Angola’s forgotten history Get your labels right!

decolonial – A group of children in front of the destroyed house of the late Jonas Savimbi, the former rebel leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), in the provincial capital of Huambo, Angola, 20 July 2005
A group of children in front of the destroyed house of the late Jonas Savimbi, the former rebel leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), in the provincial capital of Huambo, Angola, 20 July 2005 | Photo (detail): Wolfgang Langenstrassen © picture alliance / dpa

What obstacles does one come up against when searching for film material about one’s ancestors? How can one work against hegemonic archival structures and assume responsibility for collective memory? Questions to the Angolan filmmaker Fradique.

By Teresa Althen

Fradique has been making films using archival material for ten years. He has always had to fly to Europe because all the footage from Angola is kept there. Angola’s colonial past is still palpable in the very structure and content of European archives, which hold the bulk of film material from former colonies, most of which was produced for purposes of propaganda or ethnological research. The archives of the former colonial powers determine not only who has what kind of access to this material, but also how it is categorized, for instance, the keywords under which researchers can find films. In other words, they define the labels and meanings they attach to each piece of archival material. Fradique searched Portuguese archives for films under the subject heading “Angolan freedom fighters”, for example, and came up empty-handed. He ended up finding what he was looking for under the search term “Angolan terrorists”.

In order to develop a new, non-propagandistic archive, Fradique and other filmmakers conducted seven hundred interviews throughout Angola over the course of six years. They interviewed people who fought for Angolan independence or lived through that civil war, about which there is no national film material. This initiative evolved into an important archive of the struggle for independence. Specifically, the aim is to recover the memory of Angola’s forgotten history and create a narrative from the perspective of the Angolan people. Due to insufficient funding and insufficient awareness of the importance of such initiatives, however, the future of this and many other archival projects currently hangs in the balance.
 
  
(DE)COLONIAL FILM ARCHIVES

Most of the documentary films made in colonial contexts are now kept in European archives. And only a fraction of that footage was shot from the perspective of the colonized themselves. So to whom does this material really belong? To whom should it be accessible – and how? Why are some of these archives left to gather dust and what can be done about that? Archivists and filmmakers who work with archival footage address these questions.