Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Cinema of Chad

I am currently researching the cinema of Africa, for an upcoming film series at Hibbleton Gallery.  So far, I’ve researched the cinema of Angola and Burkina Faso.   For this post, I’d like to introduce you to the cinema of Chad.  But first, a bit about Chad:

Chad, the fifth largest country in Africa in terms of area, has a harsh arid desert climate.  It is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups. The official languages are Arabic and French. Islam and Christianity are the most widely practiced religions.   France conquered the territory by 1920 and incorporated it as part of French Equatorial Africa. In 1960, Chad obtained independence but (like so many post-colonial African countries) soon became engulfed in a series of civil wars, lasting from 1965-1979, and then from 2005-2010.  

Here is a map of northern Africa.  Chad is in the middle.

Since 2003, the Darfur crisis in Sudan has spilt over the border and destabilized the nation, with hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees living in and around camps in eastern Chad.  While many political parties are active, power lies firmly in the hands of President Déby and his political party, the Patriotic Salvation Movement. Chad remains plagued by political violence and recurrent attempted coups d’etat. Chad is one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world; most inhabitants live in poverty as subsistence herders and farmers. Since 2003 crude oil has become the country's primary source of export earnings, superseding the traditional cotton industry.

The development of a Chadian film industry was hampered by the devastations of civil war and from the lack of cinemas, of which there is only one in the whole country.  Here are brief descriptions of the relatively few films produced in Chad:

Bye Bye Africa. 1999. Directed by Mahamat Saleh Haroun. It was the first Chadian feature film, and the first by Haroun, who is probably the most important filmmaker from Chad. The autobiographcal docu-drama tells a fictionalized version of the director’s life. A Chadian film director who lives and works in France (Haroun) returns home upon the death of his mother, and is shocked at the degraded state of the country and the national cinema. Encountering skepticism from his family members about his chosen career, Haroun tries to defend himself by quoting Jean-Luc Godard: ”The cinema creates memories." The filmmaker decides to make a film dedicated to his mother entitled Bye Bye Africa, but immediately encounters major problems—cinemas have closed and financing is impossible to secure. Eventually, the director departs Chad in despair, leaving his film camera to a young boy who had been assisting him. The film won awards at the Amiens International Film Festival, Kerala International Film Festival, and the Venice Film Festival. 

Daresalam ("Let There Be Peace”). 2000. Directed by Issa Serge Coelo, the other major director from Chad.   Set in a fictional African country called Daresalam, it reflects the civil war that ravaged Chad during the 1960s and 1970s, and is a modern take on the Cain and Abel story from the Bible.  Two young friends’ peaceful existence is interrupted when the central government enters their village harassing them and browbeating the villagers into paying new taxes to help fight the civil war.  This ultimately leads to a massacre, and sends the two friends into different factions of the bloody civil war.  Speaking of his film, Coelo explained he wanted to expose the vicious circle that originates when a despotic government causes the outbreak of a civil war, which tends to feed upon itself endlessly.  In Coelo's words, "war becomes the only economy of the country. Violence, the only way of speech.” 

Abouna ("Our Father”). 2002. Directed by Mahamat Saleh Haroun.  This is a film about absent fathers, and its impact on families in Chad. Two boys awake one morning to find that their father has abandoned their family. While watching a movie, they think they see their father speaking to them and steal the film to examine the frames. Their mother (Achta) eventually despairs and sends them to Koranic school. Unhappy, they plan their escape until the eldest boy falls in love with a deaf girl (Khalil). After each day for shooting, film was sent 2600 miles to Paris for processing. Only after waiting several days, when word came back that there were no problems, would shooting resume.The film won awards at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Kerala International Film Festival, the Ouagadougou Panafrican Film and Television Festival, and UNICEF.  It was the Chadian submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

Daratt ("Dry Season"). 2006. Directed by Mahamat Saleh Haroun.   Set in the wake of the long Chadian civil war, 16-year-old Atim is sent by his grandfather to the city to kill Nassara, the man who murdered his father before Atim's birth. Atim, carrying his father's gun, finds Nassara running a bakery. Unexpectedly, the taciturn Nassara takes Atim under his wing as the son he never had and begins teaching him how to run the bakery. The emotionally conflicted Atim is drawn into the life of Nassara and his pregnant wife (Aziza Hisseine), before an unexpected finale. Inspiration for the themes of revenge and reconciliation was taken from Mozart's La clemenza di Tito. Darratt won the Grand Special Jury Prize at the Venice International Film Festival, as well as eight other prizes at Venice and the Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou.

DP75: Tartina City. 2007. Directed by Issa Serge Coelo, his second feature film.  Set in an unnamed African country, where a brutal government death squad plagues the land. A journalist, Adoum, having obtained his passport, wants to travel abroad to report on the situation in his country. While at the airport, a compromising letter is found on him, and he is thrown in jail.  The film’s title is taken from "tartina", a mixture of bread and sheep's bowels served to prisoners.  While the country where the film is set remains unnamed, the context is that of Chadian history in the 1980s and 1990s.   The film won the Innovation Award at the Montreal World Film Festival.

A Screaming Man. 2010. Directed by Mahamat Saleh Haroun. It revolves around the current civil war in Chad, and tells the story of a man who sends his son to war in order to regain his position at an upscale hotel. According to Haroun, the father-son relationship is an examination of modern day Chad: "Between the father and the son is the transportation of memory, genes, and culture…The unrest in Chad has lasted 40 years and it’s the father who has transmitted the culture of war to his son, because otherwise there is no reason for the son to get involved.”  Haroun says that the main character Adam is "screaming against the silence of God.” The film received the Cannes Film Festival's Jury Prize, making Haroun not only the first Chadian director to have a film in the main competition, but also the first to win one of the festival's awards. It also won awards at the Chicago International Film Festival, the Lumière Awards, and was nominated for a Magritte Award.  

GriGris. 2013. Directed by Mahamat Saleh Haroun. A 25-year-old man with a paralysed leg dreams of becoming a dancer, and starts to work for a gang of petrol smugglers. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It was selected as the Chadian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.  It also screened at the Denver Film Festival. 

Most of these movies are available online for purchase through Amazon.  That's how I got them.  Viva world cinema!

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