This year’s Pan African Film & Arts Festival concludes with films that muse on global hunger, the ironic consequences of South Africa’s rigidly enforced racial segregation, and the role the American North played in the U.S. slave trade. It’s a shame that the scripted voice-over for Philippe Diaz’s documentary The End of Poverty veers toward the overheated (as does Martin Sheen’s narration), because the film’s studied outlining of Europe’s conquest of Asia, Africa and the Americas — and, with that, the destruction of indigenous cultures — is inherently infuriating in its critique of colonialism, capitalism, and political systems that stoke the world’s poverty. The far-left politics of many of the talking heads will be refreshing to some viewers and infuriating to others, but Diaz’s clear-eyed look at how cultures of despair and dependency are created and maintained is alone worth the price of admission. In Skin, director Anthony Fabian takes the real-life tragedy of Sandra Laing, born in 1950s South Africa to white parents but having caramel skin and nappy hair herself, and softens it a bit. Still, this seamlessly crafted drama is painful to watch as a bewildered, depressed Laing (played as a teenager and adult by Hotel Rwanda Oscar nominee Sophie Okonedo) staggers beneath acts of violence and soft-pedaled bigotry. The documentary Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North dismantles the myth of the Northern U.S. as a haven of abolitionists and progressive thought by mapping out the role of major Northern cities in funding, sustaining and profiting from the slave trade. Director Katrina Browne’s film is rudimentary in terms of craft — with basic point-and-shoot camera work, it looks and feels like a home movie. But as she turns her exploration of her own family’s role in the slave trade into a big-picture rewriting of American history, Browne illustrates truths that are far from new but bear careful repeating: We are all held captive by our shared past, and the only way out is brutal honesty and a willingness to listen. (Culver Plaza Theatres; through Mon., Feb. 16. www.paff.org)
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