From the quietness of the prairies, somewhere in Zambia, the chants and the cries of women forcibly exiled by their communities erupt after they are accused of being witches. After these accusations are ‘confirmed’, these women cannot live with the rest of their communities, and therefore are isolated in a remote, forbidden area; however, their services are still required by those who can afford them, and their daily life is photographed by the tourists, who think they are in front of a very picturesque and unique ethnographic picture.
Zambian-born, Cardiff-raised female director Rungano Ryoni visited these ‘witch camps’ in Zambia and Ghana, that continue to exist not only because of specific beliefs, but also because of the power of misogyny. From unsubstantiated accusations, women are condemned to spend the rest of their lives in these camps, from which they cannot flee, because they are threatened of becoming goats. Shula (interpreted by Maggie Mulubwa) is a nine-year-old girl who, after suffering this accusation, does not immediately denies or confirms it. However, fear will later force her to ‘assume’ this condition, after being cloistered in a house in a kind of collective ritual.
The title of the film, “I'm Not a Witch”, is the phrase that will never be spoken by Shula, who, in fact, takes refuge in silence as an attempt to defend herself from the hatred that surrounds her, as well as all the people, on whom she does not seem to trust, including the other women in the same situation. Nyoni seeks not only to register the isolation of these women from their communities, but also the opportunism of those who, outside of this circle, take advantage of this condition as a business, like Mr. Banda (Henry BJ Phiri) who strives to spread Shula's prodigies with a fuss that quickly catches the attention of the media. «What if she's just a child?», the question arises during a television program to which Shula and her ‘tutor’ are invited.
Marking Rungano Nyoni's feature film debut, “I'm Not a Witch” features sequences inspired by a documentary record in order to increase the likelihood of the narrative. It is through Shula that the viewer connects with the story and feels the pain and injustice that these women suffer, yet there is at the same time a detachment that gives the viewer a broader view of this universe and how beliefs and myths shape these social structures. Between fantasy and realism, the film offers us a striking panorama that is so tragic as it is absurd, from the full shots of Zambia’s arid and wild landscapes to the close-ups from which emerge expressions of anger, frustration, strangeness and melancholy.
By Tiago Vieira da Silva | Translated by Isaura Arantes
On Leuk Jornal | Edition 3 | 22 - 23 JUN 2018