Focus on African film in Helsinki and Sodankylä

With topics ranging from drought and civil war to Cape Verdean coladeira music, directors from Africa are feted at two Finnish festivals. The Helsinki African Film Festival, which begins on Wednesday, offers an array of dramas, documentaries - and one 'mockumentary' on the disappearance of Cameroon's president.

Most concentrate on serious issues facing the continent, from boat people in peril to rebel fighting in Mali, droughts in Tanzania and sexual violence in Egypt and Morocco. Yet there are also lighter notes such as a South African comedy about a boy who dreams becoming a jazz saxophonist and a documentary about a Cape Verdean coladeira singer with 14 children. Some 30 films being shown between Wednesday and Sunday at three cinemas, all either spoken or subtitled in English.

The festival is also hosting the Finnish premiere of Half of a Yellow Sun, a new big-budget Nigerian drama starring Britain's Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

The fifth annual edition of the festival, which is partly funded through the Finnish Foreign Ministry's Development Communications budget, features panel discussions on renewable energy, 'moral communities', gay rights in Uganda and the state of cinema in Africa today. There are club nights on Friday and Saturday, and performances of a musical play on South African singer Miriam Makeba May 17-20.

"Exploring this creative power across Africa's diverse countries and cultures also promotes awareness about a continent that is all too often simplified and marginalised in the mainstream media," says festival's director, Kenyan author Wanjiku wa Ngugi.
Karaoke under the midnight sun

The Helsinki festival's patron, Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki, co-founded the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Sodankyla, Lapland with his director brother, Aki, nearly three decades ago.

Beginning June 11, the festival also presents work by contemporary African directors among others. They include Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, a native of Chad who is now based in France and has won awards at the Cannes and Venice film festivals, as well as Katell Quillevere, who was born in Ivory Coast but also lives in France. Other directors scheduled to visit the festival include Britain's Peter Greenaway, Russia's Gleb Panfilov and Poland's Pawel Pawlikowski.

The festival also screens silent films from a century ago with live musical accompaniment as well as karaoke screenings of musicals such as The Blues Brothers - all amid the nightless nights of the summer solstice period above the Arctic Circle.

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