Set in St-Leon, a modest neighborhood tucked between the cathedral and two mosques in the city of Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, where for 40 years, the world's famous FESPACO (Pan African Film Festival of Ouagadougou) showcases the best achievements of African filmmaking, Sacred Places is a film about the fight to survive and to maintain one's dignity in a hostile environment.
Through the lives of three characters: Jules Cesar, the djembé maker and player, Bouba, the video-club manager of a neighborhood movie salon that also serves as a praying place, and Abbo a fifty years old senior technician who decided to become a public letter writer, JMT skillfully lays out his rich, very complex and profound observations on many paradoxes of today's Africa.
Leaf in the Wind
Ernestine Ouandié was the daughter of Ernest Ouandié, a Cameroonian independence leader of the UPC, executed by the Ahidjo government in 1971, whom she never met. Teno had known of her for many years and finally met Ernestine in 2004 on a return visit to Cameroon. She began to tell him her life story. In a brief interview Teno said: “I was so amazed by what she was telling me about her life. So I brought the camera from my car and she started telling me the story again. It’s almost like she threw her life on me. But I am not a psychologist. So I spent a few years thinking about it.”
Ernestine’s mother was Ghanaian and she was born, she says in the trailer’s opening (below), in Yaba, Nigeria. This marks her story as part of the Pan-Africanist history of Cameroonian nationalism, a history powerfully told by Meredith Terretta in Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence: Nationalism, Grassfields Tradition, and State Building in Cameroon (Ohio University Press, 2013).
"Jean-Marie Teno strives, as we know, to point out the legacy of colonialism in individual destinies. On meeting, in 2004, Ernestine Ouandie, the daughter of Ernest Ouandie (a fighter made famous during Cameroon’s independence who was executed by the authorities of his country in 1971), he finds himself at the crossroads between personal drama and national history. In this interview, the young woman tells him about her miserable childhood, then the quest for the truth about her father. These are testamonial confessions, given that Ernestine chose to die in 2009, leaving Teno to pay homage to her."
- Jean-Pierre Rehm, Director of FID Festival Marseille, 2013
Africa, I’ll Fleece You (Afrique, je te plumerai… )
1990: thirty years after Africa's wave of independences, the end of the cold war and the dramatic political changes taking place around the world, inspire a generation of young Africans to take the streets and challenge the one-party state and its attendant nepotism, corruption and economic failure. In a daring free style construction, Afrique, je te plumerai mixes past and present, establishing a link between yesterday's colonial experience and today's violence and corruption in Cameroon, the only African country colonized by three European powers. Afrique, je te plumerai provides a devastating overview of 100 years of cultural genocide in Africa. Provocative, idiosyncratic, playfully arch and sardonic...Even 30 years after independence, this African nation is searching for its identity. Philadelphia Inquirer Lays out what could be African modernity. It constructs the African landscape as a place of loss and places the African subject as divided between what is and what never was. Liberation (Paris) A stinging rebuke of European colonialism…gives potent evidence that the independence won from the French was more ceremonial than substantial. San Francisco Chronicle A vast mine of information...a sound investment for all types of libraries. Four Stars. Video Rating Guide for Libraries
A Trip to the Country
A voyage in search of the illusion of modernity, which haunts Cameroonian society. A Trip to the Country questions, sometimes ironically, the notion of development associated in Africa with a “tropical modernity” which can be summarized as follows: Everything from Europe is modern, while all things local are archaic and must be discarded.
After the ravages of slavery and colonialism, the African continent now faces another threat: educational systems, which perpetuate inferiority complexes and dependence vis-à-vis the West. This self-destructive mentality also establishes a social hierarchy placing “modern” city dwellers above “backward” rural people. A Trip to the Country is a personal reflection on our obsession with modernity, our desire to conform to a certain model of “development”, which ironically turns our backs on the possibility of real progress, and perpetuates our dependency to Humanitarian “so-called” aid.
Festival Screenings Forum Section of the Berlinale 2000 (Germany) Visions du Reel 2000 Nyon (Switzerland) Toronto International Film Festival 2000 JCC 2000 in Tunis (Tunisia) Vues D’Afriques Montreal 2001 IDFA 2001 Amsterdam FESPACO 2001 (BURKINA FASO) Documenta 11 (2002) in Kassel (Germany) ‘A trip to the country’ is a distinctive sociopolitical travelogue for inquisitive fests and edutube auds. Variety This trip to the filmmaker’s past becomes a vision of his country’s possible future, and the delicate balance between past and future that informs so many African films find here a stirring new expression. Film Comment Teno makes of the road movie a powerful social critique. Blending the forms of the essay film, the travelogue, the road movie, and the exposé, Teno puts the promises of European modernity to the test by taking his camera from Yaoundé to its outlying villages. Following the travels of his youth, Teno asks what has become of the African village that modernity meant to replace with all the trappings of European-style development? Teno does not give us a simple indictment of the broken promises of European values nor of African independence and modernization. In mapping his own youthful journeys, he also explores the transformation of his own hopes and dreams and the degree to which he too expected something different than what he uncovers today. Teno, himself, describes an educational system that inculcated Africans of his generation with the notion that “Africa must change her mentality to become modern.” By beginning his journey in Yaoundé, at his old high school (named after French General Leclerc), Teno confronts the seductiveness of European values for an entire generation of Africans, himself included. His meditations on the question of the modern in Africa lead the viewer through the complex balance of lived reality in Cameroon today. We see change, “development,” and technology, but are forced to ponder their cultural, practical legacy in the uneven and unjust form in which these have been implemented, abandoned mid-project, or left without larger support structures. So, in one village, we find running water, but no electricity, and in the village across the river, we find electricity, but no viable source of commerce or connection to other communities. Even the modern highway that connects the villages to the big cities throws up roadblocks, as unpaid soldiers man unofficial tollbooths along the route. Through poetic voice-over reflection and interviews with villagers and local officials, A Trip to the Country explores how Cameroonians have responded to these uneven developments and the ways in which petty bureaucrats (in one particularly hilarious, and vexing sequence with the sub-prefect of Ebebda) take on the rhetoric of “tropical modernity” without allowing themselves to be held responsible for full change under those terms: “Running water by the year 2000? We can’t be expected to plan two years in advance.” So, if village life has been disrupted by the broken promises of development and the city of the future has not yet arrived, where does that leave Cameroonians? Michelle Stewart Purchase College-SUNY
Chronicle of a rather particular afternoon during which the lives of three people change dramatically: Alex, the husband, goes to his in-laws’ to bring home his second wife. Elise, Alex’s childhood sweetheart and first wife, accompanies him—as she must, according to tradition. And Josephine, the young bride, leaves her parents to begin a new life. Pressed into service by a neighbor, Jean-Marie Teno turns what might have been a typical wedding video into a subtle and intimate portrait of polygamy in contemporary Cameroon. Filming the celebration in great cultural detail, Teno is also implicated in the interpersonal drama of the welcoming of the second wife into an already established household. Members of Alex’s family and his friends sing songs about the harmony that the new wife, Josephine, will bring, but the silence of Elise, the first wife, and the tears of Josephine herself, force spectators to imagine how Alex and his wives will negotiate the new arrangements. Those in attendance speak directly to the camera, congratulating the newlyweds and later describing their attitudes toward polygamy. Alex’s friends defend the practice as, alternately, an expression of cultural rights, as tacit resistance to European mores, or as the result of man’s nature. Elise, Alex’s first wife refuses to speak to Teno, who wants to give her a chance to express the pain she clearly feels. While the men assert that god gave man a sword sharpened on both sides to use, Elise sardonically agrees that yes, and he must then cut down everything in his path and lose no time doing so. Teno’s quiet presence gradually reveals the complex set of expectations in which each of the players is caught, including the filmmaker. Though the viewer understands Teno’s position on the matter, his personal voice adds moral force to his sensitively-delivered critique of polygamy. Alex’s Wedding, accomplished with respectful camerawork and an evenhanded treatment of all involved, is a moving call to debate. I was concerned about respecting people’s choices and didn’t want to be accusatory. I positioned myself as an observer, capturing the reality of the event—the official speeches and traditional rituals, as well as the unspoken pain that was palpable throughout the evening. The film presents a ceremony ostensibly in celebration of love, but during which ‘duty’ and ‘submission’ were the preferred words. Jean-Marie Teno
The Colonial Misunderstanding
When the missionaries arrived, the Africans had the land and the missionaries had the Bible. They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible.
Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first elected Prime Minister and President
In The Colonial Misunderstanding Jean-Marie Teno sheds light on the complex and problematic relationship between colonization and European missionaries on the African continent. The film looks at Christian evangelism as the forerunner of European colonialism in Africa, indeed, as the ideological model for the relationship between North and South even today. In particular it looks at the role of missionaries in Namibia on the centenary of the 1904 German genocide of the Herrero people there. It reveals how colonialism destroyed African beliefs and social systems and replaced them with European ones as if they were the only acceptable routes to modernity.
As Prof. F. Kangué Ewané says in the film: “I can forgive Westerners for taking away my land ...but not for taking away my mind and soul.” Through an examination of the work of German missionary societies in Africa whose vocation was to bring Christianity – and by extension, European culture and European rule – to the heathens, Jean Marie Teno reveals The Colonial Misunderstanding.
IDFA 2004 - FESPACO 2005 - Fribourg Film Festival 2005
The film is Afropolitanism at its best...continually makes provocative points. Robert Gordon, University of Vermont
Teno has been making a series of eloquent documentaries about the African legacy of colonialism. In this most recent work, Teno tells the story of the devastation of a continent with wit, irony and historical passion. Linda Williams, University of California-Berkeley This documentary distinguishes itself by taking a definitive point of view. Challenging Europe’s ‘amnesia’ surrounding the colonial era, the film interrogates the complex relationship between Europe and Africa. Le Nouvel Observateur
CHIEF! is a documentary chronicle of the trials and tribulations of daily life under a dictatorship.
During the month of December, 1997, I witnessed several troubling events in Cameroon: In my village a young boy was nearly lynched by mob “justice” in a lawless state. I went to a wedding and learned that, by law, the husband is the ruler of the family. A highly respected journalist was imprisoned without a trial for writing an article about the health of the president.
While seemingly unrelated, these incidents bear witness to disturbing tendencies in Cameroon today: they are all point to the ways in which the abuse of power permeates everyday life in an authoritarian society.
CHIEF! brings these events together to allow us to reflect upon the current state of Cameroonian society with its hierarchies, inequalities and lack of respect for human rights–all the by-products of a dictatorship.
We all know that dictators act like all powerful chiefs, marshalling the law to their own ends, ruling with total impunity, pillaging and plundering their nations' wealth, diverting millions into Swiss bank accounts, enriching themselves endlessly at the expense of their countries' miserable populations.
CHIEF! asks us to see beyond the cult of personality created by the dictator, allowing us to that a dictatorship is also a system with a logic, a vast machinery of corruption and irresponsibility, a state of mind that pervades an entire population. In every town, office, police station, institution we find autocratic chiefs ruling over their fiefdoms, extorting from their subordinates. CHIEF! examines how the authoritarian model is replicated from top to bottom, transforming all social exchanges into relationships of power and inequality.
With poetry and irony, Homage celebrates the playfulness of life with its share of difficulties and tragedy in Bafoussam, Teno’s hometown in Western Cameroon. One of the best piece of Autobiography in visual arts.
Forum Section of the Berlinale 1999 (Germany)
FESPACO 1999 Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso)
Visions du Reel 1999 Nyon (Switzerland)
San Francisco Int. Film Festival 1999
Vues D’Afriques Montreal 1999
London Film Festival
Short Film Prize at Nyon Film Festival 1985 (Switzerland)
Best Short Film Prize at Cinema du Reel 1986 (France)
Best Short Film at Vues d’Afrique Montreal 1987 (Canada)
Very powerful and eloquent... It underscores, in a neat presentation, the challenges Africa faces in establishing rights and accountability at the village level, between the sexes and for persons of power - be they traditional or political.
Adotei Akwei, Amnesty International
A compelling indictment of patriarchy and the powerful - and a call for a continuing struggle for human rights.
William G. Martin, Binghamton University
Chef! is a brisk and focused look at a nation struggling uphill against corruption and archaic social norms. Programmers attuned to women's, African and political activist issues will find this a worthy item.
Chef! opens to images of people in traditional ceremonial robes and western-styled business suits heading towards a cultural exhibition of ancient tribal rhythms and dances, the road towards the event anachronistically demarcated by a large Fanta corporate sponsorship banner that frames the main entrance. The auspicious occasion is the unveiling of a monument in commemoration of Kamga Joseph II, the western-friendly ancestral chief of the village of Bandjoun (and ancestor of filmmaker Jean-Marie Teno), who ruled one of the largest villages in western Cameroon at the turn of the twentieth century. During the early 1900s, the man "who tried to straddle the two worlds" initiated the path towards the modernization of the village by imposing European culture even as he sought to retain ancestral traditions. Now, decades later, it is in this curious spectacle of cultural celebration turned pro-government rally - where government officials mingled freely with other village leaders to illustrate the intrinsically incestuous, cultural fraternity of "chefs" (chiefs) - coupled with the filmmaker's coincidental purchase of a souvenir calendar written in the regional language of Ghomala that outlines the unwritten, traditional "Rules of the Husband in his Home" (that anoints every man as the indisputable chief of the household) that Teno seeks to examine the conflicted legacy of this double-edged policy in modern-day Cameroon where half of the population are "chiefs" according to ancestral tradition, leading to an inhumane cycle of the nation's collective imprisonment by chiefs who defer only to higher chiefs, unaccountable to the very people over whom they govern.
An initial glimpse of this residual legacy that has contributed to a pervasive cultural anachronism that has undermined social progress is seen in the roadside capture by a vigilante mob on the morning after the celebration of a young chicken thief who, without the presence of Teno and his camera, would have undoubtedly been beaten to death. With the mob persuaded by a village elder to instead take the young boy to the village chief (who, in the meantime, has been forced to strip off his clothes (as dictated by ancient tradition) before starting on his humiliating public march), the pattern of self-absolution, blind deference to authority, and inconsistent, open-ended justice continues when the chief is reluctant to personally sanction the boy's beating, and instead decides to send him to the police station, rationalizing that only the police are empowered to conduct such a beating with impunity.
Another manifestation is revealed in an interview with the director of a women's crisis centre who remarks that Cameroon is still governed by an archaic combination of the French Civil Code of 1804 (long after the French, themselves, have updated the code) and unwritten, ancestral tradition defined by a patriarchal society, pointing out inconsistent legal definitions such as the notion that a man can only be is only guilty of adultery if it is committed in his own home, while a woman can be guilty of committing adultery anywhere. Moreover, with young girls (often from poor, provincial families) entering into undocumented, traditional marriages rather than civil marriages, many discover too late that they (and their children) do not have any legal rights to property or support when their husbands drive them away from their homes years later, since they are not considered legally married.