Wednesday, May 4th marked the opening night of the 23rd annual New York African Film Festival in association with The Film Society at the Lincoln Center. The celebrated film festival opened with the feature film, Tanna written and directed by Bentley Dean and Martin Butler. Winner of the Pietro Barzisa Audience Award at the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, the narrative takes place on the remote island of Tanna in the South Pacific. Based on a true story and featuring members of the Yakel tribe in their acting debuts, it follows young lovers who break off an arranged marriage created to bring peace to two warring tribes.
“We are very pleased to partner with African Film Festival, Inc. once again for the 23rd edition of the New York African Film Festival,” said Film Society of Lincoln Center Director of Programming Dennis Lim. “This year’s lineup is an extremely diverse and rewarding mix of features, documentaries, and short films that are an exemplary celebration of the continent’s rich and varied voices.”
The Festival will run from May 4th-10th, presenting works of 25 feature-length films and 27 short films from 26 countries, bringing another thrilling and multifaceted selection of African films from the continent and the Diaspora to New York audiences. Festival locations include the Walter Reade Theater, Maysles Cinema and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s BAMcinématek with a closing night spotlight of Manthia Diawara’s Negritude: A Dialogue Between Wole Soyinka and Senghor and the shorts program Africa in New York.
Check out our exclusive interview with Mahen Bonetti, the Founder and Executive Director of African Film Festival as well with Bentley Dean, writer and director of Tanna.
Q: How did the Festival all begin?
Mahen Bonetti: I felt there was another perspective to who I am, that I did not see or hear and I discovered this world of cinema in the Diaspora because I came here as a teenager due to the political upheaval that was taking place in the late 60s and 70s. A lot of post independent African countries had this domino affect one after another. So my family came here and more then ever in the 80s is when I noticed coverage of Africa; it might have happened before but this is when I noticed it and that was due to the famine crisis that was taking place in Ethiopia at the time and of course Michael Jackson did “We Are the World.” And all these artists galvanized and advocated to push the envelope and then I thought where is the back story. There is a back story, colonialism and slavery does have its impact. Finally you were having Africans tell their story through the cinematic medium and whether it was good or bad, we were the gate keepers of it and I thought why don’t we at least insert our voice in this conversation through the cinema.
Q: When did you create the film and can you give us a little background into the piece?
Bentley Dean: It is an unusual production in that we started without a story. It’s filmed on a very remote island in the South Pacific called Tanna and where I lived with my wife and small children and my co-director for about 7 months in a very traditional village so the people who were starring in the film had actually never seen a film before- think grass huts, people running around in their traditional gear- penis sheets and grass skirts and still hunting with bows and arrows. So we worked up the story together, that’s what I wanted to do, I didn’t want to impose a story, I wanted it to come from the community, that way you get to learn more and where you are. And so that’s what we did and to tell you the truth, the main reason for going there was to expose my kids to a different environment then the suburbs of Melbourne and what we got was an extraordinary film. It was the icing on the cake really.