Pioneers, emerging voices merge at the New York African Film Festival

The film “Borders,” by Burkinabe filmmaker Apolline Traore, will kick off the opening night of the New York African Film Festival on May 16. The film follows four Malian women on a journey to Nigeria as they encounter a series of challenges. | Photo by Apolline Traore

BY ALEXANDRA SIMON | The New York African Film Festival returns on May 16 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary starting with screenings at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center. This year’s festival puts a special focus on African filmmakers instrumental in introducing a wave of classic movies into the African film industry. To commemorate that, a new addition to the festival will bring veteran and upcoming filmmakers together for a discussion on how classics stood the test of time, and how the current generation is poised to take African film into new creative territory.

“In this program,” festival founder Mahen Bonetti noted, “we’re going to be paying homage to the pioneers. We’re bringing the filmmakers in transition and still with us… together with the emerging filmmakers,” said.

Honoring influential voices from the past — while they are still active — is a once-in-a lifetime opportunity for early career artists, who can learn from their predecessors, she added.

“It’s going to be an intergenerational conversation taking place through the work and we really want them to pass on that baton and show the ropes to young filmmakers,” Bonetti said. “We have to be mindful a lot of trailblazers are passing on and we need to record them and their work, because we are fortunate to have them share their stories on film.”

The two-day intergenerational discussion kicks off May 21-22, featuring the film “The Wedding Ring” by Nigerien director Rahmatou Keïta. Her daughter, filmmaker Magaajyia Silberfeldk, will show her short film “Vagabonds,” and the two will lead a discussion about their films. The next day, another discussion will take place between Senegalese director Safi Faye and Ghanian-American filmmaker Akosua Adoma Owusu.

There will also be a free town hall event on May 13, which will present a conversation between young artists and how they use their art for activism, according to Bonetti.

The festival’s lineup has over 60 films hailing from over two dozen countries, with a large number of them by creators from Burkina Faso and South Africa. Some of the films include the New York premiere of award-winning Burkinabe film, “Borders,” a film documenting one of Africa’s most famous filmmakers — Mauritanian director Abderrahmane Sissako, and a film highlighting the continent’s first film festival — the Carthage Film Festival, according to Bonetti.

Founder and executive director of the New York African Film Festival, Mahen Bonetti. | Photo courtesy of NY African Film Fest

The festival kicks off with the May 13 town hall, and screenings begin at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center on May 16. It will continue at BAMcinématek, and conclude at Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem with showings of shorts.

Bonetti said she wants people to explore African filmmaking and participate in the conversations that come after a film, because they are integral to understanding a variation of contexts each film analyzes.

“I would like people to come in and see the films and engage and see not only what’s on screen, but to stay for conversation — not just seeing the film, [but also] every post-screening, [to see] that they are just as rich as the film,” she said. “I want people be part of that conversation and just welcome the filmmakers.”

The New York African Film Festival happens May 16-22 (144 W. 65th St., btw. Amsterdam & Columbus Aves.). Screenings also take place May 22-28 at BAMcinématek at Brooklyn Academy of Music (30 Lafayette Ave., btw. St. Felix St. & Ashland Pl. in Fort Green) and June 7-10, at the Maysles Documentary Center (343 Malcolm X Blvd., btw. W. 127th & 128th Sts.). Tickets are $15 ($12 for students/seniors). Call 212-352-1720 or visit

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