Friday, April 29, 2016

The Cinema of Angola

The following is part of a series in which I research the cinema of various African countries, and present what I find.

Beginning in the 1500s, Angola was colonized by Portugal, mainly for acquiring slaves for Brazilian plantations.  Beginning in the 1880s, Britain and Portugal began exploiting Angolan resources—particularly minerals and oil—employing various forced-labour and voluntary labour systems.  Independence was achieved in 1975 after a war of liberation. That same year, Angola descended into an intense civil war that lasted until 2002.  Despite Angola’s has vast mineral and oil reserves, the standard of living remains low for the majority of the population, and life expectancy and infant mortality rates in Angola are among the worst in the world.  Angola's economic growth is highly uneven, with the majority of the nation's wealth concentrated in a disproportionately small sector of the population.  Due to financial and political problems, the Angolan film industry at present is almost non-existent.  However, despite these problems, a few brave filmmakers have managed to make powerful films which speak to the ongoing struggles of postcolonial Angola.  Here are eight important Angolan films:

Sambizanga (1972), directed by Sarah Maldoror. Set in 1961 at the onset of the Angolan War of Independence, it follows the struggles of Angolan militants involved with the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), an anti-colonial political movement of which Maldoror's husband, Mario Coelho Pinto de Andrade, was a leader. The film is based on the novella A vida verdadeira de Domingos Xavier ("The Real Life of Domingos Xavier") by Angolan writer Jose Luandino Vieira.  Sambizanga is the name of the working-class neighbourhood in Luanda where a Portuguese prison was located to which many Angolan militants were taken to be tortured and killed. On February 4, 1961, this prison was attacked by MPLA forces. The film begins with the arrest of Angolan revolutionary Domingos Xavier by Portuguese colonial officials. Xavier is taken to the prison in Sambizanga where he is at risk of being tortured to death for not giving the Portuguese the names of his fellow dissidents. The film follows Xavier's wife, Maria, who searches from jail to jail trying to discover what has become of her husband. Most of the actors were non-professionals who were in some ways involved with African anti-colonial movements, such as the MPLA and the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde.  The Village Voice compared Sambizanga to Soviet Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin in terms of its political significance.

Les Oubliées (The Forgotten Women) (1996) directed by Anne-Laure Folly.  A documentary which takes the form of interviews with the women of Angola, showing the heavy cost of war on women.  Folly lets women tell their own stories, showing the women from mid- or close-range, forcing the viewer to focus on their faces rather than their bodies or surroundings, and takes the time to let them say what they have to say, giving a unique women's perspective of the conflict.  Folly participates in the film through her voice-over, giving a subjective element. She admits that she is not familiar with Angola, and certainly is not an authority. The film thus becomes a record of Folly's own journey of discovery.

The Hero (2005) directed by Zeze Gamboa.  A film about the life of average Angolans after the Angolan Civil War, it follows the lives of four individuals; Vitório, a war veteran crippled by a landmine who returns to Luanda; Manu, a young boy searching for his soldier father; Joana, a teacher who mentors the boy, and Judite (later known as Maria Barbara), a prostitute who begins a romantic relationship with Vitório. The Hero won the 2005 Sundance World Dramatic Cinema Jury Grand Prize.

Hollow City (2004) Directed by Maria Joao Ganga. One of the first films to be produced in Angola since the end of the Civil War, and the first film produced by an Angolan woman. A group of children, fleeing the war, is taken to Luanda accompanied by a nun. 12-year-old N'Dala, however, decides to leave the group and to check out the city. The nun then starts her unceasing quest for the missing boy. N'Dala, only carrying a textile bag and a doll made of wire, walks through the busy streets filled with people and traffic. Then he meets Joka, a fringe figure who persuades him to help with a robbery in exchange for money. With this film, Maria Joao Ganga wanted to provide a realistic sketch of the bitter political situation in Angola. One of her most important motivations for making In the Empty City was to provide a picture of an African city without awakening feelings of a patronizing sympathy or associations with the sensationalism of war.

The Great Kilapy (2012) directed by Zézé Gamboa.  Joao Fraga is a young Angolan, descendant of a rich family from the colonial period. This mestizo boy just wants to live his life, having fun with friends and spending his money. Although he is the Senior Executive of National Bank of Angola, he diverts the institution's own funds, distributing money to colleagues and activists for the liberation of Angola. Joao goes to jail, but when he gets out of prison, is upheld by society as a local hero.

Death Metal Angola (2012) directed by Jeremy Xido.  Follows a loving Angolan couple, Sonia and Wilker, whose love for death metal music is bringing hope to the town and children of Huambo, and Angola as a country. The devastating reality of Angola's history of wars, and civil unrest has left the country's people torn, broken, and starving for something to give them peace. Sonia, and Wilker's dream to put on the first national rock festival ignites the emotions of the Angolan people, and helps them heal from the war stricken path Angola has left behind. This engaging reality of Angola touches the heart of the viewer, and sheds new light on a music genre that is not well understood.

I Love Kuduro (2013). Directed by Mario Patrocnio.  Kuduro (literally meaning 'hard ass’) is an urban cultural movement that was born in Angola during the last decade of the Civil War. Created in discos and raves in downtown Luanda through a mixture between House and Techno beats and traditional Angolan rhythms, Kuduro spilled over from the center to the suburbs. It rapidly spread throughout Angola, through Africa and now all over the world. 'I LOVE KUDURO' follows the most idolized stars of this urban phenomena including Cabo Snoop, Os Namayer, Francis Boy, Titica, and Os Lambas, that today influences scores of young Africans, musically, in fashion, and overall lifestyle.

Njinga Rainhha de Angola (2013) Directed by Sergio Graciano.  Based on the true story of a 17th century warrior woman who fights for the independence of Angola. After witnessing the murder of her son and watching her people being humiliated by Portuguese colonizers, Njinga will become a Queen and struggle for their liberation embodying the motto: those who stay fight to win.

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