Angola, Independence Documentary
by Sherif Awad
Two weeks ago, Luxor African Film Festival (LAFF) announced the selection of films to be presented in the Fifth Annual Festival, March 17-23, 2016, at the Luxor Cultural Palace in Egypt. Among them, is the new documentary Independence, by Angolan director Mario Bastos, a film that retraces the story of Angola's long struggle for independence from Portugal, finally won in 1975.
The visually rich film shows how Angola endured one of the longest liberation struggles in Africa, with a war that lasted 13 years. The filmmakers felt there was a need to preserve history though the stories of Angola’s freedom fighters, who were not just young people with revolutionary ideas; the conflict impacted several generations of ordinary men and women from different regions and lifestyles. Though many are still alive and lucid, few have documented their journey or have had the opportunity to talk about their war experiences beyond their social circles.
The film was made possible through the support of Project Angola – Pathways to Independence, that brought together the audio-visual producers Geração 80 and Associação Tchiweka de Documentação, an institution dedicated to preserving documents and disseminating the history of the Angolan struggle for independence. The project started in 2010, wirh the intent of collecting as many personal testimonies as possible. The task was urgent, as with each passing day, the voices of these important people are being lost. The moment is timely: Angola is finally without war and able to draw on historical perspective with the required serenity.
Between 2010 and 2015, Angola – Pathways to Independence filmed more than 1,000 hours of interviews with approximately 600 survivors of the struggle for independence, including the national and international personalities associated with it. Places linked to the liberation struggle were filmed, some for the first time and a number of countries were visited.
A project of this type could generate a number of films. If the memory of the older generation is the raw material of this documentary, its target audience is, from the beginning, those born after 1975 who did not experience the colonial system and know very little about the past. Independence told from the point of view of those who participated in that struggle presents Angola’s response to colonial rule and the liberation struggle.
Like most people of my generation, the director had very little knowledge of Angola’s past. As we were exposed to reflections on the war shared by our elders, always with that added dose of nostalgia and bitterness, I wanted to better know the people who fought for independence along with the ideas that motivated them.
The narrative and aesthetics of the film were based on the director's experience, living amidst the memories shared and the archive materials. The documentary shows clippings of newspapers about the imprisonment of those involved in "The Process of the Fifty," a recording of Che Guevara while meeting with Angolan nationalists in the Congo, and photos of guerrillas' bases, creating a dialogue between the generations that participated in the struggle and those born after 1975.
Interviewee Pedro Moyo, who died in 2015 after filming his testimonial, tells us that on November 11, 1975, Angola proclaimed its independence, 14 years after the armed struggle against Portuguese colonial rule began, but Salazar’s regime refused to negotiate with those who were pro-independence. Freedom Fighters were forced into clandestine activity; many were imprisoned or went into exile. When almost all of Africa was celebrating the end of colonial empires, Angola and the other Portuguese colonies suffered a rather different fate. Only after the regime was overthrown in a military coup on 25th April 1974,did Portugal recognize the right of its colonies to self-determination.
Independence begins with memories of colonial Angola, revealing the first steps in the struggle and covers the main settings where battles took place. From 1961 to 1974, the war in Angola spread from the bush areas in the North and Cabinda to the flood plains in the East, involving many, many people: the guerrillas and those who supported them. Meanwhile, political prisoners filled prisons and prison camps. Portugal managed to prolong a war that it could not win through the use of armed troops, economic and legal measures.
Director Mario Bastos was born in Luanda in 1986. He discovered his love for photography with Vitório Henriques, one of the first filmmakers in the country. In 2004, he went to the USA where he was trained in cinema in New York and San Francisco. In 2009, he made his short film debut Alambamento (Bride's price"), presented at several international film festivals. In 2010, along with Jorge Cohen and Tchiloia Lara, he set up the production company Geração 80 initially joining the project “Angola – Pathways to Independence” as technical advisors.
Bastos believes that Angolan cinema should be part and parcel of the everyday existence of Angolans and he is fighting for this to be more than a dream. Independence, his first long film, brought together his two greatest interests: history and cinema.