Kuxa Kanema: The Birth of Cinema

2003
Distributed by First Run/Icarus Films, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Producer n/a
Directed by Margarida Cardoso
VHS, color and b&, 52 min.
College - Adult
African Studies, Film Studies, Postcolonialism


Reviewed by Patricia B. McGee, Coordinator of Media Services, Volpe Library & Media Center, Tennessee Technological University

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
 
Date Entered: 4/7/2004

The story of the National Institute of Cinema, the INC, is very much a metaphor of the history of the Peoples Republic of Mozambique itself. In 1975, the country became one of the last African colonies to gain independence. The first cultural act of the new FRELIMO government, under the leadership of President Samora Machel, was to establish the national cinema. The INC, through the production of a weekly newsreel, Kuxa Kanema, tried to create a national identity beyond tribal loyalties, to be more than propaganda, and to educate the people in what it meant to be a citizen of a unified independent nation. In the cities, 35 mm films were shown in cinemas and in the countryside, mobile units (gifts of the Soviet Union) showed 16mm films. Today, the INC building is in ruins, and the stacks of cans of film are slowly rotting.

This enthralling documentary has woven together the reminiscences of the screenwriters, directors, and sound engineers with documentary footage that recounts the experiences of the first ten years of independence. It was, in the words of one participant, a time when they were “to train elephants to build roads. We were going to change the world.” It was a cinema with no preparation or professionalism; it was an improvised cinema of response. As such, this documentary raises questions about the power of the state to use film for the promotion or criticism of political ideology, and the conflict of such goals with the cultural process.

Mozambique’s President Machel was an outspoken opponent of apartheid; South Africa and Rhodesia responded by launching guerilla attacks. By the mid 1980s the war was raging full force; the country was beset by “armed bandits” backed by South Africa and isolated by a blockade. At the peak of the fighting in 1986, the United Nations declared Mozambique to be the poorest nation in the world; the nation plunged into a civil war that lasted until 1992. Equally devastating was the effect of the war on Mozambique’s cinema industry. The cinemas in cities were destroyed, mobile showings were limited to the suburbs, and INC slowly “sinks along with dreams of independence.”

This rapidly paced film has excellent sound and film quality; the narration captures the viewers’ attention, and the story is very focused. The story of Kuxa Kanema clearly has implications beyond its relationship to the political struggles of Mozambique itself. This documentary raises important questions about the nature of film, the effects of film on its audience, and the role of film in political ideology and cultural conflict.

Awards

  • 2003 African Studies Association Conference Film Festival