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Message from: owner-african-cinema-conference@XC.Org (
About: Zimbabwe newspaper article on FLAME

Mon, 10 Jun 1996 13:49:00 -0400

Originally from: <owner-african-cinema-conference@XC.Org>
Originally dated: Mon, 10 Jun 1996 13:49:00 -0400

Below is an article from The Sunday Mail, June 2 1996 in Zimbabwe.
It is posted it for your interest. Opinions are of the author only, not the
African Cinema Conference or its moderator.

Sifting through the endless pages of copy that have been
generated worldwide by the controversy created by Ingrid and
Simon Bright's film, FLAME, one would think Zimbabwe is a
totalitarian state in which everything is controlled by Big
Brother, as in George Orwell's 1984. The only difference in this
case is that Big Brother seems so tolerant.

When Southern Africa's best known white liberal, Alan Paton
wrote this critically acclaimed classic, Cry The Beloved Country,
he noted his fear through one of his characters that he was
afraid that when the whites in South Africa had turned to loving,
the blacks would have turned to hating.

Alan Paton was wrong. There has been no blood bath in South
Africa, and the blacks seem to be finding it easier to reconcile
with the Africaners than with some of their former allies, the
white liberals.

At the root of the conflict is the question: Who is the
guardian of our standards and values? Who will provide the
intellectual nourishment that will nurture our society into the
mature tree that will be the emblem of our potential? Clearly, a
lot of white liberals think they should be the custodians of our
values and standards.

What is becoming clear is that many white liberals who were
purportedly the allies of the liberation struggle have got a very
clouded and limited understanding of what the war was all about.

Zimbabweans, both black and white, have been greatly
disadvantaged by the fact that we never had a Truth Commission as
in South Africa. We obviously could not without jeopardizing the
underground working against apartheid. The South African Truth
Commission will show that there were some white liberals who were
running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. There were
so-called white liberals who worked for the Civil Cooperation
Bureau which was responsible for death and destruction in the
Front Line states. So being a white liberal is no guarantee of
eliciting the trust of black people.

While the Europeans last year commemorated the end of the
Second World War (notice I use capital letters) with much pride,
pathos, patriotism, pomp and ceremony, our liberation war is
slowly and surreptitiously being degraded to a pointless endeavor
which was waged by immoral, crooked and corrupt men.

Whether intentional or not, Flame has made itself the
rallying point for those who do not want to see much merit in
that war.

I have been repeatedly struck by the flippancy with which
the film's producer, Simon Bright has responded to genuine
concerns by the international media about whether he is the
victim of official persecution because of his involvement in the

In one Danish article he was quoted as saying: "Sometimes I
have to shout on the phone at the people from the BBC that the
film is called Flame and not Rape."

From the tone of many of the interviews that Simon has
given, he has portrayed himself as a victim of censorship and
government persecution.

Many people around the world who are genuine libertarians,
have been duped into thinking that the government has been using
heavy handed tactics to make sure that the film is banned.

It does not seem to have occurred to anyone that the
controversy surrounding the film might be a self-inflicted
publicity stunt to raise money for the film and to generate free
promotion and publicity.

Let's look at the facts. Has the government threatened to
ban the film? No. In fact, the Government of Zimbabwe provided
the material assistance in the form of arms, planes and technical
support. Are these the actions of a government which wants to
ban the film? So why is Simon Bright talking to pressmen from
all over the world as though he is about to be thrown in jail?

Has the Censorship Board said the film should be screened in
Zimbabwe? No.

In fact, when they were asked by the Ministry of Information
to view the film to see if it was subversive or pornographic,
they issued a statement to the Press saying that according to
their requirements, there was nothing wrong with the film. The
Government could have seized the negative of the film and kept it
under lock and key, but it did not. That is why Simon was able
to do his post production in South Africa.

So what is the controversy all about? Before he started
shooting, Simon told the whole world that the association
representing Zimbabwe's former guerrillas, was behind his film
and that they were his technical consultants.

It is now quite clear that his information was false. By
the ninth day of shooting, the representatives of the War
Veterans had not even seen the script of the film! Imagine
Francis Ford Coppola showing such slackness! Or Bernado
Bertolucci doing that to Chinese military before shooting his
classic, " The Last Emperor", in the Forbidden City! It is not
surprising the War Veterans representative subsequently
complained about the film's inattention to detail, for example,
the fact that Zanla military camps were depicted as refugee

Is it possible that Simon Bright created the impression in
public that he had the support of the War Veterans in order to
get what he could from the government? If that is so, is it
surprising that the War Veterans are angry?

This might seem a minor detail to a woman who is making a
film about what she says is "friendship" between two women, but
it is of critical importance to a soldier. The War Veterans were
soldiers and they want the world to remember them as such. They
won a war against a vicious, fascist, racist and brutal well-
oiled government machine which killed, maimed and raped thousands
of black people because they would not comply. They want the
world to remember that.

That that war has been reduced to a pointless exercise in
which they are portrayed as villains and not heroes, must be
pretty galling to them.

Simon Bright's response to their anger was quite revealing.
Responding to a foreign journalist, he said having Flame was like
the Americans seeing "Apocalypse Now" before watching "The Green
Berets." It was a tacit admission that making a film demonising
the liberation war might no be so wise since no films recognizing
the heroism of that war have been made.

The truth about Flame, is that the albatross of persecution
and censorship is being used to mask basic errors which were
committed by the producers in their preparation for principal
photography. It is dangerous when artists cry wolf for short
term gains. The world might not listen when one day a cynical
Zimbabwe Government stops caring about gratuitous criticism.

In the short term Simon and Ingrid have achieved a lot.
Their film will be showcased at Cannes, one of the most
prestigious film festivals in the world. If it receives
the blessing of Cannes, the film stands a good chance of making a
lot of money. But it will not do much for the freedom of film
makers in Zimbabwe. The impression I get from talking to
government officials is that they think film makers are dishonest
people who speak with forked tongue.

They solicit government help with lofty appeals which they
mean as much as a lover trying to bed a lover the first night. So
much for Flame advancing the freedom of artists!

The most ironic part of the controversy is that some of the
people who urged the War Veterans to get the film banned are the
former guerrillas who were working on the film!

They caused the furor about rape.

These people were prepared to work for Simon and Ingrid all
the time wary of how their history was being depicted.

Surely there is a lesson for Simon here, or all white
liberals, who think that they are qualified to carry cudgels for
black people. Did Simon act in good faith? If not, why not?

It is very right of every war veteran to ask these
questions. More than 30,000 lives where lost in order to secure
the freedom of this country. We cannot have freedom of
expression for Simon and Ingrid Bright and none for the War
Veterans who fought for that very freedom. It would be bizarre,
to say the least.

It is quite ridiculous to try and portray anyone who asks
these questions as blind government supporter who condones
censorship. Suddenly, after 15 years, a man who has built the
foundation of his career on trying to endear himself to the
establishment is suddenly the champion of democracy and freedom
of expression. God hail opportunism. - With courtesy of Zimbabwe
National Review magazine.

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