Cameroonian filmmaker Bassek ba Kobhio provides a fascinating revisionist perspective on Albert Schweitzer, Noble Peace Prize winner and secular saint of the colonial era.
Like Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask, this film begins to rewrite the history of colonialism from the point of view of the colonized. Le Grand Blanc de Lambaréné is not, however, a facile exercise in iconoclasm but rather a deeply-felt lament for a missed opportunity, for a cross-cultural encounter between Africa and Europe which never happened.
Shot on the site of Schweitzer’s hospital in Gabon, Bassek ba Kobhio elicits psychologically complex portrayals from his actors as he did in his earlier California Newsreel release, Sango Malo. Behind Schweitzer’s impenetrable reserve, Ba Kobhio discovers a man blinded to the people around him by his own spiritual self-absorption and arrogance. For Schweitzer to see himself as a stern but loving father, he had to cast Africans as childlike primitives whom he could protect from the temptations of modernity. He even refused to install electrical generators or institute modern sanitation in his hospital’s wards. In the film, an African boy Schweitzer discouraged from becoming a doctor, returns with his degree and rebukes him: “The independence of the people has never been your concern. You only wanted to share their hell in the hope of reaching your heaven.” —California Newsreel
Bassek ba Kobhio was born in Nindje, in Cameroon. He has previously directed three feature films and founded Films Terre Africaine, a Cameroon based production company, in 1991. Four years later he launched Ecrans Noirs, an itinerant festival in Cameroon, Gabon and the Central African Republic. He is also the author of three novels. —quinzaine