First Look: ‘Concerning Violence’

As is the nature of the essay film, Concerning Violence does not present us with cold, hard statistical data like the documentary, but offers a fresh, interpretive discourse into the characteristics of cultural exploitation and the struggle for third world liberation.
Director: Göran Hugo Olsson, 78minutes.

Göran Hugo Olsson returns to the festival rounds for the first time since his retrospective piece on the Afro-American Civil Rights movement, Black Power Mixtape, delving once more into Swedish television archives, this time to deliver another compelling visual narrative charting the confrontation with colonial power in Africa in the 60’s and 70’s.

Frantz Fanon’s psychiatric analysis of the dehumanising effects of colonialism- both on colonised and coloniser, The Wretched of the Earth, makes up the narrative framework of this film. Of course, it would be impossible to deliver The Wretched of the Earth in its entirety, but by dividing the text into 9 scenes, and using some of its most thought-provoking passages (or at least those applicable to the images we witness on screen) we are provided with a digestible version of Fanon’s once-banned text. What we receive is a thoughtful, if brief, examination of colonialism, with an excellent spoken foreword by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, aiding its contextualisation.

Lauryn Hill’s narration is nonpareil, her delivery provides Fanon’s rich critique with the anger and eloquence that it so rightly deserves. Whilst this film could’ve so easily become a political soliloquy, the deft jumps between interviews, anthropological sequences and newsreel footage, combined with Hill’s spoken accompaniment and a soundtrack as well curated as that of Black Power Mixtape, help to avoid this; the overall effect is that of an extended song by Gil Scott-Heron, rather than an 80 minute lecture.

Though there is little context between each chapter, which can, at times, cause moderate confusion (the intricacies of each countries’ histories are rarely divulged), we nonetheless imbibe the spirit of pan-African resistance, not always united as a nation, but factionally geared towards overthrowing the imperialism that has sedated it for so long. However, in showing original footage of Africa’s grassroots insurrectionist movements, including the MPLA in Angola and FRELIMO in Mozambique, as well as the tragedies that have resulted from anti-authoritarian uprisings, it also highlights the fact that not much has changed since Fanon’s seminal work was published over 50 years ago. A revelatory interview with Marxist revolutionary and 1983-87 President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara (assassinated not long after the interview was captured) who speaks disparagingly about the faults in Western aid, merely reinforces this fact; whilst the west masks the atrocities committed in Africa behind humanitarian relief schemes, the hard truth about western aid is that it is ultimately misdirected and has bred a culture of dependency amongst the desperate masses of the developing world.

What Ollson broadcasts without prejudice are the long-term socio-political implications of imperialism upon a nation, and the seemingly irrevocable damage it has left behind. Concerning Violence calls for a new more humane western world, whilst encouraging us to heed Fanon’s warning that violence will only be met with violence, and that the western world is not exempt from the threat of history repeating itself.

Watch the trailer here: Concerning Violence

Concerning Violence screened as part of the PANORAMA programme at Berlinale.

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