Review by Belle Mcintyre Looking Back, Looking Forward: 20 Years of the New York African Film Festival, is dedicated to commemorating 50 years of African Cinema. It began at Lincoln Center from April 3 – 9 and continues at the Mayles Cinema and BamCinematek in May, where selected films will be shown.

The four films which I saw were all wonderful in different ways with diverse styles but the thread that connects this group seemed to be the tension between tradition and modernity represented by opportunity and freedom.

Jeans & Marto, (2011) Co-presented by Human Rights Watch Film Festival, is the true story of a young boy living in a pastorialist village in Ethiopia who has such a thirst for education that he defies his parents and his animal tending duties to walk the 12 km. to attend school. When his parents arrange his marriage he refuses and leaves the village and gets himself into a high school and then into Addis Ababa University. The whole time he continues to miss his family and his village and keeps in touch with his brothers, But the parents refuse to talk to him.

When he is given the chance to go to Italy for two years to be a part of the Slow Food program, whose goals can directly benefit pastorialist societies like his own he decides to go home to visit his family and try to mend the bridges. As he gets close to home he stops to change out of his modern clothes, jeans, shirt and shoes and changes into the marto, which is the white cloth which the men of the village wrap around themselves.

There are wonderful scenes of village life, in particular the preparations for the wedding of his younger brother who married the bride he refused. He finally is able to make up with his father, a member of the Karrayyu community and he assures them that he will return after another two years of study. His graduation from university is a great triumph and because of his work with the Slow Food movement he has been able to start an NGO specifically to help the villages like his own learn more sustainable methods of farming and to work toward getting more water to these extreme desert regions. It is an extraordinary, hopeful and uplifting story. He has returned to his village and his parents have stopped trying to arrange marriages for him.


Image Courtesy of African Film NY

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