Kuxa Kanema filmed ordinary citizens. Image: YouTube

A national cinema was established when Mozambique declared independence from Portugal in 1975.

The goal of the National Institute of Cinema (NIC) was to record and promote everyday Mozambiquans building a new nation. Even though it was 1975, there was no film industry or national television network in Mozambique. Media was largely a foreign import.

For a new nation, the NIC was an ambitious project. Mozambique had just wrested itself from 500 years of Portuguese rule, and independence was costly and violent.

The story of the NIC is told in the documentary Kuxa Kanema: The Birth of Cinema (2003), by Portuguese filmmaker Margarida Cardoso, who weaves vintage footage with filmmaker interviews.

“We thought everyone would always live happily,” says one filmmaker. “But that’s not what happened…. We were going to change the world.”

Changing the world is an admirable goal, although a subjective one. For Mozambique’s new president, the charismatic Samora Machel, it meant supplanting centuries of Occupation Mindset with a new ideology: Marxism-Leninism.

Kuxa Kanema films. Image: mafab.hu

Kuxa Kanema is the umbrella name for a weekly series of 10-minute newsreels produced by the NIC after liberation. The films are titled Kuxa Kanema followed by a number in the series, e.g. Kuxa Kanema 36.

There were eight cities in Mozambique that had cinemas, and they received 35mm copies of the films. For outlying areas, mobile cinemas were equipped with 16mm films and loudspeakers to issue invitations.

It must have been a heady time for the NIC. “Things were constantly happening and it was necessary to film everything,” says one filmmaker.

“It was a cinema of necessity, of the moment, of politicians of the moment,” says another. “We were asked to film any meeting, anything.”

Filmmakers say they didn’t know how to make films, so Help was brought in from other countries, including Cuba and Brazil. Cardoso doesn’t reveal how all this was financed, but considering the mobile cinemas were funded by the Soviet Union, it’s not hard to guess.

In this way, muses one filmmaker, “We succeeded in passing on the message of independence.”

One of the biggest surprises in this documentary is the appearance of French New-Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, a man sympathetic to the Cause.

Godard came to Mozambique in 1977 to help establish a television station because “Mozambique was a very interesting country.” He mentored those in the NIC on how to create visual relationships with their films, and his influence shows in the striking Kuxa Kanema footage.

The French filmmaker also had a bigger vision for Mozambiquan television. He wanted to train locals in different areas to use television equipment so they could produce whatever shows they wanted.

Unsurprisingly, the government did not approve of Godard’s vision, and he left the country in 1978.

Come to the movies! Image: docslisboa.org

Kuxa Kanema has a lot of Reading between the Lines, and one subject is President Machel.

He’s an intriguing figure and it’s difficult, even today, to find criticism of him online. He’s portrayed as a something of a saint who rehabilitated his enemies – after they publicly denounced themselves – by giving them a second chance to Do the Right Thing.

There’s no overt criticism of Machel in Cardosa’s documentary, yet she does present images that Speak for Themselves.

She also touches upon the issue of censorship. Filmmakers agreed there was no “direct censorship,” just an atmosphere where people censored themselves.

But trouble was Brewing, and even Machel couldn’t stop it. By 1984, the country was embroiled in civil war with rebels who, it appears, were financed by neighbouring countries.

The Kuxa Kanema images of happy nation-builders is replaced by war footage, and it’s grim. Mozamabique was becoming the poorest nation in the world, and disillusionment settled in like an unwelcome guest.

One female filmmaker describes filming the horrific scenes of civil war: She felt as though she were watching a movie and not seeing reality. Otherwise, she says, it would be unbearable.

Samora Machel, first president of Mozambique. Image: Invent the Future

The NIC fell victim to the civil war, along with cinemas largely destroyed by the fighting. Cardoso’s camera shows us 10 years of historic film, resting in a mostly-ruined building, canisters improperly stored and decaying. “The films exist, but are not in existence,” says one filmmaker wryly.

Samora Machel also fell victim to civil unrest. He, along with 33 others, died in a 1986 plane crash, the cause of which has never been conclusively determined.

Machel’s death meant the death of the NIC, and Kuxa Kanema documents Mozambiquans weeping and grieving over this shocking loss. One wonders if filmmakers at the time knew it would be the end of the NIC and a momentous era in Mozambiquan filmmaking.

We highly recommend Kuxa Kanema: The Birth of Cinema. There is a free version on YouTube that’s a little rough, but it still reveals the haunting and heart-breaking images of a people eager build a dream society, only to Pay for it in the end.

This is a contribution to LUSO WORLD CINEMA Blogathon hosted by Critica Retro and Spellbound with Beth Ann.

Kuxa Kanema: The Birth of Cinema starring Licinio Azevedo, Camilo De Sousa, Rory Calhoun. Directed by Margarida Cardoso. Arte France Cinéma, 2003, B&W and Colour, 52 mins.

Happily blogging about old movies and using the royal "We".

13 Comment on “Mozambique: Movies from a Revolution

  1. Pingback: Announcing the 2023 Luso World Cinema Blogathon! * Spellbound with Beth Ann

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