The Filmmakers’ statement
This is a film about ghosts. Ghosts of the past that even while they slumbered have continued to influence our present. Ghosts that appear on the verge of re-awakening. We must face these ghosts now if we don’t want them to determine our future.
For over 20 years I have made films about empire and colonialism (specifically British). In the past, it was important to reveal the workings of imperialism to understand how we reached the present. But although these films had impact, I never really felt I put my finger on the problem.
Now a younger generation is maturing which sees colonialism anew – as an insidious and pervasive presence in our world, both within European societies and globally. History is important, but the future is even more important…
While preparing my film on the Killing Fields of Cambodia (Enemies of the People, 2010), I realised I wanted to make a big film statement about the hidden force of empire. When I met Femi Nylander, a young Oxford poet, performing a song about the Belgian Congo in a bar on my street I realised I had perhaps stumbled across the possibility of being able to make this statement relevant to the new generation, the generation of my own children, who are the same age as Femi.
I also realised that the technique I evolved in making ‘Enemies of the People’ – made as a joint collaboration with a Cambodian participant in the events being investigated – could be taken further in the form of a film dialogue between myself as director and an on-screen protagonist who is living the personal process of discovering and absorbing history as a key to the future.
The spine of this film is a road movie investigation. But it is a road movie in time. And through the devices of cinema, I seek to collapse time and space in the way that colonialism has and does collapse our time and space.
The global emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020 has given unprecedented urgency and force to this need to unpack the persistence of racist colonialism in our modern world.
Rob Lemkin, Writer and Director
Rob Lemkin has produced and directed over 50 documentaries for BBC, C4 and other broadcasters in UK and US. His last feature film, ‘Enemies of the People’ (2010) was a ground-breaking account of the Killing Fields of Cambodia which he wrote, directed, photographed and produced. One of the most lauded documentary features of recent years it won around 30 international awards including Special Jury Prize at Sundance, Best Documentary BIFA and Emmy for Best Investigative Documentary. The film and its sequel ‘One Day at Po Chrey’ (2012) were at the heart of the United Nations trial of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Other work includes installations (Black & White Trio, Clore Gallery; I Was A Soldier 2014) and classic music films with Nina Simone, Chet Baker, Curtis Mayfield and Bobby Womack.
During his years at the BBC he made two major films investigating British colonialism: ‘Who Really Killed Aung San? (1997) and ‘Malaya: the Undeclared War’ (1998).
In 1994 he made for ITV the first television investigation of the killing of Stephen Lawrence, ‘Getting Away with Murder’ (1994)
For several years, he ran Channel 4 News’ Independent Investigations Unit which won 5 Royal Television Society Awards and a BAFTA.
Femi Nylander, featured narrator and co-writer
Femi Nylander is an activist, poet and actor of African descent hailing from Manchester in the UK. He graduated from the University of Oxford in 2016.
He wrote and performed two critically-acclaimed TED talk poems, on migration and decolonial public health. He joined the “Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford” movement and appeared on the BBC’s Big Questions, Daily Politics and ‘The One Show’ to discuss decolonial history.
He has appeared on Channel Four News (UK) on the subject of racism and featured in a Channel 5 (UK) series on the history of empire. He is a passionate campaigner around the topic of colonialism, both historical and present.
Femi is a keen musician who creates music solo and in his jazz funk band Pangolin which has performed at London’s Ronnie Scott’s club, at multiple “Sofar Sets” and for BBC music. His poetry often bridges with his music and he has released such songs as Anthropocene, Song for the Congo and FrancAfrique.
As an actor, he appeared in the new one-man play Mr Mineshaft about the legendary New York composer Julius Eastman at The Camden People’s Theatre. Recent acting work includes a featured performance in a film commercial playing opposite a major rock music star for a global brand, and the role of Lord Capulet in Romeo & Juliet at the Orange Tree Theatre.
Femi has written for a number of publications including articles on his experience at Oxford for The Guardian, articles on David Attenborough and climate change for “Platform UK” and an article on the Codrington Library for Consented UK.
At the end of the journey, I have learnt how real this history is even to the current generation of Nigeriens, and how little it has been repaired for. I have learnt how France still has far too much influence in Niger even today, and how Nigerien people feel as though they are not in total control of their own destiny. I have realized and come to terms with how, as a black Brit, I am hugely privileged compared to Africans who are forced to live with the reality of the Colonial Legacy rather than simply being a minority in the Colonial Metropole. I have come to the conclusion that there needs to be some sort of reparation. That this story which has been hidden for so many years needs to be uncovered and told and that through the metaphor of solar energy but in reality through many varied avenues, a brighter future is possible not only for Niger but for postcolonial Africa as an entity. For this to be achievable, both Africa and Europe need to confront this and come to terms with the Ghosts of their shared past.
Amina Weira, featured guide
Amina Weira, was born in Niger and grew up in the northern city of Arlit. Her first short, made in 2011, was La Musique de Film. Other shorts include: Des études au miel (2012). Her documentary short “C’EST POSSIBLE” (2013) was selected for Cinéma d’Afrique in Lausanne, Caméra des. (2013) and Un geste, un cœur (2018); Une scolarité confinée (2020). Amina gained an international reputation with her whistle-blower documentary about her father and his colleagues in Niger’s uranium mines, La colère dans le vent released in 2016. The film has received over a dozen international awards. She graduated in Video Editing from the Institute for Training in Information and Communication Techniques (IFTIC) in Niamey and holds a master’s degree in creative documentary film making from the Gaston Berger University of Saint-Louis in Senegal.
Assan Ag Midal Boubacar, featured guide
Assan is Touareg from Tassara in the north-west of Niger close to the border with Mali. Like all Touareg children he attended nomadic primary school. After a year at university in Niamey, he was exiled to Libya during the Touareg rebellions of the early 2000s.He took a degree in Political Science & Human Rights at the University of Libya. For 14 years he worked as a tourist guide, fixer and photographer in the Sahara of Libya, Algeria and Niger. For two years he was an official at Niger’s Foreign Ministry and he spent four years at the Ministry of Agriculture. Currently, he runs a business specialising in making furniture from recycled tyres and pallets. He speaks 5 languages, and a little English.
Tunde Jegede, Composer
Tunde Jegede is a world-renowned composer, producer, cellist and kora virtuoso bringing a new vision to contemporary African and Western classical music. He studied Western classical music and the Griot Tradition of West Africa from a very early age, attending the Purcell School of Music in London with a Master of the Kora in the Gambia, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh.
The founder of several ensembles including the Art Ensemble of Lagos and the African Classical Music Ensemble he is also the curator of Living Legacies, Gambia’s first traditional music archive, and the director of New Horizons, an educational initiative to develop young musicians in Nigeria. Tunde has been the Artistic Director of the MUSON Centre, one of West Africa’s only music conservatoires that specialises in classical music. He set up the NOK Foundation, a charitable organisation dedicated to raising consciousness through music, arts and culture.
African Apocalypse is a timely intervention into the general perception of colonial history as a benign initiative with minor indescretions along the way. It is a reminder of the innate violence that accompanied the endeavour, which is, unfortunately, often forgotten in the current discourse. It is rare to hear the story and first hand testimony of African people within this narrative but vital if we are to understand it in its full context.
I believe this film brings a new insight to one of many untold stories of colonial genocide and atrocities. There are so many parallel narratives to the story of Niger to still be told. Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was a text I first met during my studies at school but is one that implicitly impacted my long-term desire to examine the relationship between colonialism, social iniquity and revisionist histories. Creating the soundtrack for this film allowed me to revisit this text within a new cultural framework that was highly refreshing for me.
Sunara Begum, Composer
Sunara Begum is a a visual-anthro-mythologist who uses sound, video, performance and printmaking to question how cultures inform identities and notions of self. Her layered art-forms are studies for exploring personal cultural histories that stitch together personally relevant imagery sourced from her dreams, the natural world, historical texts, ancient manuscripts, digital space, music and art history.
Sunara Begum is a spoken-word performance artist who explores sonic soundscapes and expressionist movement to define her art-form. She has released her debut album, WHO AM I, as well as several feature documentaries including, Truth & Art, Memories of My Mentor and Ara’s Sojourn. Sunara wrote and performed her first 50 minute stage show which has toured internationally including the Venice Biennale, October Gallery, V&A Museum, Ventnor Fringe Festival and Gulbenkian Theatre. As a visual artist her work has exhibited extensively at Tate Britain (UK), LUDA Gallery (Russia), Dimbola Museum (UK), 198 Gallery (UK), Studio Sukriti (India), Laphto Art Gallery (Ethiopia), Lionel Wendt Gallery (Sri Lanka), Centre for Contemporary Art (Nigeria).
In 2015 Sunara co-founded New Horizons, a series of performances, screenings, events and exhibitions, involving contemporary experimental film/video and other art forms. Now in its 5th year it has comprised of films, videos, installations, expanded cinema and performance pieces by over 80 artists. Sunara’s work is part of a new generation of artists whose work reflects upon the cross-cultural and historical dimensions of contemporaneity.
David Upshal, Producer
David is a British-Nigerian producer and director. He has produced over 200 hours of television across all the UK terrestrial channels plus broadcasters in the USA, Canada, Germany and France.
Geoff Arbourne, Producer
Geoff Arbourne is an Emmy award-winning producer and founder of Inside Out Films.
Geoff is also currently working as an Executive Producer on two feature documentaries in postproduction. The first, London Recruits, is directed by Gordon Main and aims for a release in the autumn of 2021. Sublime Madness, directed by Ali Al-arian, aims for a release in early 2022.
Directed & Produced By ROB LEMKIN
Written by ROB LEMKIN, FEMI NYLANDER, MATT McCONAGHY
Produced by GEOFF ARBOURNE, DAVID UPSHAL
Executive Producers MARK BELL , LISA MARIE RUSSO
Film Editor DAVID CHARAP
Composers TUNDE JEGEDE & SUNARA BEGUM
Directors of Photography CLAUDE GARNIER AFC, SHAUN HARLEY LEE
Sound ABDOULAYE ADAMOU MATO, FREYA CLARKE
Co-producers SANI ELHADJ MAGORI, JOLIJN GEELS