Swedish director Göran Hugo Olsson, who many will know from his archival triumph The Black Power Mixtape, returns from Sundance and Berlin at a rather opportune moment to present his new film, Concerning
There was one period in African history when this meddling was irrefutable: Apartheid. To excavate it, Olsson once again mines the Swedish archives to magic up some gorgeous 16mm footage from all across Africa, predominantly shot between the 1960s and ‘70s. With an introduction by postcolonial theorist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, and utilising extracts from Frantz Fanon’s newly-revived (at least in the mainstream) text The Wretched of the Earth, this is possibly one of the most digestible snapshots of White oppression during an age of horrifying racial segregation.
Olsson has said that his decision to flit between African nations was not driven by editorial choice, but literally by which footage had best survived. We are taken to Angola, Rhodesia, Liberia, Tanzania Mozambique and elsewhere, while the words of Fanon’s text about the inherently violent nature of colonisation are superimposed in full-view on screen – narrated with pace and determination by Lauryn Hill. Fanon writes on the steady conditioning that takes place from indifference to violence and through to defeat that crushes citizens but can also radicalise them with the very same strength shown to them by colonisers.
That the film was a personal project for Olsson, who approached the text and its ideas “as an outsider”, has made this a fascinatingly unorthodox translation of academic analysis to cinematic documentary. It hovers tantalisingly between film essay and propaganda piece, which makes for an inquisitive viewing experience. Olsson enforces the instinctive White guilt of knowing that the blood of Apartheid is on the hands of Europe and the West, yet there are moments of pure joy at the beauty of the footage he has uncovered. It’s a shame that he doesn’t pay more attention to the people behind the camera, as how the Apartheid era was captured is just as telling as what we actually see on the screen.
One scene in particular best sums up the film’s view: two Christian missionaries have a “staff” of Black men and women building churches out in Tanzania. When asked to use Biblical scripture to support monogamy, they’re stumped; all they know is that they need to build churches – they’ll leave hospitals and schools until later. In history, the generations of oil, gold and mineral reserves that were looted, the decades of violence, all of which institutionalised many Africans, caused a continent-sized identity crisis that today leaves us dumbstruck. Racism was so ingrained, the White settlers felt that the question was not about why they were there, but what they were doing now that they were.
Olsson has found an observable entry point into the destructive and dismembering capability of colonialism, but also pushed further into how the process of decolonisation demands equally devastating adjustments. While the linear presentation of the film lacks the rigorous artistry of the films of, say, Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi, it does attempt to realise an entire history through only a handful of shots. It is unfiltered, rich with politics and ethics, and tell us of an urgent and sickening history that is often still unfathomable unless we hold our heads to the flame.