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Lost Continent: Cinema of Mozambique

by The Africa Film Project
Almost five centuries as a Portuguese colony came to a close with independence in 1975. Large scale emigration by whites, economic dependence on South Africa, a severe drought, and a prolonged civil war hindered the country’s development. The ruling party formally abandoned Marxism in 1989, after the death of the president Samora Machel and a new constitution the following year provided for multiparty elections and a free market economy. A UN-negotiated peace agreement with rebel forces ended the fighting in 1992. Heavy flooding in both 1999 and 2000 severely hurt the economy. Political stability and sound economic policies have encouraged… Read more

Almost five centuries as a Portuguese colony came to a close with independence in 1975. Large scale emigration by whites, economic dependence on South Africa, a severe drought, and a prolonged civil war hindered the country’s development. The ruling party formally abandoned Marxism in 1989, after the death of the president Samora Machel and a new constitution the following year provided for multiparty elections and a free market economy. A UN-negotiated peace agreement with rebel forces ended the fighting in 1992. Heavy flooding in both 1999 and 2000 severely hurt the economy. Political stability and sound economic policies have encouraged recent foreign investment.

Mozambique’s contribution to cinema is largely forgotten, and has been omitted from the history books. In 1975 after the struggle for liberation Mozambique finally gained independence. Led by Samora Machel a marxist revolutionary transformed his country from Portuguese colony to a shining example of a new Africa state. Machel created the INC (the institution of national cinema), a film production unit producing newsreels and documentaries, urging the people to embrace the freedom and cut loose the shackles of imperialism. Machel insisted on merging ideology with form, content and context pioneering a successful model of Guerilla Cinema that embraced a marxist conception of the engagement between film and society. The INC was a national industry creating many jobs. People who knew nothing about film, sound or editing were given equipment and learnt their trade as they filmed. Cinema was viewed as a vital force in post colonial development and education.

Cinemas were built and portable ones travelled the country inspiring a nation. The newsreels were known as Kuxa Kanema meaning birth of cinema. Kuxa Kanema produced 395 weekly editions,119 short documentariesand 13 long documentaries. This unknown cinematic movement was inspired by “Towards a Third Cinema” manifesto written by Octavio Gettino and Fernando Solanas which expressed new cinematic hope and ideology for “third world filmmakers”. Its influence spread across the globe from Cuba to Angola, Brazil and Cinema Novo movement and Mozambique, who became leaders in the pratical and theoretical development of cinema.

Mozamabique’s radical and revolutionary cinema attracted many big names from abroad. First came Ruy Guerra originally born in Mozambique who emigrated to Brazil and became a leader of the Cinema Novo movement. Jean Rouch, a leader of the cinema Verite and Jean Luc Godard, the French new wave master then both travelled to the country in 1978. Three leaders of the most important cinematic movements in the 1960’s were now actively involved in Mozambique film making.Godard helped teach many civilians pratical and theoretical concepts and came up with a grand plan to finance a new televsion staion in Mozambique involving giving out equipment to the people, them producing their own work and broadcasting the results to the country. Unfortunately due to funding and disagreement with the government the plans fell through, although this does remain one of the most audacious and radical attempts to bring socialism to the people.

In the mid 1980’s civil war errupted in Mozambique due to South Africa’s funding of rebels, bringing the country to it’s feet. In 1986 the inspirational leader Samora Machel died in suspicious circumstances when his plane crashed in South African territory. This all but smashed the hope of the people. A fire in 1991 at the INC headquarters devastated the building and brought an end tof national film making in Mozambique. The building remains a shelled out ruin a metaphor for the country as a whole. The film stocks which survived still lay in the ruins rotting away forgotten by it’s people and resigned to history.

Recently there has been more hope as the country has enjoyed relative peace for some years. In 2006 Mozambique held it’s first film festival Dockunema, a documentary festival which promotes the work from African, Latin American and Pan Pacific countries. Part of the nature of the classic documentary film is to aid individual memories and to make a special contribution to collective memory, which is the stuff of history. Against this background, influenced and even pressured by the various initiatives about memory that are happening all around us here and now, Dockanema is likewise dedicated to memory.

Private production companies came up after the new 1990 constitution that allowed press freedom. Although the companies are very young, their crews are often of an older age and very experienced. Ebano Multimedia was the first to start in 1991, and now there are as many as 6 independent production houses. Not quite a big industry, but the productions breathe international quality. Most companies sustain themselves by making a mix of productions from corporate videos for international development agencies to own projects. More and more foreign production companies find in Mozambique the right locations for their films. In 2000 Portuguese production house Cinemate shot the 35mm feature “O Gotejar da Luz”. In April 2001 Columbia Pictures shot “Ali” a full-length feature film on the legendary American boxer Mohammed Ali with Will Smith as the lead actor. In 2002 the Portuguese have returned to Mozambique for shooting on location of “Preto e Branco”, a film on the colonial war.

Below are ten filmmakers who have helped sculpt Mozambique cinema.

1.Ruy Guerra
Guerra is a Brazilian film maker and was a key director in the Cinema Novo movement. He was born in Mozambique in the capital Maputo, studied in Portugal and later moved to Brazil. After Machel invited Guerra back to Mozambique to head the INC. He was in charge of training many people and forging a new direction in African cinema. He is acknowledged as being responsible for the cultural ascendence of Mozambique and sub saharan cinema in general. In 1979 he made Mozambique’s first feature film Mueda, Memoria e Massacre, about a village in the north of the country, the site of Portuguese genocide in 1960. The surviving victims re-inact the brutal scenes playing both the natives and the aggressors. The film is a landmark of cinema and is a extraordinary creation of liberated popular culture.

Mueda, Memoria e Massacre 1979

2.Celso Luccas
Born in Sao Polo, Celso Luccas co-directed his first long-feature documentary 25 with José Celso Corréa at 25. It was made in Mozambique and is about the process of independence and President Samora Machel’s revolutionary government. . They co-directed “O Parto” in 1975, a 36mn documentary based on archive material and focusing on the dictatorial regime in Portugal and its fall with the “Revolução dos Cravos” (Carnation Revolution), in 1974, after 48 years of Salazarism.

25, 1977

3. Jose Cardoso
Cardoso was born in 1930 in Mozambique and began his cinematic career making newsreel films for Kuxa Kanema at the INC. In 1982 he got to make his first feature film Canta Meu Irmao, Ajuda-Me a Cantar followed by in 1984 Frutos Da Nossa Colheita. In 1987 he made O Vento Sobra de Norte, his most successful film about the liberation war. It examines the colonialists fear of venegeance from the “Mainatos” and their struggle to comprehend events. Like many film makers his career was hampered by the civil war in the 1990’s

Canta Meu Irmao Ajuda Me a Cantar 1982
Frutos Da Nossa Colheita 1984
O Vento Sobra Del Norte 1987

4.Mario Borgneth
In 1985 Borgneth directed his most noted film Borders of Blood which is a colour feature documentary examining South Africa’s destabilization tatics and the impact on Mozambique.

Borders of Blood 1985

5.Joao Ribeiro
In 1992 Ribeiro made the short film Fogata, adapted from the short story A Fogueira by the renowned Mozambican writer Mia Couto. It explores the relationship between two poor villagers. Since then he has directed the short film Tatana in 2005 and his biggest film to date the thriller/mystery O Último Voo do Flamingo, a Portuguese co production about the U.N and their presence in Mozambique. He also works as a producer and was the production manager for the Hollywood film Blood Diamond in 2006 which was filmed in Mozambique.

Fogata 1992
Tatana 2005
O Ultimo Voo do Flamingo 2009

6.Licinio Azevedo
Azevedo is a Brasilian born film maker who has made many films in Mozambique most notably Devil’s Harvest in 1988 who he direted with Brigitte Bagnol. The film mixes fact with fiction to tell the story of a drought stricken village and five men protecting the village who are often attacked by bandits hiding in a near by forest. The film was produced with the aid of Britain’s channel 4 films and won some awards internationally. Azevedo has gone on to make films like the Great Bazaar about two boys with different experiences and goals meet up in a sprawling African market. One is looking for a job, to get back what was stolen from him and return home. The other will do anything to avoid having to go back with his family. In 2007 he made the amazing documentary, Night Lodgers about the Grande Hotel a colonial disused hotel in the city of Beira and was the largest in Mozambique: 350 rooms, luxurious suites, Olympic-sized swimming pool… At present the building, which is in ruins, with no electricity or running water, is inhabited by 3500 people. Some have been living there for twenty years. In addition to the rooms, the foyers, corridors, service areas and basement of the hotel – here it’s always night-time.

Night Lodgers 2007
Great Bazaar 2006
Desobediência 2003
A Arvore dos Antepassados 1995
A Guerra da Água 1995
Devil’s Harvest 1988

7.Jose Fonseca e Costa
Costa born in 1933 in Angola is a established film maker working mainly in Portugal and has directed many films in 1980 he made the documentary Musica Mocambique about the various different music forms in the country. He continues to work today but is directing films in Brazil.

Musica Mocambqique 1980

8.Jose Luis Sol de Carvalho
João Luis Sol de Carvalho was born in Beira, Mozambique in 1953. He studied at the Conservatório Nacional de Cinema in Lisbon, and worked as a journalist, editor and photographer as well as producing numerous documentaries and television programs. Sol de Carvalho is the founder and general manager of Promarte Production Company in Maputo. O Jardim do Outro Homem was his first feature film and follows Sophia a young woman that looks to have a grand career in the medical field ahead of her. She has the ambition, patience, and the want to learn everything that needs to be learned about medicine and asks nothing more then the freedom to do so and get her education. The problem is that she lives in Mozambique where the idea of a woman getting an education is not one that is looked at very highly. Actually when a female wants to go to school, it is “like watering another man’s garden” since a woman’s place should be in the home. Sophia gets no support from her family in the form of moral or monetary, but that doesn’t stop her from living out her dream.

O Jardim do Outro Homem 1996

9.Teresa Prata
Prata was born in Brazil but was raised in Mozambique. Her first films were made in Portugal and Brazil. In 2007 she directed Sleepwalking Land the most comercially successful Mozambique film to date. The film was shown internationally and gained dvd releases in the uk, leading some to believe there may be a renaissance in this country’s cinema. The film tells the story of the Mozambique, Civil War. Muidinga is a fragile boy, whose bigger wish is to find his family. He reads in a diary, found beside a dead body, the history of a woman that seeks her son in a ship. Due to his hope to find his own family, Muidinga convinces himself that he is the boy who is being search. He tries to find the woman, with the help of Tuahir, a thin old man full of experience and wisdom. However, Tuahir doesnt know that sometimes the histories of the diary are created by Muidinga.

Sleepwalking Land 2007

10.Alcides Soares
Alcides Soares is a sixteen-year-old Aids orphan, one of half a million living in Mozambique today. An American television writer (Neal Baer) and movie director (Chris Zalla) gave Alcides a movie camera and taught him how to shoot. The result is a moving chronicle directed by Alcides himself. His journey to find a family and make a new life in a country that has been ravaged by AIDS is a story repeated millions of times everyday throughout Africa. As Alcides’s story unfolds, we meet the orphans of Reencontro, an organization in Moputo that provides these children with bare sustenance. The Reencontro orphans were also taught photography by a group of American and Mozambican photographers and provided with still cameras so they could tell their own stories about the impact of AIDS on their lives. Their pictures, sometimes tragic, often hopeful and always honest, appear throughout Home Is Where You Find It as a reminder that these children’s voices must be heard. In telling his story, Alcides finds an elderly woman to live with and, unexpectedly, is reunited with his younger brother whom he hasn’t seen in ten years. AIDS tears families apart, but the resilience of children like Alcides can make new families out of tragedy.

Mozambique 2010
Home Is Where You Find It 2010

Comedia Infantil, Solveig Nordlund 1998
Mar de Crenca, Juma Idrisse 1996

Kuxa Kanema, Birth of Cinema Margarida Cardoso 2003
O Pavo Organrado, Robert Van Lierop 1976

Light Drops, Fernando Vendrell, 2002
Street Wheels, Orlando Lima 1998

Shout At the Devil, Peter Hunt, 1976, UK
Ali, Michael Mann, 2001, USA
Blood Diamond, 2006, Edward Zwick
A Costa dos Murmúrios, Margarida Cardoso, 2004, Portugal
Germans In Maputo, Thorsten Sculz, 1992, Germany

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