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The 9th annual New African Film Festival got underway yesterday at the AFI theatre in Silver Spring.  I have never been a huge fan of African film, though I did enjoy several of the films that the National Museum of African Art, put on last year (particularly Man on Ground).  The event’s opening film, Nairobi Half Life appears to have been very well received.  I did not make that showing, but I did catch the late night screening that followed of Playing Warriors, billed as a “Zimbabwean Sex and the City.”

The movie echoed the typical Nollywood films that have failed to grip me in many ways.  Themes of relationships, sugar daddies, unwanted pregnancies, unsupportive parents, etc. were brought out by lengthy dialogue (in both English and Shona).  The main characters (women ranging from their early to mid-20s) are seen trying to navigate their way in the traditional society of Harare, Zimbabwe.

It seems that the director (Rumbi Katedza) went out of her way to highlight characters that are not representative of the ‘typical African.’  While this entailed the potential to offer a refreshing perspective, I tended to find the portrayals of the wealthy, independent ladies more out of touch than stereotype defying.  A lot of the scenes were shot in places recognizable to anyone who has spent in time in Harare – the airport, Lake Chivero, etc. but the film conveyed a much more sanitized version of the city than I ever experienced during my visits (a scene with a lengthy queue at a petrol station aside).

The film’s credits indicated that it was made with the support of the French government.  I suspect that the rather overt attempts to highlight the social pressures facing young Zimbabwean women and the case of a protagonist successfully able to resist them arises from the conditionality attached to this funding.

Playing Warriors offers an interesting look into the lives of the elite Zimbabweans that live in the suburbs North of Harare.  It has some comic moments, and for the very sentimental, it will appeal to the heart.  I cannot say that it stands tall as a great film on its own.  When I was a student in Namibia, I was probably more caught up in the Zimbabwean serial Studio 263, which had all the same drama, but less of the western morals.

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