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Didi Cheeka
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Didi Cheeka (Africiné)

Eva Knopf, German Filmmaker (Majubs Reise)

Majub's Journey (Majubs Reise), by Eva Knopf

Majub's Journey (Majubs Reise), Majub Husen and Heinz Ruehmann

Antje Kruska, German Filmmaker (Land In Sight, codirected with Judith Keil).

Judith Keil, German Filmmaker (Land In Sight, codirected with Antje Kruska).

Land In Sight - The filmmakers and the protagonists (from left to right): Brian Ngopan (Cameroon) Abdul Nasser Jarada (Iran), Judith Keil, Farid Sahimi (Yemen) and Antje Kruska, at Berlin Premiere.

Jide Akinleminu, Nigerian Danish Filmmaker (Portrait of A Lone Farmer)

Portrait of A Lone Farmer

Matti Bauer, German Filmmaker (Still).

Uschi (Bavarian farm woman), in Matti Bauer's Still, 2012

Uschi, in Still, by Matti Bauer

Festival Director Jahman Anikulapo & filmmaker Eva Knopf, at iREP 2014, Q&A

Matti Bauer presents AG DOK, the German Documentary Association, at iREP 2014 (Producers roundtable)

Marc-André Schmachtel (Director of Goethe Institut Lagos) presents Mokolo, at iREP 2014 (Producers roundtable)

Eva Knopf (Majubs Reise) and Bärbel Mauch, German Producer at iREP 2014

Theo Lawson, iREP Festival Director

Femi Odugbemi, iREP Festival Director

Toyin Fajj, iREP Festival Manager

Makin Soyinka, iREP Festival Director

Memory, History and Identity
Screenings and Conversations at iREP Doc Fest 2014
by Didi Cheeka

Cinema, the unseen voice in Eva Knopf's Majubs Reise (Majub's Journey) narrates, is an art that strives to make stars shine. Extras, the voice continues, are the dark night-sky background. Majub's Journey sets for itself the task of lighting up the dark of the night-sky, to make a star of a bit player. This cinema essay tells the story of Majub bin Adam Mohamed Hussein aka Majub Husen who lived and worked as an extra in the movie industry in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. Majub was born in Dar es Salaam, a former German colony. He became a soldier for the Germans during World War I - when he was only nine years old.
Eva's film - interweaving meticulously researched facts and inferential evidence traces Majub's footprints, from his childhood in the colony to his life and death in Nazi Germany. After Germany lost the war, they failed to pay Majub for his military service. A decade or so later, Majub decides to travel to Germany to personally collect his outstanding money, which he never got. Majub became a popular extra and bit player in 1930s German cinema - whenever the films of the Nazi era called for a black character, it was usually Majub - where he was cast alongside the era's stars like Hans Albers, Heinz Rühmann or Zarah Leander.

Trailer Majubs Reise | Majub's Journey from eva knopf on Vimeo.

In this sense, this film seems an act of reburial. (That is to say, an act of proper burial.) Eva seems unconsciously to treat space as a film set, a film location. There is this in Eva's direction of Majub's Journey - her graduation documentary: the (almost inborn) awareness, the naturalness and heightened sensitivity of the film director - a sureness that says, I belong in this space. There is also the courage to take on this difficult subject matter and treat it with a raw, questioning honesty. There is beauty in this film, tenderness and bitter poetry.
The Q&A (really, it was a sort of debate) that followed the screening testify to this difficulty and bitter residue of colonial history - in this instance, the way alterity, the image of the Other is constructed. The way colonized peoples narrative is erased and subsumed within the narrative of the colonizer.

The event was the iREPRESENT international Documentary Film Festival themed "Rhythms of Identity.""Everything is about representation. Images are important, they are political; they form the rhythm of our identity and are present in all the elements that define who we are."Africans, the festival brochure say, are always at a disadvantage in global definitions and is always defined by others, never by itself. "Who is telling the story of Africa and it's realities and from what perspective?" Antje Kruska's film, Land In Sight follows the travails of three asylum seekers from Cameroon, Yemen and Iran. Antje's film (which she co-directed with Judith Keil, her constant collaborator) reflects how an artist can take the usual, the everyday and make of it something really unique. Beyond the poetry of this film, is the feeling you get of heightened fiction - not at all in the sense of docu-drama, but in the sense of a reality at once tragic and comic the mind takes flight. There's subtlety to the narrative, an unobtrusive quality to the filmmaking as subject and filmmakers seem to blend, to lose awareness of each other's presence.

Against the backdrop of the festival's theme, Eva and Antje are walking a tightrope and with the way alterity, Otherness is staged and performed in mainstream media it is testament to the filmmakers' artistic integrity and honesty that the films keeps their balance. I don't mean that the films are objective. No, objectivity, all too often masquerades as the pretended impartiality of an artist afraid to reveal herself. What I mean is that the two films presents their narrative in ways that subverts the mainstream.
Immigrants, in mainstream media, are usually framed in terms of riots and criminality. Antje's film presents immigrants in ways that seem to encourage the challenge of the traditional way immigrants are framed and categorized. The surprise is that Eva studied Cultural Anthropology and teaches Visual and Media Anthropology. Antje, among other subjects, studied Sociology. Yet there is the absence of the sociological and anthropological approach usually evident in films dealing with African subjects.

There is a disturbing feel to Jide Akinleminu's Portrait of A Lone Farmer. Perhaps the autobiography is what makes you think you're watching someone perform surgery on himself, in public without anaesthesia. Afterwards, Jide mentioned a Yoruba proverb that says home is where you return to at the end of the farming day. And yet, you get the feeling as you watch this film that the filmmaker portraits home as lost, a place where we belong, where we were happy as children; a place where our spiritual roots are but to which we can never return. It is this sense of loss, of longing, of a never-ending remembrance you feel in his film. There is an absence, an unbelonging heightened by the director's voice - you hear the director, you feel him standing just beyond the edge of light, unable to locate himself, to place himself in his own story.

Unlike Jide, Uschi, the dairymaid at the heart of Matti Bauer's Still is firmly situated in her story - in the sense of home is where you make it. Beautifully photographed in black and white, Bauer's film - as Bauer himself says he intended - has a classical feel to it. I do think, however, that this effect derives not just from the non-use of colour. But, one must understand that there is not an absence of colour in this film. The many gradation and hues imbues this film with a poetic tone. If at all there is melancholy to Still, it is not dark despair. It is the bittersweet memory of a moment you always recall with a tinge of sadness and joy, the way you recall the time of exhilaration you left home when you were younger to pursue happiness and liberty.
Filmed over a period of ten years, Still is the story of Uschi who leaves her parents' farm to work as an Alpine dairy maid, and in one long summer she thinks she's found it. It is like a forgotten memory you hold onto that is sometimes triggered by an old photograph or post-card. The many iconic shots seem to juxtapose humans against nature, evoking not just a sense of freedom, but also the struggle to tame nature, to make it serve human purposes, they evoke the wildness and untameable yearning for freedom in the human heart.

The four films were screened courtesy of two of iREPS partners: Goethe-Institut Lagos - the official German Cultural body, and AG DOK, guild of German documentary filmmakers. The screenings and conversations were finely-helmed by indefatigable Jahman Anikulapo, with support from Femi Odugbemi, Makin Soyinka, Theo Lawson and Toyin Fajj. What is evident, if not a gradual shifting away, is a broadening of horizon to include documentaries among Nigeria's film audience. This, of course, poses a challenge noticeable in films from Nigeria's documentary-makers: an absence of knowledge on how to film a documentary, an absence of the distinction between documentary as film form, and reportage as news form. Filmmaking, like film criticism is necessarily comparative. Too many filmmakers are unaware (sometimes it seems to me like disinterest) of what has been done in the medium. The discovery of, and fascination with film is - with inexperienced filmmakers - like the discovery of love. Before you, no one had discovered the taste of love. The danger - especially with dilettantes - is the tendency discovery has to become narcissistic. How, for instance, do you make a documentary on sport and be ignorant, say, of Leni Riefenstahl's iconic Olympia?

If the strength of Bauer's Still is it's iconic narrative, I think Jide's Portrait of A Lone Farmer is it's inartistic, understated visceral feel. The effect of Antje and Eva's films are so similar (and yet so subtly different.) There is a restrained despair in Antje's film, a despair achieved by its equally restrained humour. Eva's film confronts the challenge: how do you trace the journey of a traveller whose footprints has been erased? It becomes almost a supernatural feat that the filmmaker manages to reveal something of this person's personal narrative, a glimpse of a soul. In retracing Majub's Journey film becomes an act of resistance against official history's erasure of certain narratives; film becomes an act of collective remembrance, an act of public witnessing and erection of monument.

Didi Cheeka is a Marxist critic, writer and filmmaker

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   liens films

Land in Sicht 2013
Antje Kruska, Judith Keil

Majubs Reise 2013
Eva Knopf

Portrait of a Lone Farmer 2013
Jide Akinleminu

   liens artistes

Akinleminu Jide

Anikulapo Jahman

Bauer Matti

Fajj Toyin

Keil Judith

Knopf Eva

Kruska Antje

Lawson Theo

Odugbemi Fémi

Schmachtel Marc-André

Soyinka Makin


20/03/2014 > 23/03/2014
festival |Nigeria |
iREP international Documentary Film Festival 2014
4ème édition. Thème : "Africa in Self-Conversation" ("L'Afrique s'entretient avec elle-même).

17/09/2015 > 27/09/2015
festival |Allemagne |
African Diaspora Cinema, Cologne 2015

   liens structures

Allemagne | Frankfurt am Main

ARTE Deutschland (ZDF/ARD)
Allemagne | BADEN-BADEN

Deutsche Film- und Fernsehakademie Berlin (DFFB)
Allemagne | BERLIN

Filmakademie Baden-Württemberg
Allemagne | Ludwigsburg

German Films
Allemagne | Munich

Goethe-Institut Lagos (Centre Culturel Allemand, Nigeria)
Nigeria | Lagos

Indi Film

Labosinmi Films
Danemark | Copenhagen

rbb Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg
Allemagne | Berlin

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