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African Film Festival Featuring “Bling, A Planet Rock,” with Filmmaker Raquel Cepeda and “Growing Stronger”

April 8, 2008 @ 7:00 pm 9:00 pm EDT

Filmmaker Raquel Cepeda presents Bling A Planet Rock (2007), a feature documentary by Raquel Cepeda, takes a hard-hitting look at how “blinging” in the flashy world of commercial hip-hop played a role in the 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone. This film takes U.S. hip-hop celebrities Paul Wall, Latin hip-hop artist Tego Calderon, and Raekwon from Wu-Tang Clan on a journey to Sierra Leone’s diamond mining communities, introducing them to former child soldiers, refugees, and local hip-hop artists.

Included in this screening is Growing Stronger (2005) by Tsitsi Dangarembga. After living a high profile life as a model and wife to the coach of the Zimbabwe national football team, Tendayi Westerhof stunned the nation by becoming the first high profile person to go public about her HIV-positive status in 2002. Part of the African Film Festival program.

Because the Sanctuary has been shut down by the City of Troy in an action currently under investigation by the New York Civil Liberties Union, historic A.M.E. Zion Church at 189 Fifth Avenue (corner of 103rd Street in north Troy) has offered sanctuary to the Sanctuary.

Local presentation of the African Film Festival is made possible with volunteer labor and hundreds of individual donations from patrons of The Sanctuary for Independent Media, co-sponsored by the Arts Department at RPI, A.M.E. Zion Church and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Production still from Bling: A Planet Rock taken by Irena Mihova. A group of African young adults from Sierra Leone pose for a picture with a man in a white shirt making hand signs. A video camera is in the bottom left corner of the photo's frame.
Production still from Bling: A Planet Rock. Photograph by Irena Mihova.

About the African Film Festival at the Sanctuary for Independent Media:

The Sanctuary for Independent Media’s annual African Film Festival begins in Troy on Tuesday, April 8, 2008. We will be presenting four feature films (including, on the opening night of the festival, Bling: A Planet Rock director Raquel Cepeda), four short subjects and an evening of African music with Grammy Award-nominated kora master Mamadou Diabate and his quartet.

“From Egypt to South Africa, veteran filmmakers are using film to address the issues changing the face of the African continent today,” said Mahen Bonetti, founder and executive director of the AFF. “Additionally, technology is empowering emerging filmmakers to add their voices to those telling Africa’s stories.”

Each evening of the Festival features one full-length film and one short: on Tuesday, April 8; Wednesday, April 9; Tuesday, April 15 and Wednesday, April 16. Films begin at 7 PM. In addition, the music of Malian kora great Mamadou Diabate and his ensemble will be featured live in a concert at 8 PM on Friday, April 11. The film lineup includes:

Bling: A Planet Rock (Raquel Cepeda, Sierra Leone/USA. 2007, 90″) A documentary about American hip-hop culture’s obsession with diamonds—“blinging”—and all its social trappings, and how this infatuation correlated with the ten-year conflict in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The film follows three rappers—Paul Wall, Tego Calderon, and Raekwon—as they trek to the country to meet the survivors, perpetrators and diamond miners in the country. The film also features Kanye West, Juelz Santana, Jadakiss and former child soldier/author Ishmael Beah.

Growing Stronger (Tsitsi Dangarembga, Zimbabwe. 2005, 30″) After living a high profile life as a model and wife to the then-coach of the Zimbabwe national football team, Tendayi Westerhof stunned the nation by becoming the first high profile person to go public about her HIV positive status in 2002. Her enemies increased, some going to the extent of calling her disclosure a publicity gimmick. This beautiful woman has gone on to become a public figure in a very different way, as an elegant and glamorous AIDS activist in the world of modeling and the public media.

About the Filmmakers:

Raquel Cepeda is an award-winning editor and multi-media journalist, producer and filmmaker, as well as a multi-cultural media consultant specializing in translating news and social/global issues into an authentic language that is palatable to younger generations—18-34 years of age—stateside and abroad. Cepeda is the director and writer Bling: A Planet Rock, co-produced with a19, VH1, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). She also served as a creative consulting producer on From Mambo to Hip-Hop, directed by Henry Chalfant (Style Wars) for PBS (2007).

Currently, Cepeda is in production on BLOW US UP!, a wartime concert documentary starring platinum selling rapper Paul Wall and TV Johnny who will journey into the past to see the future—in Iraq and Johnny’s homeland, Vietnam. Following in the tradition of the highly acclaimed Bling: A Planet Rock, BLOW US UP! uses the medium of hip-hop to engage a new audience in the history of two American wars, a generation and musical genre apart from each other.

Malian kora musician, Mamadou Diabate is a member of the Mandinka West African jeli (musician caste) family. His musical lineage goes back seven centuries to the time of Sunjata Keita, the conqueror of the Malian empire. Now based in the United States, Mamadou performs around North America and Europe. Interested in bringing the kora to new audiences, he has played with jazz and other contemporary artists, however he remains rooted in the traditions of the Manding kora and his griot heritage. He is one of a handful remaining kora players that are keeping alive the kora tradition.

About the African Film Festival

The African Film Festival (AFF) is a New York non-profit arts organization. The organization, established in 1990, began as an ad hoc committee of African and American artists and scholars. In the 1950s and ’60s, African filmmakers began to create images of post-colonial Africa with nuanced understanding of Africa’s cultural diversity. Over the last half a century, having sliced through stereotypes with exacting social critique, African cinema has become a unique blend of aesthetic experimentation, history, and politics. As African nations have constructed modern identities from traditional and colonial experiences, the role of visual culture in communicating these new transitional identities has immediacy for audiences around the world. The impetus for themes such as colonialism, post-independence corruption, and chronicles of “tribal” customs often erupts from the ironies of contemporary life. But African filmmakers also draw from springs of myth, fantasy, humor, and magic to nourish a narrative sensibility in which tradition and modernity encounter each other. The oral traditions, unique pacing, and non-linear style of African story-telling have in fact become classifying characteristics of African filmmaking. This kind of art is a powerful intellectual and emotional force for social change.

As the twenty-first century begins, we are witnessing a great revolution in mass communications capabilities that drastically reduces the distances between cultures. Images, sounds, and ideas are being exchanged almost instantaneously, creating dynamic hybrid cultures. As Western consumer culture has influenced global society, so it has been invigorated by the differing sensibilities, traditions, and styles of other cultures. Likewise, African film has evolved from its early exploration of colonialism into a new, diasporic, and international consciousness. For the past decade, the African Film Festival has bridged the divide between post-colonial Africa and the American public through the medium of film. AFF’s unique place in the international arts community is distinguished not only by leadership in festival management but a comprehensive approach to the advocacy of African film and culture. We are particularly mindful of the many ways in which cinema is as much a medium of cultural exchange as an educational gate-way.

About the AME Zion Church of Troy, NY:

Devoted to religious, educational and social causes, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and its members have been instrumental in many of the freedom struggles of this nation, dating back to the days when former slaves Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman led the first wave of Black social activism. Since that time, A.M.E. Zion members have made other significant contributions. AME Zion Bishop Alexander Walters, along with Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, helped to found the NAACP. Bishop Walters was also a pioneering member of the Pan-African Congress, and many of the denomination’s clergy and lay people were active participants in the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s.

A.M.E. Zion Church made the salvation of the whole person–mind, body and spirit–its top priority. At the crux of its ministry lay racial justice, peace and harmony, thus earning it the title, the Freedom Church.

As the ministry expanded, so did the denomination’s emphasis on education. “In order to succeed in American society as productive citizens, we [the newly freed slaves] need to become an educated citizenry,” an early AME Zion member once said. In keeping with that goal, the Church maintains four colleges and universities today, which are Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill, S.C., and Lomax-Hannon Junior College in Greenville, Alabama, and A.M.E. Zion University in Monrovia, Liberia. Additionally it maintains two theological seminaries, Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, NC and Hood Speaks Theological Seminary in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.

Along with its emphasis on ministry and social change here in the United States, the denomination has focused much of its attention and energies on outreach abroad. To date, the A.M.E. Zion Church has member churches on all continents except Australia. In West Africa, in particular, the denomination has set up numerous schools and clinics throughout Ghana and Nigeria. The Church also has facilities in Liberia, though some of its main structures have been destroyed by civil war. Overseas missions are a crucial component of the A.M.E. Zion Church’s outreach, but the denomination believes in charity starting at home. That is why, over the years, several individual churches have implemented programs to help families to find low-income housing, jobs, financial planning assistance, health care and day care services. “Our concern is for the whole person,” says Bishop Cecil Bishop, the (retired former) senior bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church. “We have a holistic approach and a holistic gospel. We don’t feel that we live in a kind of compartmentalized sense, but that life is a complete whole. So we have to be concerned about all of those amenities of life that help make up wholeness in an individual.”

About The Sanctuary for Independent Media:

The Sanctuary for Independent Media is a telecommunications production facility dedicated to community media arts, located in an historic former church in north Troy, NY. The Sanctuary hosts screening, production and performance facilities, training in media production and a meeting space for artists, activists and independent media makers of all kinds. On March 11, 2008 the City of Troy closed The Sanctuary for Independent Media for alleged code violations just hours after the opening of a controversial series focusing on government intimidation and censorship under the guise of counter-terrorism. While the matter is being investigated by the NY Civil Liberties Union, public events are being presented at Sanctuaries-in-exile throughout the Capital Region.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic’s Department of the Arts:

The Department of the Arts at Rensselaer was founded in 1972. It is built around a world class faculty and is dedicated to interdisciplinary creative research in electronic arts, offering a unique environment in which to develop and realize innovative art within a technological university. iEAR Presents! is a series of public performances, exhibitions, screenings and lectures. Curated by artist faculty, iEAR Presents! seeks to bring artists into a creative dialogue regarding integrated electronic arts practice and theory with a participatory community of faculty and students from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and members of the general public.

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