Reaching across time, African Apocalypse takes us on a disturbing journey into the heart of darkness. Rob Lemkin’s powerful documentary follows British-Nigerian poet and activist Femi Nylander as, inspired by Joseph Conrad’s iconic novella, he embarks upon an emotional and spiritual journey to Niger.
Nylander is on the trail of a man who could well be one of the real-life sources for Conrad’s Kurtz. That man is French Captain Paul Voulet. In 1898, he led a French military expedition
to conquer the Chad Basin and unify all French territories in West Africa.
Voulet’s expedition, we discover, descended into horrific, senseless violence. The scale and depravity of his actions are hard to comprehend. Visiting the locations most affected by Voulet's genocidal mission, Nylander discovers that his devastating legacy is still felt today.
Lemkin combines Nylander’s journey with narration from Heart Of Darkness and an unflinching use of archive materials. Meanwhile, African Apocalypse’s cinematography is stunning - occasionally reminding us of Francis Ford Coppola’s adaptation. The mix makes for a tense and disturbing cinematic experience.
Nylander addresses Voulet directly. “I’m coming after you Captain Paul Voulet,” he states. He is hunting the ghost of a truly monstrous man, giving voice to the communities Voulet destroyed and exposing the lasting horrors of colonial history.
African Apocalypse explores more than just the story of Captain Paul Voulet. Lemkin’s documentary is also interested in Nylander’s personal journey. It is fascinating to watch as Nylander contemplates what his being in Niger means.
On arrival in the country, Nylander realises that this is the first place he has visited “where everyone looks like me”. Despite this, he still feels out of place. This feeling is confirmed when he is warned that being English means he is viewed in the same way as if he were white.
As a result, it is understandable when Nylander draws a parallel between Kurtz, Voulet and himself. All three men, he feels, are ultimate outsiders. However, thanks to the people he meets on his journey (his two guides are particularly insightful), Nylander slowly lets his guard down and embraces his connection to Niger and its history.
Nylander’s experience leaves him - and us - with a powerful understanding of how the colonial past shapes the present. As devastating as this is, Nylander is left energised - passionate in the inspirational belief that our future can be different.