African Film Festival Australia: Restless City

April 6, 2012

Last night, I was fortunate enough to attend the opening night of the Africa Film Festival Australia.  What should have been 15min drive from work to the cinema (as google maps said), became a painful 30 minute drive because of one wrong turn, which turned into many wrong turns because of all the one ways and peak hour traffic. I ended up in the Opera House parking lot which literally goes around and around in circles. Interesting design, but when you are in a hurry, interesting things are frustrating! But desperate times, called for desperate measures. I was so determined to make it on time. I even ran from the car park to the Dendy Cinema. I didn’t even get to absorb the beautiful night breeze along the harbour and the picturesque views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House. But I arrived in the nick of time!

I was so excited about the screening of Restless City by Afro-creative Andrew Dosunmu. I had read rave reviews about the film, people praising it on Twitter and Facebook, and besides that, my love and appreciation towards the work of Dosunmu was enormous. So I anticipating the best movie of all time just because it was by Dosunmu.

RESTLESS CITY tells the story of an Africa immigrant surviving on the fringes of New York City where music is his passion, life is a hustle, and falling in love is his greatest risk. You can read the full review about the film The Measure (The L Magazine).

I watched the film carefully trying to piece the plot together, trying to translate the little French I knew, creating dialogue where it was lacking (which was all the time), admiring the artistic direction and then asking ‘why?’ multiple times.
My friend Mary and I watched the film as pure Africans. Commenting throughout the film acting as if we knew the characters personally, getting frustrated at some for acting too big in particular BK, shaking our head at Trini (Sky Grey)’s lifestyle, laughing at accents which were so familiar to us and sympathising with the immigrant hustle in New York.

Halfway through the film I had the gentleman two seats beside me sleeping with his body about to roll off the chair and Mary giving up on the film as well. Yet, I wasn’t ready to dismiss the film. To me, this was an Andrew Dosunmu film, I had find love for it some way or the other!

The film ended and a female a few rows down said ‘Thank God’.  I don’t think she realised how loud she was. It was very clear that she was glad that the film was over. Mary laughed in agreement. I was nervous about the female’s reaction. Was the film bad? Was my fondness for Dosunmu‘s work overclouding my judgement about the film?

Everyone left the cinema whilst Mary and I just sat there trying to figure out what we had just seen. The first thing I said was ‘That was dry….. but I think I liked it’. Although, I wanted and needed to know more to answer my myriad of questions. I wanted to know how all characters got to New York, where they all came from, how they got caught up in the wrong business, why there was a shooting at club Mombasa? How did Trini get caught up with BK? How did BK become a pimp? Did anyone call Djibril’s (Sy Alassane) mum at the end? Where did Midi vanish to? Why this? How that? Why? Why? and Why?

In our discussions, Mary said she understood the approach of the movie, but thought it wasn’t executed well, and as a whole thought that it was not a good movie, especially for the opening of the festival. I think she was expecting a feel good movie about Africa which we could all gloat about after. Restless City was not the film to gloat about. It was a film which needed some intense discussion.
Mary wondered if non-Africans would get the film. I understood where she was coming from. The film lacked a lot of dialogue, and on top of that different African languages were spoken and the subtitles did not reflect all of it.  I think for us, being African, it was quite easy to read the body language and gestures and understand those moments and Mary feared that non-African wouldn’t be able to pick up on that. And without that you wouldn’t be able to understand the film in it’s context. It would just be as she put it as watching a film with only ‘face value’. Those people would be just be watching visuals like a slideshow with no depth. Yet she acknowledge that Restless City was beautiful yet plotless in so many ways.

Later in discussions with Samira Farrah (Event organiser), she agreed with Mary’s review and summed it up by saying ‘It was beautiful, shot wonderfully but the story and the characters are never fully built, relying more on cinematography’. In that moment I thought Samira had summed up the entanglement of my thoughts. Yet I later tweeted that the film was ‘Dry, raw, artistic, intriguing, confusing, emotive & inconsistent in some ways. Not sure what I think!!!’

I still wasn’t sure until I got onto Facebook this morning. Trust Facebook to just clear things up!

A small group of us started an interesting thread about the movie on the United as One Facebook pageUnited as One is a thriving organisation which started as Facebook page by Nick Mbogua to support the professional Afro-community residing in Australia.

The thread initially started with Nick Mbogua giving props to Samira Farrah for organising an amazing event. Of course the focus shifted to the reaction of the movie. This is where I found peace with the entanglements of my thoughts about the movie.

Wanyika Mshila (Designer of Froq Afriq) wrote: I think the sign of good piece of work is when it draws strong emotion from people whether love or hate. And I think Restless City definitely drew some strong emotions and best part is it got people talking and discussing their points of view afterwards which I thought was great!!

Samira Farah (Event organiser & Contributor of Afroklectic): Film criticism is part of the game and necessary. I agree Wanyika! Next year we will bring the filmmakers to answer to the audience!

Me: I agree with Wanyika. There is so much to say about the movie. If it was a movie which everyone loved, we wouldn’t have a dialogue as intense as this. We would just walk around saying it was good. But the uncertainties of #RestlessCity gets you thinking. It raises questions, raises speculations, taps into awkward emotions and leaves you hanging. Then you walk out and discuss with people and some feel you and others don’t. It’s an amazing dialogue!

I like the idea of bringing the film makers. We will be bombarding them with questions!!!!

I just want to yell at Andrew Dosunmu and I want to give him the biggest hug and say ‘Well Done’.

Aisha Kamra (Actress and Filmmaker): It’s definitely one of the best African Films I’ve ever seen, and as its been mentioned, a great film is one that resonates with different meanings. With the techniques used, the audience is indeed taken on a ‘Restless’ journey.

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Out of all my uncertainty Aisha put the icing on the cake for me. Restless City takes you on a ‘restless’ journey and that is the beauty of it.

Restless City is beautifully restless.

If you haven’t watched it, I suggest you watch it. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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