The reputation of Jihan El-Tahri the foremost female Eygypian documentary filmmaker is a rare one. Her tenacity and painstaking attitude and elan towards her art is phenomenal. The in-conversation was much anticipated by the audience, and on the heels of the screening of her significant documentary, Behind the Rainbow. The documentary examines the transition of the African National Congress (ANC) and its crucial aspiration as a liberation party “by means of the evolution of the relationship between the prominent leaders, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma.”
Not only does the film show the bitter rivalry, but the resultant temprament is such that it threatens to tear apart the ANC and the South African nation, while the masses seek and anticipate the much needed hope of change.
The conversation became a moment of reflection for we Africans, and indeed the filmmaker herself-whose decision to make such a documnetary, is met with a kind of awareness. An awareness that the problem of African leadership, is constituted by the ‘veritable antipathies’among party members in any nation’s democracy, which has also become for Africa, a universal phenomenon.
Fielding questions from media practitioner and scholar, Ropo Ewenla (who stood in for the much revered curator, documentary film maker, and professor of long standing) Professor Niyi Coker, Jian El-Tahir provides sensitive and yet techinical responses that encourages one to come to terms with her reasons to make Behind the Rainbow. Her stance is essentially humanitarian, as it resonates deeply with the challenges of a people whose political structures in the twenty first century are not divorced from its imperial past, and how such a past has influenced the development of a political and yet democratic birth or rebirth.
The conversation with Jian El-Tahri was framed in such a style that it was inextricably linked to the screening of Behind the Raindow. The documentray is much more than an interrogation of South African politics but, an interrogation of an African political system. The film raises questions that are crucial to the current climate and problematic issues that are associated with African political independence such as: What are we not getting right in postcolonial African democracy? How has the mythologies of poltical independence in Africa, cut the people of Africa out of her restructurung agenda?Can the subaltern speak? If they can speak can they be heard by thier politcal leaders? If they are heard how do they (their political leaders) respond? What is the appearance of the structural problems of African poltics?
In spite of the problems that actually lingers in South African politics, one thing comes to mind. Among the ANC party members and stalwarts, there are no lords and servants. And even if there were lords and servants such dichotomies are not allowed thrive or exit among them. (An ideal that has permeated the party simce the time of Oliver Tambo- handed down to Nelson Madela, to Thabo Mbeki and then to Jacob Zuma).
Jian El-Tahri has given provided an important cinematic thriumph which tasks us all to rethink our politcs, our democracies as Africans and begin work (if we ever will) on changing the structures, which relied heavily on antiquated colonial structures. The documentary is a turning point to rethink Africa’s future. The first shift to the much anticipated restructuring of an ideal African dream.
Jian El-Tahir’s growth and reputation is significant to African cinema. Her work will continue to generate discussions, conversations and controversies at various points and platforms for a long time. For the 2017 IREP Festival, her particpation and appearance, and the screening of her films are a set of mines, to the quality and finesse of the festival.
– Tunde Onikoyi
IREP Media Team