Literary Birthday: Wole Soyinka

Like his cousin, world-renowned musician and activist Fela Kuti, Nigerian poet and dramatist Wole Soyinka (born today in 1934) is almost as well known for political agitation as his art, the latter of which made him the first black African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He made numerous enemies with his outspoken critiques of authoritarian African regimes and post-colonial powers, lampooning “the oppressive boot and the irrelevance of the colour of the foot that wears it.”

For his efforts, he was imprisoned by the Nigerian government in 1967 for over two years. During that time, he wrote verse that was smuggled out on toilet paper and published as Poems from Prison (1969). His poem “When Seasons Change” reflects a perspective shaped in solitary confinement: “Shrouds of seasons gone, peeled / From time’s corpses, mouse-eaten thoughts / You flutter upon solitude in winds.”

Screening Room: ‘This is Congo’

One of the year’s most gorgeous, emotional, and harrowing movies, This is Congo, is opening this week in limited release. Make sure to find it.

My review is at Film Journal International:

“To grow up in Congo,” says a man at the start of Daniel McCabe’s lacerating new documentary, “is to grow up in paradise.” This comes as McCabe’s camera swoops over lush green hills and deep forests that do indeed seem paradisaical. But the turn comes soon, as we see rough roads jammed with refugees, children cowering at the unearthly roar of rocket launchers and artillery. Being raised in this place, the voice points out, is also “to grow up in misery.” Why the life of the average Congolese is that of misery and not joy is the question that this inquisitive movie asks…

Here’s the trailer:

Nota Bene: Top Risks for 2018

Earlier this week, the risk assessment firm the Eurasia Group published their take on the Top Risks that the world is going to face in 2018. It starts with China (which “loves a vacuum,” particularly the one left by the United States) and ends with Africa and a list of possibly surprising red herrings (among them, “Trump’s White House”):

In the 20 years since we started Eurasia Group, the global environment has had its ups and downs. But if we had to pick one year for a big unexpected crisis—the geopolitical equivalent of the 2008 financial meltdown—it feels like 2018. Sorry…

The full report is here.

New in Theaters: ‘Last Hijack’ Gets Inside the Mind of a Somali Pirate

'Last Hijack': Let's steal a ship. (The Match Factory)
‘Last Hijack’: Let’s steal a ship. (The Match Factory)

In the latest take on the Somali pirate phenomenon, Last Hijack comes from a more innovative direction. It mixes on-the-ground documentary footage of Mohamed, the pirate captain who’s pushing for another escapade even as his parents and new wife beg him not, with imaginative animated segments that portray his roiling internal strife and traumatic memories of war.

Last Hijack opens today in limited release after playing a number of film festivals. My review is at Film Journal International:

In the rash of recent films centered on the Somali piracy outbreak, almost none have been shot from the pirate’s point of view (the 2012 short and 2014 feature Fishing Without Nets being a rare exception). It’s not surprising, as Western audiences prefer their pirate-centric films to be more lusty, fun-loving, highly fictional, and safely mired in the past. When the films, and the many books and magazines, about the subject have tiptoed into the causes behind the outbreak of piracy, some have fallen prey to the too-easy explanation of: The pirates were once fishermen, and after other nations’ fishing vessels stripped the ocean clean, they resorted to piracy to make a living. That’s a big part of the story. But what Tommy Pallotta and Femke Wolting’s smart, well-rounded documentary understands is another quite obvious explanation: Piracy in this scenario is not only a way to make easy money in a poverty- and war-ravaged land, it’s an addictive thrill…

You can see the trailer here:

New in Theaters: ‘War Witch’

War Witch

war-witch-posterThere has been plenty written about the tragedy of child soldiers in the African wars, but little that has been put on film that wasn’t a documentary. Kim Nguyen’s blistering, Oscar-nominated War Witch uses the subject as the basis for a haunting, unforgettable film about a lost girl trying to put some kind of a life together.

My full review is at Film Journal International:

In some sub-Saharan African country where wars ebb and flow in a constant, blood-dimmed tide, a teenage girl with the eyes of a traumatized warrior tells the story of how she became a soldier. She wants her child to know what happened, even though she believes her evil deeds are not forgivable. The girl, Komona (Rachel Mwanza), relates everything in a numbed voiceover as though narrating a nightmare. With all its talk of witches and gris-gris and the many ghosts walking around like flesh-and-blood people, War Witch is more like a fairytale from long ago than an of-the-moment topical drama…

War Witch opens in limited release on Friday. Seek it out.

You can see the trailer here: