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New Anglo-African generation at 2019 Dinard Film Festival

Sam Adewunmi plays Femi in Shola Amoo's "The Last Tree" in competition at the Dinard Film Festival,September 2019
Sam Adewunmi plays Femi in Shola Amoo's "The Last Tree" in competition at the Dinard Film Festival,September 2019 Shola Amoo

A Girl from Mogadishu and The Last Tree are two films showcasing an African perspective on current issues, including immigration and integration in Europe, and female genital mutilation. They are being screened at the French Dinard Film Festival dedicated to British films. 

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In The Last Tree, one question immediately springs to mind in the first scene: where is this? It's a major question for youngsters like film director Shola Amoo who was born in the UK of Nigerian parents and who was, like Femi, the protagonist in his film, left with foster parents as a child, but then retreived by a biological parent in his teens years.

Suprising in Amoo's film are the similarities which he and DOP, Stil Williams draw between his Lincolnshire and Lagos locations in the film.

As well as “challenging and informing” the lead character, and the three distinct environments, the other being South London, allow Amoo to pursue a particular style.

 

A Girl from Mogadishu, fights from Dublin

A Girl from Mogadishu was picked for the preview line-up at Dinard this year.

In one special screening, a full house of about 300 people watched Irish director Mary McGuckian’s film that is based on the harrowing experiences and escape from Somalia by Ifrah Ahmed, womens’ rights campaigner.

The film traces Ahmed’s life from the time her grandmother arranged for her uncle, a doctor, to excise her and her female cousins when they were about eight years old.

She is then married off to a man more than 30 years older than her, and when she runs away, her father and brother can’t protect her and she ends up getting raped by militia men. Her uncle arranges for her to get to the USA via Ethiopia. However, the man helping her takes her to Ireland instead where she seeks asylum.

Active and focused

The young woman’s story lends itself to big-screen dramatization with a distinct story from Somalia set in a war zone in the first half, followed by another world entirely: Ireland. McGuckian doesn’t dally far from Ahmed’s own experiences, even if some of the harrowing experiences were "watered down in places," says the director. McGuckian begins a film with happy girls in an ideal setting being led innocently to their ritual excision, also known as female genital mutiliation.

Getting the right balance was paramount when tackling this subject, a world away from McGuckian's previous films such as biopic Best (2000) about footballer George Best, and another about designer Eileen Gray, The Price of Desire.

Ahmed says she worked throughout the whole process with McGuckian from advice on the screenplay to giving costume advice for the lead actress Aja Naomi King.

Reaching out, the power of film

After the screening in Dinard, McGuckian and Ahmed, now an Irish citizen, answered questions from the audience about FGM and about her ongoing combat to end the practice of excision on girls and to empower women.

Both women were moved by the number of people who had turned out and who had stayed on to exchange with them.

Even though her Irish citizenship helps her do many things, “it’s still a risk to go back to Somalia because of the militias. But if it means I can save a girl from being cut, I want to take the risk," adds Ahmed.

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