MPENZI: BLACK WOMEN'S INTERNATIONAL FILM AND VIDEO FESTIVAL Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Now in its third year, the one-day Mpenzi fest of shorts by and about black woman is a terrific way to celebrate the middle of Black History Month.
With one or two exceptions, these eight films leave you wanting more, not less. While they all deal on some level with the personal and the political, a pair of thematically related works deserve special mention.
Tamika Miller's Sarang Song is an absorbing look at the personal cost of political activism. After a black couple is brutalized by police on a 1970s American campus, student leader Simone (Lalanya Masters) insists on rallying, even though it separates her from her less outspoken lesbian lover. Miller captures the spirit of 70s activism not just with retro fashions and music, but with passion and persuasive rhetoric. It puts the current state of North American student apathy to shame.
A fitting companion piece is Ndim Ndim, an eight-minute doc about Funeka Soldaat, a proudly out lesbian living in the Xhosa-dominated community of Khyalitsha, South Africa. Enraged by the township's outdated definition of rape, she became an activist early on and eventually got married to another woman, not in the big city but in her own community, recognizing that social change must begin locally. Snapshots of the township's recognition of the ceremony will bring tears to your eyes.
Another moving short is The Hijab, in which a group of Muslim girls from Toronto's Regent Park area explore the city's attitudes toward the facial veil. Their findings range from insightful to banal; what's really thrilling is witnessing the budding filmmakers/ reporters feistily taking charge of the medium and breaking down cultural barriers while they're at it.
The two-and-a-half hour program also includes a reading by local poet/activist/laywer M. NourbeSe Philip, who's the subject of a documentary about her life and work. In the film, Philip brilliantly talks about a variety of subjects, including place, language and Canada's First Nations people. Look for how a seemingly innocuous anecdote about tobogganing becomes a telling look at the spaces that black people are allowed to inhabit.
(Mpenzi screens Friday, February 16, at U of T's Medical Sciences Building Auditorium.)