Examining the past to envision the future |Interroger le passé pour envisager le future de/par Stéphanie Dongmo on/sur Une feuille dans le vent – Leaf in the Wind de/par Jean-Marie Teno)
SOURCE: http://stephaniedongmo.blogspot.com - 2014-09-14. Article by/par Stéphanie Dongmo. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson.
Awarded first prize for documentary at the 2014 Ecrans noirs festival, A Leaf in the Wind by Jean-Marie Teno presents Ernestine Ouandie’s quest for truth, against the background of the history of the independence of Cameroon.
"How do you expect a leaf without a stalk to live? I'm like a leaf; I need the branch to survive. When you cut the branch, the leaf will dry, the wind will blow it left, right, up, down, and the leaf will disappear one day." This sentence sums up Ernestine Ouandie’s entire existence. Throughout the film, she relates her sorrow and the perpetual quest of the father.
Born in 1961 in Nigeria, Ernestine is the daughter of Ernest Ouandié, the Cameroonian nationalist who led the UPC after the assassination of Ruben Um Nyobe in 1958 and Felix Moumie in 1960. In this 55-minute documentary, she gives herself entirely. She recounts her difficult childhood and her encounter with her father's country in 1987 after growing up in Ghana. She especially decries the veil of silence surrounding the history of Cameroon, which, for her, is an integral part of her family history.
To date, the circumstances of the surrender of Ernest Ouandié, executed in Bafoussam in 1971, remain unclear. And there is no commemorative plaque honouring the martyrs, portrayed at the time as guerrilla fighters. Ernestine wants the truth, so she may pass it on to her children, because to project into the future, one needs to look at ones past. "It hurts to know that one must die twice. The first death, itself, is hard enough to accept. The second death, which is silence, will bring us nowhere. When history is written, the wandering souls will finally come to rest," she said.
One morning of October 2009, Ernestine Ouandié went to join these wandering souls. At that moment, Jean-Marie Teno, who interviewed her in 2004, looks at her revelations in a new way: "I was so touched by her story. I did not know what form the film would take at that point. For a long time in the interview, she talks to me about the metaphor of the leaf but I did not understand. It is when she died that I realized that it made sense. I found in her a depth that made me think that her words should be given attention.”
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, once said that "the socio-psychological effects of colonisation are far more important than the political consequences because they penetrate deep into the minds of people and take longer to eradicate." Until his death, Ernestine Ouandé carried this burden, in a country where the history of independence has always been eluded. Facing the camera, this beautiful woman, who one senses is desperately alone in her quest, demands justice for truth. Her thoughts are methodically constructed. Her voice and her eyes are full of emotion. One senses that she is close to tears, but she does not crack.
To put his story into perspective, Jean-Marie Teno utilises archive footage to recount the struggle for independence. He thus draws a parallel between the life of Ernestine and that of "Comrade Emile," her father. The use of illustrations by Kemo Sambé assists in filling the gaps in the story, and gives the viewer a change from the focus on Ernestine's face. The film shot in English and subtitled in French, is dedicated to the children of Ernestine: Boris, Ernesto and Helen.
Review by Stéphanie Dongmo
Excerpt about A Leaf in the Wind from a discussion with Jean-Marie Teno during a meeting with Cameroon art critics (l’Association de journalistes culturels du Cameroun), compiled by Stéphanie Dongmo. Translated from French by Beti Ellerson
My latest film, A Leaf in the Wind, is my encounter with Ernestine Ouandié. There are specific circumstances that often dictate most of the films that I make. Beginning in 2000 Ernestine tried to meet with people who had worked on colonial history, who knew a little about the history of her father. Also she and my sister had a mutual friend in Bafoussam where my mother lives and where I go often on vacation. We ended up meeting, we talked, and she had this need to talk about her father’s story and that's how the interview was done.
I was so touched by her story. I did not know what form the film would take at that point. For a long time in the interview, she talks to me about the metaphor of the leaf but I did not understand. It is when she died that I realized that it made sense. I found in her a depth that made me think that her words should be given attention, everything that she said in relation to pan-Africanism, the way Cameroon was perceived by the Anglophone countries after independence. It was the moment to question all of this, as well as history.
In order to put Ernestine’s story in perspective, I needed historical markers. The archival footage of this film is drawn from d’Afrique je te plumerai (Africa I will fleece you, 1992). Ernestine had suffered from the absence of her father during her childhood. When she became a woman, she needed to know the history of her father. So I structured the film around her life, her father’s, and the history of Cameroon. To recount, from someone’s perspective, the larger history of Cameroon, those things we do not talk about. This meeting makes sense only when you have brought together all these reflections and that is why I recorded it at the same time, I had to build a story that allows people to continue to deconstruct a lot of the things that we are taught in order to lock us into a certain way of seeing and thinking.
When I arrived at Ernestine’s house, I only had the camera, a 3-hour tape, and no tripod. There was not enough light in the living room to do the interview so I decided to do it outside. We sat on the porch as if having a conversation. The shot was fairly wide, as I did not want a close-up since I knew that what she was going to tell me was not easy, I put the camera on my lap. I started in French and then realised she was searching for words. After an hour we conversed in English where she felt more at ease and then she really began telling her story.
When you have an interview with someone who has constructed a thought that develops over time, it is not easy to stop her. First, she is a woman who is beautiful, who is a pleasure to look at, and at the same time, there is all this pain that is confined inside. When I showed the film in Europe, many people came out of the theatre with tears in their eyes. We see someone with so much strength who then leaves, and at the same time she is given homage without being judged. Someone talks for 30-35 minutes, we listen to her words, and in these words are her experience. This emotional weight I put in context with the story of her father; something we do not often see in documentaries.
Speaking to liberate
A film only allows people to begin to search, to talk. We must speak in order to free those who are in pain, one must not be afraid of these words. A history is told from a lot of different perspectives. How each person perceives the same events is interesting to analyse: to know why there was conflict and how we go forward in relationship to this history, to allow us to go beyond it. This work is necessary; otherwise we will continue to have resentment and suffering. And that is why Nkrumah said that the psychological effects of colonialism are much longer and difficult to eradicate than the political and economic consequences.
When I make films, I expect some knocks; but there are those blows that are very painful because they come from where one least expects them. The work I did for Ernestine, her family, her children, for me it was a commitment to the continuation of what I do, and it is very difficult to see people come up to me thinking it is a film that I made for my own benefit from the hardship of someone else. If I wanted to get rich, I would be doing a different kind of cinema and not this. I think the work I do, as do many researchers and historians, is not always recognized for its fair value.
It did not go over very well with some members Ernestine's family. I do not hold that against them, I know that human nature is what it is, but I'm here, I'm going to cope. I was touched by the reaction of the children of Ernestine; that is sufficient. The film has not been shown much. Its first showing was on 18 March 2014 at the time of the premiere. An attorney for Ernestine’s family wanted to ban the film.
I wanted to show the film in Cameroon. People were disturbed at the beginning and ended up being captivated by it. I am very interested in how people perceive the film here; I always try to put myself on that level.