More often than not, a number of films from Africa have been falsely branded ‘African stories’ yet they actually represent a small portion of the continent, usually the community or country in which they are set.
By all measures however, Malawian film B’ella by director Tawonga Taddja passes as an all-encompassing African story. This particularly seemed to be the consensus after the feature film screened at the ongoing Amakula International Film Festival in Kampala yesterday.
The film tackles issues that are close to the hearts of many young Africans including teenage pregnancy, poverty, HIV and relationships.
During the screening, one of the people at the Uganda Museum main hall tweeted the film would perfectly fit a portrait of a Ugandan film with its sound muted. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Malawians are much similar to Ugandans in terms of character and mannerism.
In B’ella, you can see that high school babe that made your heart stutter. Like her onscreen double, she was born again and could only approve of a relationship if you accepted to meet her senior pastor.
The film also evoked memories of a damning research published in the Daily Monitor last year about more sex workers being afraid of pregnancy than HIV, especially when one of B’ella’s friends starts sleeping around in order to raise money for an abortion.
But they were not just negatives that made B’ella an African film – the cinematography and the entire production was one that is particular to many of our films.
It was the kind that showed that in Africa, we don’t have to use the technical depth or amorphous cameras to break through, but our story is the weapon.
B’ella, with its hard themes, also impressively doesn’t forget to pay homage to such salient elements of African culture such as religion, drama and fashion.
In fact, many times, African films regardless of where they are made present situations of conflict especially where people are caught in between their pre-colonial past and the present – the village and the city are usually used as collage to bring this to life.
Of course it comes into play with B’ella, where there’s a new girl Kalilolein in the village school; she wears hair extensions, high heels, classy in all ways and dedicated to be the most famous person in the school. Her arrival sees B’ella lose friends she used to go to church and sing in choir with.
B’ella is Africa and how we are finally trying to appreciate what makes us unique and finally believing all the slogans like ‘Black is power’ or ‘Black is beautiful’.
The film is about the coming-of-age of a 17-year-old Malawian girl wrestling with the intersections of traditional life and the new role of girls in modern day Malawi.
The film might have had issues with the sound especially at the beginning, but it certainly still remains a great African picture. Vinjeru Kamanga particularly impresses as the strong-willed titular character.
Her performance here was mostly natural that she even managed to pull along her co-actors we could easily deem weak.
Chimwemwe Mkwezalamba portrayal of Kalilole is equally memorable. Even though she plays B’ella’s fierce enemy in the film, the two girls are apparently best friends in real life.
The film has been successful both in Malawi and on the continent, bagging two nominations at the 2015 Africa Movies Academy Awards for the Best First Feature Film.
It’s vying for the Best International Feature Film at Amakula alongside the likes of Felista’s Fable,Bala Bala Sese and Dar Noir.
Andrew Kaggwa, the author, is a journalist