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14th Annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival

The second week of the Pan African Film & Arts Festival continues this year’s strong program of fantastic documentaries. Favela Rising opens with the onscreen quote “Between the years 1987 and 2001, 467 minors were killed in Israel and Palestine combined. During that same time, 3,937 minors were murdered in one city in Brazil.” Centered on the life of Anderson Sa, drug dealer turned musician and community activist, the film echoes works like Bus 174 and City of God, illuminating the Brazilian slum (a.k.a. favela) culture of poverty and dysfunction that has sprung up from decades of government neglect and police corruption. Filled with gory footage and talking heads from all sides of the law, Rising is familiar material elevated by fantastic performance footage of Sa and his young protégés singing, dancing and rhythmically banging on cans, plastic bottles or anything else that can be fashioned into a drum — and a cultural revolution. Director Thomas Allen Harris is represented in the festival with both his award-winning 2001 film, That’s My Face, and his latest, Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela: A Son’s Tribute to Unsung Heroes. In the latter, Harris pays tribute to Benjamin Pule Leinaeng, the stepfather who raised him, by traveling to South Africa and excavating the late Leinaeng’s life as a political activist who helped found the ANC and whose real-life exploits play like a James Bond film. Harris’ trademark elegant visual style (owing much to both high-end fashion magazines and experimental film and photography) is put into the service of dramatic re-creations that flesh out documentary commentary from old friends and political allies, while family photos and home video become potent artifacts in the transformation of grief into celebration. Finally, one of the most powerful titles this year is the taut, investigative short Bling: Consequence and Repercussions. Directed by Kareem Edouard and narrated by Chuck D., the 11-minute Bling explores the subject of African conflict diamonds through interviews with jewelers, Blood Diamonds author Greg Campbell and average Americans on the street. But its gory point is most unforgettably made by juxtaposing images of diamond-dripping rappers against horrifying footage of African bodies being butchered (including children having limbs cut off) in order to terrorize miners and civilians into submission and ensure the steady flow of these war-funding gems to the marketplace. (Magic Johnson Theaters; thru Feb. 20. www.paff.org)

—Ernest Hardy

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