The African connection

“Remembering Nokutela” set to screen at the Images of Africa film festival beginning this weekend at St. Anthony Main Theatre

Thomas Q. Johnson

For many years, African cinema was left in its infancy, held back by arcane laws and practices steeped in bigotry like the French “Laval Decree,” which sought to limit the role Africans played in film production, until it was nullified in the 1960s.

In the time since, filmmakers have produced rich stories beyond those that relegated the continent to portrayals of a wild jungle land without history.

The “Images of Africa” film festival, presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul, pulls together an impressive collection of 27 films — including documentaries, dramas and animation — that showcase the richness of the African experience as modern filmmakers have picked up cameras to tell their stories from their own perspectives.

The fest’s organizers have made a special effort to include the works of local African filmmakers, a small but energetic group of self-taught individuals.

Some films in this series seem to imitate the models of Hollywood, while others stray far from them. The self-taught and professional qualities are blended together to create a nuanced picture of Africa.

Chérif Keita, director of African/African American Studies at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., produced the film “Remembering Nokutela.” He said he remembers walking into the dean’s office many years ago requesting the money to buy a simple video camera.

“I’ve definitely made that purchase back,” said Keita. His work stems from investigations into the founder of the African National Congress, John Dube, and his family.

Keita’s third film on the subject, “Remembering Nokutela,” follows Keita on a trip to South Africa, where he pieces together the history of Dube’s all-but-forgotten wife. He’s an enthusiastic host, visiting the villages of Nokutela’s family and delighting in the connections he finds — living proof that the story is still full of unknown turns.

He even made the discovery that the Dubes received their early education via the work of a missionary couple from none other than Northfield.

It was a connection “beyond what anyone could imagine,” said Keita. “That a small rural settlement in the 1880s could have a global reach is truly remarkable.”

What: “Images of Africa” film series, presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis St. Paul
When: Nov. 15-21
Where: St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE Main St., Minneapolis
Cost: $7-10