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20 Great English-Language Films To Help You Discover Africa

09 September 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Horia Nilescu

14. Tears of the Sun (Antoine Fuqua, 2003)

TEARS OF THE SUN, Bruce Willis, Johnny Messner, 2003, (c) Columbia

Surprisingly, this is one of the few films to feature rain in an African landscape. In fact, Roger Ebert said “Tears of the Sun is a film constructed out of rain, cinematography and the face of Bruce Willis. These materials are sufficient to build a film almost as good as if there had been a better screenplay.” Cannot argue with him there.

“Tears of the Sun” offers a solid performance from Bruce Willis and a very well-cared for cinematography that brings out the beauty of the African landscape. The biggest minus of the film is the screenplay, which is quite clicheic; if follows U.S. Navy Seal lieutenant A.K. Waters (Bruce Willis) and his battle to choose between military duty and moral conscience.

Waters and his team’s mission are to safely extract doctor Lena Kendricks (Monica Bellucci) out of the Nigerian Civil War zone. Kendricks refuses to go alone so Waters finds himself escorting Nigerian refugees (played by real African refugees living in the United States) to the Cameroon border. Waters has chosen to follow his conscience but must ultimately pay the price for this humanitarian gesture.

 

15. Hotel Rwanda (Terry George, 2004)

hotel_rwanda

During the 1990’s, some of the worst atrocities in the history of mankind took place in the country of Rwanda and sadly, the events went almost unnoticed by the rest of the world. In only three months, one million people were brutally murdered. The film “Hotel Rwanda” tells the story of hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina (Don Cheadle), who house over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia that imposed itself as the ruling force of the country.

In a way, Paul is like the Oscar Schindler of Rwanda showing mercy and humanity in a time of violence and hatred. It has been said that movies like this should not exists because situations like this should not exist; irrational genocides that are the pure result of political corruption. Gettint caught up in the drama of the characters one barely notices the typical African landscape that is very present in this film.

For some viewers the drama of the film – surely reality was much harsher and darker – was too much to bear but, unfortunately, like Joaquin Phoenix’s character says in the movie “I think if people see this footage they’ll say, “oh my God that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.”

 

16. The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005)

The Constant Gardener

Fernando Meirlles’s English-language debut is a stunner that won Rachel Weisz an Oscar for actress in a supporting role and offered the audience some of the most beautiful African scenery ever to be captured on film. The film is an adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel of the same and features flawless performances from Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz. Its story weaves together two major obsessions in a man’s life transformed into plot-lines.

On one hand Justin Quayle the vigilante (Ralph Fiennes), devastated by the loss of his wife, will not rest until he will find those responsible for the killing of his wife and on the other hand Justin Quayle the husband is plagued with the desire to prove, or prove wrong, the rumors about his wife’s infidelities.

As one would expect from an adaptation of John Le Carre, Justin Quayle’s quest leads to massive conspiracies involving the British Government, the diamond cartel and the corrupt African officials. Rachel Weisz plays Quayle’s wife Tessa and she appears only through flashbacks in the man’s memory.

The shooting, on location in Africa, took its toe on the director, cast and crew and after the filming of the movie they started The Constant Gardener Trust to help the inhabitants of the slums near Nairobi. The scene where Tessa is talking to the children of the slum was improvised by Rachel Weisz as she was talking to real children instead of child actors. From the slums of Nairobi to the natural wonders of Kenya, this is a movie that will open your eyes…both ways.

 

17. Shooting Dogs (Michael Caton-Jones, 2005)

SHOOTING DOGS, (aka IN EVERY HUMAN HEART, aka BEYOND THE GATES), Hugh Dancy, John Hurt, 2005. ©IFC Films

In the mid 2000’s, the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994 attracted interest to many filmmakers. This helped to raise awareness of the Rwandan situation and generally the state of chaos that plagues most of Africa. In 2004, there was “Hotel Rwanda”. Later on, in 2007, there was “Shake Hands with the Devil”.

In 2005, there was the documentary “Sometimes in April” and a powerful feature film entitled “Shooting Dogs”. The film is based on the experiences of a BBC news producer, who worked in Rwanda during the genocide. Unlike many movies about Africa that are filmed in South Africa, this film was shot on location in Kigali, Rwanda.

The story is about a catholic priest, played by John Hurt, and an English teacher, played by Hugh Dancy, who are caught up in the events of the genocide. The title refers to the actions of UN soldiers in shooting at the stray dogs that scavenged the bodies of dead.

Since the UN soldiers were not allowed to shoot at the Hutu extremists who had caused the deaths in the first place, the shooting of dogs is symbolic of the madness of the situation that the film attempts to capture. The real-life location provides truthfulness to the story but also increase the horror that the Rwandan people and those caught up had to endure.

 

18. Blood Diamond (Edward Zwick, 2006)

Blood Diamond (2006)

Set during the Sierra Leone Civil War in 1999 – the war lasted from 1996 to 2001 – the film depicts a country torn apart by the struggle between government loyalists and insurgent forces. Rebel factions such as the “Revolutionary United Front” frequently terrorize the countryside, intimidating the locals and enslaving many to harvest diamonds, which fund their increasingly successful war effort.

One such unfortunate is fisherman Solomon Vandy (Djimon Hounsou), who has been captured and assigned to work. One morning Vandy discovers an enormous pink diamond in the riverbank and buries it in the soft earth. The captain overseeing his work learns of the stone, but before he can follow up, the area is raided by government security forces.

Vandy is incarcerated in Freetown, along with Danny Archer (Leonardo DiCaprio), a white Rhodesian gunrunner jailed while trying to smuggle diamonds into Liberia. Archer also learns of Vandy’s diamond and offers to help him find his enslaved family in exchange for the valuable stone.

Aside from the adventure story, the film also portrays many of the atrocities of that war, including the rebels’ amputation of people’s hands to discourage them from voting in upcoming elections. The race to find the diamond and Vandy’s family is perhaps just a pretext to describe the unspeakable violent acts of the war and the atrocities committed in the name of freedom.

Too long has the African soil been turned red from the blood of the innocent slaughtered by the white colonialists and later by their own people. Because after all TIA…This is Africa!

 

19. The Last King of Scotland (Kevin MacDonald, 2006)

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

“The Last King of Scotland” tells the fictional story of Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy), a young Scottish doctor who travels to Uganda and becomes the personal physician to President Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). The film is based on events of Amin’s rule and the title comes from a reporter in a press conference who wishes to verify whether Amin declared himself the King of Scotland. Amin was known to adopt fanciful imperial titles for himself.

The film takes place in 1970 when Idi Amin’s power was in full throttle. Although McAvoy’s character is fictional, much of what’s presented in the movie is true and unfortunately, it did occur in Uganda’s history. The was widely acclaimed because it pretty much has everything; blood and tears but also fun and games, authentic scenery (the film was shot in Uganda), subtlety, psychology, heart-pounding scenes, nudity, sex, violence, harrowing questions about “what would you do?” and of course Africa.

 

20. Goodbye Bafana (Bille August, 2007)

Goodbye Bafana

Although in the English language, the film has a certain realism to it that only European movies have. Even the natural South African landscape is shot in a grasping reality. This is certainly due to the fact that it was directed by one of Ingmar Bergman’s protégées Bille August.

The film is a dramatization on the real life relationship between Nelson Mandela (Dennis Haysbert) and James Gregory (Joseph Fiennes), his censor officer and prison guard. The young revolutionary Nelson Mandela is arrested, and it is the task of censor James Gregory to watch him. He has long since moved to South Africa with the family for his work in the prison of Robben Island, and slowly he clashes with the politics and racist culture of his countrymen and the people of his own race.

Gregory begins to express hatred for South African apartheid. In time, Gregory challenges his superiors, and seeks to improve Mandela’s life until he is released from prison after twenty-seven years of imprisonment, and is elected president of South Africa.

The way that he is able to communicate with Mandela is through the Xhosa language, which Gregory learned as a kid from a black friend. Apart from its main subject, the film also explores Gregory’s relationship with his wife as their life changes following the Mandela friendship.

Author Bio: Horia Nilescu is a 30-year-old cinephile from Brasov, Romania. He works at a local bookstore as a multimedia & events manager (handling supplying issues in regards to cd’s and dvd’s and also organizing local events). He is passionate about film and fascinated by its diversity. He has created a local film club in Brasov (going of 3 years) in which he handles all aspects. He likes to talk and write about movies but most importantly he likes to watch them.

 

 

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