“Shaking Up The Box: A Decade of ITVS”: Department of Film and Media at The Museum for Modern Art, July 5-22, 2001

This year’s presentation by The Independent Television Service (ITVS) included a series called Women’s Tales from Modern Africa. Produced by Simon Bright (A Winstar Cinema Release of a Zimmedia Production, produced in Association with ITVS and Winstar Productions), the series was comprised of three short films — Riches (2001) directed by Ingrid Sinclair, from Zimbabwe, One Evening in July (2001) directed by Raja Amari from Tunisia, and Close Up on Bintou (2001) directed by Fanta Regina Nacro, from Burkina Faso.

Riches
A South African teacher, Mrs. McBride, leaves South Africa with her son to start a new life in a Zimbabwean village. She encounters initial difficulty with the community but is determined to gain acceptance with kind gestures and open-mindedness.

Mrs. McBride teaches her class tolerance, civil rights, and human equality. She also finds comfort in the arms of the school principal who seemingly shares her ideals of tolerance and human equality and offers his friendship to her, but Mrs. McBride soon discovers that he only wants to take advantage of her. She fights back and by the end of the movie, she has proved to everyone that she is a decent person and gains acceptance in the community.

This might be an excellent piece of work in terms of filmmaking (I don’t know), but I do know that the story is far-fetched, overbearing and condescending. I especially dislike the narrative throughout the film. Simple dialogue would have been okay with me. The story was preachy enough, so I didn’t need the Mrs. McBride’s voice-over narration to hammer the message into my head as if I were one of her bad students.

Basically, I didn’t like this film and I know a lot of Zimbabweans who would take offense to the story.

One Evening in July
An older woman, practiced in the art of beautification, prepares a young girl for her traditional wedding. Despite the young girl’s resistance to go through with the wedding, the older woman manages to coax the young girl by sharing her own experience. In the end, in what seems like a betrayal of trust, the older woman returns the young girl to the circumstance she was trying to escape.

The film subtly portrays the conflict between tradition and modernization. The best thing about this film was its abstract nature. It leaves the viewer with a lot of room for interpretation. While that can be confusing and unfulfilling, with this film it works to allow the viewer to participate in developing and understanding the principal characters.

Close Up On Bintou
This is a comic tale of a housewife who, with the encouragement of her friends, defies her husband to start a business so that she can send her daughter to school. In the end, the housewife Bintou cleverly wins over her husband and the opportunity to provide her daughter with an education.

This film was funny and inspiring and challenges superior role of African men in society. The message of gender equality was clear, but it didn’t seem as though the filmmaker was shoving a message down the viewer’s throat. It was fun to watch and opened a nice window to offer a view of life in an African village.