PAFF ‘24 strikes home with two powerful African dramas, narrative on Piney Woods

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Seydou Sarr, 18, of Dakar, Senegal, plays the lead character in “Io Capitano (Me Captain)” who doesn’t even know how to swim, but suddenly finds himself the captain of a boat full of African refugees originally bound for Europe though now adrift at sea. (Photo: Courtesy of PAFF 2024)

The 32nd Annual Pan African Film Festival (PAFF 2024) opened in Los Angeles February 6 with two powerful African-based dramas among the more than 200 feature and short films scheduled for the two week festival. 

“Io Capitano (Me Captain)” is Italian director Matteo Garrone’s Oscar-nominated feature about the perilous boat odyssey undertaken by thousands of Africans each year in search of a minimally rewarding life in Europe that too frequently ends in disappointment or death, or both. Because of its special place in the Academy Awards competition for Best International Feature, “Io Capitano” is the PAFF Awards Season Spotlight Feature, along with two other Academy Award competitors – Goodbye Julia (Sudan), and Sira (Burkina Faso).

The Academy Awards – the Oscars – will be presented March 10 and should not be confused with the PAFF Filmmakers’ Awards Brunch scheduled for Mon., Feb. 19.

“Io Capitano” will be released in the U.S. on Feb. 23 by the Cohen Media Group. 

PAFF 2024’s second most meaningful feature for our times is the powerful Ethiopian drama “For the Love of the Motherland,” making its world premiere as the festival Centerpiece. Produced and directed by Theodros Teshome, the film begins as the passionate love story of Hayelom of Tigrayan ethnicity and Lielt, a member of Ethiopia’s culturally and politically dominant Amhara tribe, the identity group of the deposed late Emperor Haile Selassie. 

Their love faces an expected turn when Tigray militants invade the Amhara region to seize control over the central government. Hayelom joins the militants and Lielt joins the Ethiopian Defense Force and they become enemies expecting to kill each other.

 Major. Gen. Hadush Hayelom Araya was a true-to-life figure and hero during the transitional wars that led to the establishment of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Front in 1991. He was assassinated in February 1996 in Addis Ababa, for some unexplained reason. 

The Opening Night (Feb. 7) feature is the highly promoted A Hip Hop Story, also in its world premiere. Directed by Damaine Radcliff, the story premise is that Hip Hop culture is in a crisis. So, a pioneer of the culture joins forces with some of rap music’s better-known performers to attempt to save it. The movie stars Affion Crockett, Damaine Radcliff, Jevin Smith, Johnollie Nelson, Cedric The Entertainer, Damien Dante Wayans, Lil Rel Howery, Wayne Brady, Lil Mama, and Norm Nixon Jr. The film also offers relevant social commentary on the state of Hip Hop culture. 

Mario Van Peebles’ Outlaw Posse is the Closing Night feature, Sunday, February 18. Van Peebles’ character, Chief, returns from years of hiding in Mexico to claim stolen gold hidden in the hills of Montana. In his quest, he reunites an ensemble of fresh and familiar faces. Together they fight off Angel, whose claim to the gold leaves a trail of deception and dead bodies

Mississippians should be delighted with the Feb. 10 screening of Sacred Soil: The Piney Woods School Story, another World Premiere under the auspices of PAFF. Directed by JJ Anderson, it is set against the cultural and historical backdrop of one of America’s oldest Black boarding schools. Following the journeys of several Piney Woods School students and staff members, it provides a never-before-seen window into the ever-evolving, complex layers of the school and its students. The film captures the emotional, physical, and mental tolls required to be young, Black, and educated in America from the students’ perspective. 

The John Singleton short film competition was created in honor of the cinematic achievements of the late John Singleton, whose family roots trace back to Vicksburg, Mississippi, and his commitment to the South Los Angeles community.

He was fully aware that a large segment of our society was largely ignored or exploited beyond the point of recognition.

In honor of the cinematic achievements of John Singleton and his commitment to the South Los Angeles community, PAFF and the City of Los Angeles celebrate his unapologetic approach to filmmaking that centralized Black characters in humanizing stories about the often routine circumstances of individuals in society that were mostly ignored or exploited beyond the point of recognition.

It is PAFF’s aim to encourage and ignite Black filmmakers who desire to continue that commitment in their creative approach by providing them with the financial resources to write, direct, and produce an original and innovative film that echoes the cultural contributions of Singleton’s cinematic catalogue.

Who can apply? Los Angeles based screenwriters, directors, and producers who self-identify as Black and own or have rights for the copyright on the submitted screenplay.

Now in its 32nd year, the Pan African Film and Arts Festival is returning to the Cinemark Baldwin Hills and XD theater complex. And the adjacent Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza will host its renowned fine arts show featuring over 100 established and emerging fine artists and quality craftspeople from all over the Black Diaspora. This year’s film festival features over 200 films from 54 countries, in 28 languages, including 68 world and 25 North American premieres. 

Founded in 1992 in Los Angeles, PAFF is the largest Black film and arts festival and Black History Month celebration in the United States. PAFF attracts featured filmmakers, artists, and unique craftspeople from over 40 countries and six continents to Los Angeles annually, to showcase their pivotal work and talent. PAFF has become the quintessential global celebration of Pan-African cultures.

PAFF offers a Virtual Cinema Pass for $100 for 24 films to be screened online from Feb. 20 – March 31, 2024. To connect, go to and follow link to Virtual Cinema Pass.

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PAFF ‘24 strikes home with two powerful African dramas, narrative on Piney Woods

By Earnest McBride
February 22, 2024