"Ezra", "The Kadogo Brothers", "Tartina City": Democratization through Filmmaking in Africa By Télesphore Mba Bizo

in 11st Zanzibar International Film Festival

by Télesphore Mba Bizo

Media effects are becoming prominent in Africa as government censorship over works of arts becomes less sensitive. Gone are the days when a filmmaker, a singer or an author would be jailed for his or her ideas. Otherwise, Newton I. Aduaka, Joseph Muganga and Issa Serge Ceolo would have been of blessed memory now for betraying their states. Their films are more or less a whole revolutionary and denunciative discourse on wartime and its blunders. The following paper is made up of four sections. The first three start off with reviews and then overview the various environments of production of the three selected films. The article ends up examining the function that cinema as a useful media and national policy watchdog has been fulfilling in advancing democracy in Africa in section four. Here is a combined analysis of film texts, contexts and effects where fiction well matches reality.

Staging war films is new and news in Africa. This statement rejects the consideration of high-profile productions such as Blood Diamond (2006), for its “Africanness” is limited to the setting and a few under-exposed, decorative local characters. As such, Ezra, The Kadogo Brothers and Tartina City deserve not to go unnoticed at ZIFF 2008, the 11th edition of the Zanzibar International Film Festival, as regards to the programming of features. This is why due credit should respectively go to Newton I. Aduaka, Joseph Muganga and Issa Serge Coelo for being innovative by succeeding in crossing the line that the overwhelming majority of African film directors have had to tip toe throughout their careers with mixed fortunes.

Two main reasons account for these under-mentioned filmmakers’ originality. First, there is a major shift in themes. Regular topical issues in African cinema are the fight for freedom, poverty alleviation, women empowerment… as opposed to the anti-war message in Ezra, the child abuse case castigated in The Kadongo Brothers and the freedom of expression advocated in Tartina City. The directors have neglected the trivial to emphasize the bizarre.The second change occurs in film genres. Although there are handful exceptions, the scarcity in war films is a fact that people have been living with for decades in Africa.

“Ezra”: Heralding Anti-War Propaganda In Sierra Leon And Nigeria

The first film will capture anyone’s attention. Young Ezra (Mamoudu Turay Kamara) is abducted in school alongside other classmates to join the rebels and fight for them. They claim that they want peace before holding elections and the government is out for the reverse. Chaos rocks and overwhelms the country as child soldiers from the rebel camp are unwillingly given illicit drugs in order to invade and ransack the localities that are in support of the government ceased-fire prerequisite of elections before peace. So, Ezra is all about the week-long hearing of a 16-year old boy involved in war massacres. Chronological flashbacks intervene in the narration at crucial moments so as to achieve filmic textual cohesion and coherence. Very few will cast doubt on Ezra’s technicality. It uses the hand-held camera technique and close-ups to instill emotion. From the costumes, it is obvious that the tragedy is occurring in Africa. The fighters’ outfit clearly determines what specific armed section they identify with. The rebels are poorly dressed. Yet, their leaders have control over the land of diamonds. That money is said to flow into their personal pockets, regardless of all the efforts the child soldiers make to fight back the loyalist forces. Actually, the film seems to insist that mismanagement is standard practice in both camps at war time. On the contrary, government service people display discipline in their battle dress. However, their top-ranking officers are permanently receiving pieces of advice from their Western world counterparts. They have no decision to make on their own. It reflects the continuity of new colonialism, and lack of self-sufficiency of the African local leadership.

As a matter of fact, Sierra Leonean brothers and sisters are fighting without knowing that the actual war beneficiaries are Westerners. They manufacture weapons and make money and profit out of it as they sell arms, and collect diamonds at dirt cheap prices, leaving blood and sorrow behind them. This film is a fictional remake of a truly experienced misfortune. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission that questions Ezra is the fictional replication of the one that was set up in Sierra Leone in 2002.

Ezra is also speaking to Nigeria. This Sub-Saharan leading nation had witnessed one of its bloodiest period in the late sixties. The Biafra war killed over one million citizens. Those who were willing to secede from the Federal state were called the rebels. To say the least, Newton I. Aduaka is a native of Eastern Nigeria, Onitcha, where the Biafra war actually occurred. Furthermore, he saw the light of day on the eve of this war that broke out in 1967. It is needless to stress that the memory of it all is still vivid in his mind. As such, he has to be very vocal about these atrocities.

“The Kadogo Brothers”: Ivorian Children Soldiers Caught in an Unguarded Moment of Traumatic Post-War Torment

The second film is The Kadogo Brothers. The expository scenes take the spectators right into the jungle. The Secretary General of the Progressive Forces is to deliver an important message about the end of the war. All the child soldiers have to demobilize. The process of their reinsertion into the legal forces of defense fails to come true. They find themselves roaming the streets. Jim, Tom and Billy know no other thing apart from fighting wars as they were forced to enroll in the rebel faction at 10am on the day their classroom was broken into. Their headmistress was even raped and one of their female classmates murdered. They will forever live to hate school education because of this misfortune that the flashback successfully explains. Now, the three fellows are uneducated. But they must survive. To this end, they embark on stealing, taking advantage of their mastery of weapons and fighting techniques they acquired at the war front to overcome the toughest criminals and citizens. They all smoke Indian hemp. They jump from scandal to scandal, committing offences even in the premises of the House of Community for abandoned children and orphans, where Father Joseph has been trying to reduce their sorrow and have them trained in carpentry in order to socialize afresh and make their way on their own in the day-to-day life later on.

The Kadogo Brothers portrays actual, contemporary pictures of Africa. It narrates the tragedy in Ivory Coast. Indeed, there is no clear-cut line between fiction and reality here as one the most promising countries in Africa have been making the sad headlines of repeated military coups. The rebel group has the northern area of the country under control. It is the world’s most successful cocoa producing territory. The government forces protect the South, including the capital city and the Abidjan seaport, one of the largest in West Africa. So far, the disarmament talks in the rebel-controlled zone have been at a standstill, although their leader has accepted a comfortable position at the helm of the consensus government as Prime Minister. The absorption of former rebels into the army has been dragging and dragging. The Presidential elections to be held in the country remain a long-awaited call and cry. In one word, The Kadogo Brothers are synonymous to today’s Ivory Coast. All the promises made to the rebels seem to be void. This is exactly what Jim realizes at a press briefing where his war time bosses are telling tissues of lies about the issue of the heartfelt sadness of children soldiers. That is why the child rebel, lone survivor of the three Kadogo brothers, is forced to gun them down on a live broadcast television program.

“Tartina City”: The Fiction Is as Bitter as Chadian War-Torn Reality

Last but not the least, Tartina City also deserves a close and fresh look. Injustice is rampant as from the start as photo-journalist Adoum (Yousssouf Djaoro) has to challenge the impossible in order to be issued a passport. He is aiming at flying overseas to tell the world that his country is heading for doom. Unfortunately, he is caught at the airport with a compromising letter on him. The plot develops from there and takes the audience to an underground prison cell. Chadian-born director Issa Serge Ceolo uses a green lighting system to describe the sorry state of inmates. The prisoners’ dinner is made up of a mixture of bread and sheep´s bowels. They are all victims of a corrupt government. Those who oppose the regime are sentenced to death in one way or the other. A professionally organized death squad has its eyes open on the least movements of people. Terror reigns supreme as the firing squadron leaves no stone unturned to achieve its goals. It is headed by a war evil. Colonel Koulbou (Felkissam Mahamat) is to be commended, for his acting fits into the role of the wicked. He is always ready to raise hell, if need be. Few are those who can catch him off-guard. Even his second wife suffers from his brutality. He commits the unbearable as he shoots down his mother-in-law the very way a vehicle can hit or run over a mouse. He embodies the devil and wrong-doing. To crown it all, the anti-hero is sold-out to the powers that be.

Here, again, fiction comes to merge with reality. Even if the information gathered all through filmic narration does less to determine the setting and indicate the country where the shooting took place, the landscape easily associates with Chadian geology, geography and climate. Many may dare to say that the director forgot to specify the locations on purpose. He seems to be reluctant to identify his film with the uprising in the northern area of the country for security sake. Chad has been witnessing a widespread witch-hunt, following the attacks that the rebels perpetrate in a bid to topple President Idriss Deby. However, it may be misleading to strictly draw a parallel between Tartina City and today’s Chad. To some extent, it makes more sense to compare the fiction with the Chad of yesterday, especially the eighties and nineties. They are termed the years of repression. Opinionated prisoners and crowded police cells. People at enviable positions took advantage of that situation to frustrate the underprivileged. They abused innocent citizens with total impunity. It even resulted in settling chores. Women were cheap victims in that context. They were tortured. In the film, the spectators are offered to discover many a form of tortures. That, the director could not have stressed out of naivety. To some observers, the story of Adoum and the director’s hidden intentions result in one and the same thing, that is to achieve mass-exposure of the wrongs that prevail in Chad. Both the main character and the director exploit the (mass) media ideologically, the printing press and cinema respectively, in getting their human, peaceful messages across. There is no room for neutrality, when it comes to repelling public and personal violence.

Film Content Impact on Both the Experts and the Criticized

The issue of film effects can be tackled at two various levels as stories of this magnitude sell well. They draw the audience’s attention without much prompting. Here, any good story tells itself as it provides first-hand information on war front, mass graves and whatever bizarre one may name.

The first step asserts that these three films make waves in Africa and the world at large. They are all multiple award-winning fictions. As concerns Ezra, it goes home with the both the Golden Dhow and FIPRESCI Awards. Its most prominent international recognition is its crowning as Best African film at the Panafrican Film and Television Festival, FESPACO 2007: the Golden Yennenga Stallion. As regards The Kadogo Brothers, it was distinguished with the UNICEF Award in Zanzibar. The film was also presented with the Best Fiction Film Award at the FESPACO in 2007. It is less interested in highlighting the differences between loyalist and rebellion armies. As for Tartina City, it is the winner of the SIGNIS Award, the world Roman Catholic Association for Communication. It also won the Innovation Award at the 31st Montreal Film Festival. This displays the wide acceptance of these three movies among film pundits. They shower praises on these films’ innovative aspects. In this regard, the Nigerian-born filmmaker is said to be the fresh face of African cinema as he enjoys both commercial success and artistic acclaim. So far, they have been forming two conflicting values in Africa. Ezra sells well thanks to the ways it approaches war. Issa Serge Ceolo is widely valued as the director to monitor in the Central African Sub region.

The second step emphasizes feedback from the people in authority. They conspicuously keep a low profile. No news has so far leaked that any of these directors have had their lives threatened owing to their virulent criticism about a number of governments that are assigned guilt in their films. Indeed, no news is good news as things would have been worse in those days of state rampant brutality. For sure, top-ranking officials cannot welcome these films in pomp and pageantry. At least they are learning to accept their presence within their midst as an alternative critical discourse on the African public sphere. The African political landscape is not static. It listens to the call for modernity. Thanks to these productions, African cinema has started fulfilling its function of counter-power. In this regard, cinema as a genuine media goes a long way to the question public management of state affairs. In other words, these filmmakers observe their close environment. In so doing, they monitor government action. They are already free to congratulate or criticize at will. This is the contribution of films to the democratization process in Africa. Cinema is promoting the attitude of accepting the difference and encouraging dialogue among citizens from all walks of life. It is already democracy, even if it leaves room for completion by implementing the tradition of free and fair elections organized on the one man one vote principle. Ezra, The Kadogo Brothers, and Tartina City are an insult to various African governments as they highlight the evil concerns of the-haves as against the-have-nots. The almost unprecedented issue about them is that they give prominence to facts that would be in no way raised in cinema and television in the Sub Saharan Africa of yesterday, the one where permanent punishment and escalating violence became second nature to political figures.