Violence and the traditions of colonialism

November 25, 2014

By Will Worley

A preview screening of Concerning Violence, followed by a discussion with Swedish director Göran Hugo Olsson, was held at the Frontline Club on Friday 21 November.

The film is based upon the seminal anti-colonialism book, The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon, a Martinique born psychiatrist who became involved with armed anti-colonial struggles, significantly in Algeria.

The production follows segments of archive footage, some extremely graphic, linked throughout by excerpts from the book, read by singer Lauryn Hill. Clips used were from African countries affected by the violence of colonisation in the late 20th century, such as Mozambique, Guinea Bissau and Burkina Faso.

Olsson started the discussion by saying: “The film for me was just about the text. For me it’s just like a commercial for Fanon’s thinking.” He felt that the book “hadn’t had its proper place in society” and wanted to use it to illustrate problems of the modern day.

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Göran Hugo Olsson in conversation at the Frontline Club

Olsson had originally intended to use modern footage but was fearful of it attracting over-analysis and distracting from the main purpose of the film. However, using archive footage, “every image in this film has a colonial view built into it . . . for me it was interesting to go as far back as possible but still have some quality and sound as you meet some individuals”. He later estimated that he went through 100 hours of footage.

An audience member asked why the Algerian conflict – where Fanon most developed his thought – was not featured in the film. Olsson responded that there was a lack of suitable footage, and that the best film on Algeria had already been made: The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966).

Olsson also commented on his love of the way the text reads rather incoherently, reflecting how it is to live under ‘structural violence’, whether it be colonialism or domestic abuse.

His film is an “appeal to the European people, . . . the people who are living in a society that benefits from this robbery”. He said: “I made this for Europeans to try to be more aware of what’s going on.”

Another question from the audience asked about the origins of Olsson’s motivations for producing work that politicises race, to which Olsson replied that he didn’t know. However, he remembered the news of the 1976 Soweto Uprising as a pivotal moment in his childhood.

There were drawbacks to using archived footage. In one particularly harrowing scene, a female amputee, injured in a bombing, speaks to the camera without a subtitled translation. As the speech was a rare dialect of West African creole, Olsson had not been able to get it translated. He found the clip so disturbing that he did not add it to the final edit until the last possible moment for fear of having to look at it for too long.

He went on to say that the film missed some of the more complex chapters in the middle of the book as he thought that “the images in the film make up those other chapters”, conveying the absent narrative to the audience.

Olsson followed further questions on the political implications of the films by saying “this is a short version of what I think the world . . . should consider”. Neo-colonialism, and its emphasis on free trade, was thought by some audience members to be even more destructive than traditional colonialism. Olsson agreed, commenting: “I think things are worse [now] . . . now they don’t even hire local people.”

Bringing the discussion back to the technicalities of the film, Olsson spoke about its planned translations, with specifically chosen individuals narrating each version. For instance, he plans to have “one of the Pussy Riot girls” narrating the Russian version.

The conversation ended with Olsson saying: “It’s my dream that someone will download this film in the future . . . and put whatever image they think appropriate to it,” thereby redirecting film towards an non-African colonial narrative. He related the concept of structural violence to the recent Israeli attacks on Gaza, and wondered how it would affect the next generation there.

“We have to tell these stories over and over again.”

Concerning Violence will on general release from Friday 28 November. For further information, see the film’s Facebook page here.