INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR ZEZE GAMBOA
by Olivier Barlet, May 2004
Published in Africultures,
Translation by Michael Dembrow
The film is a very contemporary tale.† Why this need for the countryís current reality?
First of all, itís because
The Angolan public inherently knows this reality: thereís no need to show it to them in a film, right?
No, no, I wasnít thinking of that in terms just of
Beneath the surface of the story there are a number of points directed at the politicians who exploit humanistic discourse, at †deficiencies in the public health sector . . . a critical vision.†
Yes, I wanted to use the camera like a weapon: in order to say that lots of things need to be done politically . . . Politicians are always using the excuse of the war in order to avoid doing things, but now that the war is finished, theyíve got to work for the peopleís good.† And in my opinion, weíre very far from that.† Whether one likes it or not, those disabled by war were in the service of those in power.† Those in power relied on these soldiers.† Thus, itís essential that those in power recognize these people and make it possible for them to have a normal life.† Since many of them were conscripted at a very young age and knew nothing other than killing their fellow human beings, itís necessary to teach them a trade.† That is the responsibility of those in power.† Itís for that reason that my perspective is optimistic at the end, in order to show the politicians that it is possible.† Being disabled doesnít mean being incapacitated.† They can do light work, learn computer programming, become a cobbler.† An amputee can do that perfectly.† Itís an important task: they need to be involved in society and be given the opportunity to live with dignity.
So this story also has the goal, for the Angolan public, of encouraging people to manage for themselves and demonstrate day-to-day courage.
Exactly.† And thatís going to depend a great deal on
those in power.† Because
itís those in power who must find the means to educate those people.† Of course there are NGOs [Non-Governmental
Organizations], but the NGOs are not going to get us there without political
will.† Itís important to know that apart
fought for 20 years, spent his youth in that way, as he says himself, and
then this society hardly recognizes him as a
hero.† Is that what we see today in
Thatís exactly right.† The hero played by Makťna is, for me, emblematic of lots of Angolans who live in situations that are completely comparable, without any aid, without work, without anything.† I chose Makťna, a man who is disabled by war, which is even more serious, but there are also people who are not amputees, and who live in exactly the same situation.† So, heís not a classical hero, but more the anonymous, everyman hero.† And that pleases me more, because the classical heroes are what we study in school.† History tells us who they are.† And for me, in an African country, itís essential that one provides images of other heroes--even those not maimed by war--who somehow manage every day to try to live and to have a certain dignity.† All of that social element interests me.† I cannot allow myself to amuse myself by making an American film filled with special effects.† I did use some special effects, because it was necessary in order to eliminate Makťnaís leg, otherwise . . .
What made you choose an actor from
This was my first feature film.† I had made documentaries and short films,
but for this first feature film I needed a real actor.† The casting process hadnít given me
gave me everything that I needed in terms of his work, because itís a
difficult role, a carefully composed role, and physically very difficult
because he spends 80% of the film with his leg folded back.† Thatís tough.† I couldnít take the risk of having an actor
who wouldnít work out.† After spending
12 years looking for the money to make this film, if the film were to fail
because of the actor, it would take me 20 years to make a second one!† Thatís what made me make that choice.† But the rest of the cast was essentially local.† I was criticized for casting him.† Local people said to me, ďWe have actors
here, why did you have to go get a Senegalese?Ē† I naturally defended myself, saying that if
one has need of an actor, one can go look for whomever one wants.† If I had wanted an American, I would have
taken an American!† This is where you
can see the generosity of a professional actor.† Makťna had
nothing to do with the history of
Makťna plays a somewhat pitiable character.† One wonders if his combat was worth it, in that he finds himself so rejected; he is truly tossed on the scrap-heap, when he should have been treated like a hero.† And he is confronted by all the perversity that has developed with the war.
As a war hero, he deserves to be respected.† But in reality he is not.† That I believe is the central point of the film.† A guy like that, who spends twenty years fighting, and he winds up with nothing, sleeping out on the street, homeless.
There is no pension for these soldiers?
There are, but itís very little: it amounts to around $40
per month.† But the cost of living in
And they get $40?
Yes, $50 maximum.
Why is it as expensive as that in
Itís precisely because of the war: everything is
imported.† The fields where the farmers
work are loaded with land mines.†
The subject of women.† These are excellent actresses.† Are they Angolans?
There are two Brazilians, and the actress
who plays Johanna, the teacher, has a father from
Itís she who says, ďAs for me, I donít want to have children in such a devastated countryĒ?† Itís terrible that a woman would say that, itís very strong . . .
Yes, because there are plenty of children in the streets.† Itís another task for the government to find the means to train these young people, who are the future of the nation.† These children have got to go to school, have a trade.† Weíve got to look out for these people.†
In the middle of so much difficulty, your film has an extremely optimistic side.† There are examples of solidarity that arise,† a number of nice stories. Itís kind of a fairy tale: this Makťna, whoís headed down the drain, and winds up with plenty of women who love him.
Thatís my optimistic side: I find that anyone who waits twelve years to make a film has got to be an optimist.† I have a great deal of hope.
You mean to say that you believe that this culture has the force to bring the country back?
Yes, Iím someone who believes that with the political will, we can restore the country in a brief period of time: 15-30 years.† Thatís what makes me always optimistic.† This country is so rich: if we can share out those riches in a natural way, we can get there.
Angola is a fascinating country: great cultural richness, and at the same time also this economic richness, with oil and diamonds, which led to the 30-year war.† What will allow it to get going again?
First of all, democracy must take hold naturally and vigorously.† People have got to respect one another.† From that moment on, if we become more nationalistic and love our nation, we can become brothers and grow in a natural way.† But the war has left profound marks.† People arenít yet cured.† Weíve been talking about elections since 1992, but they still havenít taken place.† Itís necessary that a sense of trust be reborn in Angolans, important that one feels good and, with the help of democracy, respects oneís neighbor.
Your politician character doesnít seem like he wants to have elections right away.
No!† Thatís the reality of the country!† You donít have to look far.
I imagine that itís very difficult to make films
and to show films in
Yes, in any case thatís how it is.† Thereís no other way to make films.† And exhibiting them is not easy either because thereís only one theater in Luanda thatís equipped to project 35mm films, one in Cabinda, and one in Benguela; on the other hand, in Luanda there are 30 theaters showing videos.† You have to go back to 1974 or 1975, to the time of the ďCarnation Revolution,Ē to rediscover a time where everything functioned normally.† Itís up to us film people and cultural workers to attempt to get back to that.
What format did you use to shoot the film?
Super 16.† 35mm was too expensive.
Digital video wasnít possible?
It wouldnít have been difficult; my producer wanted me to shoot in digital.† But for my first feature film, I preferred that people who watched the movie would be able to see the film stock and for me to see whether or not I could continue to exercise this craft.† I told myself that film was best suited to try this out.†† But I have nothing against video.
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