Directed by Rungano Nyoni
Country: UK / France / Germany / Zambia
Witches in Zambia can't roam freely in Rungano Nyoni’s satirical debut feature "I Am Not a Witch". They are confined to a witch camp in the middle of the desert and their main activity, besides guessing who are the culprits of anything bad that happens in the rural village, consists in farming the fields. A ribbon that goes from their back to a spool restricts their movements as a form of preventing them from fly and kill people. In other words, these women, dressed in blue and with her faces painted in white, are the touristic attraction that fills the pockets of the greedy government official Mr. Banda (Henry BJ Phiri). This bribable figure, married to Charity (Nancy Murilo), a young former witch, now faces another witchcraft case that is causing aversion in the village's population.
8-year-old Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) is being accused of being a witch due to a minor incident. She has no family or friends, and nobody knows where she came from. Without confirming or denying the accusation, Shula is found guilty and sent to the state-run witch camp, where she is told that if she ever cuts the ribbon and tries to escape, she will be turned into a goat.
The talented director, who was inspired by real cases and wrote the story after a research trip to a Ghanian witch camp, funnily blends traditional practices and beliefs with touches of modernity. To give you an example, Banda’s wife is a sophisticated witch who goes to the supermarket wearing high heels. Moreover, some of the witches attempt to buy fancy wigs, with the styles varying from Beyonce to Rhianna, and pay them with the presents that Shula gets for her outstanding guessing capabilities.
The kid starts working directly with Banda, who uses her to sell rain in a drought season and eggs with her name stamped. However, the only time we see this child smiling is when she attends school. The young Mulubwa’s expressive eyes do the magic, exhibiting the sadness of an emotional suppressed girl, whimsically picked by nefarious people to suffer for the rest of her life.
Humor and tragedy combine effortlessly in this sensitive, mindful, and stylish look at the roots of a distant African culture and the unjust burdens that mark its society. For a first film, Ms. Nyoni not only shows intelligence in the way she addresses the topic, but also reinstates hope in the African cinema through a moving yet never sloppy storytelling and impactful imagery - the staggering cinematography is by David Gallego, who did wonders in Ciro Guerra’s “Embrace of the Serpent”.