Rungano Nyoni denounces the oppression of women on the screen with "I AM NOT A WITCH"

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She was ready to mortgage her mother's house to make her first feature film "I AM NOT A WITCH" which hits theaters on December 27th. We met for you the Zambian filmmaker Rungano Nyoni who tells us about this film, a comedy about a witch camp in Zambia which charmed the public and the critics at the Cannes Film Festival last May. Presented in the Directors' Fortnight, "I AM NOT A WITCH" ( "I'm not a witch") tells the story of a 9 year old daughter, Shula, sent to a camp witches because the accuses of being one. Interview with its director.

Black Beautés: How did you come up with the idea of ​​making this film?

Rungano Nyoni: It's not just one particular idea, it came from a variety of things and it's really my grandmother's story that really inspired me. She was a very strong woman, who lived at the time when the British Empire dominated the country (Zambia) and this domination had very strict rules. My grandmother was very independent even financially, she had her land, her horses, tractors and a company to move food and horses between Zambia and Kenya. She was also a mechanic and repaired her own trucks. She wore pants when it was illegal for women and at a time when interracial relations were banned she met my grandfather who is Spanish and they got together. As this interracial relationship was prohibited, they were banned from staying in Zambia. Later she had a Dutch companion and she didn't care! I then asked myself, how was it that for her who had so many very strong rules that were imposed on her, it was no problem for her to break them while for people like me it is difficult to break rules that are unsaid. This idea started to obsess me and observing how society imposes said and unsaid rules on us and how complicated it is for us to break them led me to the idea of ​​this witch. These are people who have forbidden a lot of things, they don't have the right to live with their own family… and these rules they sometimes have to know how to break them, that's why I used the character of the witch because it allowed me to deal with the subject.

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Black Beautés: What is your background?
Rungano Nyoni: I started doing cinema late. I studied business, then my master's degree in dramatic studies because I wanted to be an actress like Isabelle Huppert but I'm not like her ( Laughs) .
What I particularly liked in the theater was directing because playing comedy it scared me and it worried me, whereas directing the actors freed me. I didn't know anything about directing, but it attracted me and gave me energy.

I'm self-taught and started making short films in Zambia, UK, Denmark and here I am 10 years later with my director's degree and making this first feature film “I AM NOT A WITCH”.

Director Rungano Nyoni

Black Beautés: Have you met women accused of "witches" in camps?

Rungano Nyoni: In Zambia we have witch camps but in Ghana they have been around for 200 years. I spent 1 month with these women in Zambia and we got to talk a lot, I heard their story. You know we call it witch camps but it looks more like rural villages which are very ordinary.

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Black Beautés : What were the difficulties encountered in making this film?
Rungano Nyoni : The first thing is that the film was produced and financed mainly by Great Britain and France, so we needed a Franco-English team that we took there. Zambia is a country that is very underdeveloped in terms of cinema and for the team who came from Great Britain, it was a culture shock for them because you really had to adapt to this very slow and very particular way of doing things. . There were also logistical issues too, particularly where we had to hire equipment in South Africa and bring it back to Zambia.

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Black Beauties: Are the characters in the film real women accused of witches or actresses?

Rungano Nyoni: I had wanted to use real women who had been accused of witchcraft but I did not find any and I looked for quite simple women. The women who are in my film “I AM NOT A WITCH” are farmers. I also wanted to be careful to use actresses who come from different tribes in Zambia. I come from the Bemba tribe which is perhaps the most important tribe in Zambia but I wanted the cast to represent other tribes to show as many people as possible.

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Black Beauties: Why do you think these witchcraft beliefs are still present in Africa today?    
Rungano Nyoni : I don't think it is about belief but rather about the repression of women and it is something that exists all over Africa and in the world. This oppression and repression of women in Zambia takes the form of this misogyny and these questions around beliefs but this is only the form it takes in Zambia and everywhere else the repression of women takes different forms.

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Black Beautés: Can we, however, hope for the emancipation of these women in Zambia?
Rungano Nyoni : I think women's struggle for equality has been going on for a very long time and I still think it will last a very long time! In Zambia it is still a country of all contradictions, for example I, who am a woman and a director in Zambia, does not pose any problem, on the other hand in Great Britain it poses a problem and I immediately become a woman filmmaker. There are some very beautiful things going on in Zambia, women have done military service on an equal footing with men for quite a long time and therefore in the army they have equal positions with men. They are also involved in the police, elected to parliament… These are very beautiful things about equality. However, it is a country with many contradictions and there is therefore a question of these witchcraft trials which are always carried out against women. I think it's for reasons of economy, of religion… but I don't think it's for reasons of ignorance. What I wanted to show in this film is that a little spark can be a trigger and trigger a revolution and we see it recently in the news with the Harvey Weinstein affair! There have to be a lot of women taking action to get things done and men joining us.

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Black Beautés: The film "I AM NOT A WITCH" was presented this year in the Directors' Fortnight in Cannes. What was your reaction?
Rungano Nyoni: Incredible! Now I realize that the reaction of the public was incredible, people stood up and we had a "standing ovation" but at the time I was nervous that I did not even see! It was superb and I could never have imagined such a return.

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Black Beautés: Did you have any apprehensions about the atypical subject of the typically African film?
Rungano Nyoni: No, I didn't have that fear because I think that above all, you have to remain sincere in the films that you make, especially after a first feature film. The concern I had was to find the funding because it's the kind of African film that is mainly funded by Europeans. But what I do know is that if no one had ever wanted to finance it, my mother would have mortgaged her house and I would have made the film for 50,000 euros because we were ready to have negative responses and to fight. So we had planned this plan B and anyway the film we would have done!

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Black Beautés: Are you worried about the theatrical release of the film “I AM NOT A WITCH” on December 27?
Rungano Nyoni: When you are a black woman, you have the whole world that puts all the pressure on your shoulders, for example before being selected in Cannes I had the feeling that I absolutely had to manage to be selected in Cannes because that's what will make the film work which will find its audience but also there are also other black people who want to access Cannes and we have the impression of opening a door and it is a pressure that I felt a lot in Cannes and now it's the tickets to the theater.

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"I AM NOT A WITCH" at the cinema on December 27, 2017

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