Interview with Pedro Pimente
Film reborn in Mozambique

by Clyde Taylor

from Jump Cut, no. 28, April 1983, pp. 30-31
copyright Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, 1983, 2005


The first films produced by independent Mozambique toured the United States at the end of 1981, accompanied by lectures and dialogues from Pedro Pimente, assistant director of the Mozambique Film Institute (IMAGINE), and Camilo De Sousa, Mozambican filmmaker. Positive Productions, a Washington, D.C., film collective organized the tour.

Among the films premiered were these. THESE ARE THE WEAPONS (b/w, 50 min.) is a documentary portrayal of the past and continuing struggle against foreign domination. It focuses on the costly invasions against Mozambique by the former Ian Smith regime of southern Rhodesia. MUEDA (b/w, 80 min.), directed by Ruy Guerra, captures the annual reenactment of the townspeople of Mueda of their early struggles for independence from Portugal. LET'S FIGHT FOR ZIMBABWE (color, 30 min.), a co-production with Angola, examines the successful seizure of independence by the people of Zimbabwe. THEY DARE CROSS OUR BORDER (b/w, 25 min.) documents the Mozambican response to a South African-led attack on Matola, close to the capital, Maputo, in January 1981. THE OFFENSIVE (b/w, 30 min.) offers a candid report on a campaign against corruption, bureaucracy, and inefficiency in Mozambique. UNITY IN FEAST (color, 10 min.) portrays the celebration of independent Mozambican culture at the first Festival of Traditional Song held in Maputo.

The Mozambican representatives also brought with them footage of South Africa's recent invasion of Angola, shot by Camilo De Sousa. They have not completed that film-in-progress because of breakdown in the film institute's one optical printer.

Film production equipment was the primary goal of this fund-raising tour. Pedro Pimente observed that the film schools of several universities they visited had far better equipment than the entire nation of Mozambique. The tour met with success through the contribution of a 16mm optical printer (they still need a 35mm printer) and the raising of over $8,000.

This interview was recorded during the tour in the San Francisco Bay Area, organized by the African Film Society. It is reprinted courtesy of the African Film Society Update. Included at the end are two questions and responses from a dialogue with the audience at the Pacific Film Archives, 15 November 1981, where THESE ARE THE WEAPONS was screened along with other films.

Films from the Mozambican Film Institute are distributed in the United States by Positive Productions, 48 Q Street, NE, Washington, DC 20002, (202) 529-0220.

Tell as something about the origin and direction of the Mozambique Film Institute.

The Mozambique Film Institute was founded in 1976, just some months after Independence. Some years before, during the armed struggle, FRELIMO started to use cinema as one of its several weapons. But with Mozambican filmmakers then, some foreign filmmakers were invited to come to film the struggle.

For instance, THESE ARE THE WEAPONS uses mostly archive footage because the Film Institute has very limited resources. The armed struggle was only shot by foreign filmmakers, mostly by Robert Van Lierop, an Afro-American who made A LUTA CONTINUA and O POVO ORGANIZADO. The Mozambique Film Institute started when people like Robert Van Lierop started making films on Mozambique, films in which Mozambicans are actors and directors of their own destiny, of their own future. These films were used on an external level, for diplomatic purposes, to inform people about what was going on in Mozambique and also internally.

From this moment, it was clear to our leaders that cinema could be very important for the new nation's development. That's why some months after Independence and in a moment when Mozambique was facing very difficult problems — for example, all the Portuguese were fleeing the country and for twelve million people there were only forty doctors — the government decided to found a film institute, just after it started a literacy campaign.

Our first problem was to decolonize. Before Independence, some Portuguese had made a few films used for propaganda for colonialism; the films' postproduction was done entirely abroad, in Portugal or South Africa, although shot in Mozambique.

Mozambique faced a classical situation of dependence in terms of film distribution. For only forty-five cinema halls, Mozambique was importing more than a thousand film titles, all from very few points of origin: U.S .films, Indian films, Kung Fu films, and the worst European films, such as Spaghetti Westerns from Italy. Of course, we have an ideological explanation for this but also an economic explanation, since the companies based in Mozambique and South Africa used film to export currency in a classic situation of economic dependence. The first task for the Institute was to transform the situation by making sure that the films distributed in Mozambique were in accord with the political, cultural, and human values of Mozambique and to do so in an economically beneficial way for Mozambique.

So we started our activity distributing revolutionary films from many countries, socialist countries. And the support that we had from the public for this new kind of film showed us that the idea that the public only likes bad films is wrong.

Was the film industry nationalized? Both production and distribution?

Yes, in 1978. We are a state organization, but Mozambique is a very poor state with all kinds of other priorities in medicine, food, clothing, etc.. Cinema can't have priority in terms of finance. Film production had to become self-financed. We decided to become so through distribution, in order to start national film production.

In terms of production, we started from nothing. Not one Mozambican filmmaker existed in 1975. We started training people and getting technology. Since 1978 we have had the basic technical facilities to produce, in black and white, 16m and 35m films. We started from a small organization of six people and now we are eighty. Even after twenty years of independence, several African countries don't have a film institute. Since Independence, we have made seventy documentaries and four feature films. It is our victory. We are not modest, we are not hypocrites; it's our victory.

Our main objective is to produce and distribute films, which in one sense or another can reflect our reality, our problems, our lives, our past, and our goals. Films from other countries can aid our growing and can reflect the reality of other people, which we need to know. We want to make cinema a freedom tool, to use cinema to free our minds, to allow people to use films to pose questions about themselves and the world, about all situations. We believe even entertainment films can achieve an educational purpose and allow people to transform themselves. Transforming themselves they are transforming society, and we believe that transforming society they are also transforming the cinema so a new and different cinema can be born.

Would you say something about the film viewing experience of the Mozambican people at the time of Independence?

Cinema had been something limited to the Portuguese here. For many reasons, the Mozambican masses couldn't see cinema before Independence. In the old days, the forty-five cinema halls in the cities served 200,000 Portuguese settlers. There were not enough, by a long shot, for twelve million Mozambicans.

For most of our people, cinema is a direct fruit of Independence. When we arrive in a very remote village and show a film, people will tell us, "This is a result of Independence because before Independence this village never saw a film." So most of our people have not been alienated by dominant imperialist cinema. We can create a new audience which will use film other than to digest it to escape from daily problems.

I understand that Jean-Luc Godard, when he was in Mozambique, was interested in the impact of cinema on people who had not had it before.

We had a research project to define what kinds of images we should produce in Mozambique, where most people are looking at film images for the first time in their lives. We wanted to study how people can be transformed by a new image and how people can transform images themselves. This experiment turned out to be too costly, and the funding agency pulled out at the last minute. But we had wanted to use all means of audiovisual communication — film, video, slides, posters, stills — to learn from the public what kind of new audiovisual language we should create.

We think there is a risk in a country like Mozambique that in our social transformation process the image producers will not be able to build, an image of a new society. We believe that images are not neutral. Images always carry the culture and ideology of the society which makes them. And the producers of images, all of us, have been educated by the imperialist image. Even if we resist this image, even if we denounce it, we still have been educated by it and our daily life is full of this image, in every magazine and every film. So in this sense, image production would not contribute to freeing the mind but would only perpetuate the image of imperialism.

We have been studying other socialist experiences with films. We think that at a certain level of development in socialism, there is a tendency to imitate the dominant image. But you cannot use the same image and merely change the ideology. It is necessary to change the image to really produce a new thing, the product of a new ideology.

A country like Mozambique had 95 percent illiteracy in 1975. There is still a high level of illiteracy (even though we had a national literacy campaign). And our people have been very distant from any kind of information for so many years. Now we have to produce information through images in order to allow these people to make the transformations quickly. Technological societies move very fast. To get out from underdevelopment, we need to complete historical stages very quickly. During five centuries we were pushed out of history, and now we have to recover from that in a short time. If we don't transform ourselves quickly, we will remain in underdevelopment.

On the one hand, we need to be very careful because of our education and our past. On the other hand, we need to move quickly. I think this contradiction is solved by transforming all our image producers. Even the projectionist must change his relation to cinema, and so must the audience change its relations with images. Only this ideological transformation will allow us to avoid the risk of making the same error that other people have been making.

Our challenge as producers of images in an underdeveloped country is very hard. We produce information every day, and we know this information acts on people's minds. We must teach the teacher, but in Mozambique the teacher is the people. You can't say, "I'm a filmmaker. I'm dealing with high technology. That's my problem, and I don't want to be in contact with the masses." Since we believe that the teacher is the masses, the people, teaching the teacher means transforming ourselves. Only then can we produce the images that our society needs at every moment. If not, we will make images, good ones, maybe, but ones that do not reflect the exact stage of our evolution.

We have a lot of theory in our age. We have been reading film books from other cultures at other stages of development. There is a natural tendency to want to imitate these things and to think that this is "the real cinema." But our new cinema will be born from the destruction of the old cinema, the dominant one now. So we have to be very vigilant, very careful, and it's difficult.

On this tour in the United States we've had to see our films many times, which allows us to think about them. We see a lot of clichés there that do not come out of Mozambique but from our education, things learned from Santiago Alvarez in Cuba or from others, from I don't know where. Some people say this is a chauvinist perspective, but we do accept the need to study others' film experiences. But the determining thing in transforming Mozambique will be our own experience and not experiences which come out of other realities.

Has there been any effort to train people in film viewing?

Most people in the Film Institute started viewing films after Independence inside the Institute. Of course, some of us, because of our education, have a past history of film viewing. For example, for several years I participated in cine clubs, just like those here. But since most people in the Institute started viewing films on entering the Institute, it's necessary to educate them in a very urgent way since they will produce film.

We are also educating big audiences to view films, in the same sense that we are teaching people how to read and write in Mozambique. We do this through mobile cinema to reach people living in rural zones. And we make a screening not only a cinematic event but also a wider political and cultural event.

We never just show a film that would create paternalism. Because then people would feel, "Okay, they are offering me a film, and okay, I accept it. I'll be underdeveloped all the time, accepting what they offer." When we show a film, we ask people to show us something of their own culture. We put in a lot of political effort to get them to discuss a problem, to introduce new information. We must make it a very dynamic thing. We can't arrive, show a film, and say, "Bye-bye — see you next time." That would make the spectator submit to the spectacle. We bring films, but we want people to produce their culture and not be submitted by films, by only one way of culture.

The Institute's educational work derives not only from the films but also from using cinema. Cinema is only a means, not an end in itself. So we can't use cinema only to show it. We must use it to provoke something else, another kind of discussion communication. It can come through speaking, through dance, through singing, or through discussing problems.

How have U.S. audiences responded to your films?

Viewers here know a little something about Mozambique and want to know more. So in principle they react positively to our films. But it's a long process to educate people here to the shocking and hard reality of Mozambique. Ours is the reality of war, the reality of people facing very hard problems -economic, cultural, and social problems. But it's also a reality of a people with a big confidence in itself, people with a hope for something better. But people in the United States also have a great hope for something better. Of course, we must have continuous communication for people abroad to understand our exact problems and to be more critical about our films. Because although it's good to hear applause, we need critiques.

An Afro-American student at (UC Berkeley said she understood why you made the films for Mozambique but wanted to know why you showed them here, outside Mozambique.

We believe that we are not isolated in our struggle, in our problems, in our daily life. Our struggle has a lot to do with and to say to other countries. It is important for us to feel we are not isolated. With all our problems, we need international solidarity to achieve our process and go forward. And we need to inform people in foreign countries about our reality because their mass media are organized to manipulate reality. Those media present all peoples struggling for self-determination as being manipulated by superpowers, who intend to do this and that and to kill people and all that. This is not true! We only want to achieve a basic freedom. But when a people fights for freedom, the international mass media always say that that people are fighting for another superpower. They always put you in terms of colonialism. They can't believe that people want to free themselves only for themselves and not for another superpower. People in other countries must know this to allow them to better understand their own reality and to make the links between their reality and other realities.

In this sense, I think we can contribute to a new international order of communication between people, which is an order without the monopoly of communication and information by some countries.

Thinking of an U.S. audience, when they see films like THESE ARE THE WEAPONS and MUEDA, what ought they be aware of that is different from what they might expect?

We want to tell people that they must accept that we have our own culture, our own history, our own past and tradition, and that we will tend to make our own things in Mozambique. It's a basic thing for any people to achieve a process of liberation, but liberation is a concept that must be opened up. Sometimes liberation is a very limited concept. It's not made casually. This is said to put in the minds of people that when people are trying to liberate themselves, it's dangerous — and it is — but for the exploiters, it is really dangerous!

People must understand that culture and politics are the same thing; they are the result of the same thing. There is no basic contradiction between politics and culture, although there can be between culture and certain forms of politics. We must try to coordinate the two, to join the political front to the cultural front, to something in evolution, in progress.

We don't want to be opposition filmmakers because we have no contradictions with the Mozambique's political front. The political front derives from the cultural front as well as the cultural front derives from certain political achievements in Mozambique. This is true in any society, and our films can contribute to peoples' understanding of this.

Of course, each people has specific realities; we can analyze these realities and point out that direction. But some methods of analysis can be better used in different situations. What we propose through our films is that our method of analysis can produce a new behavior among filmmakers. It will concern not only film style and content but also situations of production and distribution. But also something which is larger, which is the world. We cannot separate films and what's going on in the world but must always try to find the links that exist. Film is a good vehicle to find the links between politics and culture.

(Question from the audience at Pacific Film Archives) South Africa and Rhodesia chose to invade and get involved with your liberation. Why can't you cross the border and get involved with liberating Namibia?

Mozambique's foreign minister could answer this question better. We will give any kind of support to the Namibians if the Namibians ask it of us. There were Mozambican soldiers in Rhodesia. It is public knowledge we never hid from anyone. It's a tradition.

But support has different forms. THESE ARE THE WEAPONS shows that the weapons are not just military ones. There are several weapons and support has several forms. Thus, supporting us to make films in Mozambique supports liberation in Namibia. Last September, Camilo De Souza was in southern Angola making a film about the recent invasion of Angola by South Africa. That film is ready in Mozambique, but we don't have an optical printer to make prints and show it all over the world. And this would have supported SWAPO and Namibia, to have shown this film here today.

(Question from the audience) Has there been any dialogue between Mozambican filmmakers and independent progressive filmmakers in this country who seek to show the contradictions in U.S. society from a black point of view and to show the relations of U.S. foreign policy to the oppression of other Third World countries?

One of our objectives is to make such contacts because we don't know anything about Afro-American cinema. It's obvious that international relations are organized to impede independent Afro-American filmmakers from contacting us and us from contacting them. But here these contacts have been made through concrete acts: for example, Larry Clark, an independent African filmmaker, decided to give his film PASSING THROUGH to Mozambique. This is a very concrete thing and demonstrates a sense of solidarity between him and us. From a gesture like this, we have a platform for talking. From this gesture, we can do anything.

We are poor, but ideologically we are richer than the rich people. We are trying, by speaking in the U.S., to make it clear that our struggle as filmmakers in Mozambique is not isolated from the struggle of U.S. independent filmmakers. It's possible to find a way; it's only a matter of our own capacity. And we believe we have found the way.

A lot of things can be done to change the lack of communication between Mozambique and U.S. filmmakers. Concretely, we are trying to organize a week of Afro-American cinema in Mozambique. From this we can discover something else to do, and from that, something else. I believe that everything is to be done; nothing has been done yet.