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Pan African Film Festival takes audiences around the world

BALDWIN HILLS — The 28th Pan African Film Festival promised to “take audiences around the world, without leaving home or packing.”

By showing more than 200 films from the African dispora, including films that represented 52 countries and 26 different languages, the festival came close to living up to its promise over 12 days at the Cinemark Baldwin Hills Theatres.

The largest black film and art festival in the United States and the largest Black History Month cultural event in the nation ended with “Zulu Wedding,” a romantic comedy from South Africa on closing night Feb. 23.

Directed by Lineo Sekeloane, “Zulu Wedding” is the tale of headstrong Lou — Nondumiso Tembe from “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “True Blood” — who left behind her South African and her Sulu-Sotho heritage to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer in America.  

When she falls in love with Tex (Darrin Henson of “Lincoln Heights” and “Soul Food”) and agrees to marry him, she discovers from her family that she has been promised since birth to a Zulu king (Pallance Dladla, “Wild at Heart” and “Hard to Get”). Upon returning to South Africa, Lou rediscovers her roots and has to decide whether to follow her heart or honor her culture.

“Zulu Wedding” won the festival’s Ja’Net First Feature Narrative Award. It was one of several awards renamed in honor of film festival co-founder Ja’Net DuBois, who died unexpectedly Feb. 19. DuBois, a veteran actress and performer, was best known for her role as Willona Woods on the 1970s sitcom “Good Times.” She also wrote and sang “Movin’ on Up,” the theme for the popular sitcom “The Jefferson’s.”

The Ja’Net Feature Narrative Award went to the festival’s opening night feature film “Hero: Inspired by the Extraordinary Revolutionary Life and Times of Diplomat and Judge Ulric Cross,” directed by Frances-Anne Solomon. 

“Hero” is the story of Ulric Cross, a jurist, diplomat and a pilot in the elite Royal Air Force during World War II and his Pan African brothers, which led to the creation of 28 modern Caribbean and 54 modern African nations. 

Other Ja’Net awards include “Code Switch,” directed by Sigin Ojulu, a short film about a broken virtual reality game that treats all girls as viruses won the Ja’net Feature Narrative Award; the Ja’Net Documentary Award was presented to the Brazilian/Nigerian film “My Friend Fela” directed by Zito Araujo; and the Special Ja’Net Award went to Shaquille O’Neal’s “Foster Boy,” directed by Youssef Delara about a young man imprisoned after enduring years of abuse in the corrupt foster care system.

Other award winners included Best Feature Narrative, “The Mercy of the Jungle” (Rwanda), directed by Joel Karekezi; Best First Feature Narrative, “A Taste of Our Land” (Uganda), directed Yuhi Amuli; Best Documentary, “One Child Left Behind: The Untold Atlanta Cheating Scandal” (US), directed by Jodi Gomes and Best Short Narrative, “White Gold” (South Africa) directed by Luke Bradford.

The festival’s Special Programmers’ Award went to “The Cuban” (Canada, Cuba), directed by Sergio Navarretta. The Cuban starred Lou Gossett Jr. as Luis, an elderly Cuban musician in a nursing home who strikes up an unlikely friendship with Mina (Ana Golja), a young Afghan immigrant on her first job.    

In addition to the 225 film screenings, the festival included many other community and film industry-related events and activities. 

The Pan African Film Festival’s Institute provided several workshops, seminars and panel discussions about careers behind the camera for aspiring filmmakers. Community events include a children’s festival, spoken word fest, a fashion show and comedy night. 

ArtFEST, the festival’s companion art show inside Baldwin Hill Crenshaw Plaza presented African-inspired paintings, sculptures, masks, clothing, purses, jewelry and accessories from 100 international artists.

Organizers say expanding the festival beyond art and film, contributes to the festival’s goal “to present and showcase the broad spectrum of black creative works, particularly those that reinforce positive images and help destroy negative stereotypes.”

For a full list of award winners in all categories, visit PAFF.org.

By Cynthia Gibson

Contributing Writer