From Boé to Berlin

Mobile Cinema, Birbam 2014 © Filipa César

A mobile lab on the film history of Guinea-Bissau

The project "From Boé to Berlin" is dedicated to the recently re-opened and now partly digitized archival holdings of the national film institute of Guinea-Bissau (INCA – Instituto Nacional de Cinema e Audiovisual). It will serve to make the films visible again, experimenting with various formats: mobile cinema, moderated film program, exhibition, and workshop. The project provides an opportunity to carry out a translocal case study in which the subsidiary function of an institution such as Arsenal in securing and giving new visibility to African archives comes to the fore.

As part of her ongoing project "Luta ca caba inda" ("The Struggle is Not Over Yet"), Portuguese artist and Berlin resident Filipa César has sought to make available, secure and give new visibility to a unique corpus of films: the archival holdings of the National Film Institute of Guinea-Bissau (see also "Animated Archive"), only some of which have survived intact. These holdings attest to an intensive phase of documentary film and cinema work in the 1970s, a timeframe that encompasses the struggle for liberation from colonial forces and the country’s decolonization. Still under the aegis of charismatic liberation fighter Amílcar Cabral, it was here that Guinea-Bissau’s independent cinema came into being, which was soon to be forgotten again by film historiography – despite it having received prominent worldwide support at the time and two of the filmmakers Flora Gomes and Sana na N'Hada involved going on to receive international attention for their feature films.

During the digitization process, which was attended variously by filmmakers Sana na N'Hada and Suleimane Biai as well as the then head of INCA Carlos Vaz, the question arose as to how this newly secured material could be used in the future. The archive lends itself to a geopolitical reading on the one hand, as the films found there relate to a practice of cinematic solidarity during a period of huge political upheaval. They reveal production conditions, illuminate the special role played by Cuba and the neighboring country of Guinea-Conakry during the era of decolonization and leave their mark in the biographies of a diverse range of witnesses from the time, including filmmakers Chris Marker, Sarah Maldoror and Jean Rouch, Swedish journalists Rudi Spee and Lennart Malmer, singer Miriam Makeba and editor Anita Fernandez. On the other hand, the material’s historical significance and the fact that it fills a gap in the collective visual history of Guinea-Bissau also gives rise to another goal: providing visibility for the film material and returning it to the center of cultural discourse in Guinea-Bissau.

Mobile Cinema Revisited

The mobile cinema format is linked to a practice already introduced in various colonial African countries before being taken up again in the post-colonial context, including in Guinea-Bissau, under new auspices. Sana na N'Hada was himself involved in attempts to organize a mobile cinema at the end of the 1970s to show the films and newsreels being produced at the time. The project was based around the Cuban model of a “Departamento de Divulgación Cinematográfica” and was supposed to overcome the rural population’s enforced immobility due to agricultural work and make a contribution towards communication and the creation of knowledge within the heterogeneous state entity. Such attempts soon failed however due to a lack of funding.

Today, film screenings in Guinea-Bissau mostly take place at private and semi-public locations and draw on the DVD market. Films thus reach their audiences via informal means. A traveling cinema equipped with mobile technology which goes directly to its audiences thus links both to the past practice of communicating culture via film as well as to the formats of shared film watching common today. Equipped with the visual and sound holdings of the INCA archive, the mobile cinema will start in the Boé region, where the independent state of Guinea-Bissau was proclaimed in September 1973 while the war of independence was still raging – an event of great symbolic importance which equally marked the start of international image production about Guinea-Bissau’s successive liberation. Some of the mobile cinema’s other stops include Bafatá, the birthplace of Amílcar Cabral, and the island of Galinhas, where the biggest prison for political prisoners was located during the colonial period.

The experiences with the mobile cinema will be jointly documented by Filipa César, Suleimane Biai and Sana na N’Hada and presented at the conclusion of Visionary Archive in May 2015. Before the actual trip, a workshop will be held for those involved so that agreement can be reached about the significance of the project and which forms should be used to document it.

Regulado

REGULADO, 2014 © Suleimane Biai, Filipa César

In February 2014, in Birbam, about three hours north of the capital Bissau, for the period of three weeks she has been documenting, together with the filmmaker Suleimane Biai, the construction of a house that will serve the surrounding villages as a meeting space. This project also served as an initial test run for the mobile cinema. Alongside his work as a filmmaker, Suleimane Biai is the régulo in this region and hence has assumed the duties of the head and conciliator of the community.

Regulado, an installation conceived for Neuer Berliner Kunstverein in the framework of the Visionary Archive project, is named after the régulo’s scope of responsibility, usually an association of several villages. The installation results from a confrontation, which occurred in the course of shooting in Birbam and by which the cinematic action was called upon in unforeseen ways. A confrontation about the illegal clearing of tropical timber filmed in one single shot was shown on a mobile screen the following evening and put up for discussion. The mobile cinema, whose work had begun the previous evening with a screening of Flora Gomes' MORTU NEGA (1987), thus immediately received a surprising current relevance. Regulado (2014) is Filipa César’s second artistic collaboration with Suleimane Biai following Cuba (2012).

The exhibition "Regulado" at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein takes place from May until July 2014.

"From Boé to Berlin" is a project by Filipa César, Sana na N'Hada and Suleimane Biai.

Biographies

Suleimane Biai (born 1968 in Farim, Guinea-Bissau) works as a director, producer and screenwriter at the Instituto Nacional de Cinema e Audiovisual (INCA) in Bissau and has also been the régulo for the villages around his birthplace of Farim since 2010. He studied film direction from 1986 to 1991 at the Escuela Internacional de Cine y Televisión (EICTV) in San António de los Baños (Cuba) and also worked as an assistant to Flora Gomes (including on PÓ DI SANGUI, 1995 and NHA FALA, 2001) and Sana na N'Hada (XIME, 1993) in addition to making his own features and documentaries (including DJITU TEN KU TEN, 1997).

Filipa César (born 1975 in Porto, lives in Berlin) regularly shows her works at individual and group exhibitions as well as at various biennales and film festivals, including the Kunstmuseum St. Gallen (2013), Jeu de Paume, Paris (2012), Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin (2011), Manifesta 8, Cartagena (2010), 29. São Paulo Biennale (2010), Berlinale (2013), Rotterdam International Film Festival (2010 and 2013), KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin (2013). She has recently been developing several works and presentation forms under the title of "Luta ca caba inda" that explore the pool of film material from the 1970s rediscovered at the INCA in Bissau.

Sana na N'Hada (born 1950) is one of the pioneers of Guinean cinema, whose history began during the 11-year war of independence against the Portuguese colonial regime. He was one of four Guineans to be sent to the Cuban Film Institute ICAIC (Instituto Cubano de Arte e Industria Cinematográficos) by Amílcar Cabral in 1967 to learn filmmaking and subsequently document the struggle for independence. He has directed the following films: O REGRESSO DE AMÍLCAR CABRAL (1976), ANÓS NÔ OSSÁ LUTÁ (1976), LES JOURS D'ANCONO (1978), FANADO (1979), XIME (feature film, 1994), BISSAU D'ISABEL (2005), KADJIK (2012). He has also worked with various other directors, including Chris Marker, Sarah Maldoror, Joop van Wijk, Leyla Assaf-Tengroth and his Guinean colleague Flora Gomes. In 2012 and 2013, Sana na NʼHada developed a series of public screenings of the digitized film archive from Guinea-Bissau in Berlin, Paris, London, Lisbon and Bissau together with Tobias Hering and Filipa César.