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This week at the kino: Jazz survivors and African gems

From a long-awaited Billie Holiday biopic to the best of contemporary African cinema, it's another busy week for our film editor. Here's the lowdown.

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Last Night In Soho, out this week. (Photo: UPI)

The big release of the week is Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho. It’s a time-hopping London-based giallo that’s a bit of a mixed bag: there’s plenty to admire on a visual and technical level, but the script lets it down. It’s by no means a flat-out failure, but make Wright’s first film of 2021 – the superb documentary The Sparks Brothers – a priority above this second offering.

My top pick of the week is James Erskine’s layered and insightful documentary, Billie. It tells the story of jazz icon Billie Holiday through an unearthed treasure trove of audio-tapes recorded by journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl. It’s a story of two parallel tragedies and a stunning piece of work.

I had the pleasure of interviewing the Emmy-nominated British screenwriter / director James Erskine, who shared how he and his team established timely resonances between past and present-day institutional racism through Billie Holiday’s story, and how he completed Lipnack’s journey almost half a century since it began.

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La Nuit des Rois, screening at Afrikamera film festival.

Two upcoming film festivals are vying for your attention, and they’re well worth it.

The first is Berlin’s annual and consistently engrossing celebration of current African cinema, Afrikamera. Back at Kino Arsenal from Nov 15-21, this year’s 14th edition focuses on urban cinema under the title ‘Urban Africa, Urban Movies – Youth & Youth Culture’, putting the spotlight on the rapid and youthful urbanisation of the continent. Its selection of films spans 20 features and documentaries that deal with current youth and pop culture phenomena in the metropolises of Africa. Click here to read my full festival preview and find out which films are this edition’s must-sees.  

The second is interfilm, Berlin’s largest and oldest short film festival (Nov 16 -21). Comprised of over 400 shorts, with a programme that ranges from politically charged themes to artistic experimentation, this edition is one not to miss. We’re spoiled for choice with so many categories: nonetheless, I recommend you book tickets for some of the eight programmes in the International Competition selection, the two in Documentary Competition and the unmissable three line-ups in the festival’s special focus on Hungary this year. So, head to Babylon, ACUDKino, Zeiss-Großplanetarium Kino or Pfefferberg Theater and don’t miss out.

As for those of you blessed with moppets and nippers, the festival has you covered: the KUKI festival takes place alongside interfilm (from Nov 14-28) and is the International Short Film Festival for Children and Younger Audiences. The shorts in KUKI are wonderfully curated and cater to all ages, and I lack the words to stress how much you should head to Filmtheatre am Friedrichshain (or take advantage of the online option) to treat your young’uns (and yourself) to their varied programmes of shorts. Check out the full programme here and make sure to snap up some tickets.

There we have it. Happy screenings, enjoy November’s many festivals, and catch you next week for a positively jammers release schedule, as well as our take on the upcoming Französische Filmwoche.