I Am Not a Witch
2017, 93 Minutes, DCP
UK, France, Zambia, Germany
Director: Rungano Nyoni
Cast: Maggie Mulubwa, Gloria Huwiler, Henry B.J. Phiri, Nancy Murilo
Distributor: Film Movement
Zambian/Welsh Director Rungano Nyongi’s debut feature I Am Not a Witch is a moving feminist film that is:
2 PARTS manifesto – one manifesto indicting the dangerous groupthink of superstition and one manifesto indicting 21st century cultural imperialism and its purveyors (men in suits who say things like “Don’t be allergic to comfort!” to old women tethered to ribbons and toiling in the dust).
1 PART surreal slapstick – there is a comedic thread that runs through I Am Not a Witch reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s Quartier Mozart while the production design, stark framing (shot by Embrace of the Serpent‘s David Gallego), and idiosyncratic acting style seem a nod to Djibril Diop Mambéty. As the film progresses, the comedic and absurd become unlaughable tools of abuse.
1 PART pure sonic transmission – the film employs a sound design strategy that hypnotically moves between sonic vortexes which highlight the main character’s isolation as well as (via robust classical interludes and a bit of pop) the complex persistent presence of European culture as a frame for the African story.
Accused of witchcraft, 9-year old Shula is sent to a witch camp instead of an orphanage. The witches at the camp are tied to the ground with ribbons so they won’t fly away. As the only child witch, Shula quickly becomes a star and the object at the epicenter of adult greed. Newcomer Maggie Mulubwa’s captivating performance as Shula hearkens back to Subir Banerjee’s effortless performance as Apu in Satyajit Ray’s first feature Pather Panchali. Like Satyajit Ray, Rungano Nyongi is on track to become a luminous voice of her generation. Having won the BAFTA award for Outstanding Debut, I Am Not a Witch is a must see for anyone interested in incisive feminist narratives and new African Cinema. (Keisha Nicole Knight)
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