500 Days Of Film Reviews Drama, I am not a Witch, Starring Maggie Mulubwa And B.J. Phiri
When nine-year-old Shula turns up alone and unannounced in a rural Zambian village, the locals are suspicious. A minor incident escalates to a full-blown witch trial, where she is found guilty and sentenced to life in a state-run witch camp.
There, she is tethered to a long white ribbon and told that if she ever tries to run away, she will be transformed into a goat. As the days pass, Shula begins to settle into her new community, but a threat looms on the horizon.
Is It Any Good?
While we are all fascinated by difference, in the end, most of us just want to find a place where we fit in - wherever that place may be.
All alone in the world, when Shula is accused of being a witch she is frightened and bewildered. Her two choices are: accept life as a witch or risk turning into a goat. The very idea is laughable, ridiculous. Or it would be if it wasn’t so utterly cruel.
However, when Shula is forced to join a witch camp (and is there given her name) she finally feels a sense of community - a place full of potentially nurturing mothers and grandmothers, a place where she can finally belong.
Tragically, as soon as Shula starts to feel a sense of place, her world is torn apart. She is sent off to makeshift courts - forced to decide the fate of those accused of crimes (her elders offer conflicting advice regarding the telltale signs of guilt). She is used, often for financial (or gin) gain, by everyone who claims to care for her.
Director, Rungano Nyoni, invites us to see the comedy in Shula's absurd situation. Then, when the humour fades, a deeply unsettling feeling takes its place. We understand that Shula’s future is bleak - hers is a life full of repression and fear.
I am not a Witch is a remarkable feature debut from Nyoni. It feels like the work of a much more experienced filmmaker. Every scene is meticulously created - from the often stunning (almost mystical) visuals to the impressive and authentic soundscape.
The film also features powerful performances. Maggie Mulubwa is haunting as Shula. While her dialogue is (rightly) limited, she expresses so much by her eyes alone. Meanwhile, Henry B.J. Phiri is brilliant as Mr Banda, the ridiculous and yet fearsome government official who exploits Shula and believes that “freedom of speech should not be misused”.
I am not a Witch inspired me to learn more about these so-called witch camps. Could they possibly really exist? Surely they must just be a vehicle for Nyoni’s satire? A way for the director to explore themes of misogyny and repression.
Tragically such camps still exist. Nyoni spent some time living in one and saw first hand the limitations these women have to endure in their daily lives (represented in the film by those striking white ribbons).
As a result, I am not a Witch raises awareness of a specific problem and also encourages us to think about more wider issues concerning gender discrimination. Impressive work indeed from this exciting new filmmaker.
Have you seen I am not a Witch?
If you have, what did you think of this film? Let me know in the comments section below or via Facebook or Twitter (@500DaysOfFilm).