Nigerian feature film, Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) has been listed among best films of 2021. The Guardian UK writers selected the award winning film alongside other films from Africa, Asia and Latin America as their favourite films of the year, having made global impact.
Eyimofe, which premiered at the 2020 edition of Berlin Film Festival in Germany, was acquired by Janus Films for the North American market and released in theatres across America. This was followed by a streaming release on the Criterion Channel, while home video release via the Criterion Collection is being expected.
While listing Eyimofe on its world best releases of 2021, The Guardian’s West Africa correspondent, Emmanuel Akinwotu, described Eyimofe as a beautifully subtle and moving film that follows two unrelated people, Mofe and Rosa, who are both full of dreams of leaving overwhelming economic struggles in Nigeria for a fresh start in Europe.
“Just as striking as their layered, individual stories, which each form half of the film, is the backdrop of Lagos and how it is depicted by debut film-makers, twin brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri.
“Shot entirely in 16mm, the film offers a sensitive and pensive illustration of a city that is often cast as teeming and frenetic, full of vibrancy and the extremes of wealth and poverty. Yet in Eyimofe, the reality of working-class life is shown with nuance, hope and hopelessness.”
In the intense struggles of the main characters to leave Nigeria, Akinwotu noted, “the film spotlights the desperation of migrants, while revealing, but not demonising, the world they fight to escape.”
Presented by GDN Studios, Eyimofe was directed by twin brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri and produced by Melissa Adeyemo. The film, which has Lady Maiden Alex-Ibru, Toke Alex-Ibru, Olorogun Oskar Ibru, Kayode Akindele and Ifeoma Esiri as executive producers, won five awards at the 2021 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), including the prestigious Best Director and Best Nigerian Film awards.
It stars Jude Akuwudike, Tomiwa Edun, Temi Ami-Williams, Cynthia Ebijie, Toyin Oshinaike, Jacob Alexander, Fortune Nwafor, Chioma Omeruah, Bimbo Manuel, and Sadiq Daba.
Also listed is Ethiopian film, Faya Dayi, which was shot in black and white, with a cinematic style and rhythm that lets its characters and locations transcend the screen. This poetic, multilayered documentary by Ethiopian-Mexican film-maker Jessica Beshir captures the spiritual, psychological, familial and socioeconomic tensions and transitions experienced by a generation of Ethiopian youth.
Set around the ancient town of Harar, the sensitive and unflinching nature with which Beshir constructs Faya Dayi demonstrates her intimate understanding of the region. Framed by the larger socioeconomic and political transformations of this eastern region of Ethiopia, where khat has replaced coffee as the main cash crop and ethnicity has become politicised, the side effects of these shifts are felt through the experiences and dreams of a boy called Mohammed.
Mohammed’s story is interspersed by multiple other narratives, which make his toiling in the fields, errand running for neighbours and despairing over his father’s addiction to “chewing khat”, while coming to terms with the fact that his mother left him for the promise of a better life abroad, all the more resonant with the burning existential dilemma facing Ethiopia today.
Another African film on the list is The Gravedigger’s Wife from Djibouti. A seemingly simple love story, the film tells the tale of Guled (Omar Abdi) who digs graves for a living, his sick wife, Nasra (Yasmin Warsame) and their son, Mahad (Kadar Abdoul-Aziz Ibrahim).
Somali-Finish director, Khadar Ayderus Ahmed, says he made the film because he wanted to give voice to “members of society whose contribution to the society is overlooked or not appreciated.”
The Gravedigger’s Wife has drawn attention to Somali storytelling, having won top prize at the 27th Pan-African Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Fespaco), and is the only film in the Somali language to ever be submitted for consideration at the Oscars.
The Rumba Kings, a film from The Democratic Republic of the Congo is also on the list. The infectious groove, captivating guitar licks and smooth vocals that inspired jazz in New Orleans, zouk in the French Caribbean and Afrobeats in Nigeria – and which have just been inscribed into Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list – are captured in Peruvian director Alan Brain’s first feature-length documentary film.
Brain is also a salsa musician and was introduced to rumba by a fellow band member while he was documenting the humanitarian crises engulfing the DRC for the UN. What he discovered changed him. “I fell in love with rumba,” Brain told Peter Krausz of Movie Metropolis, “it began to dawn on me that there must be a documentary here.”
Starring rumba stalwarts, including Papa Wemba, poet Lutumba Simaro and Manu Dibango – the artists who popularised rumba internationally and who died in 2016, 2019 and 2020 respectively – the riveting documentary concerns itself with Congolese beauty, creativity and resilience. But despite being stocked with musical sequences, it is not a concert
Egyptian film, Feathers, is also among African films listed by The Guardian UK as best film of 2021. This absurdist drama, directed by Omar El Zohairy, catches you off guard with a grey and grimy city environment that is almost post-Soviet in style. In post-1970s Egypt, a working-class family – a domineering father, an abused, almost mute wife and three kids – throws a party and a magician mistakenly turns the dad into a chicken.
Tormented by trying to find a sorcerer to revive her husband and providing for her family, the wife’s situation reflects on social inequality and subjugation of women, as she fights off harassers and bureaucracy, while taking care of the chicken. As the plot thickens, with few words, and a dark comic twist to her transition into the breadwinner, she takes matters into her own hands.
Also on The Guardian UK’s list are Indian film, The Great Indian Kitchen, Colombian film, Suspensión; Antara: Songs of Afternoon from Bangladesh; I am Belmaya from Nepal and Manco Cápac from Peru.