Kino Armata’s Contemporary African Cinema Week reflects shared realities between Kosovo and societies south of the Sahara.
As a fully uniformed Colonel Honorine addresses a group of wartime rape survivors from the Second Congo War, her handbag dangles precariously from her forearm. She tells the women that only openness, communality and solidarity can help bring traces of hope back to their lives.
A few smiles begin to flicker across the faces of some of the survivors, for whom it has been 15 years since violence between Ugandan and Rwandan forces in the Six Day War saw their husbands murdered, and left behind the trauma and stigma of experiencing sexual violence.
Honorine commands the attention of large crowds throughout “Mama Colonel,” director Dieudo Hamadi’s 2017 documentary that stars and is named after her. Again and again she wades through chaotic scenes to speak with compassion and authority; marketplaces, rooms filled with children and police platoons all fall silent for the Colonel.
With people in Kosovo currently inundated with headlines concerning abuse and rape inflicted on a minor, Honorine – the leader of a child protection and anti-sexual violence police unit – is a reassuring presence: the public protector every society needs. She admonishes abusers, demonstrates the senselessness and cruelty of harming children, and focuses conversations on sexual violence around the needs of the survivors.
The Colonel was introduced to Prishtina’s cinema goers on Wednesday evening at Kino Armata, as part of the cinema’s ‘101’ in contemporary african cinema taking place this week. The films making up this informal education were selected by Kino Armata’s film programmer, Ilir Hasanaj, who wanted to show films that provided bridges to different places and cultures, while also giving a platform to socially critical cinema and tackling stereotypes around Africa.
To help in this endeavour, the films chosen explore issues which also affect Kosovar society. While “Mama Colonel” touched on wartime rape, “The Fruitless Tree,” one of two films screened on Tuesday, explored the problems pressures around childbirth can cause to women in Niger.
Through glimpses of intimate conversations between childless women, snippets of radio debates discussing issues around conceiving, and conversations with healthcare workers, “The Fruitless Tree” paints a portrait of a situation in which intense scrutiny is put on women to deliver a child, and in which men bear little responsibility. For Hasanaj, both “The Fruitless Tree” and “Mama Colonel” taken in tandem can help highlight the mistake of defining a certain standard and role for women in society.
The other film screened on Tuesday, “The Siren of Faso Fani” from Burkinabe director Michel Zongo, also had echoes in the Balkans. The documentary focuses on a community based around a textile factory in Koudougou, Burkina Faso’s third largest city. The fabric produced at the factory was once the pride of the nation; early on in the film the country’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, is seen proclaiming his pride at he and his men being dressed by the local producers.
However, after financial assistance provided by the International Monetary Fund, IMF, to the country is conditioned by the privatization of national industries, the factory suffers redundancies followed by closure, a failure of privatization that many workers across Kosovo can surely relate to.
After seeming initially like a typical post-industrial tragedy, the film moves into an uplifting final third in which, inspired in part by Zongo’s quoting of Sankara, former employees of the factory work alongside young women weavers to create a new high quality textile company operating out of Koudougou as a co-operative.
The themes explored in the films screened so far seemed to resonate with members of the audience. Contemporary art and film student at the University of Prishtina, Arianit Beqiri, told Prishtina Insight that the films had helped him recognize the “universality of poverty,” adding that Kosovar cinema has often lacked so far in addressing key social themes.
“Here, we are concerned with privatization, healthcare, unemployment, education, pensions and such concerns should be transmitted through cinema,” Beqiri said.
Contemporary African Cinema Week takes Thursday night off to allow Shpat Deda to play a Valentine’s concert tonight at Kino Armata, but concludes on Friday with “The Pirogue.” This Senegalese feature film competed in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ category of the Cannes Film Festival in 2012, and tells the story of a perilous migration across the seas to Spain.
For its next ‘101’ Kino Armata moves out of Africa and explores the unique post-modern style of auteur filmmaker Quentin Tarantino, starting with his debut feature “Reservoir Dogs” on Monday.
Jack Robinson is a freelance writer specializing in politics, culture and football in Kosovo and across the Balkans.
Feature photo: “The Fruitless Tree” film screening at Kino Armata. | Photo: Atdhe Mulla.