The 32 nd Pan African Film & Arts Festival, America’s largest Black-themed filmfest, is taking
place Feb. 7 – Feb. 19 in Los Angeles. During Black History Month PAFF annually screens
movies ranging from Hollywood studio productions and Hallmark Channel TV-movies to indies,
foreign films, documentaries, low budget productions, shorts, animation, etc. Films span the
spectrum from Oscar nominees to hard-to-find gems from Africa, the Caribbean, America and
beyond that L.A. viewers are unlikely to be able to see at any other venue. Here are reviews of
just a few of the films audiences have an opportunity to see.
African director Charles Uwagbai’s charming Kipkemboi is a well-made Kenyan-Canadian co-
production that has almost every ingredient for a film to succeed. In no particular order these
factors include: A David versus Goliath storyline that has you rooting for the underdog;
attractive protagonists; hiss-worthy villains; plot twists; young love; on location shooting at
exotic places; strong female characters; an uplifting POV; and more.
Kipkemboi is set in Metipso, Kenya; the traditional village may be hundreds of kilometers from
the urbanized capital of Nairobi, yet the title character (Thamela Mpumlwana plays Kipkemboi)
is such a mathematical genius that MIT offers this teenager a scholarship to study abroad. But
tragedy strikes before Kipkemboi can move to Massachusetts to study, and he opts to stay in his
hamlet to help his mother and family. Nevertheless, with some encouragement from another
village adolescent, Chipchirchir (the effervescent Elsie Chidera Abang), Kipkemboi pursues his
visions and sets up a computer lair inside of a mud hut.
From there the math whiz kid works on and invents an extremely complicated algorithm that
enables Kipkemboi to play global capital markets and make millions. However, for those who
think money solves everything, Kipkemboi’s gaming of Wall Street futures trading, et al, triggers
a series of dilemmas, ranging from jealous villagers to nefarious operatives hired by financial
sector interests. The latter track the lad down to his remote hamlet in the Kenyan countryside,
where they intend to take over his algorithm – or neutralize the pesky teenager who has upended
the world’s stock markets.
Kipkemboi and Chipchirchir go on the run, and plan to clandestinely meet with the mysterious
underground resistance leader Simba, who in the movie’s subplot is denounced as a “terrorist”
by the Kenyan establishment the social justice warrior opposes. Simba’s deep voice is heard
throughout Kipkemboi online and in the media criticizing Kenya’s powers-that-be – this
opposition leader reminded me of the shadowy Emmanuel Goldstein, the so-called “enemy of the
people” in George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian classic 1984. (Without disclosing a plot spoiler, the
surprising revelation of who Simba really is is one of Kipkemboi’s best moments, sure to make
viewers smile.)

Kipkemboi has a strong socially conscious subtext as the village youth becomes a political
prisoner. If redistribution of wealth to the least of these among us is a socialist principle, suffice
it to say that Kipkemboi cleverly achieves this – but through exploiting the capitalist system. The
film also is very positive about the role of women as strong equals. Not only is Kipkemboi’s
mother supportive, but Chipchirchir is no mere cheerleader. She does more than inspire
Kipkemboi; she drives their getaway vehicle and this village lass has dreams of her own, aspiring
to become an attorney. Watching the romance of the appealing leads blossom is also beguiling.
The engrossing direction by Charles Uwagbai, a veteran Nigerian filmmaker (see: and
who divides his time between Toronto and Africa, is admirable. Uwagbai elicits warm, realistic
performances from his young thesps and the rest of the cast. Joel Richardson’s screenplay is
engaging, although some may find certain plot points to be implausible. (But you never know –
apparently, there really is some sort of high tech program going on at a real Kenyan village
called Metipso – see: Although the interiors of this co-
production were shot in Canada, movie lovers will relish the peek Kipkemboi provides of
Kenya’s countryside and contemporary urban Nairobi.
The PAFF audience at Kipkemboi’s world premiere enthusiastically reacted very positively to the
movie in a post-screening Q&A attended in person by director Uwagbai. African American
theatergoers repeatedly remarked at how happy they were to see positive depictions of Africans,
who are often portrayed on Western screens as troubled people in media portrayals. Ticket
buyers also said they enjoyed the positive picture Kipkemboi painted of women in this movie that
also co-stars the beautiful Vinessa Antoine, who, according to, is the “the first
Black Canadian person to lead a dramatic show in Canada.”
The captivating Kipkemboi epitomizes what the Pan African Film Festival is all about –
presenting Black-themed productions in the heart of the world capital of cinema, which
Angeleno moviegoers might otherwise never get a chance to see. Uwagboi told the PAFF ticket
buyers that he is in talks with streaming services about releasing Kipkemboi and hopefully
through streaming or even theatrical distribution, a wide American audience will have an
opportunity to see this highly entertaining, enjoyable, thought-provoking film about the teenage
genius from Kenya.
Kipkemboi will be shown 6:20 p.m., Feb. 14, screen #13.
Catherine Masud’s must-see documentary A Double Life is a gripping account of New Left icon
Stephen Bingham. The activist attorney spent years underground in Eastern Europe and Paris
when he fled the USA after he was accused of passing a gun to legendary Black Panther George
Jackson at San Quentin shortly before a bloody shootout at the prison in 1971. Following about
15 years on the lam, the resulting court case is compellingly rendered as Bingham, son of a
prominent Connecticut family, fights for his life and freedom. This excellent, well-crafted
nonfiction film brings radical history alive, including interviews with Angela Davis and many

others, as well as archival clips featuring Black Panther leaders Huey P. Newton and Bobby
Seale. A bravura, stand-up-and-cheer documentary that’s not to be missed.
The above PAFF screenings are all taking place at: Cinemark Baldwin Hills 15 & XD
4020 Marlton Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90008. For more info see:

A Double Life Steve. Photo credit unknown