In 1995, the Toronto International Film Festival launched a new section showcasing films from Africa and the African diaspora. Over its 10 years, Planet Africa brought films by Safi Faye, John Akomfrah, Abderrahmane Sissako, Euzhan Palcy, Charles Burnett, Djibril Diop Mambéty, and more to Toronto. Premiering Jamaica’s Dancehall Queen they ran a pretty hot Planet Africa party. This year, TIFF join the call from the streets for Black liberation, celebrating the voices that Planet Africa amplified. (Main image: Akilla’s Escape,” Charles Officer, Canada)
Orla Garriques, who worked on Planet Africa and will be a panellist for Planet Africa 25: Origin Stories, has built this commemorative site with information on all the films over all the years of the section.
TIFF 2020 has selected four new films for its Official Selection that embody the spirit of Planet Africa:
“Akilla’s Escape,” Charles Officer, Canada
When a routine deal goes bad, a drug trader tries to set things right while unexpected circumstances force him to confront his traumatic origins.
During what is supposed to be a simple, routine handoff, 40-year-old drug trader Akilla Brown is suddenly caught in the middle of a violent robbery. Narrowly making it out alive, he captures one of the thieves, a teenaged Jamaican boy named Sheppard. Under the pressure of the criminals who hired him, Akilla must set things right and retrieve the stolen goods over the course of one arduous night.
When Akilla discovers that Sheppard’s gang has ties to the Garrison Army, the same crime organization he fell into as a child, he has to confront his own traumatic origins and becomes compelled to help the boy survive — and possibly even make the escape that he never could. Set in parallel timelines in present-day Toronto and 1990s Brooklyn, Akilla’s Escape illustrates how the oppressive cycle of violence manifests in different generations and just how difficult it is to break.
“Downstream to Kinshasa,” Dieudo Hamadi, Democratic Republic of the Congo/France/Belgium
Since making his feature documentary debut in 2013, Dieudo Hamadi has produced an unparalleled body of work that captures glimpses of contemporary Congolese life. In examining elections (Atalaku, 2013), schools (National Diploma, which played TIFF in 2014), violence against women and children (Mama Colonel, 2017), and political mobilization (Kinshasa Makambo, 2018), Hamadi has told individual stories that speak to collective experiences and histories. With Downstream to Kinshasa, Hamadi perfects this approach as he follows a group of victims of his country’s Six-Day War in 2000, who are seeking reparations from the government.
“40 Years a Prisoner,” Tommy Oliver, USA
In 1978, a raid on the revolutionary group MOVE’s commune in Philadelphia ended with the death of a police officer. Under highly questionable circumstances, nine MOVE activists — all of them Black — received maximum sentences of between 30 and 100 years in prison. Young married couple Debbie Africa and Mike Africa, expecting a child at the time, were among those convicted. Debbie gave birth to Mike Africa Jr. inside prison walls, and he would spend the next 40 years fighting for the release of his parents and the other MOVE members.
Filmmaker Tommy Oliver documents Mike Africa Jr.’s decades-long investigation and research into what really happened the day of the siege, diving into the conflicting testimonies of those behind it and the effect of MOVE’s activism and way of life on the rest of the community. With wide-ranging access to archival footage and extensive interviews with MOVE members, neighbours, journalists, former police officers, and politicians, Oliver crafts a comprehensive and searing examination of race, police brutality, and criminal justice bias that will seem all too familiar to viewers today.
MOVE’s story remains largely untold in mainstream media even today, despite their traumatic encounters with authorities in a major US city — culminating in a 1985 bombing by police that killed 11 people, including five children,
A panel entitled “Planet Africa 25: Origin Stories,” will take place on Sunday, September 13. Bailey and the team that built Planet Africa will look at what the program’s legacy means today.