength of these women is nothing short of breathtaking. It is a story that made all the females in the audience clap and yell out in unison with the relief and feeling of winning one of many battles, when Salis, one of the young women in the film, shot and killed the man who tried to steal medication from her that she was trying to get to her boyfriend.

The ending shows how all the characters on the bus come together for the benefit of all, from the impolite man on the bus, who was actually a lawyer able to help one of the women with her legal problems, to one of the border patrolmen befriended by Adarjia with a small bag of cold water to drink while he stood in the hot burning sun doing his job.

This film won the Best Narrative Feature. It was directed by Woye Apolline Traoré, who also played the part of the main character, Adarjia, in the film. Borders features smooth, comforting music and sweet-looking animals frolicking and running in pairs. This story told how feminism is used by Black women throughout the diaspora to assert themselves and to make their place in the world.

Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas

This film is one more historical example of the “taking” of Black African land from its people.  Directed by Joakim Demmer and narrated by Alexander Karim, it gives us documented evidence of the World Bank’s part in the travesty of keeping Black Africa poor.

This documentary was filmed in Gambela, Ethiopia. It opens with a brief history of how rich this country was in terms of rich, fertile soil and mild temperatures, for crop development, the strong and beautiful culture of the inhabitants, and how everyone would contribute their strong talents in maintaining this beautiful country. However, as time passes, detrimental foreign investment begins to take over the country. A far-fetched idea is hatched to take over the middle of a wildlife reserve to develop wheat crops (called green gold) for world distribution. The film presents a grave and accurate account of how African countries became and stay poor.

The results of these decisions are shown throughout the film. The people tell stark, gruesome stories of how they are tortured, the women are raped, their land is stolen from them, and they are eventually “villagized.” In other words, they are told that these same companies taking the land would give them adequate housing, education, and proper food with good nutritional value.

Instead, people are crowded into slums, where there is absolutely nothing to help them. As Okwori, an evicted farmer, is interviewed, he explains how he and others like him cannot complain to anyone about their condition. They are ordered to “shut up” if they speak out. After his eviction, he could only get help if he agreed to live in a village. The film shows how dejected the people felt, depression a prominent reaction. Even in the animals’ eyes the viewer can sense their mistrust of the intruders.

The World Bank is accused of being the main culprit behind major corporations being able to buy land in the middle of a wildlife preserve in order to grow wheat, thus displacing the local farmers and their communities. An organization called Protection of Basic Services is granted money from the bank in order to carry out these atrocities. Throughout the film, local farmers are interviewed as to how this practice by companies from the U.S., Germany and Sweden have treated Gambela’s inhabitants. As Demmer drove down the roads of Gambela, he unfortunately could get no one to talk to him. The women showed anger, refusing to speak, and sometimes totally ignored him. The only workers who are taken care of adequately are the security people, who are paid to keep the inhabitants “in check.”

These same security people would boast as to how the foreign wheat farms were expanding, and how much they are being helped. However, another local farmer named Anuaks says he wants the World Bank to make changes. The violence between the misplaced farmers living in these  villages makes living unbearable, simply because of their anger and mistrust of the corporations.   The farmers are arrested on a regular basis, thrown into prison and tortured. Another farmer named Onot says, “I don’t fear being arrested, I fear torture.”

The PAFF award

In the end, Okwori says, “Dead donkeys fear no hyenas…. We are already dead, so this is where we are—dead.” The trailer can be viewed here.

Of course, in any story there are many sides. Voice of America predictably frames the struggle as an ethnic clash compounded by the presence of South Sudanese refugees.

The envelope please…

The principal awards from this year’s festival include the following:

Best Narrative Feature: Borders (Frontières) (Burkina Faso), directed by Woye Apolline Traoré

Best Director—First Feature Narrative: Kalushi (South Africa), directed by Mandlakayise Dube

Best Documentary Feature: Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me (US), directed by Samuel D. Pollard

Best Narrative Short: Kyenvu (Yellow) (Uganda), directed by Kemiyondo Coutinho

Best Documentary Short: Mama (US), directed by Nicholas Brennan

Programmers’ Award—Narrative or Documentary Short: Lalo’s House (Haiti/US), directed by Kelley Kali

Programmers’ Award—Documentary: Barrow-Freedom Fighter (Barbados), directed by Marcia Weekes

Programmers’ Award—Narrative Feature: Love Jacked (South Africa), directed by Alfons Adetuyi

PAFF Directors’ Award—Feature Documentary (TIE): King of Stage: The Woodie King Jr. Story (US), directed by Juney Smith and Maynard (US), directed by Samuel D. Pollard

PAFF Directors’ Award—Feature Narrative: The Train of Salt and Sugar (Mozambique/South Africa), directed by Licínio Azevedo

Audience Award—Documentary Short: ’63 Boycott (US), directed by Gordon Quinn

Audience Award—Documentary Feature: Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me (US), directed by Samuel D. Pollard

Audience Award—Narrative Short: For Evan’s Sake (US), directed by Kirstin Lorin

Audience Award—Narrative Feature: Muslimah’s Guide to Marriage (US), directed by Aminah Bakeer Abdul-Jabbaar

The complete list of festival awards can be found here.


Jo Allen-Eure
Jo Allen-Eure

Jo Allen-Eure writes from Los Angeles.