MARIA DUARTE recommends a film on the grim consequences for a young Zambian girl accused of witchcraft
I Am Not a Witch (12A) Directed by Rungano Nyoni 4/5
THIS satirical fairytale about a young girl found guilty of witchcraft who’s given the choice of joining a “witch camp” or becoming a goat is a bold and impressive debut feature by Zambian-born Welsh director Rungano Nyoni.
A combination of satire and social realism, it’s set in Zambia, where the film opens with a bus-load of tourists being taken to see a group of witches, mainly middle-aged and elderly women.
Sitting on the ground, all are attached to white ribbons wound around spindles and the tour guide points out that it is to stop them flying away to kill people. His clients gaze upon them as if they were a zoo exhibit and in so doing set the dreamlike and borderline absurd tone of the film.
Seen through the haunting eyes of eight-year-old Shula (a remarkable Maggie Mulubwa), this audacious drama explores the misogyny and ill treatment faced by African women. Following a minor incident in a village, she finds herself at the centre of a witch trial where witnesses offer their dreams about her as evidence and, after being convicted, she’s sent to a travelling witch camp where she has a white ribbon attached to her back just like the other so-called witches.
The irony is they can easily cut them and escape to safety but they are too terrified to do it.
Though hard to believe, there are apparently such camps in Africa and Nyoni spent a month living in one in Ghana for research purposes.
With its arresting visuals and a captivating powerhouse performance by Mulubwa, this surreal drama shines a light on a superstitious culture, whose practices seem alien and almost medieval, while also delivering a stinging critique of its treatment of women and their worth. It’s a subject that will equally resonate throughout the world.
With this richly layered and thrilling first feature, Nyoni is definitely one to watch.