Africa in Motion 2012 documentary strand takes youth as theme
Screenings of Waited For, Waliden: Enfant d’Autrui and Le Collier et la Perle
Friday 4 November saw the second day of African documentary screenings at the maze-like Edinburgh School of Art. Friday’s three part screenings focused on festival’s theme of youth and children through the exploration of family and the different relationships between parents and children from across the continent.
In breaking away from the legacy of an Apartheid regime South Africa created a new constitution that was one of the most progressive in the world in terms of human rights and protection from discrimination on any basis (including sexual orientation). The gap however between legislation and reality for the country's LGBT communities is still, at times, a significant one and social acceptance can remain elusive in a society still clutching at conservative values. This documentary made by Nerina Pezhorn looks at white lesbian couples who have adopted black babies, challenging the nation's perceptions of culture both in terms of race and the heterosexual norm. An interesting aspect of this film is that although all the couples featured are lesbian, it is the racial difference of their adoptions that appears to cause the most unease for others – perhaps a mark that in South Africa race is still the issue that dominates the national consciousness.
One mother points out that when people see her with her son their first comment is that the child is clearly 'not hers'. A social worker suggests to another couple awaiting a baby that they provide a 'cultural corner' in their home with such items as 'a drum' so that the child has something to identify with. These attitudes are a sharp reminder of the ongoing battle to redefine what culture means in the New South Africa – the need to break away from such stereotypes based along racial lines while not losing some sense of history and heritage. The ability of children to negotiate their own understanding and sense of self is not to be underestimated, and here affection and stability are shown to be of greater importance than getting “overly PC” about whether or not to let them play with Barbie dolls, as one mother explained. The warm humour and love that is shown by the families portrayed in this documentary is a testament to the progress being made in a country which is still undergoing a state of flux, and it makes for joyous watching and a reminder of why South Africa is known as the 'rainbow nation'.
Waliden: Enfant d’Autrui (Waliden: Children of Others)
Continuing the theme of adoption, filmmaker Awa Traore looks at the Malian culture of adoption, where children are not considered to be the sole responsibility of their biological parents, but are frequently raised by relatives or other members of the community; a process which is intended to strengthen the bonds between families and within wider social networks. The system is open to abuse however, and Traore herself was a victim of mistreatment during part of her three adoptions as a child. A personal challenge to explore these underlying tensions, the documentary has touching moments but ultimately jumps between stories (of Traore herself, of a young boy living on the streets, of a blind women who similarly suffered as a child) never quite allowing the viewer to completely engage with any one narrative. As such, the audience is left with a fascinating insight into a complex tradition, but no clear hold on the scope of the problem or the response that is or should be taken to address it.
Le Collier et la Perle (The Necklace and the Bead)
A filmic poem addressed to his new baby daughter, Mamadou Sellou Diallo presents a challenge to a cultural industry that is still uneasy about the veneration of ordinary women. Tender and sincere, this is an ode not just to his child but to all women and focuses as much on the process of pregnancy, birth and the repair of a woman’s body as the traditions centred around the baby girl. It is a celebration, but it seems to be a celebration from a distance. There is a sense of awe, but this in itself indicates something incomprehensible and removed – a notion that is enhanced by Diallo’s retelling of the myths about the First Woman, who created the stars. The African literary cannon has long been aware of problems in the frequent mystification of women, and the reduction of their role to bodies which although beautiful are destined to be used by men for pleasure and to produce descendants. The cinematography in Le Collier at la Perle does not do much to deflect this notion, with shots clinging to the body but never to the face. While the spirit of this Senegalese film is one which should be encouraged being both beautiful and loving, there is still a jump to be made in taking the woman down from the pedestal and engaging with her as a complex and autonomous individual and not just a body.