Jean Pierre Bekolo OUR WISHES : A Look on colonial africa
The Germano- Douala treaty is at the centre of discussions of the new production of Jean Pierre Bekolo „OUR WISHES“ which put at the forefront Actors of that period. In the following interview, he expresses without reserve the realities and the stakes of the afore mentioned events, soon to be aired on tv screens.
„Our Wishes “ is the title of your new production which gives the fore taste of the colonial past of Cameroon and Germany.What is the woof of that history ?
„Our Wishes“ is about a document which Douala traditional chiefs submitted to German rulers to let them know about their expectations whereas they were negotiating a treaty handing their territory to the latter.But the document was ignored by Germans and we know what followed.
Beyond this story, if there is a worry in relation between africans and western countries, it is because our wishes are never taken into account. You therefore understand the path we are taking in this project : this is simply delving into our history and draw lessons which should guide us today. This is like a tentative project to us, otherwise we are trying to open a window on a hidden aspect on Cameroon history which is yet to be told.
When it finally comes true, it will be to the perspective of the winner. Reason why it is premordial to begin with a popular media (Television), a specific category (a series), where from mother to child, everyone can understand what is taking place. That’s why we decided to produce „Our Wishes“ as a TV series.
OUR WISHES is a 26 minutes TV series divided into 10 episodes, which offers in the form of a pilote that our national history or patrimonial contents enter on our television channels.Of what interest is it to you, to have raised this section of the history ?
We are our own history I do believe. If we do not know where we come from, we should atleast know where we are going to. But worst still, we recently lived what is now called ‘’the anglophone crisis’’, this crisis brought to us has helped us understand how important history is. Why were we born in Cameroon? Why are we francophones or anglophones ? Only history holds the answer. It helps us understand what is going on and equally could lead us on what is to be done.
I think what is important is history, even if they think we are one of rare people who can evolve blindly without consolidating progressively our collective memories.Meaning that, we well understand, the ethnic identity, which you could get just by going to the village, because it is transferred to you via another means, but national identity to us, is to be constructed.
But beyond current events, there are worries in relations that we, africans have always had with Western countries. I think about corruption „Our Wishes“ is raising, the „dash“ which the Germans gave our chiefs to sign treaties. I think of devaluation and debt to lobby on those who did not want to sign the treaty.
There is no way to let you know how important is this colonial history that is not taught in our schools. This series OUR WISHES, is therefore a form of reinvention. Beyond the colonial history that we get from archives and others, we should also create a new identity for ourselves, and not rely on this inherited identity. There the idea of bringing back history in the public place, of creating a dialogue that can only enrich us, lead us to good decisions.
Tell us the conditions under which you shot this movie (casting, choice of sites, funding)
We owe this movie to the great work of Mrs Karin Oyono, a German settled in Cameroon with her Cameroonian husband for 40 years; both civil engineers. I met Mrs Oyono in 2004 while I was shooting "The Bloody'. Her niece, who worked at the Hilton hôtel where I was living, put us in contact. By 2004, I had not manage to find the funds to make this movie which has at least 2000 pages! And last year, we resolved to do it with our own means of course, the Goethe- Institut in Cameroon gave us some assistance within the limits of their resources but in good faith and enthusiasm. Fabian Mühlthaler and Raphael Mouchangou continue to explore means to show Cameroonians their history. I had to build a village in Zili in Awae, some 40 km away from Yaoundé to set the decor of the time which was rather basic. We were also able to shoot in the Mveles paramount chief's palace, Ze Mendouga in Ebolowa. For the technicians and the actors, I want to say that those who loved me followed me, in other words, I shot the movie with my friends because we did not have the means of a mega production as it was the case when I shot "The Bloody". We lived three months in the bush and it inspired us another method of movie making here at home ...That is by becoming our own center.
" Most of your productions have something to do with the contemporary realities. Themes so committed. We saw it with " The Bloody ", " District Mozar " or " The President ". Is Cinema a weapon or an entertainment to you? "
I love defining cinema as an image of radiology, a scanner. It must show. It must enable us to see, to diagnose the disease as the scanner. Once it has shown, the society would find remedies. It is not the radiologist who prescribes the treatment, he just makes the image.
What do you mean to say by the term committed? Does telling the truth means to be committed?
I wonder how all these people who believe in God and go to church or to the mosque have given up the truth? The truth is above us all. And we have to put ourselves at its quest. When we do not tell the truth we lie … don't we?
The black race is generally portrayed in low taste in cinema. You can have proof for this during the Canne and other cinema Awards. The black is a problem in the the white cinema establishment. Sometimes, I tell myself it is good that we have no cinema because we have to build everything.So when we approach these things it is with this passive which haunts us. Thus we must take movie making for what we want to use it for. All the same we are related to our image.Thus, so long as we do not seize this potential which cinema offers us, we will not be able to use in our interest, to help us to solve certain problems. It is a fact, colonization has rendered us a little sick, and the harm that meeting with the white inflicted on us, cinema can indeed be the right medicine for us.I always address the issue in demographic term. I do not know if it is the case in Cameroon but half of the population is less than 17 years old, at least it is the average in Africa. When a child is below 17 he must go to school or learn a trade. So you agree with me that if you only make entertainment movies, what will be the contribution to the training of these men of tomorrow?
Jean Pierre BEKOLO, you've been a film-maker for a little over 25 year. Has the African film industry you defend worldwide been given its deserved place?
I don't know which place you think that it must be given a part from the place we've given it in our own mind. If I get up to dance, it is because I hear a music which speaks to me and cause me to move my body. It is not because somebody looks at me. This is how conceive the work we do.
I'm back from Vienna where "OUR WISHES" will be exhibited until the 18th of June at the Léopold Museum in Vienna. But it is not the series which is presented to the Austrians, but rather the Cameroonian house with its lounge and its television screen on which the television series is broadcast. In other words, I tell them that I did not produce this series for them but for Cameroonians, so now if they want to watch it, they have to know the kind of atmosphere in which Cameroonians are going to watch it sitting in their parlour. It's time that we sell our culture to the world, how we see things. We say that the story is always told from the point of view of the conquerors. Let us not be losers!
What I try to tell you is that I'm not interested to know the place we are given in the world because that is of no relevance to me. I don't want to go impress people who clearly declare war for images against you, who dominate you. When today on A+ (a french Channel dedicated to Africa) it is a young French national of 24 who decides on what you have to watch and that is revolting.
These series, these TV movies it is a young French national who chooses what is good for African or not. I understand those who manage today they find it difficulty in saying no. In such a balance of power we say that it is a war and we feel it every day because you lose your identity a little more, your dignity. So this issue of place is not relevant to me.