In 2013, eight countries near Germany in Central Europe are in a constant state of civic turmoil and demonstration. East Europe’s Transition (the process of moving from 50 years of Socialism to democracy) parallels West Europe’s Austerity – both are the result of corrupt practise and enormous irresponsibility. So it is not perhaps surprising that we have asked Jean-Marie Teno from Cameroon to come to Mannheim and share the experience of 30 years as a political filmmaker with our start-up international producers at Mannheim Meeting Place.
My place is simple and complex at the same time. As an African filmmaker, or a filmmaker from Africa, can I make a film that is not a political film?
From whatever place I speak, it's political: As an African living in Europe for the last 30 years, have I become less concerned with identity? If yes, have I embraced the global idea of existence or do I still believe in some sort of diversity?
Claiming this diversity is understood as refusing to move with the flow and be part of the movement that leads the world wherever we are going. Not chanting with the crowd puts me with the voices that have always been silenced in order to allow the Global idea to prevail.
Is a producer ready to risk confronting the silent order of power that whispers: "no one needs this, it’s too disturbing.”
Can I just speak and people would listen to me without putting me into one, two, three or many boxes?
Who is this guy?
Where does he come from?
Is he going to tell us a story that we know or is he going to make us feel bad about this or that? This militant?
For many years, I struggled to distance myself from the word “militant” that was continuously being associated with my name as an African filmmaker. A world that would predetermine the interest that one could have in my work and justify its exclusion or its invisibility from public space.
My African origins started by giving me very little choice, either to fit into the narratives that branded Africa as a space from another planet (“How the rhinoceros lost his horn”), or a place where exoticism, soul searching and cleansing through “generosity” was at play, or various combinations of the two. Those who attempted to go beyond simplistic representation (à la “Nirgendwo in Afrika”) were labelled “militants” and pushed swiftly to the side.
But now the Internet and digital technology have turned everyone into citizen filmmakers with their cell phones and mini cameras, able to reach the world. Uncovering the flaws of this planet is no longer the burden of the very few true journalists lost among the herd that populate the media and who act as the gate-keepers of the perfect “global free world’.
In such a context, surely the responsibility of a documentary maker and a filmmaker is even greater - to go beyond the surface of things and uncover the mechanism behind certain trends in society whether it be human behaviours or organized systems of control.
Unlike the visual arts, where African visions have managed to impose themselves on the Art scene since decades, looking at this planet from a point of view of an African remains a huge challenge. Also, there is the uncovering and exposure of the mechanisms that organize everlasting poverty in Africa, as well as the charity rhetoric, which are so difficult to voice from an African perspective.
My difficulty for the last 30 years as a filmmaker has always been to find the right collaborators to work with on a fruitful basis.
I would always find assistants who would come and learn the craft but the producer, with whom I could enter into a conversation, a confrontation, who would be my accomplice, seems to be from another planet.
I dream sometimes of meeting someone who would engage on a journey with me with the goal to bring to the larger public a vision of the world that would not have to hide itself to exist, a vision that should not deny its existence and beg for acceptance, a vision that should come as a relief to the rest of the planet who would say: Thank god, some people still think differently.
A vision that should put into practice a discourse on diversity that stops today as soon as even public TV commissioning editors begin to be more concerned with ratings than the notion of public welfare. And so on…
As a film director, I dream of meeting a producer that would help me formulate my visual proposition and who could formulate strategies on how to present this vision to as large a public as possible without altering my vision.
This is where the difference between a political film and film in general lies: the latter relies on originality (or just the opposite) of story, visuals, and aesthetics, whereas political film needs the addition of a formulated vision that will not automatically scare everyone off.
Born in Cameroon, Jean-Marie Teno arrived in France in 1978 and has been producing and directing social issue films on the colonial and post-colonial history of Africa for over twenty five years for international television broadcast and theatrical release. His films are noted for their personal and original approach to issues of race, cultural identity, African history and contemporary politics. Teno’s films have been honored at festivals worldwide: Berlin, Toronto, Yamagata, Cinéma du Réel, Visions du Réel, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leipzig, San Francisco, and London. Many have been broadcast in Europe and featured in festivals across the United States. Teno has been a guest of the Flaherty Seminar, an artist in residence at the Pacific Film Archive of the University of California, Berkeley, a Copeland Fellow in Amherst College, and has lectured at numerous universities.
Some of his films:
Leaf in the Wind (2013) – UNE FEUILLE DANS LE VENT
Sacred Places (2009) - LIEUX SAINTS
The Colonial Misunderstanding (2005) – LE MALENTENDU COLONIAL
Alex’s Wedding (2002) – LE MARIAGE D’ALEX
A Trip to the Country (2000) – VACANCES AU PAYS
Chief! (1999) – CHEF !
Clandestine (1996) – CLANDO
Head in the Clouds (1994) – LA TETE DANS LES NUAGES
Afrique, je te plumerai… (1992)