Africa joins the stars at Cannes

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The world's poorest continent took its share of red-carpet glory Sunday with a Cannes film festival jury prize scooped by a director from Chad who wants to "bring Africa back within humanity."

The jury prize, a mark of special recognition amid the top Cannes awards, went to Mahamat-Saleh Haroun for "A Screaming Man".

"The films I make are simply to bring Africa back within the fold of humanity. Africa has a place and a voice but is often pushed aside," Haroun said in Cannes.

The film was the first in 13 years made sub-Saharan Africa to be chosen to run for the festival's top awards.

Shot with the desert country's on-off civil war raging in the background, the drama shows a swimming champion turned hotel pool attendant humiliated when the new cost-cutting Chinese owners force him to hand his job to his son.

Slow-paced and magnificently shot, it shows the tension between a middle-aged man and his son, also about to become a father, while evoking issues of corruption, conflict and poverty.

"I come from a country where little exists," the 49-year-old director said on picking up the prize. "In this desert-like context I learnt one thing: you have to make films the way you'd prepare dishes for the people you love."

"You have to be a dreamer to continue to make films in countries where cinemas are closing down and where there is no local finance for film," he told AFP.

Haroun, who has won festival awards with "Daratt" and "Bye Bye Africa", mirrors incidents from his own life in late 70s war-torn Chad when the movie father charges to the rescue of his son, press-ganged onto the battlefield.

As a young man Haroun was shot by a stray bullet and carried off to safety in a wheelbarrow by his father.

"The moral I guess is about people learning not to be mere spectators of their destinies but to act to change the course of history," he said at a Cannes press conference.

The film was one of a trio of movies touching on Africa that made waves at the 12-day film festival.

"Life, Above All", a gut-wrenching secrets-and-lies tale from award-winning South African director Oliver Schmitz, hones in on a gamut of issues including AIDS as seen through the eyes of a child.

"It isn't just an AIDS movie," Schmitz told AFP. "It's a very moving drama about a mother-daughter relationship tested by taboos, illness and lies."

A baby dies of an unknown cause, a mother is accused of "poisoning it with her milk", a jobless drunkard father falls seriously ill while neighbours whisper mysteriously in the background.

Shot in a township outside Johannesburg, the movie unravels as a 12-year-old seeks to understand why her world is falling apart.

Schmitz, who a decade ago moved to Berlin due to lack of work in South Africa, is best known for arthouse hits such as "Mapantsula" and "Hijack Stories" and recently made acclaimed TV series "Turkish for Beginners."

The film screened in the "Un Certain Regard" section of the festival.

Another Africa headliner movie was a documentary about a paraplegic band from Kinshasa -- "Staff Benda Bilili".

They shot from obscurity to fame thanks to film-makers Renaud Barret and Florent de La Tullaye, whose documentary screened at Directors' Fortnight, a prestigious festival running parallel to the main event.

"They are remarkable," BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz wrote of the musicians after seeing "Benda Bilili" the movie. "Their music, their spirit, their humour, their existence."

© 2010 AFP

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