Lovers in Time or How We Didn’t Get Arrested in Harare
Author: Agnieszka Piotrowska
Format: Essay Film
Duration: 63 minutes
Published: March 2019
Does the film work as an essay film? Does it give an idea about working in a post-colonial context in Zimbabwe? Does the inclusion of the fictionalised elements (comedy sketches) work? Is it thought provoking?
It’s fine to view it on a computer screen.
Lovers in Time or How We didn’t Get Arrested in Harare is in part a ‘fly-on-the-wall’, ‘behind-the-scenes’ documentary about putting on a play written by the Zimbabwean playwright Blessing Hungwe. I have 20+ years broadcast experience making documentary films but had never before put myself in any of them in the way I did in this film. I shall not be doing so again either: one of the ‘discoveries’ of the work has been how much of this I still find cringingly embarrassing. In truth, as my key creative collaborator the Zimbabwean filmmaker Joe Njagu was also the co-director, co-producer, the DOP and the editor of the film, some creative decisions were not mine – for example, indeed, putting me at the centre of the film. Njagu made a variety of other choices I had little control over, which I will discuss later.
The event itself took place in 2014 at the Harare International Festival of the Arts, and it required almost another year to shoot additional interviews and edit the film. The film’s first public outing was a rough cut in 2015 in the UK.Its title is anything but sensational, for we were all threatened by the police: the cast, crew and indeed myself became the subject of a media campaign and some state pressure to ‘take it down’.We were protected to a certain extent by being inside the festival but we were also aware that not so long ago the cast and the crew of another production were under arrest for a few weeks.
The play – and the film – deals head-on with some of Zimbabwe’s historical taboos and icons in a way that was always potentially controversial: through comedy. That Blessing Hungwe asked a white European (me!) to direct the play was deeply challenging. The film follows the ups and downs of the production as it makes its way to the première. Its ‘practice research’ for me lies in a number of layers: how can a theatre production become a metaphor for actual postcolonial relationships? To what extent can one direct a film whilst at the same time directing a play? What can one learn from a direct ‘in-the-field’ experience of working in a different cultural context? That I was invited to direct this play at an arts festival in Harare came from the fact that I had worked there in the past, on a small research grant from the British Council, running workshops with local artists on identity, self-knowledge and interviewing (see Piotrowska 2014). Lovers in Time was also partially sponsored by the British Council, my own university, and the Zimbabwe Theatre Association. As I embarked on the theatre production, I had no idea that it was so controversial. I also did not know if I could make a documentary out of recording the process at all – initially I simply asked Joe Njagu to film some of the proceedings. As the project grew, I had to respond to the challenges and make creative and production decisions on the spot. For me the research question was also to what extent I could hold onto some creative control in a situation where I was really not in control. I was interested – and still am – in thinking through asymmetrical power relationships. Here I would insist that these relationships were far from simple – and it would be too hasty to assume that because of my whiteness, and being a director, I had all the power, and perhaps my own ‘not too flattering’ representation in my own film would point to it.
Lovers in Time of course is, in a way, apart from being an essay film and the story of Zimbabwean politics, also a story of my position in these circumstances. The problem here goes beyond establishing and naming the position from which one speaks, as Edward Said (2003: 25) insisted was necessary in any discussion of cultural politics, especially one that involves issues of culture, gender and race. Why this is important, according to Said, is that it helps us understand how we come to form knowledge, and how this knowledge is inflected by our subjectivity. Such knowledge can often be based on prejudice against the Other, not only because of the way this Other looks or behaves but also, and perhaps primarily, because of the personal background and the experience that the one who studies the Other brings to this knowledge and its dissemination. Conversely, proponents of auto-ethnography (Muncey 2010) have called for the introduction of the first-person experience in the academy as offering ‘the missing story’.
The film offers elements of this missing story, through the questions that persist, specifically: What are the lines between freedom of speech and respect for other cultures? And: Do we have the right to speak out if our stance and utterances might endanger our collaborators who live in the difficult political systems? The experience has also taught me humility regarding my own position of perceived as well as actual privilege – the position I did not choose and which I, too, question in my own culture as a foreign woman struggling in the patriarchal world, but which, in the context of Zimbabwe, is still seen within the wider context of postcolonialism, where my whiteness is the key issue, because it challenges the rigid views of historical legacy as well as the local patriarchy, even as this patriarchy challenges me as a woman.
To reiterate, for me the film and the whole research project focused on asymmetrical lines of power: how do you collaborate when you are considered inferior as a woman, a sex object, and the embodied representative of the race and culture which is both hated and yearned for? Is it possible to circumvent the postcolonial position in race relations and if so, how? Are we stuck with the embodiment being such a dominant signifier – which Frantz Fanon (2017 ) believed to be the case 60 years ago – or should we insist that things have changed during the intervening time?
No easy answers are forthcoming, and I see the strength of the film as posing these without attempting to offer answers. In a globalized world of increasing interdependence and with Africa as a continent poised to undergo momentous changes, it is especially important to keep asking these questions and to do so at a very local and specific level. Only with direct exposure and with case studies such as this one, with all its flaws and limitations, can we hope to begin to formulate answers and arrive at the processes of negotiation necessary for new ways of relating to each other, in spite of colour and gender, ethnicity and religion, colonial past and global present.
My key collaborator, Joe Njagu, resolutely refuses a co-director credit, initially because he feared for his professional future under the Mugabe regime, and now because, as he says, ‘the work constitutes a moment in time and we should not re-edit it, or add new credits to it’. However, it is important to know that the work was a collaborative research project, a collaboration which then continued into producing a number of short films and then our award-winning feature film Escape (2017), and is still ongoing today. The overall goal of the research project was to interrogate the ways in which creative collaborations could offer a different way of approaching colonial and postcolonial trauma. Zimbabwe was and still is a very particular space where colonialism is evoked daily and its ghosts fuel everyday life and politics. As the hallmark of my academic work is combining practice with ‘high theory’ and whilst a lot of my experience of making this film was deeply practical and emotional, some theoretical ideas that have guided me are helpful to evoke here, even briefly.
For instance, Stephen Frosh reminds us that ‘colonialism not only oppressed its victims; it also stole their past, making it unmournable’ (2013: 54). Judith Butler also discusses this sense of profound unconscious melancholia where ‘a loss is refused, [but] not for that reason abolished; more precisely the internalisation of loss is part of the mechanism of its refusal. If the object can no longer exist in the external world, it will then exist internally, and that internalization will be a way to disavow the loss, to keep it at bay, to stay or postpone the recognition and suffering of loss’ (Butler 1997: 134). In some ways Lovers in Time offers a concrete case study of the lost object being re-created and then challenged.
In her influential book Dark Continents, Ranjana Khanna reflects on another notion, that of ‘an organic intellectual’, taken from Antonio Gramsci and in particular from a reformulation of this notion in the famous essay on Hamlet by C. L. R. James. James identifies the split in Hamlet’s mind as one that characterizes all intellectuals caught between ‘the communal change from the medieval world to the world of free individualisation’ (1992 : 17) and Khanna suggests the organic intellectuals are important in any context, but in the postcolonial one in particular.
By writing the play Lovers in Time Blessing Hungwe is perhaps indeed ‘an organic intellectual’ of the kind Khanna described: Hungwe attempted to get close to expressing postcolonial trauma through fiction and comedy, shying away from any factual account. Curiously, it was perhaps this move that created the controversy with the authorities and the conservative elements in society that my film attempted to capture.
There is something else to add: whilst we tried to re-draw the lines of belonging and to create a space for a dialogue which was about artists working together rather than a white European leading a black and white Zimbabwean theatrical troupe in Harare – in reality old fears and anxieties were in some way re-emerging. I have since wondered many a time why Blessing Hungwe came up with the notion for the play and me directing it, and why, when I questioned the wisdom of the project, he still wanted to proceed, despite the obvious risks. Did he just want his work to see the light of day? Did he want to set me up against the regime? Did he not know himself what we were about to do?
Directing and producing the play was in itself an example of practice research – so much was learnt about how to collaborate across boundaries of history and race; but it is also true that there was a simple necessity to put on a difficult play very quickly for the festival opening. The film was a different matter entirely. One of the strengths of the film is that it is funny as well as sad, and yet I found editing of this work incredibly difficult – traumatic even. I would not have been able to get through the Lovers in Time furore without Njagu’s support. However, it was not a straightforward relationship. For example, for whatever reason he edited my conversation about the money with the musicians in a way which made it seem that they were not paid enough. In fact, everybody on the production was paid extremely well. I got angry when I first saw the cut but then I thought ‘OK. Let it be ambiguous’. Money is difficult in Zimbabwe – now as much as 4 years ago. I let it be.
As a way of interrogating further the white/black and gender dilemmas Charmaine Mujeri, the white actor (Shane Stockhil) who played the executioner, and myself came up with the fictional comedy sketches throughout the film. Their marital spats were often hilarious but also quite close to the bone: in one of them Charmaine’s character recalls the incident of her parents in law shooting at her with a gun. She shows the scars ‘look at this, look at this!’. The sketch is in the film. However, Joe Njagu prevailed in excluding another sketch in which Charmaine accuses her parents-in-law of letting their dogs at her and her daughter Melody. I actually thought it was a very successful and funny scene but Njagu said ‘no, it’s too much. It is not funny at all – it’s too painful. This is what happened here – with the dogs being trained to attack black people. This is what happens still – we must not use it’. And so we didn’t. I still remember looking at the screen at the edit and feeling shame rising through my very bones. This was perhaps the key moment in which I understood what was meant by the white privilege and white shame. I was ashamed then, as I am now, that my own whiteness is a marker of the historical abuse vis-à-vis black Africans.
Lovers in Time or How We didn’t Get Arrested in Harare (2015) previewed at the World Cinema Essay Film conference in Reading in May 2015. Thomas Elsaesser introduced it and wrote a review of it (http://www.thomas-elsaesser.com) I have also reflected in it previously, particularly on the media reactions to it – for example in the Journal of African Media (June 2016). See also Piotrowska 2017. I have shown the film at many international events, festivals and conferences too.
For a selection of press responses, see Monica Cheru (2014), ‘When Paymaster Calls Wrong Tune’, The Herald [online], 5 May 2014; ‘Lovers in Time’ Director Pens Open Letter to the Herald Editor’, 3-MOB.COM, 30 April 2014; Fanuel Kangondo (2014), ‘Nehanda Assassination Dramatised’, The Herald [online], 12 April 2014; Kundai Marunya (2014), ‘Nehanda as a White Man? “Lovers in Time” Historical Comedy Set for HIFA’, Harare News [online], 14 April 2014; EvansMushawevato (2014), ‘HIFA: The Good and Bad’, The Patriot: Celebrating Being Zimbabwean [online], 1 May 2014; Brenda Phiri (2014), ‘Producer Seeks Ban on HIFA Play’, The Herald [online], 29 April 2014; Tinotenda Samukange (2014), ‘Hungwe “Zimpunk’d” Into Apologising’, NewsDay [online], 17 June 2014.
Cf. ‘Rituals Team Arrested . . . Again’, The Zimbabwean: A Voice for the Voiceless [online], 19 February 2011.
The film draws from a well established tradition of observational documentary which in recent times included experimental elements. Its positioning of the filmmaker who is also a stranger at the heart of it is innovative particularly as the work also includes fictionalised elements but it resonates with the contemporary documentary practices.
It is an observational documentary presenting the adventures of putting the Lovers in Time on at the Harare International Film Festival in 2014. The additional interviews and material was shot in 2015. There are elements of fictionalised comedy in the film.
The work offers an open ended reflection on the nature of collaborative work across cultures and continents.
Following my initial arts research grant from the British Council in 2011/2012 I have since gone on to develop this film and the book and article that accompany it as a full post doctoral project with the support of RIMAP, the EU small fund, commercial funders and the British Council again. I have also received a small grant to finish a scholarly article from the Legatum Institute in London. I have published two articles on the subject in the Journal of African Media Studies and my monograph entitled Black and White: cinema, politics and the arts in Zimbabwe is about to be published by Routledge, gaining outstanding endorsements from leading scholars in different disciplinary fields). My work has been written about extensively in Zimbabwean media, including social media. In 2014 she produced and directed a play written by a Zimbabwean playwright Blessing Hungwe which dealt with issues of historical trauma.
In addition I have also made 4 shorts in Zimbabwe within 18 months. They have also been screened around in the UK including the Political Films Festival in London in 2016 and also screenings in Bristol, Birmingham and Brighton (forthcoming), Reading, Edinburgh and Wolverhampton as well as internationally in Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark, Poland, the US, South Africa and at festivals in Kenya, India, Indonesia as well as Zimbabwe The film won an award for the Best Screenplay for Documentary in 2016 in Mumbai. I was invited to give a keynote at the Africa conference in 2014 in London (November, in Berlin in December 2016) and at various events dealing with trauma, and practice research and theory. I received a British Academy grant in September 2017 to further her research on Zimbabwean cinema, post colonialism and gender relations.
The impact of this research can be measured by various indicators: First, the output – both in terms of numbers of publications and of quality and consistency of creative works – proves the fertility and timeliness of the chosen research topic. Second, almost all the work produced has received extensive coverage in press, media and at academic venues, often raising controversy and always giving rise to stimulating debate, thereby also providing valuable feedback to the researcher. The wider political impact may be less easy to quantify, but insofar as implicit in the project is the belief in cross-cultural dialogue and in expanding opportunities for freedom of expression in a country under a totalitarian regime, there is one example worth citing. The journalist Larry Kwirirayi who runs an influential blog called Three Men in a Boat, stated in an interview conducted as part of the research, that the controversy surrounding the Lovers in Time production did contribute to changing the conditions of possibility of what is allowed to be discussed in Zimbabwe regarding sensitive issues of national history, gender and colonial rule.
The feature film Escape, produced through the creative partnership Thinking Films set up as a result of this documentary will no doubt continue to test the limits of the possible and the permissible, since even prior to its premiere in October 2016 at the Zimbabwe International Film Festival led to some controversy in the press, this time regarding the representation of (female) sexuality and the limits of creative collaborations. All the participants in the documentary and in the initiatives have gone on to do great things, including my key collaborator Joe Njagu being offered the prestigious Young African Leaders Scholarship in July 2016 ( by the US government). He also went on to make more feature films.
In 2017 I was invited by one of the leading Zimbabwean playwrights Stanley Makuwe and the Harare International Festival of the Arts to stage a new play entitled Finding Temerarie which was two hander and focused on an intense gender drama against the background of colonialism. The work is being adapted to the screen just now.
While the impact is therefore above all qualitative and even intimate, the links to articles below also indicate its public resonance and quantitative scope. It is important to state that Lovers in Time and Escape is being taught and analysed at Zimbabwean Universities, notably the University of Zimbabwe and the Midlands University. My current British Academy grant can also been seen as ‘impact’ as it comes directly out of the Lovers in Time experience.
Butler, Judith (1997), The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Fanon, Frantz (2017 ), Black Skin, White Masks. Trans. by Charles Lam Markmann. London: Pluto Press.
Frosh, Stephen (2013), Hauntings: Psychoanalysis and Ghostly Transmissions, London: Palgrave.
James, C.L.R. (1992 ), ‘Notes on Hamlet’,inThe C.L.R James Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.
Khanna, Ranjana (2003), Dark Continents: Psychoanalysis and Colonialism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Muncey, Tessa (2010), Creating Autoethnographies, Portland: Sage Publications.
Piotrowska, Agnieszka (2019), The Nasty Woman and the Neo Femme Fatale in Contemporary Cinema, London and New York: Routledge.
__ (2018), ‘Replacement and Reparation in Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell’, in On Replacement, edited by Jean Owen and Naomi Segal, London: Palgrave, pp. 231–41.
__ (2017), Black and White: Cinema, Politics and the Arts in Zimbabwe, London: Routledge.
__ (2016), ‘Lovers in Time– Practice Research in the Times of Patriotic Journalism’, in The Journal of African Media Studies, 8:2, pp. 219-238(20). doi: 10.1386/jams.8.2.219_1
–– (2014), ‘Mourning and Melancholia at the Harare International Festival of the Arts’, The Journal of African Media Studies 6:1, pp. 111–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1386/jams.6.1.111_1.
Said, Edward W. (2003 ), Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books.
Updated Peer Reviews
Note: Peer reviews have been updated following resubmission of research statement (originals below).
Agnieszka Piotrowska’s Lovers in Time and its attendant research statement mark an important intervention in the in-depth study of political art in postcolonial Africa. The hour-long experimental video takes on two modes: primarily a documentary in style, it is interspersed with fictional tableau of a mixed-race romance. The effect, which can at first seem a little jarring, comes together unexpectedly well into a reflection on the nature of political struggle through art in postcolonial Zimbabwe.
As an extended experiment, the film is a playful reflection on politics, race and creativity in Harare. The work takes on the spirit of an ‘essay’, and raises some very important thoughts on the tension of ‘making art’ in postcolonial space. The research statement nicely foregrounds the racial and gendered tensions that move within its central conceit, reflecting the way the power of its filmmaker is actualised across the production. Uncomfortable scenes about the negotiation of salary and staff strikes, marked with the retort: if you strike again ‘I’ll just fire you’, draw a spotlight to these issues. You might feel some measure of discomfort watching some of these scenes, but this is perhaps part of the point. Discomfort can be a powerful tool when telling uncomfortable stories. Reflecting the broader social picture of art in Harare, the work managed to brings to mind the looming tensions that mark the long and problematic history of Europeans making art out of African life.
The research statement that accompanies the film poses some fascinating insights into the embodied nature of postcolonial trauma, and its experimental film complement this well. Drawing on Frosh’s work on colonialism and unmourning, to Judith Bulter’s ideas of unconscious melancholia, Piotrowska explores the psychoanalytic dimensions of mourning in the postcolony, using both film and theatre to accomplish something that neither could accomplish alone.
Overall, the work offers a deeply contextual and very rich reflection on the material and embodied nature of postcolonial trauma, explored through art, with all of its awkward celebration of subjectivity and complicity. It presents a compelling example of how film can be used as the basis for deeper thinking on social and political life, and does so with significant elegance.
The revised statement reads very well and is completely different to the one that was submitted originally.
Original Peer Reviews
The following, original reviews refer to original research statement which has been edited in response.
Review 1: Invite resubmission with re-edit of work and statement
The film Lovers in Time (2015) can be accepted for publication but the accompanying statement would need revision. Sentences need editing and better supporting in the text (the references to ‘trauma’ in the film are abundant but not really explored). One could improve the contextualization by addressing the standard questions more closely, especially the one that asks how this work fits in the personal research trajectory of Piotrowska.
Next I will respond to the questions proposed by the author:
Does the film work as an essay film?
This is a competently made film, which leaves positive impression. It is nicely shot and the editing gives it a good pace. In my opinion, this is a ‘reportage’ film which reports of one specific project and the way it evolves in space and time (the production of the play Lovers in Time by Blessing Hungwe at the Harare Arts Festival in 2014). In the discussion document the film is referred to as ‘observational documentary’ and whilst I do not believe it is correct to see it fully as ‘fly on the wall’, I confirm this is indeed an observational film. Therefore, the very question that asks if this works as an ‘essay’ film is probably irrelevant. The question ought to be if this works as an observational film and the answer is that yes, it does.
Does it give an idea about working in a post-colonial context in Zimbabwe?
It does give an idea about working in a post-colonial context in Zimbabwe as experienced by a white European. Some aspects, however, could have been developed more. For example, the scene that depicts the disagreement with one of the black musicians over payment – it is not sufficiently clear what is it that he is protesting; the impression left is that he is a lazy bum which is probably not exactly what was intended. It is difficult to understand what is the whole point of negotiation with the musicians over the music at a planned party (especially as this is about a stage production and the party is not even included in the film). It is not clear what is the importance of bringing a Norwegian physical theatre expert to fix the production just a day before the premiere – the actors could easily find this insulting. Most of all, the hints of controversy and censorship are more stated than shown. If there were protesters outside the theatre, why are they not shown? If there were critical articles, why is this not shown in some way (perhaps requests from the festival to adjust the play, again something only stated)? The police coming and asking questions – this is only hinted with no shred of evidentiary material (and, the subtitle ‘how we did not get arrested’ hints at sensationalism). The only scene in the film that hints at disagreement is where a member of the audience is escorted out – but the grounds of this disagreement are not sufficiently explained.
Does the inclusion of the fictionalised elements (comedy sketches) work?
I thought these sketches did work well as they helped the pacing of the film and were a welcome distraction from what otherwise feels like a work that is too self-centered. Please note some names related to the actors are misspelled in the current presentation; fix.
Is it thought provoking?
The author displays a degree of self-reflexivity throughout the film, yet at moments I would have liked this to go deeper. For example, the complex relationship with the main actor, Michael Kudakwashe, whose critical opinions are included, would have needed some further development. Why is it that an actor who seems perfectly skilled and intelligent is on the brink of dropping out from the production? The director is so insecure in him showing up for the second and third performance that she needs the help of others to be in touch with the actor to ensure he is even showing up. Why is that? If unexplained, it leaves the impression the actor is, again, some lazy bum (which I doubt is the case). He has made some statements that suggest there is more going on, but this ‘more’ is not explored. His statement at the end that the play and its alleged controversy has had no impact whatsoever is indeed thought provoking.
I would like to add two commentaries on the material presented:
The film: Understandably, it is difficult to consider revising the film. However, I still need to say the film would have benefited from some contextualisation and from adding a timeline. We do understand that the play is staged as part of Harare arts festival, but it is not clear over what period of time the rehearsals take place (which would be a vital piece of information in order to understand the unfolding of relationships), it is not clear over what period of time the three performances take place (three consecutive nights, over three weeks, or what?), and it is not clear what is the context of the festival against which this production would be assessed – what are the other performances and plays presented, how many, on what topics, how does this one fare against them? All this missing information would have allowed for a much better assessment of the achievements and controversies raised by the play’s production.
General commentary on the material presented (the play production/the film/the statement/references to published work and impact):
Here we are dealing with a film that is written, produced and directed by Agnieska Piotrowska, which observes the process of staging a play in Harare that is produced and directed by Agnieska Piotrowska, which is then discussed in a reflexive statement by Agnieska Piotrowska. The statement includes several further references to published work by Agnieska Piotrowska that relate to this same project. Thus, there are several layers of reflection and meta-reflections that all originate from the same person. Even if there is development in time and the instalments are made in a period spanning 2014-2018, this is somewhat limiting. In that, I agree with Piotrowska’s statement that ‘it is not possible to assess one’s own work in the same way in which one would analyse that of somebody else’s.’
Review 2: Invite resubmission with re-edit of statement
Agnieszka Piotrowska’s Lovers in Timeand its attendant research statement mark an important moment in the contextual study of the politics of audio-visual production in post-colonial Africa. The hour-long experiment takes two modes: primarily a documentary in style, it is interspersed with fictional tableau of a mixed-race romance. The effect, while at first jarring, comes together unexpectedly well into a reflection on the nature of political struggle through art in post-colonial Zimbabwe.
As an ‘extended experiment’ the film works well as a playful reflection on politics, race and creativity in Harare. It has the spirit of an ‘essay’, and raises some very important insights about the tensions of ‘making’ within postcolonial space.
While the film foregrounds racial tension within its central conceit, there remains one dimension here that remains awkwardly under-signified by the film – the position of power the filmmaker herself takes within this production, and the way this power is actualised across the production. Uncomfortable scenes about the negotiation of salary and staff strikes, with the retort, if you strike again ‘I’ll just fire you’, draw a spotlight to these issues, but it remains unclear if the filmmaker herself finds them problematic. While very good at reflecting the broader social picture of art in Harare, there remains the looming tension of the long history of Europeans making art out of African life, and the socio-economic imbalances that this brings to the table. The filmmaker flaunts this power again when she announces in this publication that one colleague was in effect the film’s co-director, a label which he rejects partly out of fear of political reprisal. The filmmaker ‘outs’ them anyway, we assume in a spirit of scholarly comradery, but does this not potentially also amount to a deep violation of trust? That the filmmaker has the right to make such decisions – to dictate the terms of ‘collaboration’, to dictate who takes what risks, to control the variables of the experiment – poses a whole series of political and ethical questions about collaboration in the postcolony that are largely overlooked here.
This may or may not be a criticism of the film itself, depending on how one sees such questions: it is, at least, a complement to the film that it raises them to the mind in the first place. Discomfort, after all, can be a powerful narrative tool. But it bears noting that the sites of postcolonial struggle here seem to extend beyond the film and its production, into the very constitution of its ‘experiment’.
The research statement that accompanies the film poses some fascinating insights into the embodied nature of poscolonial trauma. While offering a clear voice of the filmmaker and her own position toward the work, lacks a clear critical penetration of its various nuances and depths at play here.
There is slightly too much concern here with what others have thought of the film, and not quite enough reflection on the critical implications of the work itself in the context of either psychosociology, production studies and post-colonial theory. Too many reference to positive reviews of the film, and passing reference to the filmmaker’s various publications, strike a somewhat celebratory tone that begs but does not deliver a deeper analysis. It is not as interesting to the reader that various scholars think the film is important, as is the nature and consequences of this importance to our critical understanding of the postcolonial art in Zimbabwe.
When the research statement shifts into a more critical and reflective mode, it does so by drawing on a range of theorists. However it does this quite abruptly, without a full introduction of the ideas drawn upon. We jump, for example, from Frosh’s comments on colonialism and unmourning, to Judith Bulter’s ideas of unconscious melancholia – but the link here (through psychoanalysis) is left undisclosed and implicit. Furthermore, having not established a reading of the film in clear critical terms (the opening of the statement is more concerned with the provenance of the film), the ways that the film demonstrate and explore this loss of mourning are themselves lost on the reader. How exactly does the film offer a ‘concrete case study of the lost object being re-created and then challenged’? Is this referring to the fictional reenactments, or the theatre production? Are these challenged by the state, or by the racial tensions between a white filmmaker and black crew and cast? This needs to be more carefully elaborated.
The next theoretical maneuver – from Khanna, through Gramsci, through James, through Marx, and finally into a reflection on Hungwe as an ‘organic intellectual’ (all in a couple of sentences) – is similarly jarring and abrupt. There is certainly something interesting here to say about communalism of colonial struggle, but it is again crammed in here too tightly, and the ideas are not given the space to breath.
This research statement has the promise of offering a deeply contextual and very rich reflection on the material and embodied nature of postcolonial trauma, explored through a film production. It presents a compelling example of how film can be used as the basis for deeper reflections on social and political life, and does so with significant elegance. The research statement requires refinement to bring out this analysis to its fullest.