22 September 2015
Following the success of our annual Short Film Competition, Africa in Motion has launched a brand new Documentary Competition at this year’s festival. The final shortlist was selected from a wide range of fascinating entries from across the continent, covering varied themes.
Before the screening of the six short-listed documentaries in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the filmmakers have kindly agreed to answer a few questions about their film and filmmaking practice.
Read their fascinating answers to the first question asked, and learn more about the films. Join us for the screenings in Edinburgh and Glasgow, where you will have the opportunity to vote for your favourite documentary and help it win the Audience Choice Award!
Question 1 – What inspired you to make this film? Do you have any personal connection to the story? Why do you think this topic is important?
Rosa Rogers and Merieme Adou (Pirates of Salé, Morocco, 2014)
Pirates of Salé is a documentary about Morocco’s first circus, set in Salé, a city that “had a golden in history - at the time of the pirates”, explains Merieme Addou. “Now the light of the city has burned out and it has been totally neglected”. Merieme, who grew up in Salé, witnessed first hand the struggles of young people in her hometown, who “have no opportunities and little hope for their future”.
Rosa Rogers tells the exciting story of how Merieme and herself discovered the Cirque Shms’y in Salé. “We were driving through Salé on our way to meet somebody, and took the coast road that cuts between the sea and the city. (…) Like a mirage, we saw what seemed to be sails blowing beyond a tall stone wall. We went nearer to investigate and realised it was a circus tent.” In that circus tent, Merieme and Rosa discovered a professional circus school. “The vibrancy and energy inside the tent blew us away and made us sure this was a film we had to make” (Rosa).
What Rosa and Merieme’s film depicts is not only “the magic and the beauty of circus” (Rosa), but also the extremely positive impact that this circus school has on the city of Salé and especially on the young Moroccans who live there. Many of Cirque Shms’y’s trainees “were living on the street” (Rosa). Now in the circus, they are trained to become “world class circus professionals” (Rosa). The documentary Pirates of Salé conveys the incredible potential of these young performers, who “are trying to light the flame of the city again” (Merieme). They want to “break the stereotype” according to which “a Moroccan can never be successful as a performing artist” (Merieme). A stereotype that Rosa and Merieme also strive to break, through their beautiful documentary about “the first full scale contemporary circus in Morocco” (Merieme).
Jawad Rhalib (The Turtles’ Song: A Moroccan Revolution, Morocco/Belgium, 2013)
After the striking circus performances of Pirates of Salé, the documentary The Turtles’ Song shows another aspect of Morocco through the history of its “long revolution”. Jawad Rhalib, the director of the film, says he was “surprised” by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. At that moment, like many other people, he thought: “Moroccans will not move”. Yet on February 20th, 2011, “a Moroccan revolution emerged”. Jawad’s film unravels the history of this revolution. “My inspiration? The thousands of Moroccans who called for dignity, freedom, justice and to an end of the culture of fear”.
For 2 years, Jawad followed the evolution of the movement with his camera: the documentary takes the viewer “at the heart of a real action”. When he was a child, Jawad used to always be told that “walls have ears”. Moroccans lived in fear, artists “lived in silence”, and “social aspirations were reluctant”. In Morocco, explains Jawad, changes are made at the pace of the Turtle. Yet in February 2011, Moroccans became aware of their rights and rose against the oppressive system. Through the depiction of the Moroccan “long revolution”, Jawad’s film strives to show that “a revolution is possible without blood”.
Teboho Edkins (Coming of Age, South Africa/Lesotho/Germany, 2015)
The documentary Coming of Age follows teenagers over the course of two years as they grow up deep in the southern African mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Teboho Edkins started the project after he was approached by an NGO, that wanted him to “make a film about being a young person growing up in the rural areas”, as he explains. The result is a documentary that is “very rooted in the local environment”, yet “very universal”. Coming of age is a process during which every child, “anywhere in the world”, faces the same “issues and crises”
As Teboho explains, “it is often said that considering the favourable demographics of Africa, the hope of the continent lies with its young people”. The importance of youth and the localised and universal struggles of growing up are the core themes of this heart-warming documentary, sometimes leaning towards “more fictional filmmaking methods” within a documentary style.
Michel K. Zongo (La Sirène de Faso Fani/The Siren of Faso Fani, France/Burkina Faso/Qatar/Germany, 2015)
Like Merieme Addou with Pirates of Salé, Michel K. Zongo addresses his own hometown in the documentary La Sirène de Faso Fani. Grown up in the city of Koudougou, Michel retraces in his documentary the golden age and the closing of the successful weaving factory of Faso Fani. “I feel close to Michael Moore”, Michel admits. “We both return to things that connect us to our childhood: a factory, people we know who worked there and a city”. The first time that Michel saw the film Roger and Me, he immediately thought of Faso Fani, and realised “the urgency and the usefulness” of making a film about it.
In the 1990s, following strict restructuration measures imposed on Burkina Faso by the World Bank and the IMF, the factory of Faso Fani was shut down and left “thousands” of former employees jobless. Faso Fani, explains Michel, “is the perfect illustration of how world economics manages to influence the lives of thousands of people somewhere in a small African city”. Within heartless global restructuration measures, the lives of the people left unemployed, whether it be in Detroit in the USA, or Besancon in France, or Koudougou in Burkina Faso, “no longer interests anyone”: “these faceless people are too often represented by numbers and figures”. It is against this tendency that Michel collects testimonies from former employees of Faso Fani, in a fascinating documentary that raises interesting questions about the local impact of global economics.
Marion Edmunds (Troopship Tragedy, South Africa, 2014)
Troopship Tragedy recalls the sinking of the ship Mendi during WWI, where 600 South African countrymen drowned far from their homeland and for a war that was not theirs. A “landmark event in African history” according to the director Marion Edmunds, who decided to go beyond archaeological and historical reconstruction of the event – with as point of departure a book written by South African marine archaeologist John Gribble – and to address the emotional aspect of the tragedy, in the mourning of South Africans who lost their ancestors at sea and could never perform ancient burial customs on the lost drowned bodies. The documentary follows Zwai, a black South African who felt very ”moved and unresolved about the sinking of the Mendi”, through a quest between South Africa and Britain to find answers and justice – “a painful journey back in time”.
Marion also has a personal connection to this story: “my ancestors were also somehow witness to the tragedy”. She believes it is important to recall this event and bring it to the audiences, because during the apartheid government, “the story was largely forgotten” and in Britain, on the day of the sinking, it was “dwarfed by the greater tragedy of casualties in the Great War”. A documentary that sheds light on both African and British history, with an emphasis on a crucial event for black South Africans, who did not get much attention from historians during apartheid. “We are hoping the documentary might get the authorities to respond to calls for post-humous medals, at the centenary of the sinking of the SS Mendi”, explains Marion, therefore highlighting the impact that she hopes her documentary will have.
Ahmed Nour (Moug/Waves, Egypt, 2013)
Waves is a very personal take on the Egyptian revolution, a revolution that started in the lively city of Suez, where filmmaker Ahmed Nour grew up.
Through a poetic documentary, making use of varied filming styles as well as animation, the director attempts to convey the collective psyche of post-revolution Suez. “The reality of my city and the nature of my generation were the inspiring points”, Ahmed says. However, after the events, he needed time before starting the project: “I was afraid to make a very emotional film because we were very emotional. So we tried to have some space and try to digest the incidents”.
Ahmed explains that as a filmmaker, he is not looking for “spicy topics”. He did not make the film only for “people who are interested in current affairs in reportages”. Certainly, the recent Egyptian revolution is a topical theme, but Ahmed was more interested in “the lines, signs and characters who could form a story that makes a film last forever”. He wanted to reach a wide audience, to make a film “for everybody everywhere”, not only the citizens of Suez, and not only Egyptians. He wanted to “make an honest film, with a narrative that suits cinema lovers' expectations”. This purpose is served by a creative and intimate journey through the history of Suez and the lives of its inhabitants, marked by loss, mourning and struggle, but also optimism.
Edinburgh College of Art: Tues 27 and Thurs 29 Oct - Free entry
CCA (Glasgow): Sat 24 and Sun 25 Oct - BOOK NOW
TICKET DEAL (Glasgow screenings): Buy tickets to any two of the documentary competition screenings and get a third one free.
The Documentary Competition aims at encouraging and supporting young and talented African filmmakers. The winner will be selected by our jury of acclaimed film practitioners and academics and will be announced on Friday 30 October. The audience will also have the opportunity to vote for their favourite film with the Audience Award winner announced on our website at the end of the festival.
Our thanks go to The Scottish Documentary Institute for sponsoring this competition.