Monday, 26 March 2012

First Look: Mama Africa, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, and Come Back, Africa

Mama Africa © Soul Power
Mama Africa © Soul Power

As part of its First Look program, ACMI presents three films that explore the fight against racism through the efforts of celebrities and non-celebrities alike. From Mika Kaurismäki comes Mama Africa (3-6 May), a biopic about African singer and activist Miriam Makeba; from Göran Hugo Olsson comes the Sundance Film Festival hit, The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975 (3-9 May); and from Lionel Rogosin, a classic film about Apartheid in Come Back, Africa (10-13 May).

A tribute to the first lady of South African song, Mama Africa (2011) is the life story of Miriam Makeba, who rose to stardom in the dance halls of Sophiatown. Discovered by American filmmaker, Lionel Rogosin, she appeared in his award-winning film, Come Back, Africa, but was banned from returning to her homeland as a result of the film's political content. Exiled to America, she collaborated with Harry Belafonte and became an overnight pop sensation, but never strayed far from politics.

Speaking about her lifelong struggle for racial equality, Makeba famously said: "I don't sing politics, I merely speak the truth." Mika Kaurismäki's biopic triumphantly mirrors the power and electricity of this extraordinary woman, showcasing Makeba's immense musical talent, while also providing context for her influence over cultural and political events throughout the 1950s and 60s.

From 1967 to 1975, a crew of Swedish filmmakers went searching for the real America, and found a nation at war with itself and its values. When director Göran Hugo Olsson discovered this footage 30 years later in the cellar of a Swedish television station, he commenced the painstaking task of assembling this footage to create a fascinating account of the times in The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011). 

Steering clear of the watered-down 'pop' take on the Black Power movement, the film includes long-form interviews with Black Panther activists Angela Davis and Stokely Carmichael (Miriam Makeba's ex-husband) cut against news reports and fresh perspectives from a range of subjects including Harry Belafonte, Erykah Badu, and Talib Kweli. Bringing the clarity of an outsiders' perspective to this inspired time capsule format, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is a ideal companion piece to Agnes Varda's classic observational documentary, Black Panthers, and was awarded the World Cinema Documentary Editing Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.

Described by Martin Scorcese as "a heroic film," Come Back, Africa (1959) tells the story of Zachariah who leaves his village to work in a series of low paid jobs in the city. Confronted by torment and derision at every turn, he looks for solace down at the illegal speakeasy in Sophiatown.

Directed by Lionel Rogosin after the success of his Oscar©-nominated film On the Bowery, Come Back, Africa stands as one of the most defiant cinematic statements on racial politics. Shot under clandestine conditions after Rogosin told the South African authorities he was filming a musical travelogue that would help drive tourism, the film was a damning depiction of life under Apartheid, and was subsequently banned in South Africa. The film also features a guest appearance by Miriam Makeba, which helped launch her international music career.

The First Look season of Mama Africa screens 3 to 6 May at ACMI in Melbourne alongside The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 from 3 to 9 May, followed by Come Back, Africa from 10 to 13 May. For program information please visit

Praise for Mama Africa:

".this film manages to do justice to Makeba's wonderful talent and noble activism." - Eye for Film

".a compelling portrait of a hugely talented exile and international figurehead for black South Africa." - Screen Daily

Praise for The Black Power Mix Tape 1967-1975:

".a familiar period in American history from a fresh and fascinating angle." - New York Times

".a film that gives a fresh presentation of a familiar yet often caricatured period of history." - Indiewire

Praise for Come Back, Africa:

"A remarkable piece of cinema" - Time Magazine

"The sound of the beating of the consciousness of a waking Africa" - Village Voice


Further information

Frances Mariani
Communications Coordinator
[direct phone] 61 3 8663 2475 [fax] 61 3 8663 2498 [mobile] 0434 603 655

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