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New African Films Festival Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary

Premiere of 'Half of a Yellow Sun' at AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center

Eve M. Ferguson | 3/12/2014, 3 p.m.
Chiwetl Ejiofor and Thandie Newton star in "Half of a Yellow Sun." (Courtesy of AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center)

For the fans of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the Washington metropolitan area, the long wait is almost over. The film "Half of a Yellow Sun," based on her novel of the same name, will premiere as part of the weeklong New African Films Festival at the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, featuring 18 films from Africa. Celebrating a decade of screening rarely seen contemporary films from Africa, the collaboration presented by TransAfrica, afrikafe and the film institute runs from March 13-20 this year.

Selections from Angola, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Chad, Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, South Africa, Senegal, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Malawi, demonstrate the vital film industry on the continent, and the diversity of expression from today’s active filmmakers. The films range from drama to comedy, and all are newly made and released. The New African Films Festival provides a venue for African filmmakers to show their works, which often do not find their way into wider release.

"Half of a Yellow Sun," by Nigerian-born British director Biyi Bandele, tells the epic story of love, perseverance and history against the backdrop of the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War in the mid-1960s. The saga unfolds through the main character, Olanna, played by Thandie Newton, and her revolutionary academic lover, played by Nigerian-British actor Chiwetl Ejoifor, most recently winning accolades for his lead role in the Oscar-winning film "12 Years a Slave." She and her sister Kainene (Anika Noni Rose), twin daughters from a wealthy and powerful family in Nigerian society, become active players in the ethnic upheaval that pitted tradition against the intellectual community of young Nigerians who hoped for a new nation radically different than the post-colonial Nigeria they lived in.

Set against the backdrop of events that fueled the civil war, when the Igbo ethnic group of Southeastern Nigeria sought to create the independent nation of Biafra in a turbulent and devastating conflict that lasted from 1967 to 1970, Adichie illustrates the extreme upheaval and suffering that gripped the entire nation, and the attention of the world. "Half of a Yellow Sun," which was Adichie’s second novel published in 2005, won the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction and gained wide critical acclaim. The film was the Official Selection for the 2013 Toronto Film Festival and makes its area debut on opening night, March 13 and March 16, when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will be on hand for a question and answer after the screening and will also sign books.

For the remainder of the weeklong festival, evening screenings of a plethora of African films will be offered, including two films from the Ivory Coast, "Burn It Up Djassa," the story of a young man in the urban ghetto of Abidjan (djassa) trying to escape poverty through a lucky streak of poker winnings, and "Aya of Yop City," an animated film based on popular graphic novels to tell the coming-of-age story of Aya during the 1970s.

Two recent films from Ethiopia, "Horizon Beautiful" and "Difret," winners of the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival and the Panorama Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival, will highlight the first weekend. A question-and-answer session with director Zeresenay Mehari and producer Mehret Mandefro will be held after the Saturday screening of "Difret," based on the true story of an Ethiopian female lawyer by first-time filmmaker Mehari.