Specters of Freedom - Cinema and Decolonization
AL/MOZ/USA 1969-1982, 311 min
As a multi-layered contribution to an aesthetic of resistance to colonial violence, the edition is also of current interest. Six films by Ruy Guerra, Murilo Salles, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Assia Djebar, Joaquim Lopes Barbosa and Sarah Maldoror.
The six films on this DVD edition are powerful examples of how cinema and filmmaking have engaged in the struggle against colonial oppression and in the momentous task of decolonizing a world marked by centuries of European hegemony over large parts of the Global South. If “Specters of Freedom” refers to the spectral and unruly nature of all films, particularly when they are taken out of an archive and brought back to life, the title also suggests that the colonial past keeps haunting our present. The political and poetic verve of these films – publicly released here for the first time on DVD – is anything but outdated.
MUEDA, MEMÓRIA E MASSACRE (Mueda, Memory and Massacre), Ruy Guerra, Mozambique 1979–80, 75 min
ESTAS SÃO AS ARMAS (These Are the Weapons), Murilo Salles, Mozambique 1978, 59 min
REASSEMBLAGE, Trinh T. Minh-ha, USA 1982, 40 min
LA ZERDA ET LES CHANTS DE L’OUBLI (The Zerda and the Songs of Forgetting), Assia Djebar, Algeria 1982, 59 min
DEIXEM-ME AO MENOS SUBIR ÀS PALMEIRAS (At Least Let Me Climb the Palm Trees), Joaquim Lopes Barbosa, Mozambique 1972, 71 min
MONANGAMBEEE, Sarah Maldoror, Algeria 1969, 15 min
MUEDA, MEMÓRIA E MASSACRE (Mueda, Memory and Massacre)
Ruy Guerra, Mozambique 1979–80, 75 min
One of the first filmmakers to be invited to shoot in Mozambique after independence was Ruy Guerra, who was born in the country but became well-known as one of the central figures of the Brazilian Cinema Novo. Although his film MUEDA, MEMÓRIA E MASSACRE, which was shown at the Berlinale Forum in 1981, is the only Mozambican film in the Arsenal archive, it is a clear milestone. It shows a piece of anti-colonial reminiscence work, a public reenactment staged by non-professionals of the massacre of Mueda (1960) carried out by the Portuguese. The event was regarded as triggering armed resistance in Mozambique in subsequent historiography and was remembered at regular intervals even before independence by means of popular reenactments. Ruy Guerra shot MUEDA with a clear documentary interest in this theatrical form of commemorative practice. Its subsequent marketing as the "first Mozambican feature film" provided an initial taste of the interpretational conflict that was to follow, which resulted in a complicated history of censorship.
ESTAS SÃO AS ARMAS (These Are the Weapons)
Murilo Salles, Mozambique 1978, 59 min
The agitprop film ESTAS SÃO AS ARMAS by Murilo Salles was edited together from archival images and formed one of the first works to be produced by the newly founded film institute in Maputo.
LA ZERDA ET LES CHANTS DE L’OUBLI (The Zerda and the Songs of Forgetting)
Assia Djebar, Algeria 1982, 59 min
For LA ZERDA ET LES CHANTS DE L’OUBLI (1982), Assia Djebar and her co-author Malek Alloula spent half a year in the Pathé and Gaumont film archives watching footage shot by French documentary filmmakers between 1912 and 1942. Their montage sifts through these “images of a deadly gaze” for the reality they conspicuously elide, for the resistance that has retreated “behind the mask”. The soundtrack blends together poetry, recitations, and experimental music into a polyphonic swan song to colonial violence.
DEIXEM-ME AO MENOS SUBIR ÀS PALMEIRAS (At Least Let Me Climb the Palm Trees)
Joaquim Lopes Barbosa, Mozambique 1972, 71 min
One of the few anti-colonial films to be produced in Mozambique before independence is DEIXEM-ME AO MENOS SUBIR ÀS PALMEIRAS by Joaquim Lopes Barbosa. Shot in the style of a Russian avant-garde film, it tells the story of the suffering of and revolts carried out by a gang of rural workers. The film was banned by the Portuguese censors at the time and has only recently been given a new reception in Portugal.
Sarah Maldoror, Algeria 1969, 15 min
“Monangambeee!” Passed from village to village, this cry struck terror in the hearts of even Angola’s bravest. Men, women and children took flight and sought protection in the bush. The cry translates as "white death", and signified certain deportation with no return. The cry once accompanied the arrival of Portuguese slave traders and in the 1960’s it was used as an identifying sign and signal to gather for the People’s Liberation Front. A woman visits her husband in prison. When departing, she promises him a “Complet”, but the guard betrays him by informing the prison director. Based on a misunderstanding over which language the woman speaks, and the meaning of the word, it comes to interrogation and torture.
Awards and Festivals
- MUEDA, MEMÓRIA E MASSACRE - Berlinale Forum 1981
Trinh T. Minh-ha
Joaquim Lopes Barbosa