Tragic Fate of a Journalist By Hassouna Mansouri

in 8th Zanzibar International Film Festival

by Hassouna Mansouri

Drum is not only a percussion instrument. It is referring to something coming from the depth of Africa. But this time it is a film, and it is a FIPRESCI Price in an African film festival: the Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF) in Tanzania.

“This year, ZIFF has achieved a historic milestone, showing that it has truly come of age and can be ranked among the world’s recognized film festivals. For the very first time we are going to host FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics “. In these words the Critics’ Jury was welcomed in the official catalogue of the 8th Zanzibar International Film Festival. In fact, this year our organization has been involved for the first time in a film fest in the sub-Saharan part of Africa.

This event is also called ‘Festival of the Dhow Countries’. It includes all the countries around the coasts of the Indian Ocean where people can go with the dhow, a traditional boat.

This year the festival invited also two countries from other parts of the world. Among the films in the official competition there was a Tunisian movie, The Dance of Wind (La danse du vent) by Tayeb Louhichi, and there was an Afghan film, Earth and ashes (Khakestar-O-Khak) by Atiq Rahimi.

Coming to this island, crossroad of Arab, African, Indian and other cultures, we had a big question: which kind of cinema are we going to see in this part of the world? On the island itself there is no cinema. The festival offers the only opportunity to see movies on a big screen. There is also no production in this Eastern part of the continent. The few films coming from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda or Zimbabwe, are still very naively moralist. They look more like television movies than like films made for the cinemas.

Of course, nowadays it became more and more difficult to get good films for a festival. This was even more complicated for ZIFF, the Zanzibar event. Additionally, one of the films in the competition has already been shown at other festivals (and has been awarded by FIPRESCI in Oslo): Earth And Ashes by Atiq Rahimi.

The first FIPRESCI Award in Zanzibar went to a particular film, particular from a different point of view: Drum by Zola Maseko from South-Africa. It’s a film which is completely different from other African films with which one might be familiar. It is not talking about poverty, neither about a small village of farmers – the icon of the poor black continent. Nevertheless it is dealing with the Apartheid, a theme so often linked to Africa. Usually, people talk about the consequences of the apartheid. That’s why most of films are melodramatics and pathetic. In Drum, however, Zola Maseko is interrogating the sources of Apartheid.

The story happens in the 1950s. At that period, it was already difficult for black and white people to live together and to share space and human relations. The film shows, indirectly but in an intense way, how the situation went worse. When the film’s hero, a young journalist, Henry Nxumalo (an authentic figure, editor of a magazine called “Drum”), starts his investigations he is not fighting as a black man against a white system. He is in a professional way doing his job of a journalist, and he is helped by white colleagues. All of them are conscious of the dangerous evolution of their society. In this context, Henry becomes a tragic hero because his death is due not to the Apartheid oppression but to the unforeseeable circumstances of a conspiracy.

If Drum is talking about Apartheid, its discourse is not dichotomist confronting blacks from this side and whites from the other one. It shows how both of them where involved in a dehumanizing system of oppression.

To deal with this, Maseko choose a cinematographic form. Drum is a kind of ‘mélange de genres’ — mixture of genres. It is a political film in that sense that it is talking about a social drama of a whole society confronted with the beginning of a draconian system. But at the same time it is referring to big genres of cinema like those of journalistic or police investigations or even the gangster movies from the 1930s in the American society.