Top Picks for Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) 2018

by Tom Nguyen

The 26th Annual Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) takes place this Thursday, February 8 through Monday, February 19, at the Cinemark Rave 15 Theatres at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles, California. The festival is a crown jewel of the African American community in Los Angeles, the largest and most prestigious Black History Month event in the country.

It’s absolutely one of my favorite events of the year and must-see film festivals in Los Angeles. It’s the only opportunity to see so many independent films from the Black diaspora that might not otherwise make it to movie screens here. And it’s more than just a film festival…next door to the theater, inside Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, are 2 floors of fabulous art, crafts and vendors from all over the country.

PAFF has always been a platform for important discussions to inspire, nurture and elevate Black representation in filmmaking. In addition to the Q&As with filmmakers in attendance, PAFF launches a new #Talk4Reel panel series, featuring film industry and community figures, thought leaders and disruptors, for engaging talks you don’t want to miss! There is also a spoken word fest featuring Get Lit-Words Ignite!

The festival opens Thursday, February 8, with the world premiere of Love Jacked, a warm family comedy, and will close on Sunday, February 18, with the US premiere of The Forgiven, starring Forrest Whitaker, who portrays Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Spotlight Feature films include Behind the Movement, about Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, King of Stage: The Woodie King Jr Story, about the legendary theatre producer who will be present to accept PAFF’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and Nothing Like Thanksgiving, about a dying businessman who tries to groom his replacement.

Here is my list of other great films I’m excited to see. The list is by no means exhaustive, because there are too many worthy films to choose from! You can find the full list of films here and daily schedule here. So this is where I will be movie-binging the next 10 days and if you’re a MoviePass member like I am, you can use it to see one PAFF film a day!



Anti-Blackness and colorism in Latin American societies are a big point of contention and discussion here in Los Angeles. Looking forward to seeing this film from Puerto Rico. 


A look at chaotic, vibrant Kinshasa as we follow Félicité, a fiercely independent club singer and single mother. The film is Senegal’s submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar and has made the short list! I also recommend Pili, “based on the stories of real women living with HIV/AIDS in the coastal region of Tanzania, with real people rather than trained actors.”

Foreign Body

A love triangle between Tunisian refugee Samia, her Jihadist brother’s friend Imed and a wealthy French widow, Mrs. Bertaud.

Moko Jumbie

Intrigued by this love story that explores the tension between the African and Indian communities in Trinidad & Tobago. I would also recommend Green Days by the River.

Sweet Country

A riveting drama about Sam, a middle-aged Aboriginal man, being unjustly pursued through Australia’s Northern Territory.

The Citizen (Az állampolgár)

Wilson, a middle-aged African political refugee, dreams of becoming a citizen in Hungary, where bigotry towards immigrants and Blacks is overt.

The Wound (Inxeba)

South Africa cinema is always strong, and is well-represented this year at PAFF. From KalushiCall Me Thief (Noem My Skollie)Krotoa, to The Wound. The film follows an elder of an annual ritual of the Xhosa community in South Africa, who is tasked with initiating a group of teenage boys into manhood, while hiding his own sexuality. The film has been shortlisted for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Another film that explores sexuality within a hyper-masculine community is Alaska is a Drag.

Woodpeckers (Carpinteros)

Julián, a new inmate, learns to communicate using sign language (woodpecking) that the inmates have invented to send love messages between the men’s and women’s prisons. The film is Dominican Republic’s submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar.


Bigger Than Africa

Yoruba culture and religion runs deep and connects so many diaspora in Los Angeles: Nigerian, Afro-Brazilian, Afro-Cuban. This film explores Yoruba as a vital, empowering source of identity and tradition that survived the slave trade, and was a strong inspiration for the Black Power movement. Another great documentary on reclaiming Black identity and pride is Back to Natural: A Documentary Film (join LA Naturals for a screening and buffet brunch!)

Burkinabé Rising: The Art of Resistance in Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso emerged from 27 years of autocratic rule after a people’s revolution in 2014. You can learn more about this country’s history with the documentary about its charismatic, revolutionary first president, Captain Thomas Sankara.

Dead Donkeys Fear No Hyenas

Massive foreign investment in farmland in Ethiopia is resulting in forced mass evictions and government repression and violence.

Gurumbé: Afro-Andalusian Memories

The untold story of enslaved Africans brought to Spain to be sold, but assimilated as Afro-Andalusians and their unacknowledged contribution to flamenco.


A hybrid film that is part documentary and part animated film, it brings to life the imaginations of 5 orphans in the Kingdom of Swaziland and is a testament to the transformative power of storytelling.

Machel Montano: Journey of a Soca King

Soca fans! A behind-the-scenes look at the life of the “Michael Jackson of the Caribbean”. If you love musical documentaries, check out Evolutionary Blues… West Oakland’s Music Legacy too!

Mama Colonel

Colonel Honorine Munyole leads a small police unit to protect women who’ve been raped and children who’ve been abused, in a war-plagued region of the Congo.

The Giant is Falling

The once widely beloved South African party of liberation, the ANC, and its current leader, President Jacob Zuma, are now mired in corruption scandals and abuses of power.

Word is Bond

Hip hop heads will want to catch this documentary on the transformative power of hip hop’s lyrics, and also The Killing of the 5th Element, about how hip hop lost its “consciousness” and knowledge.

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