Now Playing! Unflinching South African Cinema at MoAD

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Miriam Makeba in 'Miriam Makeba: Mama Africa,' screening April 18 at MoAD in San Francisco. (Courtesy MoAD)

It’s hard to imagine that anyone in this time zone knows more about African cinema, past and present, than Cornelius Moore. So when the longtime co-director of the San Francisco distribution company California Newsreel programs a series, you know you’re getting the straight dope. His latest survey, Born Free: Film Looks at Post-Apartheid South Africa, commencing this Wednesday, April 18 at MOAD, delivers an exciting array of revelatory recent movies—fiction and docs—backed by a couple standouts from the turn of the century.

Moore cannily invites us to face the truth, and face the music, by beginning the series with Mama Africa: Miriam Makeba, Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki’s 2011 biography of the gifted singer. A brave voice of revolutionary pride, Makeba’s passion for fairness and justice rattled the rafters far and wide, and echoes loudly in the present moment.

Looking ahead, and back, Oliver Schmitz’s 2000 drama Hijack Stories (Apr. 26) explores the tensions between poor and middle-class black South Africans through an actor whose bright idea of preparing for a role by immersing himself in Soweto goes sideways. Ramadan Suleman’s 2004 Zulu Love Letter (May 2) examines the painfully unresolved past through the story of a tormented journalist who sets out to find the grave of an activist murdered by the regime.

Moore’s kaleidoscope of hard truths continues through May 31, when Rehad Desai’s The Giant is Falling (2016) rings down the curtain. Bringing the viewer up to the near-present, the documentary captures the people’s anger with the vaunted African National Congress for the party’s failure to fulfill Nelson Mandela’s promises. The gulf between lofty aspiration and daily life is painful to behold, yet Born Free: Film Looks at Post-Apartheid South Africa doesn’t flinch from acknowledging the reality of the streets.