Another mini film-festival post, which has sat half finish in the drafts folder since the end of the festival.
Africa in Motion: Edinburgh African Film Festival, is an annual film festival held in Edinburgh since 2006 and this year ran from 23rd October to 2nd November, before touring around various arts cinemas around the UK. Between November 21st and 26th the tour was in residence at the MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling (appropriate given that the School of Languages, Cultures and Religions at the University of Stirling had been a major sponsor of the parent festival). Although necessarily for a touring festival there could only be screenings of a fraction of the 40 films from 22 countries that made up the original, however those presented succeeded in providing a varied program that gave a flavour of the wider festival.
As Old As My Tongue: The Myth and Life of Bi Kidude
Andy Jones | UK/Tanzania | 2007 | Documentary
Appropriately given this year’s focus on cinema from East Africa, the Stirling leg opened with a film mainly set on the legendary island of Zanzibar. A documentary following the life and times of singer Bi Kidude, an irascible old lady who seems to act almost as a living embodiment of Zanzibar, part myth, part reality, eternally resilient and strangely beautiful. ‘As old as my tongue, and a little older than my teeth’ is a standard response from ladies to impertinent children, and Bi Kidude is every bit as reticent about her age, to the extent that the film begins with the statement that they couldn’t find out her true age, only that she was born some time prior to 1915. Described variously as being 93 going on 16 and as 105, (endearingly the message that shows while the stills load on the official site is ‘calculating age’) the discrepancies around her age only add to the mystique that she winds around herself like a shawl.
There are moments in the film when she is performing, especially early on in the documentary when there is a performance aboard a Dhow, where she looks at the camera and moves in a certain way, that gives the audience a clear glimpse at the young woman she once was. Speaking of a musical tradition and a time on Zanzibar that is increasingly forgotten, she is passionate, articulate and determined. Especially when she speaks of her idol and fellow defier of convention Siti bin Saad. The film also manages through her reminisces to follow the history and development of the musical tradition, how it melded Swahili tradition with that of the visiting Arab traders, on Zanzibar over the past century in an engaging fashion.
The music used within the film itself traces the flow and change of the musical culture which she has inhabited throughout her long life. From the poetic Taarab music with its satirical overtones, to the primal drums and dancing of the Unyago, to the modern artists who are influenced by and like to feature her work such as Taj Mahal and Culture Musical Club.
Bi Kidude herself has a way of turning on its head everything you thought you knew about age, to the extent that she almost seem to get younger before your eyes as she performs. Although not apparently rebellious content in her role within the cultural tradition, she nonetheless manages to defy the stereotypes of what women, and especially older women should be within their society. Her steadfast refusal to cease being who she is means that she remains a figure both greatly loved and resented in her hometown.
Djamila Sahraoui | Algeria/France | 2006 | Feature
Barakat! is set in Algeria during the early 1990s. The central character Amel is a Doctor whose journalist husband has been kidnapped; faced with official indifference, she and her colleague Khadija, an older nurse, set off after a tenuous lead. They find themselves caught in a trap set by the militia, which may or may not have taken her husband. Khadija, who fought in Algeria’s battle for independence, uses her old connections to free them, but a long dangerous journey lies ahead of them as they attempt to return home without their car and with only suspicions to guide them to Amel’s husband.
The film itself provides an interesting insight into Algeria in the 90s, the everyday trials and dangers (from telephones that work only sporadically to the dangers of trying to get a sick child to hospital at night) of life and the bravery and cowardice of ordinary people. It paints a picture of a country full of opposites, in danger of being torn apart by the forces that wish to shape its future. A place where the role of women in society is caught between Western modernism and fundamentalist restriction.
For all the danger and upsetting aspects of the film, there is a great deal of hope. Amel and Khadija find an unexpected ally, an older man travelling the country by horse and cart in search of his own missing sons (in a particularly bittersweet moment he tells them that he doesn’t know if his sons have been killed or if they now kill, all he knows is that they are gone and he needs to know why). The bond they form as they unite against the forces so much bigger than them all gives an insight into a better side of Algerian culture, with familial forms of address and the kindness of strangers.
Finye (The Wind)
Souleymane Cissé | Mali | 1982 | Feature
Finye is a film that transcends two overlapping worlds. For the majority of the film it is a story of teenagers, trying to pass their exams, falling in and out of love, drinking and taking drugs, with an undercurrent of political struggle as some of their classmates plan protests and print pamphlets. The central focus of the film is the forbidden romance between Batrou (the daughter of the town’s military governor) and Bah (descendant of a tribal chief) who become caught up in the student uprisings almost by accident. There is something reminiscent of the films of (or at least about) the late sixties, of an underlying sense that people believe things are going to change. It manages to portray a ruling class that has gone rotten with corruption and the strengths and failings of those who oppose it without feeling forced.
The other side of the film is a world of ancient symbolism, of a culture being eroded and forgotten by both sides of the conflict in the streets and schools. Bah’s grandfather, is the last chief of his tribe, the keeper of memories and traditions that have no place in the world he finds himself in. It is he who seeks out the wind of the title to ask its counsel. Finally he accepts that he is every bit as adrift in this new world as his grandson.
The film challenges both the traditional and modern ruling forces, without belittling either it finds them both wanting, suggesting that there must be a third way which can take the best of the past and the present to build the students a better future.
The film ends on a note of hope in keeping with summer of ’68 thematics, however taking a look at Mali history, it is pleasing to see that the change hinted at and hoped for in the film, did come, though not for another ten years. While several of the films I watched as part of this festival inspired me to find out more about the countries featured, Mali’s position as one of the most stable (economically and politically) made it a particular pleasure.
Osvalde Lewat| Cameroon | 2007 | Documentary
Decidedly more recent, having been made in 2007, Black Business is a film by award-winning Cameroonian documentary maker Osvalde Lewat whose previous work covers issues from the sidelining of Native American culture to rape during the long civil war in the Republic of Congo. This is a documentary about Cameroun’s recent history, dealing with events that took place 2000-01 which were largely ignored and now are largely forgotten both by the international community and within Cameroun itself. The director admits up front that she has very little recollection of the events having taken place at the time, and that her main reason for making the film was to confront this ‘looking away’ both as an individual and in terms of wider society.
It’s a fascinating film about memory and forgetting, looking at the role this plays both in healing wound in both personal and national psychology, and why patterns of human behaviour seem doomed to repeat themselves.